Value adding the garden...

Our veggie patch

As the greyer years come on, attention to the productivity of the garden increases, even if the gardener has been an avid cultivator of the flower in their working life and have gardens admired as the envy of the street.

As garden time becomes a daily event, those involved in business look to value adding area and soils within their realm previously set aside for optic appreciation rather than sustenance. When I became restricted to a half acre of nurtured rural land after decades of limited recreational time, the shrinking value of a dollar at the supermarket quickly gave way to ideas of value adding ones hard earned surroundings.

The original builder of our latest property was a rural gardener and when first inspecting the property the foresight was obvious.  Upon meeting the architect of house and garden I listened with interest to the story that would later prove valuable.

I saw areas of unproductive topsoil developed over two decades below leaf dropping annual trees shielded from sunlight, and a wasted area of lawn always green feed by underground soak pipes from the effluent tank system, always damp with lush green lawn. Could these things be drawn together to produce edible vegetation? We had already established an egg laying free range chicken colony producing not only eggs but manure, all from written advice freely available on the net.  And we haven’t bought eggs for over a year.

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The massive and healthy plants in the extensive garden beds had over the years enriched the soils below them.  Worms were easily found digging amongst the areas of damp garden shaded by towering trees and shrubs. The history given by the originator of the landscape explained how these healthy environments had perpetuated, established with trailer loads of local chicken and cattle manure mixed with straw, sand and local clay topsoil. All of the things I had heard but never experienced physical evidence abounded.

So was our idea of a veggie garden bed suggested in our vision possible? Hardly a gardener but with experience of massive land rehabilitation projects, being an author one word is prevalent, research, research, research. A while on the internet and a drawing featuring dimensions was drawn up with the assistance of our 12 year old son comparing available topsoil quantities. Suitable timber boards were sourced and steel retaining pegs prepared in the workshop, the area was pegged out and the soil constraints erected.

The topsoil was, over a few days transferred to its new location some thirty metres away, level ground in full sun. A calculation of worm population was around 3 per shovel full taking only the top shovel depth, impressive when your distant neighbours report they have nil. An impressive layer of organic mulch lying on top of the topsoil mixed up with the lower soil as it was moved, all written advice pointed to this being a positive outcome.

The new veggie bed was watered daily to keep it damp for two weeks, monitoring revealed frantic worm activity below and close to the surface. A variety of vegetable seeds were planted in small rows able to be serviced from either side of the soil bed, we waited.

Within two weeks an excited message from our children arrived.  Something green in neat rows could be seen, although our dogs had trashed some surface area planted, it took them a while to learn the soil bed was off limits. Over a week went by and all rows had germinated and green shoots could be seen making progress.

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What I have found is vegetable growing is not a spectator pastime, paint dries far quicker.

However advice from the originator of the property, a man with an obvious green thumb mixed with a broad web of advice from the net appears to have yielded results and we’re enjoying the fruits.

It is interesting to consider why this property should have a healthy worm population and adjoining homes have nil although they have purchased commercial worm populations and distributed them in local soil….?

The worms in our garden were sourced from local farms thriving in the local conditions and in many places clay based average soils over two decades ago, this was mentioned to me by the originator. They are acclimatised to local soil and conditions being derived of local ground conditions when they arrived. Many commercial worms are established in compost, shipped to commercial outlets far from their origination and put into soil other than compost dooming them to a quick extinction unable to acclimatise. Even worms living in our own compost heap will perish in normal soil.

Next plan is to plant short rows of potatoes weekly to spread availability at harvest.  We’re not sure of the savings yet but with the chicken eggs could be several hundred dollars a year. Perhaps life does start at sixty.

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Brian Cain.