Thursday, 24 January 2013

An experienced novice - on improving soil

I am on a mission.  I want to learn to garden properly.  And I want to do it NOW!

Six years ago we got serious about this gardening business!  I've always been a gardener.  As a single mother renting properties, I always threw in a silver beet plant or two.  But now we had our own place, the house was built and it was time to garden.  So I had a few years of experience behind me but somehow I missed learning the basics.

I think I failed to follow the seventh permaculture principle, design from patterns to details.  I immediately set about growing veggies without addressing some basic stuff.  By making a no-dig garden, I was able to grow veggies in the first year.  So here I was growing our own veggies and cooking meals from scratch.  It all felt pretty sustainable.  However I had not addressed issues with water, soil fertility, water retention of soil etc.  I had dabbled in compost but had only ever had ONE successful batch.

Now in my defence my first year of gardening was the year that Buddy Boy was born and he was quickly followed by a surprise package in the form of his little sister.  The following years were incredibly challenging and some days I was lucky to find time to glance at the garden.  But that has all changed now.  In the last six months the children have matured enough for me to be able to walk away for a little while. 

So after realising that my garden was in serious trouble, I set about changing it.  I dug over a resting bed much more deeply than usual.  I mixed in manure, leaves, blood and bone and covered the lot with straw.  I planted some bean and broad bean seeds in the hope that they germinate and then I will dig them in.
Then I began on the next bed.  I dug this one over even more thoroughly and pulled out all the rocks and stones that were under my top layer of soil.  I have at least doubled the depth of the soil.  I have added bucketloads of compost.  (More on this in a minute)  Again, I covered the bed with straw and I will just leave it for now until the weather cools a bit.
Luckily I caught up with some gardening friends last week and was lamenting my sad and sorry garden.  The timing couldn't have been better.  One of these experienced women told me how she made compost.  I've always tried to make it with a mix of ingredients and I don't think they have ever been fine enough to break down properly.  So, armed with new knowledge, I set about making compost.

The very next day I went to a racecourse to gather manure.  When they muck out the stables, they pile the manure out near the road so that people can come and collect it.  So Belle and I filled the trailer, brought it home and shovelled it into the compost bin.  Another load on the weekend with Hubby and it was full.  I covered it with straw.  The next day there was heat coming out of the top of the pile!  I'm so excited!  It's working.  I will turn the pile into the next bin soon.
We have a huge pile of chook poo that we bought last year.  I have been using it very sparingly because I was scared of over-fertilising the plants.  However after the compost conversation I realised that because it had been sitting in a large heap it would have composted.  I dug into the pile and sure enough, the middle of the pile was moist, wonderful compost!  What an idiot novice after all these years!  I had made compost - heaps of it but I didn't even know!
I added this photo to show off.  Guess who backed the trailer right up to the compost bins!

So I have spent the last three days wheeling barrowload after barrowload to the garden.  I have become so inspired with my garden that I even started making a path for it.  I have never done so much digging and shovelling in my life!
Every muscle in my body aches, I have developed a callous where my wedding ring sits, the house is upside down and the dirty washing has piled up in the laundry but I feel good!  I can see the results already, only in my minds eye at this stage but that's enough!


LyndaD said...

I agree, compost is not easy. I thought if i just kept throwing all the green stuff in a pile, it would break down and the worms would love it. Now i discover that it needs air (rotation) moisture and the right balance of carbon and nitrogen. Goodness, i have a massive job upending my big pile of clippings etc. Yes, the work does ache but it gives you a little reminder of what youve achieved. Its a good kind of sore feeling.

purplepear said...

Oh you wonderful woman you. well done, and great trailer backing there too.

Kim said...

It's a 'good kinda tired' isn't it Linda...that feeliing of a job well done after working hard. You will notice the difference in your garden...I went through much the same pattern with my garden when I gardened all the nutrients out of it and realised I had to look after the soil in there.

Busy mum of 3 said...

Aaahh yes, sounds like a great workout in the Green Gym to me!

I can't believe you get free horse manure! That's pure gold, especially stable manure.

Evi said...

I'm really enjoying your garden posts, Linda! It's great to see what other peeps are doing, especially right now when it's so dry and gardens are suffering.
Good to hear your/my kale is still going!! I have lots of white cabbage moths here so don't bother with it over summer unless it pops up on it's own. We love it in winter for salads though!

Christine said...

What a wonderful feeling, Linda!
Loved hearing about your compost and imagine, all that chook poo, sitting right there all ready to go? Isn't nature amazing.

Enjoy your gardenings and do not stress in the slightest about the overflowing washing basket, you're doing important work here and a LOT of it!

PS - why is it we have a prominent racehorse training facility down the road yet they don't pile their manurey offerings out on the road..sheesh! How lucky are you!! ;)

farmer_liz said...

I always feel sorry for people without a good source of manure! In summer it breaks down in the paddock before I can get to it, but in winter I bring it up to the garden by the barrow load. I either put it in the compost or straight on the garden if I have a bare patch. I was a bit slack last year and the garden has suffered as a result, helps to motivate me for this coming winter, as it clearly is worth the effort.

Wendy said...

Hello - you describe the hard work of creating a garden very well...and it is hard work, but when you start getting results (like compost!) very satisfying.

Margaret said...

Wow Linda, you have been busy, I tried to back a trailer once...never again!
We have had rain here in Qld for about 24 hours, hope you get some down there soon,it will be the icing on the garden cake.
I read somewhere if you put out white eggshells, around at risk crops, the cabbage moths will bypass as it looks over run already, worth a try

africanaussie said...

Oh I have just discovered your blog, and found you talking about my favourite subject - compost! I have a very small garden in tropical north queensland and have a bin and have found leaves are great as well as to keep turning it over... I am following along to learn more about your gardening.

Kathryn Ray said...

So much work... but you will be reaping the benefits next year for certain.

Even just the littlest bit of compost makes poor soil better.

Energiser Bunny said...

Nice work Linda! And I love the path you made too (are you available for hire). Gardening has such highs and lows. My compost has only been coming right in the last few months at our place too. and its very exciting when it does.

veggiegobbler said...

Well done! I am envious of your manure. I have sometimes passed manure on a country drive and thought about buying it. But then changed my mind when I've contemplated the stinky journey home.

Margaret said...

Hi again Linda, hope some of this rain is heading your way, we have had over 300mls in the last 3 days up here on the mountain.
The subsoil moisture will make everything in your vegie garden thrive,fingers crossed it helps with the dry conditions and bushfire problem.

Linda said...

Hi Lynda, I see you've already learned the lesson I've just come across! I'll get good at this yet!

Hi Kate, thank you, thank you (takes a bow)

Kim, yes I feel quite contented and it's nice to hear I'm not the only one to take the long road.

Busy Mum, I LOVE the green gym!! Achieving stuff as you get fit! As for the manure, ask around. I don't know how rural you are but there may be someone close by.

Evi I'm loving your/my kale! I find I can't grow brassicas early in the season but by this time of year the cabbage moths seem to be gone. I don't know if it's different in Tassie?

Christine, Thanks. I love being given permission to NOT do housework. Have you asked at the training facility? They might be delighted to have some carted away. Tell them it's good for community relations. You might start an outdoor pile too!

Liz you are lucky to have manure on hand like that but it's harder to collect from a paddock. I've done that at the in-laws and it's hard slog but definitely worth it for the garden!

Hi Wendy, yes I'm a little bit in love with compost atm! Nice to hear from a fellow gardener.

Hi Margaret, I hope you're okay where you are.

Lol about the trailer! I've been trying to do it for years. I have a patient husband. But that was my first success! I've also heard the egg shell one but my mum made me some pretend butterflys to put in the garden.

Hi Africanaussie, Welcome. Yes I'm falling in love with compost too! I can see a small difference after only a week of applying it!!

Hi Kathryn, You are obviously a composter. It's taken me years to figure it out!

Hi Energiser Bunny, Yeah I'm happy with the path but it's a circular garden and I have five more to complete. Glad to hear you're getting on top of this complicated (or not) compost business!

Veggiegobbler, It's a very public forum for me to say it, but I kinda like the smell of manure! It smells like the country and fertile gardens!

Margaret, Again I hope all is okay! And no rain for us down here. There are currently bushfires about an hour up the road!