Sunday, 9 November 2014

At Last I Can Garden Again

For one reason or another I have not been able to garden for around 18 months now, waiting for my previous residence to sell, expecting to have to move, moving to a new home, settling in and adjusting.

I moved to a new (to me) home six months or so back.  The property is completely fenced in and is rurally located.  The house is surrounded by a sea of grass with lots of mature shade trees.  I posted some general pictures of the property earlier here, to give some idea of what it looked like before I started meddling gardening on this new landscape.

Grass, grass everywhere.  The prospect of spending much of my days cutting grass over and over again did not sit well with me but the possibility of doing something useful with that land did excite, so I always had the intention of reducing the area covered by that useless (unless you have grazing animals) plant as much as possible without upsetting the land owners.  I have not actually met those people but I do occasionally talk with their farm workers (cattlemen and a vineyardier, or whatever a person who looks after grape vines is called).

With this plan in mind, I searched the grounds for any places where it looked like some form of gardening  had been in progress at an earlier time.  There were a number of such places, which had all been allowed to overgrow in recent times.  They ranged from a single Yucca plant in a corner between the boundary fence and shed (not sure what the point of that was) through a number of straggly, dead or dying fruit trees scattered around, to a couple of three square metre vegetable plots (identified by the quality of the underlying soil and buried plant labels, mentioned here) and what had at some stage been a nice rose garden but had obviously been roughly driven over by some tractor-towed farm mowing machine.

I decided to reuse the rose garden and while digging it over, to remove the grass covering,  in addition to the two straggly roses remaining above the surface, found another four plants and a number of dead ones.  I also found buried in the soil a pair of still usable secateurs and a number of children's toys.

That operation has now been completed and the shape of the area follows a design that is entirely mine.  A small area of grass has been kept jutting into the garden space purely because I liked the grass at that spot and also I plan to add a bird bath and/or feeding table later and maybe some form of seat to provide a feeling of being surrounded by shrubbery.

The rose garden (I keep referring to it as that but it is intended to be much more eventually) has now been covered with straw for moisture retention and partly planted out with other shrubs including some fruiting varieties.  This is still a work in progress but at least for now allows me to continue with other tasks.

Slightly out of order, because I had earlier cleared and covered the two vegetable plots mentioned earlier, and had marked out an area around them some 21 metres x 4.5 metres to be fenced off as a garden area.  The fencing serves two purposes.  It marks off a place where there will be no grass and it will hopefully dissuade prowling Wombats from entering there.  At least I do not have to worry about Kangaroos and Wallabies here.

In the meantime the grass has regrown around the cleared areas and within the partially completed fence.  I will go into more detail on what I intend to do in that area in some future post.
Also in the meantime I have planted a number of fruit trees outside the fenced garden area.  Four apple varieties, a Nashi pear and two cross-pollinating Hazelnut varieties.  The apples are all heirloom varieties, a Cox's Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, a Snow apple and a Jonathan which should act as cross-pollinator for the others.

I intend to mulch as much of this orchard area as I can reasonably do, again as a means of grass reduction.  I also intend to interplant other useful shrubs within this area.

 What about a herb garden?  I had already thought of that and while clearing the rose garden I dumped some of the unwanted grass sods or clumps, as you prefer, underneath the kitchen window and fairly close to the back door of the house.  I formed a mound from this material and covered it with grass cuttings from my scything activities.  This was left for a few weeks for the grass to die off.

Next, I got to do something that I have waited around a year and a half to do.  At my previous home there was a spare garbage bin which I wanted to turn into a compost maker.  I added a tap near the bottom of the bin to drain off any excess liquid (to use on the garden of course) and started to place any kitchen waste in the bin, covering each layer of waste material with a little straw and adding a little waste water to prevent smells.  You should never compost meat or meat by-products but that wasn't a problem for me as I don't consume any meat.

Anyway, today I emptied the bin for the first time.  You don't have to wait as long as I have to use it, six months should be enough time, but I was expecting to have to move home, which of course eventually happened, and I didn't want to waste this material on the previous garden.

Not all of the waste recently added had rotted of course, so I removed that part separately and kept it to place back in the empty bin to continue its good work for next time.  The rest of the contents of the bin are glorious compost which I think my herbs will love.  I added a layer of this compost material to the herb mound.
From the day I first cut grass here with my scythe, I have been piling it up behind the water tanks out of sight, with a view to using it as green manure for the garden.

That process was started six months ago, so some of it was ready to use about now.   I started to remove the top material onto a new pile next to the old one until I came to a part of the pile that looked like I could use it.

A layer of this material was added to the growing mound.
Now, I wanted to add some good organic soil.  I mixed a 25 ltr bag of organic garden soil with a 25 litre bag of vegetable and herb mix and found that this was enough to provide the mound with a thin covering all over.  I think this is all that is needed as the good topsoil from around the dead grass roots together with all of the other additions should provide a good growing medium for the herbs.  In any case each plant will be set into additional organic soil as it is positioned on the mound.
Finally I added the ubiquitous layer of straw, gave it all a watering since no rain is forecast near term and will leave it for a few days to settle before planting out.

I have quite a number of herbs and other plants waiting for a spot somewhere, including a couple of varieties of Rhubarb currently sitting on top of a plant pot.

What else has been going on here?  Well, I have been visited by a number of King Parrots who seemed to take a fancy to the Sunflower seeds that I offered to them.  They would call out to me from the verandah fence and one cheeky character actually clung to the side of my window and peeked in to see if I was there.
I have learned that the birds with the red heads are the males and the green headed ones are either female or the younger birds.

I have also finally got my 2.5kW gas powered generator to start, after replacing the dead battery it came with by a new motor cycle battery.  It works very well but I can't yet say what the consumption may be like.
It runs on either LPG (Propane) or Natural Gas, plus it is capable of using a biogas supply if available,which was a selling point for me with an eye to the future when there may be no available LPG or Natural Gas any longer available. I didn't want a petrol generator since I think that fairly soon petrol will be either too expensive to run such tools as this, in short supply and restricted to military, emergency services and possibly food distribution purposes, or not available at all. That is also why I have taken to using a scythe.

The generator has electric start (from the on-board battery), a 240v AC mains outlet, a 12v DC outlet, a voltmeter display, an isolating circuit breaker for emergency cut-off and a usage counter in hours for controlling the servicing cycle which I think will be simple enough for even me to do.

It is fairly portable, having two wheels at one end and rubber feet at the other. The generator itself weighs around 50kg but I can move it around using the folding handle in one hand while carrying the 9kg gas bottle in the other hand.

This has now enabled me to supplement my scything activity with electric mower power.  I have owned an electric mower for quite a few years but while I was living at my previous home I had nowhere to put it and it lived outside, subject to all that the weather decided to throw at it.  I was surprised that it still worked after that and perhaps as was to be expected it lasted about 45 minutes before it reached a sad end to its useful life.  
Still, I got some mowing done and maybe I can re-purpose the base of the thing as a trailer cart to carry my gas bottle behind the generator.  Add that to the to do list.
I have been bitten by the bug now and will have to get a new one.  Even though that goes against my philosophy of leaving behind the consumer society as far as possible.  I have to be realistic about my age and physical capabilities looking ahead.  I intend to continue to scythe as much as I can, both to maintain and increase my fitness and to nurse as much life out of the mower as possible. 

I have chosen a Bosch Rotak 43
machine, the corded model, since I do not trust battery powered tools.  I am just waiting for it to arrive.  With 50 metres of power cord and my generator, I will be able to mow in any part of the block that I wish with relative ease.

And so, hopefully the story will continue.  This is just the beginning.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You HAVE been busy. It's such a good feeling to replace useless grass with productive crops. Watch those wombats, though. They can still do a lot of damage.