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

Spring – a time of change

It finally feels like spring this week. The cape weed, a thigh-deep blanket, has turned from green to a buzzing yellow of petal and bee. The sun has warmed our backs in amidst spates of wind, rain and hail, and the time has come to change. Everything in nature and in life is in a continual state of change and spring seems to be the essence of it. In the patch, we are constantly dancing to the lead of the seasons and this week the rhythm we’re dancing too has definitely shifted. We’re shaking off the slow and steady beat of winter and starting to shake some serious spring booty instead!IMG3366

The winter greens came out of the ground this week in preparation for the next crops of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber and basil. The first of our summer beans were planted from the seed we saved lovingly last autumn. The cauliflowers breathed their last and are making way for the next crop of root veggies and….we planted sunflowers! Nothing quite says summer like a sunflower.IMG3370


We save our own seed where possible at the patch and this time of year loads of plants decide they want to make some. It can be a bit of a juggle to prioritise which varieties of seed to save and to try and keep the strains pure, especially when there are so many helpful cross-pollinating bees around! We’ve been letting our Cavolo Nero plants go to flower so that we can collect the seed off them. The Red Winter, Red Bor and Scotch Curly Leaf kales have also decided to flower, so to stop them cross-pollinating the Cavolo Nero’s we harvested the delicate and delicious flower heads from them to eat and sell. A once-off seasonal delight!IMG3360This time of year around here the broccoli and kale really want to flower. It’s hard to produce the big heads that you see in the supermarkets but, rather than pulling the plant out, you can get weeks and weeks worth of sweet and tender side shoots, with or without flowers. They taste better than the big heads too! I love that we live (and grow) in a community where people are willing to push past the notion of what food should look like (as determined by the big supermarkets) and respond to the wonders of what food actually does look and taste like. Many growers would have to throw their kale and broccoli flower heads onto the compost because the supermarkets won’t buy them, but we are lucky to have places like The Good Table, The Growing Abundance Project, and Red Beard Bakery to sell our not-so-conventional yet exceptional produce to—places and people that, like us, delight in the wonders that each season creates.

Happy season’s change everyone


Sas and Mel

How much diversity is too much?

This is a dumb question, because the answer is obviously ‘there’s no such thing as too much’. The health of our planet depends on it, healthy farming systems depend on it, your garden depends on it!

seed the untold story movie

Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to sit on the panel to discuss the profoundly beautiful (and profoundly depressing) movie called ‘Seed: The Untold Story’ at the Environmental Film Festival Australia (EFFA). If you get the chance, see the movie, it will move you (and hopefully inspire you to learn how to save seed!).

The movie is about the shocking and rapid loss of biodiversity within our food systems (more than 90% of some varieties of vegetable have already disappeared, for example), the risks that poses for our food supplies, and the heroic efforts some groups and individuals are making to save our seed heritage.

Diversity is one of the guiding principles of our farm – we strive to achieve ever greater diversity in our crops (the number of fruit varieties we grow); the weeds and understorey plants in our orchards; the number of species of insects, birds, and other animals on our farm; and the microbes in the soil. We’re very aware of how vital this is to the health of the organism that is our farm.

midgen berry heronswood-270x480But we limit ourselves to growing deciduous fruit, because we’re also aware that it’s going to take another lifetime to really get good at just doing that, and there’s a risk in spreading ourselves too thin of doing lots of things badly.sisters at Heronswood-800x449So when I visited the beautiful garden at Heronswood with the family the other day, I was buying for our garden, not the farm. Heronswood is a wonderful multi-site nursery that specialises in a huge diversity of heritage food plants, and it was extremely difficult to not buy everything I’d never heard of (or had long lusted after) to bung in the garden!

nina heronswood-800x449I contented myself with the following list:

  • passionfruit
  • goji berry
  • pecan tree
  • samphire
  • choke berry

Now, to find somewhere to plant them….

bees heronswood-270x480