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My garden transformation project (progress update: month three to six)

I’m six months into my year long project to transform the garden from lawn (front and back) to the beginnings of a food forest. And because I promised I’d share my progress (or lack of) with you, it’s time for an update.

My goal is to produce more of my own food, have surplus to share with the neighbours, make the garden a more diverse ecosystem, use plants to help reduce the harsh summer heat, and have a place to spend time away from screens and the news.

If you missed the first update, you can read it here (progress report month one to three).

In some ways it doesn’t feel like I’ve got much to report, but looking through the photos, things have certainly changed a little.

Digging out the lawn (front garden)

After a mammoth effort and bit of help from the neighbours, the lawn at the front is 90 per cent dug out. There is still a strip next the the driveway, and the last of the garden bed mounded against the house.

(Before you ask me any questions about lawn removal, have a read of the post I wrote explaining why I’m digging it my lawn by hand.)

My long-term goal is to put in-ground vegetable beds here. I also want to put up a frame and grow a grape vine (or two) across the front of the house to help keep out the harsh summer sun. Grapes are great because they are deciduous – they will shade the house in summer but lose their leaves in winter, and let the winter sun in.

Once I’ve got the last of the grass out I’ll make a bit more of a plan.

In the meantime I was gifted some seed potatoes and had some leftover leek seedlings (and a few silverbeet swapped with a neighbour for some surplus kale plants), and I still had soil left from my bulk delivery for the back yard garden beds.

So I bought a couple of second-hand raised beds on Gumtree as a quick and easy way to plant these out.

The front garden looks a little weird currently, but the plan is starting to form (even if only in my head).

Digging out the lawn (back garden)

I haven’t made a huge amount of progress here, but I have expanded the grass free area between the fig and the mulberry, and cleared the grass behind the big raised vegetable beds.

I also removed a bit more grass to plant the lemon and lime trees.

(If you’re thinking they are planted close together, that is deliberate. I don’t want them to get too big in this spot, and so being close the roots will restrict one another. I just need to prune them as they grow to ensure the branches don’t get tangled together – which is easy to do.)

Growing trees:

At the end of March I purchased a few trees to plant (including the lemon I just mentioned – the lime was a housewarming gift).

I’ve planted the macadamia in the south-west corner of the garden. As it grows, it will shade the rest of the garden from the harsh afternoon summer sun and protect the other plants. Macadamias are native to Queensland and can handle a bit of brutal summer sun.

I’ve planted the pomegranate in a spot that doesn’t get much sun in winter, which is fine as they are deciduous. As it grows taller it will have more access to the sun year round (it just needs to get as tall as the gutters, really) which will help with fruiting.

I planted the Chilean guava, a lemon verbena and an ice-cream bean tree (grown from seed, this one) along the back between the banana and the macadamia. The ice-cream bean has not appreciated being transplanted and I’m waiting to see if it survives. I did grow a few more successfully from seed, so if this one fails I have a back-up.

Ice-cream beans are nitrogen-fixing trees, meaning they have nodules on their roots which add nitrogen to the soil from the air. Magic. I want to have a few nitrogren-fixing plants to help with the soil biology. (All Acacia species are nitrogen-fixing too, and we have some great native ones so I’m hoping to add some smaller ones in too at some stage.)

Growing vegetables:

The three garden beds at the back are looking great, and I’ve started to pick the broccoli and cauliflower. One they go I’ll sow more carrots and plant some beetroot seeds.

I’ve also got plenty of kale (three different types), possibly too many leeks, garlic (which will be harvested in spring), silverbeet and a sole ruby chard, some peas that aren’t very happy with life, and mixed Asian greens (pak choi/bok choy, an interesting green one that I have no idea what it is, and possibly a third variety). There are also a few carrots germinating in between.

Garden plans: what’s next?

The passion fruit I purchased in March is still in its pot (and yes I’m feeling guilty about that) and my next plan is to rip out some of the rosemary hedge and get that in the ground. I have a few other potted plants that need to be planted out (like the bay tree).

The rest of the front lawn needs to come out, and I need to submit my verge plan to council so I can get that started. (More grass digging. Yay.)

I also want to chip away at the lawn out the back, so the various mulched sections start to join.

Then there is the reticulation to be sorted (I got a quote, but did nothing with it – but I’ll need this sorted before September) and hopefully the final front garden vegetable beds will be prepped.

Lots to do!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a garden, or garden plans? What are you planting? What are you reading up on and learning about? Anything else to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Build a DIY Worm Farm

One of the first things I noticed once I stopped buying plastic packaging was that my rubbish bin was now filled almost exclusively with organic waste – vegetable peelings, fruit skins and cores, leaves and the like. In the UK my local council had provided a brown bin for organic waste, which was industrially composted, but here in Perth Australia it was heading straight to landfill.

This meant someone was driving a truck to my flat, picking up my organic waste, driving it to a landfill site, dumping it into a hole in the ground and covering it with rocks. With fuel and machinery costs, wages, increased pollution from vehicle emissions, and the resulting contaminated land, it seemed like a lot of energy (and effort) was being wasted dealing with something I could potentially deal with at home.

And so I built a worm farm! I use the term ‘built’ loosely, as there was no actual building involved. In fact, it is dead simple. Additionally, I spent ZERO! Nothing! Zilch!

How to Build a Worm Farm

What you will need: two polystyrene boxes, a skewer, scissors, junk mail or shredded paper, some worms, an old towel

I salvaged two polystyrene boxes with lids from my local supermarket. (I just went to the Fruit & Veg section and asked a member of staff.) In Australia, vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts are delivered in these, and once emptied of stock, they are simply thrown away.

The boxes need to be the same width and length, but the same depth is not necessary.

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Two insulated boxes, courtesy of the supermarket. The bottom box doesn’t need a lid as the other box sits directly on top.

The boxes will be stacked on top of one another, so if they are different depths, choose the shallowest to sit on the bottom.

The top box is for the worms, and so needs drainage holes. The bottom box will be used to collect liquid that drains from the other box, so no holes in this one! To pierce holes in the bottom of the box simply use a skewer, making the holes approximately an inch apart.

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Drainage holes allow liquid to drain away, and stop your worms from drowning. The liquid collects in the bottom box.

Place a layer of cardboard at the base of the top box so that the worms do not fall through the holes. Next, add some shredded paper to make bedding for the worms. This is a great way to get rid of those annoying supplements and catalogues that come in the newspapers, or in the mail.

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If you don’t have a shredder (I don’t) then you can make strips of paper for bedding by cutting slits in a newspaper at 1cm intervals along the spine, and then tearing.

Using a litre of water (ideally rain water of filtered water, if you have) pour carefully over the bedding to ensure it is wet. Any excess water will drain through to the bottom box.

And then…worms! I got mine from a friend but many community gardens offer them either free or for a small fee. You can also find them on gumtree or freecycle. If all else fails they can be purchased at the big DIY stores but be aware that these will have potentially been sitting on the shelf for a long period of time and may not be in very good health, so will take longer to get going.

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The worms in their new home : ) One fistful of worms needs one fistful of food per week. It’s important not to overfeed them as this means a stinky worm farm and can also attract other unwanted pesties who want in on the action.

Finally, cover the worms with an old towel, sack or carpet, or if you don’t have these to hand then use cardboard. This cover keeps the worms dark and damp, and keeps flies out. If you’ve used cardboard or something biodegradable you will eventually have to replace this as it will disintegrate over time.

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An old flour sack acting as a worm blanket, as I don’t have any old towels.

Lastly, replace the polystyrene box lid, after piercing a couple of holes for air, and place in a shaded spot. My worm farm lives on my balcony but it would be fine to keep indoors in a laundry or kitchen…if you wanted to!

Do not feed the worms for a few days to give them a chance to settle into their new home.

And there you have it – a DIY worm farm that didn’t cost you a penny!