Morning meander...

26 April, 2015

Yay for the gentle rain we've been having lately in Melbourne town. I'm not at all sad that I'm missing gardening time to snuggle inside, cook hearty food (pea and ham soup anyone...), catch up on my reading and potter about the house, all the while listening to the pitter patter of rain.

That said I did head out to check on how the garden is liking all this water. It turns out, quite a lot.

Peas are popping up well. I love how water droplets sit on the leaves.

The artichokes are growing well. Also weeds.

The blueberries are turning lovely colours. 

The lilac is in bloom. I might cut some for inside.

The Pink Lady stepovers are almost ripe, and are super well protected.

The lemons are ripening. Oh so many lemons.

Broccoli and fennel seedlings are well up. I'm not sure how they'll go over winter, but it was that or a green manure.

Quick garden snack.

The last tomatoes are ripening outdoors. I could pick them to ripen inside, but I'm interested to see how they go outside.

Only one tomato is holding in there, and sprouting new shoots which are flowering. I'm tempted to try a mini greenhouse around this and see what I can get.

Trombonico zucchini's going to seed. I thought it would be interesting to see how they go and save some seed, as they have been really good croppers. I bit bland of flavour, but still a good filler.

Garlic is starting to sprout.

The orchard cordon espaliers are liking the pigeon manure and mulch (a mix of tree leaves and spent corn stalks).

With the corn bed emptied of spent stalks I had some space for more brassicas. There are two varieties of broccoli in here; Italian Sprouting and Gizmo. Hopefully the cabbage moths can't fit through this bird netting.

Last year's purple sprouting broccoli are re-sprouting. 

And lastly, the asparagus bed is starting to die off. I love their golden fronds.

How I built my wicking beds...

24 April, 2015

This is how I built my wicking beds:

1. Design the height of your bed, and where the water overflow will be and how much wicking space above.

My beds are built from my previous raised beds, and are a 20cm high timber frame propped on bricks.

The ground under the beds has been dug out around 5cms, so there is around 10cms of water reservoir under the level of the water outlet, which sits directly under the timber frame. This gives just over 20cms of growing space above the reservoir. While this is on the short side, I was essentially to lazy to do much about it. It seems to be working ok so far on my two first completed beds.

The space between bricks will be cemented in to match the gravel paths, when the beds settle a bit.

2. Line your wicking bed.

Under the pond liner is a layer of sand to protect the bottom layer of the pond liner. I used a standard 0.5mm PVC pond liner bought from my local rubber specialist. This was placed in the beds and when partially filled, attached to the timber frame level with the top edge with metal shadecloth fixers.

The excess pond liner was then trimmed to the top edge of the timber.

I then used copper tape to cover the edge of the beds and bridge the gap between timber and pond liner. It may help prevent slug and snail invasion. Mostly I think it just looks nicer. It should also prevent stuff getting stuck between the timber and pond liner.

3. Fill your wicking bed.

I used a base of a mix of sand (closest to the pond liner) and gravel which I had plenty of from the graveled area which I had converted to paving.

4. Divide your water wicking and soil.

Put down a layer of horticultural fleece over the water reservoir layer.

This is mainly to reduce the soil/sand layers from mixing, from what I have read. I'm not sure how essential that is, given I have heard plenty of success from wicking beds which are only filled with soil/compost, with no separate base.

With this in mind I have experimented, and have put down the separating layer in two of the six wicking beds. The others have no separation between soil and sand/gravel layer. We shall see if there is any difference between growing or how the soil/sand mixes over the years of growing I hope to get out of these.

5. Make your water outlet.

I cut a hole in the pond liner just below the level of the timber. A re-purposed piece of plastic piping was wedged in and sealed.

6. Fill the remainder of your beds with soil.

Simple enough. Just takes a lot of muscles.

7. Add a few worms to help aerate the soil.

8. Plant!

Yay. The fun part. Finally.

Notes on differences with other methods.

Many wicking beds have a pipe to water straight down to the water reservoir. I didn't do this as with my first two beds I found top watering until the water started trickling out of the outlet was good enough to know when I had watered enough. I figure I can always dig out a corner and put in a pipe if I think it will be useful.

Total cost per 2.4x1.2m bed:
Pond liner                $102             
Sand (approx)             10
Attachers (approx)        2
Copper tape                  7

Total $121 per bed.
If you had to buy timber its around $12 per 2400 sleeper, so add $36.

In hindsight that seems really quite cheap. I'm well pleased with that. Especially given how my I save on buying my fruit and veg, let alone the water savings I should get.

Raised beds to wicking beds...

20 April, 2015

There have been big changes happening in Bek's Backyard. I mean, literally, in the backyard.

I have read for a long time on both foodnstuff's and frogdancer's blogs about the joys of wicking beds. For those uninitiated, wicking beds are essentially a container system where there is a water reservoir below the growing medium. This system can be implemented in both small spaces like plastic containers, buckets etc, or in large spaces like garden beds. If one has enough pond liner.

The benefits are mainly in the water savings, which in our dry climate is considerable. Also I'm sure in some situations where poor soils, or close trees with invasive roots, just having a wholely seperate soil would be advantageous.

Unfortunately I discovered the wonders of wicking beds after I had put in my raised bed veg patch. And I knew it would be a long hard slog to convert these to wicking beds.

The main reason I have decided to go the whole hog to convert is because of chickens. Now this may seem like a side issue but bear with me. My chickens live in a pen in a corner of the backyard. With the house to the rear being subdivided and a new unit put in what was previously facing a shed and no inconvenience to anyone will now be right next to a courtyard area. Council regulations say any chicken coop must "located far enough away from any habitable room windows of a neighbour to minimise possible nuisance by noise or smell.  Suggested minimum  distance 15 metres" which will not be possible with the new unit to be built.

So the chicken coop needed to be moved. But with pretty much all of my garden space utilised I had nowhere to move it to. Unless I moved something else.

Hmmm, I could move the raised beds the backyard, which would have the additional advantage of putting my main veg growing space right outside my kitchen door, and move the chicken coop to where the raised beds were. Further advantages allows for extra space to build a polytunnel.


So I set about the mammoth task of converting the backyard into raised wicking beds. I don't think I realised at the beginning exactly how huge this job was going to be. I not only had to dig up my whole backyard, including many semi established plants and re-landscape the yard, but moving the raised beds themselves, spacing and levelling them out, lining with pond liner, filling with soil/gravel (for the water reservoir) and soil/compost was a huge task.

So much so that I started converting these in November last year, and it is only just this weekend gone that the beds are completed and filled, the soil in levelled and re-gravelled and the backyard is semi presentable. I was mainly delayed over summer due to it really being too hot for the more strenuous parts of this work, and also preferring to spend my limited gardening hours on more immediately profitable (i.e. food producing) garden activities.

But with summer winding down, and with a hand from family members, most notably my mum (thanks heaps mum, I couldn't have done it without you!), the wicking beds are finally done.

Compared to the same picture in my header above, you can see just how much has been done.

It is a bit hard to see, but there are three in a row (two more behind the one above right), and three in a triangle on the left (one behind the blue central pond, and one further to the left).

I actually completed the front two beds in December last year. These beds have been in use for the summer and grew cucumbers, eggplant, bush beans, capsicums and basil. They are now planted out with carrots, radishes, broccoli and onions.

The first two beds, from front.

Just look at that seedling growth.

Almost at broccoli stage already!

But even in these four months of use I have been surprised at just how much better these have been compared to raised beds in soil. Plants are happier, more productive and there is more I can cram into my 2.4m x 1.2m beds.

Two more beds are now planted out with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and peas.

Brussels sprouts and cauliflowers in bed, remaining seedlings also protected by net.

Peas coming up. Also weeds. 

They likewise appear to be doing well, with seedlings suffering less transplant stress and the seeds requiring less watering. So far it is all looking good.

I will post in a separate post exactly how I have built the wicking beds, so you can see my methodology.

Now I just need to move the chicken coop and build a polytunnel. More info to come on that down the track. Hopefully that wont take four months!

A lot of plants have been transplanted in this move. The edibles (step-over apples, alpine strawberries, golden marjoram, chives, rhubarb) and ornamentals (agapanthus, many bearded iris', port wine magnolia) have been moved to around the edges of the perimeter garden beds. Only two cherry trees previously in this area are to be moved to another space, where I will be espaliering them.

It's been a big change, but I'm expecting it to be a productive one. Stay tuned to see how it goes.

Planting garlic...

15 April, 2015

I love growing my own garlic. However I'm not particularly good at it. Having had a marginally better garlic crop last year than the miserly result the year before that, I'm being the eternally optimistic gardener and giving it another go.

This year I have not bought any garlic to plant, but am planting out entirely from the best bulbs of last year's crop.

I've been keeping the largest cloves in the bulbs aside, and mainly using the smaller inner cloves in my cooking. Luckily I still have at least half of my stash of garlic remaining, so hopefully I'll be good for homegrown garlic until this lot crops.

This lot is a mix of varieties grown last year. I didn't separate the varieties after harvest, so I have no idea what is what is what. I haven't found much taste difference between any of the garlic I've been eating, so I'm not too fussed what this lot ends up being. I'm sure it will taste pretty garlic-y, which is all I care about.

I have learnt over the years that garlic, much moreso than onions, loves feeding. And in the garden that means manure.

So this year I'm feeding them up good with a whole bag of pigeon manure. I get this from a friend who races pigeons and he very generously gifts me multiple bags of the manure throughout the year. It is excellent stuff. Frank, you will be well paid in cider.

Garlic also loves sun. As it grows mostly over the winter and spring months, it needs to be in a place that gets full sun for the whole year and isn't shaded when the sun drops low over winter.

So I have chosen a space for the garlic bed in the main area of the front yard that gets full sun all year round.

This space previously grew last year's watermelons, then cabbages and lettuce, which mostly frazzled in the hot days we had towards the end of summer. There is a groundcover rosemary on the right and plenty of self sown nigella on the left, as well as a very stunted cabbage that I left in the ground. I was going to let it go to seed, but it now needs to go to make way for the garlic.

The bed was cleared and the whole bag of manure was well dug into the around 2m square space.

Then the garlic planting began. I plant garlic by pushing the clove down into the soil with my index finger. I plant cloves 20 cms apart in rows with 20cms between rows. Ballpark I'd say I planted around 30 cloves.

End result:

It doesn't look like much now, but hopefully little garlic stalks will be coming up shortly. And hopefully by the end of the year there will be nice fat garlic bulbs for another year's supply of tasty garlic goodness.

Harvest Monday...

13 April, 2015

Yet again it is Monday, which in my world means Harvest Monday, that veg gardeners show off courtesy of Daphne at Daphne's Dandelions.

Today's harvest is really a mix of the summer and autumn produce.

End of summer harvests of capsicums, eggplants, zucchini and melons makes me feel summer is still hanging on, even if that is only by it's fingernails.

Late sown beans and the oh-so-fast to produce radishes feel a little like a new season is upon us.

Autumn harvests of pears and autumn raspberries reinforce the feel of the change of seasons.

I hope your harvests are prolific wherever you are. Don't forget to check out Daphne's and the other Harvest Monday harvests.

Cider making...

10 April, 2015

Over the long weekend one of the main tasks to complete was to make cider.

And make cider we did.

There are many how-to's for cider making available on the interwebs, so this post is merely intended to run you through our current cider making process.

First, get your apples. My lovely mother and I scrumped around 80kgs of roadside apples a few weeks back, which had since been quietly softening ready for cider making. It is better to make cider/juice apples that have been picked a while ago, rather than straight from the tree, as the softer apples are easier to press and yield more juice.

Said apples, ready for washing and chopping.

These apples were merely washed briefly in tap water to ensure any dirt, dust and bird droppings were not an unwanted cider additive. Some had gone bad and were chucked, but others with only a little rot had the bad bits chopped off and the rest used.

Then the chopping. Oh, the chopping. Our current method is by Thermomix.

My mum and I both have Thermomixes (Thermomixi?...) amongst other family members, so these were used to chop the apples. These were both set up on a table next to the press, with a nice flow of apple from box, to chop, to press.

We chopped the apples into quarters or eights, depending on size, then filled the bowl and chopped on 8-9 for 5-6 seconds. Sometimes large pieces remained but mostly it was a pretty apple-y mush.

The mushed apples almost filled the press.

Now blocks went on top of the apple mush and the pushing and pulling began.

Pretty soon we had a decent flow of juice.

Yes, some apple bits came out the sides of the press, but the juice was sieved as it went into the carboys so no matter.

This time around I've done two batches, one (in the clear persex carboy) with an added champagne yeast, and the other (in the closed carboy) with no added yeasts with the hope the natural yeasts in the apples will ferment the cider.

It may all turn out badly, but at least I've hedged my cidery bets. So now I just wait until the brews stop bubbling then taste tests, wracking off and further bottling will occur.

Until then I am enjoying the glooping noise of air passing through the airlocks and the dreams of many litres of hopefully delicious cider to come.

Do you home brew? Any tips or tricks you have come across?

Garden Share Collective: April...

08 April, 2015

I'm quite a bit late for this month's instalment of the Garden Share Collective.

Thanks as always to Lizzie for creating the GSC.

I blame the Easter long weekend and the many things that inevitably got crammed into the four day weekend. How did those four days go so fast?!!

The last weekend has felt a bit indicative of how time seems to fly at this time of year. Once we hit the slippery slope that is the transition from daylight savings, and the nights seem get dark so much earlier, it feels like winter is just around the corner.

Luckily, things are still happening in the garden.


More and more brassicas. I've just planted out more caulis (All Year Round and Purple Sicily) and Brussels sprouts but there are cabbages and broccoli seedlings to go out when I get around to it.

Carrot, radish, beetroot, fennel and parsnip seeds have been direct sown and are coming along nicely.

Other than that garden tasks have been strictly maintenance or harvest related.


Plenty is still good to eat as we wind down for the year.

The solo pumpkin has been picked.

There are still quite a few eggplants to come.

Not pictured are radishes, a few tomatoes, capsicums, trombonico zucchini's, quite a few late sown beans and the last of the corn.

Fruit wise I'm eating autumn raspberries and melons.

To do:
Oh so much!
  • Pull out the last of the summer crops.
  • Plant out the rest of the brassica seedlings. This is possible now there is space from the summer crops that have been pulled out.
  • Plant out garlic.
  • Green manure beds not to be used over the winter.
  • Sow onion seeds.
  • Prune and tidy raspberry and blackberry canes.

That's about as much as I can bear to think of currently. How is your garden going?