"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Veggie garden.

Looking down the rows. Leeks on the left, cabbage centre and Kale right.
The veggie garden is one of my favourite places. I enjoy pottering about whenever I have a few spare minutes. Pulling out weeds, checking the growth and snacking on peas. The changing seasons are felt here more than any other part of the farm. The garden has a cycle repeated each year. I am constantly tweaking it with small changes each season. Bit by bit as I learn more this tweaking is paying off and the garden is producing more and better food each year.
Fiesta chillies. My favourite.
The start of the year, as far as the garden is concerned, is the winter planting. To get ready for this we slash the garden after the wet season and turn it over. This is when I will empty the compost heaps onto the garden and add lime. In the tropics it is rare to find any of the "no-dig" adherents with a garden large enough to really produce food. Out of simple self defence against the rampant tropical growth we are forced to turn the soil twice a year. It is the only form of realistic weed control without spraying poisons everywhere. So we instead use the wet season growth as a green manure and turn it in each year.
This is a wheel hoe. It really makes a difference when weeding between rows.

The garden beds are then laid out. I have a four bed rotation system so that each year the whole garden rotates anti clockwise by one plot. This means that nothing will be grown in the same plot more than once in four years. Obviously we can only grow the annuals in these plots. Perennial plants are grown in the borders around the garden perimeter where they act as windbreaks and grass barrier. Our plot rotation is in this order,
  1. Root vegetables
  2. Legumes
  3. Brassicas
  4. General bed for anything that does not fall into the above categories.

Originally we only manured plot 1 each year and there is nothing wrong with doing this but I simply had a lot of excess compost to use and so I spread it around the whole area now. The only exception is if I am planting something that likes old manured soil, like garlic, that will not do well on fresh compost.
So to get back to the winter planting. After the beds are prepared we plant everything that likes to grow in the cooler part of the year. Peas, Cabbage, Kale, lettuce, Leeks, Potatoes (if we are growing them, we live in a potato growing district and I can easily buy large quantities of cheap potatoes), Jerusalem artichoke, silver beet, Carrots, Shallots, Radish, Turnip and garlic. I usually grow several different varieties of each and as time goes by I learn what likes our climate and soil. There is a lot of excess and this goes to the pigs or other livestock. Nothing is wasted.
As the weather warms up we enter the warm-dry season (as opposed to the monsoon or wet season at the end of summer, we don't really have a spring or autumn here) and we put in the second planting. Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrots, Cucumber, Zucchini, Beans, Lettuce, Sweet potato, Bok-choi, Radish, Okra, Pumpkin and Tomato.
We then enter the wet season. This time of year is a rush to get the water loving plants to harvest before we lose the garden to weeds. They grow too quickly to hand weed effectively and it is far too boggy to get the tractor in to turn it over. So I fight a retreat until the last harvest is out and then let it go to growth for a month. In some climates they have a downtime due to snow, here it is due to water. In the wet we will plant a bit more lettuce, carrots and sweet corn which loves water. Then we are back to the winter preparation and planting again.
NOT a staged shot. I just took a picture of the basket one night before dinner.

Our single biggest problem is obviously the volume of rain we get. We live in one of the wettest places in Australia if not the wettest.
For example
  • 2007 had 4250mm / 13.94 feet of rain
  • 2008 had 3953mm / 12.96 Ft
  • 2009 had 3286mm / 10.78 Ft - a bit dry that year...
  • 2010 had 4330mm / 14.20 Ft
  • 2011, well I need to add up the diary entries still but I can say it will be the wettest by far. We experienced a six month, wet season! It rained nearly solidly for half the year!
So obviously we are looking into somehow obtaining a secondhand industrial greenhouse to cover the garden. This way we can control the amount of water hitting the garden. We will also be able to reduce the amount of nutrient leached out of the soil which should have a big impact on the garden.


  1. I love it when I stay, we have vegies for tea and you just go out and get them. You need a lettuce? I'll just go cut one! And the asparagus! It will stand out in my mind forever just how good freshly cut asparagus is. Okay - just made myself hungry :)

  2. Fantastic! We have a lad here from Scotland who is very farm friendly I wish I could mail him to you for a little bit :)