Wicking beds and vegies

Despite my years of experience in the orchard growing fruit, I don’t have a gardener’s elbow, let alone  a green thumb. I missed out on Mum’s passion for roses, and while I share Dad’s fascination with all things edible, am envious of the ease with which he seems to produce enough vegies to feed the family, and frequently have a surplus.

Gung hoe bend weeding-471x628

I see the amount of hard work that goes into producing the Gung Hoe Growers’ year-round parade of delicious vegies, but at the same I know it’s about more than just hard work – some people seem to have a knack for knowing when and how to do things, and I’m not one of them!

However, common sense says it can’t be that difficult, and since studying permaculture we’ve learnt lots of tricks and techniques to make growing vegies easy. Plus, Hugh’s started taking an interest in growing vegies, so I’m off the hook!

making new wicking beds-360x480A few years ago we converted part of the garden that had been little more than a dusty dog playground just outside the kitchen window into…

new wicking bed-360x480… a very productive (and much more attractive) wicking bed. In permaculture terms this is Zone 1 – close to the kitchen and path, and the right place to grow the things you need most often, like herbs, salad greens and vegies.

After a while we made some modifications, and we now have four beds in this area. The wonderful Victoria (the intern who was with us last year) planted them up with lots of perennials like Vietnamese mint, asparagus, stevia, comfrey, rocket, mint, marjoram, thyme, and some other herbs. This is such a lovely warm sheltered spot that we even have thriving lemongrass and a very happy lime tree in its own wicking bed built out of an old water tank.

Hugh-vegie-garden-cauliflower-490x275Since adopting these beds as his own, Hugh has filled every available space with vegies, keeping us supplied over winter with cauliflower, brocolli, brocollini, brussels sprouts, cabbage, chillies, celery and rhubarb.

He’s started the summer planting with tomatoes (under the glass covers to get them started), sweet corn, pak choi, silver beet, kale, celery, coriander, and more chillies. There’s still a few spots left, so there’ll no doubt be more going in soon.

This is a great spot for wicking beds, being right next to a 150 year-old, 100 m high cypress tree growing nearby, that has roots everywhere! The wicking beds are lined, which stops nearby roots sucking all the water out of them.wicking-bed-tank-lined-490x367

The principle of a wicking bed is that the water is delivered into the bottom of the bed (via the upright pipe) and then the plants ‘wick’ the water up from the bottom, so no water is lost to dehydration – a great trick for our dry summer landscape!

To make sure the wicking principle works, the beds must be level – as this spirit level shows (well, actually it shows that it’s not quite level yet, but you get the idea).

spirit-level-wicking-bed-490x367Every year we add some nutrition from home-made compost, our helpful worms, and chooks, and occasionally a boost from the neighbour’s horse or cow.

The weeds and left over plants get piled up near the chook shed at the end of each season, waiting for me to clean out the chook shed and start the next compost pile. Then they’ll be returned to the garden – gardening is just so cyclical!

For the time being, I’m leaving growing the annual vegetables to other people (thanks Hugh and Dad), and concentrating on the garden we started last year near the farm shop, where I’m planning to add passionfruit, pecan nuts, brambleberries, and choke berries.

custard apple-seed-490x275I’ve also got seed from a couple of different varieties of cherimoya (custard apples) to try – they’re not traditionally grown in this climate, but one of the great things we’ve learned from permaculture training is how much you can ‘stretch’ a plant’s natural inclination by creating micro-climates.

Here’s to a bountiful summer of home-grown vegies!

Cheers, Katie

Double or Nothin’!

We learned a(nother) crucial lesson this autumn. If we want to grow more, its not just the number of garden rows that we need to increase, its everything. With our slow and steady approach to developing the farm into a scale which is both manageable and viable, we knew we needed to double our production area. Katie and Hugh agreed to lease us another 1/8 of an acre and we transformed it into 30 new rows with the help of all our wonderful, tireless, dusty and hot helpers at a working bee in February.

Right, we’re ready for a seriously productive autumn and winter (we thought). What we forgot to think about when we were focused on the physical space was that if we increase the area of land we’re growing on, we also need to increase our propagation space so that we can have the extra number of seedlings to fill the extra rows! Duh! Not to mention fencing, irrigation, compost, row protections, etc etc! Through late summer we feverishly sowed, thinned and transplanted seedlings in the hot house, but try as we might we just didn’t have the infrastructure to support the increase in production.

blog-1

So our ‘productive winter’ has been a semi-productive one after all.   We’ve got lots of delicious things growing slowly and we harvest and sell them weekly but there’s also lots of half-full rows where we didn’t have enough seedlings to fill them. All good learning!

What we’ve realised is that the slow and steady approach is great, it helps us make considered decisions and slowly increase production in a way that is manageable for us as we juggle on-farm and off-farm work. But we’ve also come to realise that our ability to do the ‘growth’ well is restricted by our limited finances. Carefully beavering away at our produce sales isn’t enough to support the kind of investment we need to make our market garden viable.

blog-2

And so, (gulp!) we’ve decided to launch a crowd funding campaign. This is where you, our community and supporters, have an opportunity to contribute financially to Gung Hoe Growers, in however small or large bites you want. We have a clear budget for how the money will be used for the farm and you can read that, along with what ‘perks’ we’re offering for your contributions, on our crowd funding page here:

https://www.chuffed.org/project/gung-hoe-growers-double-or-nothin

There’s a beautiful video made by our friend Leonie Van Eyk where you can see the farm 12 months ago and in February and meet some of the great people who support our business. We’re running the campaign for 1month, and if we meet our target of $10,000 we will be a huge step closer to making this market garden the healthy, vibrant and viable space we dream of!

Grow well…

Sas and Mel

Winter warmth…

Gung hoe digging bed-490x367

As I step into the cold air and the icy wind I shiver and walk towards the patch.  Sas and I have been tag teaming lately with leaving town, and now she’s away.  I miss working with her and notice the difference from the power of two to one!  As I walk around observing whats growing, I am filled with admiration for the green things in the ground.  For example, the broad beans; it’s bloody cold and yet they are still growing roots and bursting leaves into the outer world.  I never tire of the energy which one single seed contains.  As I continue to walk around I see the sweetpea shoots becoming tiny tendrils and the snowpeas just poking through the earth looking for the sun.  It’s so exciting!

Gung hoe bend weeding-471x628

They’re growing in a bed that a friend came out to help dig.  They will continue to grow up the fence that another friend helped us build.  The tools which I am about to use we bought thanks to an amazingly generous donation.  The land we are on has been made accessible to us by Katie and Hugh.  The garlic looks well weeded because another friend wanted to help, and I can rest easy knowing that the seedlings are safe from frost or hungry bugs in the glasshouse thanks to our friends at The Healing Well.
Gung hoe seedlings-490x367
I walk around acknowledging and feeling incredibly grateful for all the combined efforts that have got us here.  The support continues and even though its cold and slow, this is the time to take stock, and relish the season.  Winter can look grey and empty, but so many things are happening under the surface.
Like the seed in the soil, all the belief and enthusiasm and helping hands are giving us strong roots to pursue our dream.  Corny, I know, but completely true.  So thankyou. Thankyou.  Thankyou.
Now, I gotta go dig!!