Real Food does not come from Supermarkets: 6 Steps from Bare Ground to Homegrown Veggies
6 Steps to Homegrown Veggies
Approximately a 6 minute read | Originally published July 1st, 2018, at PermacultureNews.Org
I imagine that when our grandchildren and great grandchildren read in history books about the supermarkets we relied on for food, they’ll wonder what we were thinking.
My goal is to get to where our family can live without the supermarket entirely. There are many things we have yet to learn on this path; one of our major areas of focus right now is learning to grow more of our own vegies.
Recently, we ate our first ever homegrown cauliflower. This post shares how I got from "I don't think I could grow brassicas," to "Ooh look – a cauliflower!" By the end of the article you’ll appreciate that if we can do it, anyone can.
Step 1: Marking it out and setting up the framework
In early March, 2018, Alain and I finished clearing the space for our new covered veggie garden and erected our new veggie net, to see how it fitted.
Once we were sure we had it all in the right place, we took the netting off again to work on the beds.
The 6 large white outside posts consist of a steel picket driven into the ground, with a piece of white pipe placed over them. The frame in the middle is an old marquee frame that we got second hand.
The area is approximately 6m by 5m.
Step 2: Digging trenches for the mounded garden beds
For this garden we wanted to raise the beds (in our area we get extended wet periods), but we didn’t have materials to create the sides of raised beds, and we didn’t want to spend money on such materials. We also didn’t have much soil available to fill raised beds with.
What we did have was a large pile of branches and sticks left from pruning messy overgrown trees and hedges, lying nearby, that we weren’t sure what to do with.
We decided to dig trenches, put the topsoil aside, fill the trenches with the sticks, then put the topsoil back on top to create mounded beds. Sort of a hügelkultur-ish idea.
So, we marked out the trenches, and Alain started digging, with a little help from his sidekick.
The widths of the beds and the paths vary. They weren’t supposed to, but they do. The beds are 80 to 120cm wide at the base, by about 4m long. The paths are 40 to 60cm wide.
One of the paths can fit a wheelbarrow along them; the other two – not quite. Three of the beds you can reach right across from one side; one of them – you have to go around to the other side.
Step 3: Filling the trenches with sticks and piling the soil back on
The trenches were dug approximately gumboot depth – a minimum of about 40cm deep, but this varied too.
Next, Alain cut the branches and sticks into manageable lengths, and stomped them into the trenches. For the first two beds we then simply piled the soil back on, on top of the sticks.
By the time we got to the third bed (there were to be 4 in total) it had dawned on me that all that carbon under there might like to team up with some nitrogen.
So for beds 3 and 4 we put a layer of chicken litter on top of the sticks, before replacing the soil.
Step 4: Layers of mulch materials
We didn’t hurry with this project. We had plenty else going on and we were often distracted from it.
But we kept chipping away at it. In early April Alain was still working on creating the third and fourth beds, and it occurred to me (a little late) that I could take the cardboard off the first two and mulch them with layers of hay, chicken litter, and more hay, plus dustings of lime (our soil is on the acid side), rock dust and kelp.
In this picture you can see the first bed with the first layer of hay mulch going on. In the background to the left you can see the pile of sticks ready to be put into bed#3. And to the right you can see bed #2, covered with cardboard while it waits for its layers of mulch.
Step 5: Planting
In late April I planted 3 blueberries, 3 arracacha, and 1 comfrey in bed#1.
I didn’t have a plan for what to plant in our new beds. I started with these plants because they had been sitting around in pots, and with all this new garden space to play with why not start by emptying neglected pots?
In early May I started planting brassica seedlings in the second bed – broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Why brassicas? Because a friend of mine had brassica seedlings for sale, and it seemed like a good idea.
On the 20th of May I planted kale and fennel seedlings into bed#4. Yes. Another friend of ours had kale and fennel seedlings for sale at the time.
On the 2nd of June I planted snow pea seeds along the side of the second bed. I did buy those seeds. We like snow peas.
Step 6: Go camping (or whatever), and leave the garden to do its thing
Next, we went camping for a week. (For us this is a high rainfall time, so I didnt have to worry about watering while we were away.) When we came back on the 11th of June, everything was GROWING!
At this stage bed#3 didn’t have anything planted in it yet; I was thinking I should find some other plant family for it to break up all the brassicas, but—you guessed it—I didn’t have any friend who had seedlings other than brassicas and fennel…
But the other three beds were powering along, and we could see our veggie bill about to drop significantly. Organic cauliflowers are expensive!
What we still don’t know
We still don’t know how the beds with the layer of chicken litter on top of the sticks will perform, compared to the ones that didn't receive it.
We assume there will be some slumping and sinking as the soil filters down into the gaps between the sticks, and maybe some air pockets occurring around the roots of our plants as a result. We’ll find out when it happens. And no doubt, through trial and error, we’ll find out what to do about it.
What we learned for sure
Some of what we learned really felt like it was more about becoming:
- We’re becoming people who don’t worry too much about the details. We just start, and learn what we need to learn as we go along.
- We’re becoming people who feed ourselves, rather than relying on unsustainable systems to provide for us.
- We’re becoming happier, healthier, and more trusting of ourselves and the potential abundance in our world.
In practical terms, I would say I also learned two important lessons:
- To feed the soil and cover with mulch immediately, as early in the project as possible.
- To have a plan (or at least, more of a plan than I did) for what will be planted, and to have the seed or seedlings on hand.
Had we done those two things, we may well have been harvesting food from the first bed by the time we finished building the fourth one.
Most important of all, however, is to just start. Then you can learn what you need to know as you go along.