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5 steps to a productive food garden (progress in pictures)

It’s been just over a year since I moved into my “new” (1970s) house, and just under a year since my garden transformation began. (The transformation from lawn to productive food garden, that is.) And this last month, things have really (finally) taken a big leap forward.

There is still so much to do, but a lot of things have come together, and it’s starting to resemble in real life what until now has only existed in my head.

The main change, which was holding everything else up, was installing reticulation. I already had a bore installed, which is a pump that pulls up groundwater (the groundwater level where I live is pretty close to the surface). Using groundwater means I don’t have to use mains drinking water for the garden.

Having reticulation means I don’t have to water everything by hand every day.

(The alternative to not watering at all would be living on a sandpit.)

Having reticulation means I can now plant out my garden beds, and believe me, I wasted no time. The front garden is well on its way to becoming a productive food space.

If you’ve been following along since the project began, it is virtually unrecognizable these days.

I wanted to talk you through the five stages of getting this up and running. Depending on the scale you want to grow, stages might take less (or much more) time – but the principles are the same.

Step 1: Planning the growing space

Before I could install reticulation, I needed to figure out (more or less) what I was going to do with the space, as different plants have different water requirements. Some things have no water requirements. Also, different types of reticulation are more practical in certain spaces.

Not to mention, installing reticulation means digging trenches everywhere and laying PVC pipe, so I needed to know where the paths would be and the edges of zones. (This is why I haven’t planted out heaps of plants so far… I didn’t want to kill them all when all the roots are messed with.)

The previous reticulation was pop up sprayers everywhere, which meant my laundry got soaked as one fired directly onto the clothes line, my chickens got soaked as one fired directly onto them, Hans the greyhound got soaked as one fired directly onto his wallowing hole…

Plus delivery drivers parking on my verge (when there is a perfectly good driveway or road) had trashed the PVC pipe so when it was turned on, a man-made geyser channelled litres of water down the street.

Not every corner of the garden needs water (such as the places we sit). So thinking about where plants will grow and where they won’t is an important first step.

Figuring out what I will plant now and how the garden will evolve in future was pretty important so water goes to the right places. It’s not that I can’t change the reticulation later, but it is more expensive and very inefficient to do so! I can add on to what I have, of course.

Step 2: Deciding on plant zones

I have four main growing zones in the garden: vegetable beds, fruit trees, lawn and the verge. Each of these is now set up with its own watering schedule and different type of reticulation.

For the vegetable beds, I wanted overhead sprayers. They allow an even distribution of water across an area, and work for both raised beds and in-ground beds. They are the most flexible option: I can interchange the types of beds (installing raised beds, or removing them) without having to alter the reticulation, as well as switching things like orientation.

Drip lines (which I had at the old place) are fiddly with vegetables because different crops have different spacing requirements, so what works one season might not work the next. There is also heaps of pipe to move every time you want to add stuff to the soil. And because the drip lines sit on the soil, raised beds need raised pipe, and if you remove the beds you also need to lower the pipe.

For the trees, I’ve used drip lines. The trees are round the edge of the property, next to the fence and down the side of the house, so sprayers wouldn’t work as well – plus they’d spray the chickens, the dog and my laundry. Plus trees tend to stay in the same place for a long time, so its unlikely I’ll need to change anything here.

For the lawn, I’ve used overhead sprayers. I find pop-ups really annoying – they break all the time, get stuck in the lawn and are generally frustrating. The overhead sprayers are located around the edge of the lawn – it is small enough not to need anything in the centre.

The verge will be drip lines (so delivery drivers have nothing to snap). But it’s currently still weedy lawn, so I’ve left that until autumn when I’m ready to plant out.

Step 3: Figuring out a watering schedule / installing the reticulation

If you live somewhere with plentiful rainfall, you can probably skip this step – or at least on this scale. For me, this was a big (and expensive) job… but it had to be done.

The bore pump and original control box were still usable (although the control box needed moving) but everything else needed updating. Trenches were dug everywhere (the whole place was chaos) and pipes laid, and then more pipes laid.

But when it was finally turned on, and there was water! – oh, it was worth it.

(The previous reticulation pipes are decades old, and the control box is something out of the 1980s, so it had a good innings. The new pipework should all last a (my) lifetime. Expensive upfront, but over 20 – 30 years, not so much.)

Step 4: Preparing the soil for the vegetable garden

My plan has always been to have in-ground beds at the front of the house, and as soon as the reticulation was installed, I got creating them. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to even get things growing this year – my rule is, if it isn’t in the ground before Christmas day, it doesn’t get planted until April. Perth summers are too hot to be trying to get seeds and young seedlings going in January/February.

To get started quickly, I cheated – and ordered in a veggie concentrate mix. My soil, being basically hydrophobic sand, has nothing of worth for vegetable growing. To make the amount of compost I’d need for all these beds (prepping them all at once) would take years.

Not to mention all of the different soil amendments I’d need, too.

I ordered 2 cubic meters of veggie concentrate from the Green Life Soil Co for the beds. It’s a mix that can be mixed 50:50 with existing sandy soil to grow vegetables. It meant I could shovel, and plant the next day.

(As opposed to something like lasagne beds, which need a few weeks after creating before planting out – time that I don’t have, I need to use the cooler days whilst they still exist – and would also mean driving around getting all the components, and on a huge scale.)

I prepped the soil using a broadfork to loosen the sandy soil, and then shoveled the concentrate on top, and raked and forked it in.

Once the beds are established I can add compost and other elements as I need them, but starting from scratch – and in summer – I wanted to give my plants the best chance of success.

I ordered enough soil mix for what should have been 4.5 – 5 beds, but I seem to have enough for 5.5, so I’m keeping going until it’s all dug in. I have space for 7 beds in total, all 4 m long. I’d like to tell you it is enough space (along with my two and a half raised beds at the back) but I really don’t think it is!

(I was going to order enough soil for 7 beds, but the guy at Green Life talked me out of it. I think he was worried I was biting off more than I could chew!)

Step 5: Planting out my vegetable garden

As I prepped the beds, I started planting. Not a moment to waste!

I’ve used a mix of seedlings grown from seed and bought seedlings (capsicums, marigolds for companion plating with the tomatoes, basil because my seeds were duds, and cherry tomatoes because I was struggling to even find seeds – I always said to myself I would never buy tomato seedlings as they are so easy to grow but I panicked! I’ve since found seeds.)

Because I wasn’t sure if the reticulation would be finished I didn’t plant seeds early, and I also have a lot of expired seeds, so I decided to have a clearout and see what germinated. It’s resulted in a bit of a motley crew but it means next year I will be much more organised.

{Coughs.

At the front I’ve planted:

Bed 1 – Roma tomatoes and basil.

Bed 2 – capsicums and eggplants/aubergine.

Bed 3 – cherry tomatoes and basil.

Bed 4 – cucumbers (Lebanese and Armenian) and I’ll be planting zucchini/squash.

Bed 5 – corn (Chinese mini corn, that’s started to germinate, and regular corn from an old seed pack, so we will see what happens there.) Once the corn is done, I’m going to plant climbing beans in between.

Bed 6 – this bed is currently sandwiching the raised bed I already had full of leeks, that I’m keeping for now. Until I can harvest the leeks, at least. I’ve planted pumpkins on one half, and I still need to add soil to the other part. I might plant spaghetti squash here.

Bed 7 – I don’t have soil for this yet, but I’m thinking about planting okra here. This bed is the most exposed, and okra can handle the heat pretty well.

I have excess tomato seedlings, and I also want to grow gherkins, so I’m planning on planting these in some of the empty wicking bed pots.

At the back I’ve planted:

Raised bed 1: blackjack zucchini and bush/dwarf beans (Cherokee yellow, and purple).

Raised bed 2: Virginia bunch peanuts (my kale in there is still looking good so it’s staying, and there are carrots still from winter).

Raised bed 3: the smaller bed is still filled with leeks, and ruby chard.

I also have some overwintered chillies – jalapenos, cayenne and birdseye – in large pots, so I’ve refreshed the soil and these will be good for another summer. I’ve already pickled my first jar of jalapenos.

Creating a productive food garden – what’s next?

At the front, the three raised beds made out of a chopped up rainwater tank need filling with soil and planting out. I’ve started a lasagne bed in one with things I had on hand (leaves, grass clippings, straw and compost) but I need to finish it off, fill the second one and put the third one into place (which involves relocating my two compost bins, one of which is still mid-brew).

The hedge area next the vegetable beds is going to be removed and planted with fruit trees – something else that probably won’t happen until winter.

And then there’s the digging out of the lawn on the verge.

At the back, I’m adding a second passion fruit near the first because the plan is to add an outdoor shower (why let the water go down the drain when you can add it directly to the soil?!) and the new passionfruit will screen one side.

(Haven’t figured out the screening of the other side, or the front yet!)

I was hoping to plant a couple more trees but all of the nurseries have sold out of what I want (a panache fig and a persimmon – they blame Covid). I’m also keen to get my fruit tree espalier area set up, but I might need to change the fencing (which is currently asbestos) so that might be a bigger, slower and more expensive job than I’d like.

So there is still a lot to do, but it is starting to come together. The more pressing challenge will be keeping all the plants I’ve planted alive (I’ve mulched with pea straw, and I’ll be setting up shadecloth), and then eating and preserving the harvest so it doesn’t go to waste. I’m not sure a gardener’s job is ever done.

Now Id love to hear from you! Are you growing food right now? What have you planted? Or if you’re in winter, what are you planning for Spring? Want to set up a new veggie patch and have questions for getting started? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the space below!

How I’m planning my garden for food production

I’ve officially lived in my “new” (to me) house for 12 months (since October 2019). I started my garden transformation project in January and whilst it’s no way near being finished, I thought it was time for an update.

I thought I’d talk you through some of the planning and design, and explain the different choices I’ve made and why I’ve made them.

Just as a reminder, this is what I started with:

My garden is designed with permaculture principles in mind. What this means, is designing for the climate and with nature, rather than against it. I completed a Permaculture Design Course back in 2016, which is two weeks of full-time learning, and is a great foundation for making good decisions around environmentally sensitive garden design.

There are 12 principles to permaculture which help inform all the decisions. Some are self-explanatory, and others have a few different meanings depending on the context. The principles are:

  • Observe and interact;
  • Catch and store energy;
  • Obtain a yield;
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback;
  • Use and value renewable resources and services;
  • Produce no waste;
  • Design from patterns to details;
  • Integrate rather than segregate;
  • Use small and slow solutions;
  • Use and value diversity;
  • Use edges and value the marginal;
  • Creatively use and respond to change.

Permaculture garden design: designing for the climate

When planning a garden it’s helpful to think about the patterns (permaculture principle: design from patterns to details). Things that might change from day to day, but run in cycles, whether they are monthly, yearly or something else.

One of the biggest considerations when planning a garden is the climate. It affects so much: the types of things you can plant, when you can plant them, how much water you need, whether you need wind or sun protection, and I’m sure there’s more.

In Perth, we have a Mediterranean climate, hot (brutal) summer sun, and lack of rain. On the plus side, there are 300 days of sun a year, and where I live, we don’t get winter frost.

Which means I need to have a good and reliable water source (reticulation is a must, unless you want to water everything by hand every day in summer), and shade for the hottest summer months.

(Yes, in Perth, plants that are described as ‘needing full sun’ need some shade in summer.)

The temperature range also dictates the kinds of plants that will thrive. I can plant some tropical plants (bananas and mangoes will grow well, but not as well as in the tropics) and I can plant some cooler weather plants (like apples and pears, but they need to be low chill varieties as there won’t be a frost – which some trees need).

Mediterranean plants grow really well, as it’s the ideal climate for them.

Permaculture garden design: designing for microclimates

Within most gardens there are microclimates. Put simply, conditions will be different in different spots of the garden. Some spots will get the gentle early morning sun (here it comes from the north), others will be blasted by the brutal afternoon sun from the west). Buildings can radiate heat and create warmer zones. Some areas will be shaded in winter, others all year round.

You don’t need to have a big garden to have microclimates. A sunny spot right outside the kitchen doors only big enough for a couple of pots is a microclimate.

But it helps to be aware of microclimates (permaculture principle: design from patterns to details) so that you can choose plants that will survive best in these areas. In my garden, tropical plants need to go in the sunniest spot and get full winter as well as summer sun. Planting next to brick walls will help beause of the radiant heat (this isn’t really an option in my garden).

Deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves and go dormant in winter) can be planted in a spot that gets summer sun and winter shade (closer to buildings). Without summer sun they won’t set fruit. Because they lose their leaves in winter, they won’t cast a big shadow over the garden like an evergreen tree will.

Permaculture garden design: planning zones

In permaculture design there are five zones, but for urban gardens it’s really only practical to have zones 1 and 2 (and maybe 3).

I’ll run through the permaculture zones quickly.

The zones are often imagined as concentric circles, but when applied to a block or dwelling, they tend not to be perfectly round, following boundaries and paths.

  • Zone 1: Closest to the house and/or following well-used pathways. These are the spots that require the most attention and will be visited most frequently. Usually described as the spot for a kitchen garden: vegetables, herbs, kitchen compost bins, seed raising.
  • Zone 2: Slightly further away from the house, and requiring slightly less maintenance. Perennial vegetables might be in this zone, along with fruit trees, beehives, chickens or quail.
  • Zone 3: Further away again, and usually dedicated to farmland: farm crops, orchards, livestock and semi-sufficient bird flocks, dams. I would argue that an urban native verge could be considered as zone 3.
  • Zone 4: A semi-wild area. In permaculture design, this is where you might forage or collect firewood, and possibly grow a woodlot.
  • Zone 5: Wilderness.
  • Zone 6: Not an official permaculture zone – the wider community. This is useful to think about in urban design when there is no space for outer zones, because produce can be swapped or traded, or several households can benefit from a single tree.

When I talk about zones in my urban garden, I’m really talking about zones that I’ve decided within permaculture zones 1 and 2, with some consideration for zone 6. (Permaculture principle: obtain a yield.)

Any vegetables I grow fit into the category of ‘kitchen garden’ rather than ‘urban farm’ because I’ll want to access them frequently and will be planting smaller beds of many different crops. I’m not planting out whole fields and then leaving them to do their thing.

Plant zones I’m planning for:

  • A herb garden. Herbs add so much flavour to a meal, and are easy to grow.
  • A vegetable patch. Of course.
  • Perennial vegetables. Plant once and they come up year after year (examples: asparagus, artichokes.)
  • Deciduous fruit trees.
  • Evergreen fruit trees.
  • Lawn. (Reluctantly, but my greyhound still needs some space to whizz about!)
  • Chickens. The long-term plan is to let them free range different areas of the garden at different times of the year, but they still need a house and a base.
  • Native plants. These are waterwise plants native to the local area (or sometimes, a little further afield) that attract pollinators and provide habitat.

With all of this in mind, let me share the latest update for the garden. I’m pretty excited because this week someone is coming round to help me sort out the reticulation with my plan in mind, which means the part of all of this where I get to plant *all the things* is getting closer.

(If you’re new here, you might like to read these first: My garden transformation project (Progress update: month one to three) ; My garden transformation project: why I’m digging out my lawn by hand ; My garden transformation project (progress update: month three to six).)

Planting out the front verge

I haven’t made any progress on the verge, but now the front lawn is dug out I’ve set my sights on removing this. The plan is to plant natives here, to provide habitat and food for insects, birds and whoever else might like to come here (permaculture principle: use and value diversity).

Because it’s not my land but council land there are some restrictions around what I can plant. I’m not allowed to place fixed structures (like raised garden beds) and because there is no footpath I have to leave a 1.5m gap between the road and the plantings.

The big fiddlewood tree which dominates the verge dictates some of the design for my front yard, as it casts a huge shadow in winter over the garden.

Planting out the front yard

(With your back to the house, the front garden faces north-east.)

I finally dug out all of the grass at the front (permaculture principle: use small and slow solutions), and am pleased to report that there was been no return of couch grass over the wet winter months.

(Not to say there won’t be any regrowth, but if it hasn’t come yet I think it will be very manageable.)

The plan from here is to turn the front into one giant in ground veggie bed zone (permaculture principle: obtain a yield). It will be a rectangle from the edge where I took the photo to the green box on the far wall (the gas meter), and across about as far as the silver metal bed.

It will measure 7m x 4m, approx. (Those two cream raised beds were a temporary solution whilst I was still digging out the grass. They’ll be moved: either to the back garden, or if I can’t find space there I’ll list them on Gumtree, which is where I got them in the first place.)

Along the back where you can see a small wooden (painted blue) raised bed and a hedge, I’m going to plant deciduous fruit trees, probably stone fruit that grow in a vase shape. I’m planning to place a compost bin in between each tree. I think the big tree on the verge will give too much shade in winter for evergreen trees (permaculture principle: observe and interact).

These three metal beds were an old rainwater tank my neighbour had, that she chopped into four pieces. She is keeping the base, and gifted me the other three bits. I’m going to try placing these on the boundary between the verge and the front garden, which is under the tree. There is a bit of competition between roots here, so the raised beds will give more growing area to the plants I plant.

There is also a lot more shade, meaning it isn’t suitable for sun-loving edibles. I’m thinking I’ll plant one with herbs, one with perennials and leafy greens, and one with tea (well, plants that tea can be made from, like chamomile, rather than literal tea plants) and medicinal herbs.

Planting out the eastern side of the block

Going round the corner where the gas meter is, towards the back garden, is the eastern side of the house.

This doesn’t get much sun – the tall trees in the neighbour’s yard block the early morning sun (well, that and my fence!) and the house shades the space from the afternoon sun. It’s noticeably cooler than the rest of the yard (a microclimate!).

Because the bed along here is raised and the house is single storey, the top canopy of the trees here reach the sun for most of the day in summer. Which got me thinking – could I grow deciduous fruit trees along here?

The fruit will need 5-6 hours of sun to set, and it will only be possible on the higher branches, but I’m going to give it a go. I’m also going to espalier the trees I plant too, which means growing the branches along horizontal poles. This means I can train the branches to reach the sun, the fruit won’t grow over the neighbour’s fence, and will be easier to net for fruit fly in what is a fiddly space. I’m not sure it will work, but worth trying.

The best deciduous trees to espalier are the pome fruits (apples, pears, quince) and persimmons will also work. (Stone fruit don’t, as they prefer to grow in a vase shape and their branches aren’t suited to it.)

At the end of this space is the pomegranate I planted earlier in the year. This section gets more sun, so I’ll definitely be able to get another (deciduous) tree in here – I’m thinking a persimmon.

Planting out the back yard

The back yard is where most of the work has happened so far. Being the biggest space, there are a number of zones: the tropical / evergreen fruit tree zone, the lawn, chickens and the deciduous tree zone.

I added some raised garden beds to the tropical zone when Covid-19 hit in March, because the front wasn’t ready and I wanted to grow vegetables, fast. They’ve been great. Once the front is established and the trees grow bigger I may remove them (the small one first), but they’ll stay for another year or so at least.

Behind the veggie beds are a banana, a papaya, an ice cream bean (which is a nitrogen fixer), an orange berry and a macadamia. Plus two Chilean guavas and a lemon verbena, which are more shrubs than trees – and four pineapple plants.

The macadamia is planted in the far (west) corner and will be a shade tree as it grows, protecting the rest of the garden from the brutal afternoon summer sun.

As the trees get bigger I’ll probably remove the hedge too, to give them more space.

There is a lawn zone because I don’t live by myself and others like the lawn. One of the reasons I moved was to give Hans the greyhound more space, so I can’t really take it all away from him!

I’ve planted more deciduous trees closer to the house ( a mulberry and a fig), as they get less sun in winter due to shading from the building.

I’ve added a passionfruit to act as a screen – it’s not deciduous but it’s fast growing, and so it can climb high (and the top of the trellis is in full sun).

Since I planted the passion fruit (in July) it’s barely grown – in fact, it’s shrunk…, but with the warmer weather I’ve spotted new shoots, so I’m hoping it’s going to cover the frame pretty soon.

The screen is to hide the washing line (and protect the clothes from bleaching in summer!) and keep some sun off of the building. This helps keep the inside of the house cool, and reduces the need for cooling in summer.

(The tree in the foreground is a lime; there’s also a lemon next to it.)

Once I’ve got the reticulation in, I can start to think about layers. (Because there will be a lot of digging to install it, I didn’t want to plant too much and have to disturb all the roots.)

When people talk about permaculture they often talk about food forests, which is a low maintenance system of food production based on woodland ecosystems that incorporate food trees, shrubs and perennial vegetables. Food forests can be divided into a number of layers:

  • The canopy: the tallest trees. The fiddlewood tree on the front verge is a canopy tree, and my neighbour’s avocado (which is the biggest avocado tree you’ve ever seen, and helps shade the garden from the afternoon summer sun. Eventually the macadamia, ice-cream bean and mulberry will be canopy trees.)
  • Understory layer: trees that flourish under dappled light.
  • Shrub layer: woody perennials such as berries. The two Chiliean guavas and lemon verbena are part of this layer.
  • Herbaceous layer: annuals like flowers and herbs.
  • Groundcover: plants that cover the bare mulch. Sweet potato is a great one, and there are plenty of green manures.
  • Rhizosphere: root layers. Sweet potato are part of this layer as are ginger, turmeric and galangal, regular potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes.
  • Vertical layer: climbers or vines.

I don’t have too many plans for the different layers yet, as I’m still focused on the canopy and understory layers. As these grow, I’ll start to add things underneath.

The best time to plant new trees is early autumn, so most of my planting will need to wait another few months. In the meantime I can still grow vegetables, and ensure the compost bins are cranking. Always something to do!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you investing more time in the garden (or allotment, or community patch) right now? What are you growing? What has been your biggest challenge? Any questions about my garden? Any other thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

My garden transformation project (Progress update: month one to three)

I’m three months into my year-long project to transform my garden from lawn {sobs… so much lawn!} into the beginnings of an urban food forest – veggie beds and fruit trees. And I thought it was time for an update – and some progress shots.

Let me tell you, I hate in-progress shots! That time when it’s obvious you’ve done ‘something’, but it all looks patchy and half-baked and nothing the vision that’s in your head.

That’s the stage I’m at right now.

But it’s good to document progress nonetheless, and hopefully there will be a time when there are ‘after’ shots that look at least vaguely like my vision!

The garden transformation project: from lawn to food forest

The first thing I did was make a rough plan of the different ‘zones’ in the garden. I’ll talk more about how to do this in a separate post, but in simple terms, it means thinking about a few things.

First, the different uses. There are the uses/functions that I want: do I want lawn? Patio? Veggie beds? A chicken run? Fruit trees? A pond? A space for the dog? etc etc.

Then there are the different microclimates within my boundary – which affect which things will work successfully in those spaces, and which won’t work.

Even though my block is pretty small, there is still a spot that gets beaten by the afternoon sun, several spaces that won’t get any sun in winter because of the shade patterns, a cooler side area with little light that is more suitable for trees (because they can grow up to the light).

There’s also what’s going on outside my block to consider. The neighbours’ buildings and trees (which provide shade – which may or may not be a good thing, depending on where they are); trees also have roots that do not understand boundaries and like to get into unsuspecting garden beds.

And then there are the limiting factors of the climate. In Perth, the sun (and heat) is a limiting factor; water is another. And water alone isn’t enough to keep plants alive on blistering 40°C+ days in full sun. Shade is important, too. Then there is the fact that certain plants just won’t grow (and others will do fantastically well) where I live.

I can want a coconut palm tree with all my heart, but I just don’t have the right climate (not wet enough and winters are much too cold) to grow one to fruit.

So with all these things in mind, I have a few different zones:

  • The front verge – natives/edible natives (the verge is connected to my front garden but the land is owned by the council, not me. They encourage the planting of native gardens (which are waterwise) on verges.
  • The front garden (north facing) – I’d like to put in-ground veggie beds here, but there is a huge tree at the front and I need to figure out if there will be enough sun in winter.
  • The side strip (east of house) – deciduous fruit trees. There is a raised bed along the side so they have a bit of extra height to get to the sun, which they will need to set fruit. In winter when the sun is lower, deciduous fruit trees are dormant, so that works.
  • The back garden (southern end, at the back) – this is where I’m putting the hardiest and tropical plants. They will get sun all year, and will be battered by the summer afternoon sun, so it makes sense to choose the hardiest trees for here. The plan is that as they grow bigger they will provide shade from the afternoon sun for the smaller and more sensitive trees and other plants.
  • The back garden (in the middle, eastern side) – I’m planning to put citrus trees here. They will still get sun in winter.
  • The back garden (in the middle – western side) – I’m keeping some lawn. For now. They say relationships are about compromise, and here is how I compromise…
  • The back garden (furthest north, nearest the house) – deciduous trees. This spot won’t get a lot of sun in winter, which makes it perfect for deciduous trees.

(I’ll write a post sometime about planning for fruit trees, because there are a few things to know if you’re going to grow them successfully.)

These are the before photos from when I moved in (well technically from the real estate agent, hence the wide angle lens and bright colours, and taken in August when the rain is plentiful).

I’ve already written about my first steps: getting the compost cranking, and getting chickens. I also had a change of plans when I decided in March to put in some vegetable beds (something I was going to wait until later in the year – possibly September – to do).

My other priorities over the past three months have been:

  • Digging up the lawn and mulching to bring some life back into the soil;
  • Mulching the dead area down the side of the house, to get the soil semi-ready for fruit trees;
  • Starting to plant trees in other spots around the garden;
  • Getting quotes to sort out the reticulation;
  • Beginning a verge plan to submit to the council (they offer a rebate).

Digging out the lawn (front garden)

In Perth, it’s too hot to have exposed soil. The sun just kills all life. The answer is mulch. Coarse street tree prunings are ideal – they are also affordable, and sometimes even free.

After being on the waiting list at mulchnet since the October weekend I moved in, I got lucky in January. A free truckload of mulch.

Some might say, perhaps too lucky…?

I’d already started digging up the lawn at the front before this arrived – I’d shovelled four trailerloads of mulch from a friend’s place (which involved borrowing a trailer from Buy Nothing and utilising her trailer towing skills).

But now I have enough mulch for a lifetime.

In the photo below, the pile on the right is the four trailerloads, and the pile on the left is my lifetime supply. You can see the turf I’ve dug out waiting for the green waste collection on the verge (they happen four times a year).

Eventually you won’t be able to see most of the mulch covering the ground for plants, but they need to be planted in late autumn / winter / early spring when they have more chance of establishing roots and surviving.

It will also take a few years to get the plants properly established.

Digging out the lawn (back garden)

I planted a banana tree in my ‘tropical’ zone at the end of December – my first tree. It’s next to the (metal) shed to provide shelter and reflect some warmth (radiated heat) in winter.

From this spot I began to dig out more lawn. (It was a particularly straggly and patchy spot.) I’ve added a papaya and four pineapples.

Elsewhere, I also planted two more trees – a dwarf mulberry (grafted) and a fig, closer to the house. These go dormant in winter and I wanted to get them in the ground now to establish some roots first.

I’ll never forget being told this at a fruit tree workshop several years ago: never plant a one hundred dollar tree in a five dollar hole. The point being, invest in the soil more than the tree. Now my mulberry wasn’t $100 (it was $25) and the fig was a freebie grown from a cutting, but I still heed to that rule.

With the soil I have, it needs all the help I can give it.

That sand next to my mulberry tree is my base soil. Digging out a heap of that ‘soil’ to replace with compost, aged manure, seaweed, clay and a bit of biochar (scored from the side of the road) took a few hours.

But the effort, and investment in amendments like these, is worth it in the long run.

Figs are notorious for having spreading roots, but they actually grow very well with restricted roots. Pots are good but here, they dry out quickly. So I tried something I saw on the interwebs – planing in a washing machine drum.

This is one of those in-progress shots that I hate, where the trees look so small and weedy. The grass between and behind them will eventually be removed – there’s just only so much grass that can be dug out per week!

They are both fast growing trees, however, and they’ve already started to look a little less pathetic, and have reached the height of the hedge.

Growing vegetables

During summer, I’d planted out a small garden bed with tomato plants. It was positioned in its original spot to get the morning sun and afternoon shade (but no winter sun). Sadly, rats got almost all of the tomatoes (and the cayenne chillies I planted in the adjacent orange tub, disappointingly).

The whole area looks weedy and bedraggled. I decided to move the bed to a better spot for winter, and away from the hedge. (I also have a medium term plan of planting a macadamia tree where the bed is – to provide afternoon shade in summer to the rest of the garden.)

This is where the plan deviated slightly. I’d just finished digging in this bed (22nd March, my photos are date stamped so I can be sure!) when all of the coronavirus changes were starting to happen – food shortages, store restrictions, vegetable seedlings and seeds selling out, and potential lockdown.

And so I panic purchased two big garden beds to get started growing vegetables now. I went with raised beds because a) I have a dog that doesn’t like heights so won’t climb in them b) they were the quickest thing to get going c) if I want to move them later on, they are actually very lightweight d) there is a good second-hand market for them, so I can sell later if I change my mind. Oh and e) they match the one I already have.

I ordered them on the Monday, expected them to be delivered by the weekend, and they came the next day.

I spend that weekend digging out the lawn, had a soil delivery the following Monday and got the first bed ready that day. It took me until the end of the second weekend to finish the second one.

I’ve planted the beds out with seedlings, garlic and seeds from my stash that are mostly expired – so we will see if any germinate. So far I’ve had luck with radish and not much else, but it is early days.

Garden plans: what’s next?

It’s still very much on my to-do list to get the reticulation sorted, particularly as I’m beginning to plant more things out and don’t to damage any roots putting it in later.

The next priority is planting trees. I’ve purchased a few (including the macadamia I mentioned earlier) and I have a few grown from seed.

I’d normally have waited a couple more months before purchasing, when the weather is cooler, but I was worried they might lock down the tree place, so I made my move early. Now it’s important to get them in the ground.

Oh, and the other priority – digging out more lawn. Sigh.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Any garden questions, send them my way! Any comments, send them my way too! And any other thoughts you have, about growing vegetables or fruit trees, planning a garden, or anything else – share them all. Just leave a note below :)