Thursday, 24 May 2012

Alpaca poo and thyme in a bath

The garden has come a long way since we built the first two beds in October. And so have I.

I came across Nicola Chatham late last year. We had already built and planted our beds using the no-dig gardening method. I discovered that being in the garden, for Luca, really fills him up, and it was so easy being with him.

And although we did have some success with greens and a beautiful tomato glut, plus great fun with our worm farm, I was still very lost. And I found the whole process very frustrating, because I was thinking of gardening purely in terms of results. In fact, I'd have been quite happy for someone else to do it all, so that all I'd have to do is pick what I want for dinner.

But that's not what gardening is about. Besides, I wouldn't have anything to teach the boys. Gardening is work in progress. It's a journey. And honestly, I only learned this a matter of days ago when I got lost out there and realised just how much it has to teach me.

A big part of this transformation is down to Nicola's Abundant Veggie Patch System*.

Nicola Chatham
I love how Nicola doesn't promise self-sufficiency.

She got me with that word. Abundance. Such a great word. We all want abundance.

I learnt all about permaculture basics, and found the concept of zoning fascinating. I've since moved my greens to the right zone!

I learnt how to do a sunshine study on the house and work out the best location for a veggie patch. How to design a bed and get the dimensions right. Where to get materials and do everything on a budget.

This is what I've found wonderful about the course. There are so many lessons weaved into it.

Suddenly, I started looking out for people dumping their rubbish on the side of the road. I found several great buckets and a baby bath to use as a planter, and I picked up a compost bin and plastic pots at garage sales nearby.

One place we decided to build a bed was on a slab of concrete. We used tarp to line it, drove out into the country to collect a load of bricks (thank you Freecycle), then Luca and Graeme spent one afternoon chipping away the mortar and lined them up.


Through the course, I learnt that you can make your own soil, and crucially for me that it was all about carbon and nitrogen.

I don't know about anybody else on the course, but I loved the whole layering of the carbon (such as newspaper, brown grass cuttings, hay) and nitrogen (such as chicken pellets/horse poo, green leaves, fresh grass cuttings). Yes, I've heard mention of nitrogen before and people say to dig in manure, but until now all the advice has been a bit wishy washy.

Anyway, I found bags of horse poo by the roadside for 50c a bag, collected newspaper, all our grass cuttings, pruned trees and bushes in our garden for the green foliage (remember, nitrogen!), and bought other bits and pieces such as hay, mushroom compost and molasses.

Once you've put all the layers in and wait for a week or so, you can start planting straight away.

Layering the garden bed

Soaking the hay in water and molasses

Meanwhile, we got a few little surprises from the beautiful mushroom compost that we bought from Kim Margin...

We also made our own compost using the same recipe. The boys got shredding indoors, then soaked it in buckets, layering it with chicken pellets, horse poo, mushroom compost, hay, greenery, and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. 

A second bed by the garage next to our chilli plants 
and blueberry bush (well, bush by name, not by nature;
it's a stick in some soil at the moment with a fancy tag),
ready for some brassicas to go in. 

Still lots of room for more plants in the 'concrete' bed. 
Strawberries went into pots on Mother's Day, and we cleared some room for them to sit in the sun all day.

The kale is loving it here. Drilled a few holes in the bath and in went 
mint, thyme and tarragon. Also in pots: 
oregano, more tarragon (I can never have enough),
Vietnamese mint (thanks Nicola!), rocket,
basil, parsley and coriander.

Spinach, chamomile and spring onions on the left. Our old bed (right) isn't being neglected. 
Luca and I have just planted broccoli, cabbage and cauli, plus peas, marigolds and wild rocket.

Even as I sit here, I can see the leeks that still need to be planted (a fiddly job that keeps getting left to another day), the carrots, lettuce and watercress. I'll wait for Luca, because it's his garden too now.

Picking up alpaca poo in the Yarramalong Valley (sorry can't resist one of Graeme's jokes here: what is Kian saying when he's straining? al-pac-a-poo.... Geddit? C'mon, not even a little laugh? I'm still giggling at that one weeks later)...

Anyway, where was I? Yes, we're doing lots of things for the garden at the moment, and I'm glad to say I haven't visited a garden centre or DIY chain once. Driving out to farms for poo (why do I like poo more than manure?), borrowing a wheelbarrow from a friend to load bricks, shredding the paper, screeching the car to a halt with the boys in the back for a big black container....

I'm writing this down so it cements it for me. Gardening is as much about the doing, as it is about the harvesting. So while I have moments where I would love to have Jamie Oliver's gardener chap from Jamie At Home carrying bunches and baskets of organic goodness into my kitchen (doesn't everyone have that dream?), I'd probably be missing out on a whole load of life lessons.

This is still the very beginning of my gardening journey, but I feel I'm on the right track now. It was the perfect course for me to get me on the path of creating abundance. (So thank you Nicola*).

Because the goal that I've set myself is to have a kitchen garden I can be proud of within a year. All I have to do is learn to enjoy the getting there. 

* Nicola has a rather lovely free newsletter called Sprout that you can sign up to on her website. That's how it all started for me funnily enough. I got to know her that way and when her course came up, I had to do it.


  1. Ooooh I love that word 'abundance' too... It has taken me ages to enjoy the 'journey' of gardening, and I still get sucked into that 'I just want it to be grown so I can eat it' mentality. Sometimes I feel like an old fuddy duddy but gardening really has taught me a lot!

  2. We are just designing our veggie garden beds at the moment! Very impressed with all your hard work. x


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