Editor’s note: This story comes to us from the black sandy soils of NSW’s mid-north coast, about 10km outside Forster.
For several years, I looked at the scrubby bit of grass on our sloping black sand back yard and imagined the amazing garden that could be – if only we had a bit more cash to buy the sleepers for raised garden beds, if only I could build a nice flat terrace, if only I was a big strong capable builder, instead of a student who has trouble hammering a nail in straight.
So the garden stayed in my imagination until last year when our permaculture guru friend Tiny came to stay.
Tiny is a wanderer, a gentle giant – raised on sugarcane plantations in the far Northeast of Queensland. His first taste of permaculture made him question the agriculture he’d practiced his whole life. Tiny became a permaculture convert and has since taken permaculture as far away as Namibia.
Tiny marks the first corner of the mound!
So Tiny considers the scrubby patch of grass, we watch the sun’s movements for a day and that was the last bit of rest we’ve had since – the permaculture mound was born!
Based on the ‘wick theory’ that the plants will take up the moisture they require, the mound is literally what its name implies – the dirt from the ditches created the first layer, followed by horse manure, seaweed, blood ‘n bone, a bit of lime, a 4cm thick layer of soggy cardboard and lucerne. This was all topped off with thick leaves and mulch. To plant, we poked a hole through the cardboard to allow the tap root to go down, threw in a handful of hearty earth and tucked the seedlings in.
The ditches surrounding the mound provide the water and moisture that the mound requires – also layered with plenty of cardboard and mulch, the ditches collect rainwater from the mound and also our greywater. If this isn’t enough in the heat of summer, they receive an extra water as well.
The mound is interplanted – mostly with vegetables and a few beneficial flowers – for colour, shape and size. The tall straight lines of leek contrast with the waving red leaves of beetroot, the broad beans have tiny black and white flowers whilst the marigolds are golden suns amongst the green.
My nieces and grandmother enjoy the mound – it is calming to walk along the ditch harvesting salad from a variety of leafy vegetables. A few snow peas, cherry tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini made the Christmas stir fry.
The mound has brought us closer to our neighbours – curious and amused perhaps at first to see us digging and piling up this huge mound, then appreciative of the idea of permaculture, and now, keen consumers of our excess vegetables and volunteers to help water, raise seedlings or collect paper, manure and leaves for the ongoing ‘mounding up’. It is a cliché because it is so true – homegrown food for nourishing our bodies, it is also nourishing our community.