This article, and the one to follow, describe our latest ideas for growing the kinds of veggies that caterpillars love as much as we do.
Three years ago we built a garden area covered with a veggie net, about 6 by 5 meters. The image below was taken inside it.
We got lots of food from that covered garden, and we learned lots in the process. But several things always bothered me about it.
The size of net needed to cover that area, with enough of it on the ground to be able to weigh it down to keep bandicoots out, was quite large. So it was cumbersome and hard to maintain. It got mouldy, and it started getting long tears in it so it had to be periodically taken off and stitched up.
Going under the (often wet and heavy) net to enter the garden was tedious. Because of that, we didn’t go into the garden as often as we could have so it was never tended as well as it could have been.
And finally, what would we do with all that nylon when it really started to fall apart and couldn’t be mended anymore?
I still have that last question ringing in my ears, haven’t answered that one yet. But I’m excited to share our ideas for tackling some of the other challenges we’ve found that come along with larger gardens run by families who have lots of other things to do besides taking care of the garden.
A few months ago, we decided we needed something more “modular” that could be built and tended to in small sections. This article (and the next one, coming soon, which I’ll link to as soon as its ready) is all about what we decided to try.
Half barrels and mulberry branches
What you see in the image above is a row of half 200-litre drums (known as 55-gallon drums in the US and 44-gallon drums in the UK). They have veggies growing in them, and mulberry branches holding up a veggie net over them.
In this article, I’ll tell you all about preparing the barrels. Then in another one soon, I’ll tell you about the branches and the net.
Preparing the barrels
Above: a drum with its bottom and top cut off (the tops and bottoms are in the background) being measured and marked for cutting in half. Helpers at the ready, tools poised.
Anonymous helpers doing the cutting.
Row of cut drums, placed on cardboard to stop the weeds from growing up the sides quite as fast as they otherwise would.
Holes in the cardboard to allow for drainage and the movements of small critters right away, rather than only after the cardboard decomposes.
Filling with soil. This soil happens to be fill that a kind truck driver agreed to dump in our front paddock when council were scrapping the road edges near our place a while ago.
A wheelbarrow load of semi-composted chicken litter from the chook pen going on top of the soil. (“Chook pen” = Australian for “chicken pen.”)
Below: ready for mulching, planting, and a veggie net.
(And watering, but since we were doing this in our rainy season, the rain came reliably right on time. We will set up some kind of barrel irrigation system for our short dry periods. When we do, I’ll tell you all about it.)
Smaller ‘n’ slower might be better
A principle of Permaculture is to “use small and slow solutions,” instead of big, fast ones, where-ever possible. In hindsight, our effort to build a big garden instead of a small one backfired on us.
We did grow a lot of food, and we learned a lot, but over time the bigness of that structure and the task of accessing and tending to what was inside it wore us down and gradually the weeds took over our garden while the mould took over our net.
I can now run across the grass right before a meal, lift a very small section of insect netting, pluck out just what I need, and be back in the kitchen a few minutes later. It makes harvesting a pleasure instead of a chore.
No wet drizzle anywhere on me from creeping under a heavy net, and no tricky replacing of bandicoot barriers with one hand while hanging onto dinner with the other hand. I’m much more likely to visit the garden often this way, which in the long run will add up to a better cared for garden.
Scale and convenience
With the barrels, I don’t need to square my shoulders, take a deep breath, and try to make myself start on an entire 30 square meters all at once. I can take care of just one or a few barrels. So much less daunting.
Next, our row of barrels is going to need a framework of some kind to hold up an insect net. What could we use that’s readily available, inexpensive, and preferably bio-degradable at the end of its lifetime?
I’ll tell you all about that, in the next post here.