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GETTING DOWN AND GETTING DIRTY WITH MOUNDS

As escavations go, garden mounds are not the least bit photogenic. As soon as you say, 'show us your best side' -- the contour seems to flatten out or its bumpiness is drowned in greenery.

So these images are suggestive rather than scenery you could base a map on.

And they're messy. Higgledee piggledee. Poly plus mix of plants. Any old china plate on top. Wood ash and mulch smeared everywhere. ..

But the main thing, the takeaway impression, is that the mound garden grows.I don't think I have lost a plant despite the angle I'm growing them on.

I've thrown a lot of different plants into the mix so here goes...In another few weeks the mounds will be hidden in jungle.

The long strips of mulch are stuff I got from guys trimming shrubbery at the local tavern. I wanted to lay down mulch stuff over all the cardboard and paper that's carpeting the valleys between the mounds.

Not neat and not quite in forest floor mode. But the thing is my mounds are more verdant than my beds. There is a qualitative difference in activity.

So going with the verdant flow, I've got carrots and radishes planted among all this stuff. Roma pole beans are in there too, and I've just dropped down some jute twine from  a cross-garden aerial line above.

Obviously tubers like mounds -- sweet potato, potato, sunchokes,purple yams (and oca/NZ yam is in there too). So too do cucurbits. In the mix is choko, pumpkins, zuchini. There's spring onions, root veg, pole beans,Chinese broccoli ...For cover : coriander, dog bane, Indian shot canna, pigface, nasturtiums, Brazil spinach and Warrigal Greens.... In the valleys, tomatoes --only because if they were on the mound summits they'd take over the whole hill.Flower essentials: sunflowers and marigolds.

Elsewhere quinoa is coming up, but that's another story (they're on my ridges) I've also planted some pigeon peas out of season among the mounds to see what happens.

The adventure of garden mounds...the thrills come  from all that up and down.

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Comment by Dave Riley on July 28, 2015 at 12:00

My seeds came out of the Coles supermarket pack...and it seems many were viable. I just threw them at the garden. I'd spilled some when washing so I just recycled them.

I had some growing elsewhere in single planting and they set heads about 2 months ago.

So yes they do grow in my neighborhood.How well in terms of spread remains to be seen. But you'd need a lot of plants to grow your first kilogram. I thought I'd try them as green mulch...as I use coriander usually for that.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on July 28, 2015 at 11:52

I've got a bucket of viable Quinoa here you can have some. Mine was grown by Biodynamic means in Tasmania. Only other place to commercially grow Quinoa that I know of, is in Western Australia. It's not a tropical or sub-tropical crop. If you have a cool spot you might succeed, try it and see.

Comment by Dave Riley on July 28, 2015 at 8:33

The complication with Permie 'guilds' is that the approach gets invested with all the theoretical principles and arrangements that sustain and justify the Permaculture outlook. The main one being an overwhelming preference for perennials. 

They don't call it 'Perma' - culture for nothing.

A Permie I know reckoned my mound is like the Permaculture spiral garden. Well, it's not. It's just a mound of dirt with a pot in it on which I grow stuff.

When you are gardening almost exclusively with annuals,I reckon  it really is a different interaction with the garden and its soil.

Since I use these contributions as my notes -- primarily for myself --  it struck me that there is a contradiction in the traditional use of mounds.

If the Indians and the Maori used mounds to raise the soil temperature to grow corn or sweet potato -- why did the Melanesians on the Equator use them? Obviously you would mound-grow sweet potato but not taro... But then 'heat' is not all that's involved.

It then follows that if my mounds are performing so well in Winter mode, what temperature will they be heating up to in Summer? But then since in Summer I fill up the pots more often with water, I'd have this coolant buried inside the hillock.Like a 'coolant' for the soil.

What I'm saying, is that I wouldn't be mound gardening unless I was using the terracotta pots. Without the pots  then the mounds  would indeed be guaranteed to heat up and dry out. Just as the plants' roots would strive to go down deeper rather than take over the mound itself.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on July 28, 2015 at 6:52

There's a newish trend with Permaculture called 'guilds'; as I understand it, the intercropping you describe is very similar.

Comment by Dave Riley on July 28, 2015 at 4:16

I was planting out some seedlings today and it shocked me how warm the soil in the pot was. Despite being damp and still only 2pm, it was a tepid mix in my hand.

This made me ponder the fact that raised beds -- such as mounds -- absorb more heat than flat , ground-level ones. Maybe this begins to explain why the plants in my mounds are growing better than the plants in my beds?

Aside from the heat, the dome they sit upon captures more sunshine than their cousins.

Then there's the irony that despite it being light with rain lately-- the mounds aren't requiring a lot of watering. I fill up the terracotta pots with recycled water occasionally but there seems no need to institute a routine or schedule. I just hose now and then as plant life indicates need.

As the plants on the mounds grow and grow the whole exercise becomes disconcerting as the mounds  seem more fertile than any other part of my garden. More fertile than my ridges. More fertile than my beds.

That may be coincidence...but I still wonder about the significance of contour...

Throughout my garden I'm fertilizing with DIY urine, as much wood ash as I can make and an experimental use of GoGo Juice.

Later I'll go back to making my own teas...but for now the plants are tickity boo.

My tragedy is that because I have plants everywhere growing, I can't convert more land to mounds just yet. Mound building is a simple dig over business...which also ensures I'll need fewer terracotta pots to irrigate my garden.

So I can't wait to do more conversions...

It's win:win...but I didn't expect that convergence to be as effective as it has been. I have packed a lot of plants together on these mounds and inter-cropped a real mix of different species. The wisdom of specific  poly cultural mixes is  something I'll learn over time.

However there is another element --emanating from my interest in traditional French intensive gardening -- that , while it runs contrary to contemporary 'no-dig' preferences, does have a logic that may relate to my mounds:

The most specific and oft-repeated analogy from Chad wick was from the early Greeks and their observations: that crops grew well in the river bottom valleys and floodplains, with their alluvial soil deposits. However, crops flourished and grew even more “lushly” at the edge of the valley, where there were “mini landslides” and slightly disturbed, better-aerated soil. This effect was even more pronounced on south-facing slopes. Whether this analogy was literal or apocryphal, it serves as a good image or metaphor for raised bed gardening, and the benefits of microclimate and site selection. -- French Intensive Gardening: A Retrospective

This then leads into the other French elements, especially intercropping. My approach is still very vague and absolutely experimental but there is a bit more in the French tradition that I can take home. My experience tends to confirm this:

Although this sounds counter intuitive, intercrops work  best when combining opposites:

• The fast with the slow (radishes/leeks)
• The tall with the short (beans/lettuce)
•  The  deep  rooted  with  the  shallow  rooted  (climbing peas/arugula)
• The heavy feeders with light feeders (leeks/radishes)
• The fibrous rooted with tap rooted (salad mix/carrots)

-- French Intensive Gardening: A Retrospective

Obviously you could experiment forever --assuming you lived that long. But, if you take this list of  intercrop options --and consider 3 Sisters Mounds in that light, then you are recycling a wisdom that goes back eons.

Intercrops increase agricultural productivity over mono- cultures through two mechanisms: 1) competitive production principle and 2) facilitation. In the first case, two species, which occupy the same space, are able to thrive because they use their resources more efficiently, and in the second instance, one crop modifies the environment in such a way that it benefits the growth of the second crop 122,23

Intercrops can increase agricultural productivity though more efficient use of nutrients, water, and light. Deep-rooted plants use nutrients and water from deep within the soil profile, while shallow-growing crops planted adjacent to them exploit water and nutrients closer to the soil surface. Intercrops, thus, have access to more water and nutrients than the component plants would have if grown as a mono- culture. Likewise, plants with differing architectures (plant height, leafiness, leaf angle, leaf size, and leafplacement on the stem) may intercept more incoming radiation than uniform canopies of a single plant species and, thus, increase the photosynthetic efficiency per unit of land...

...Planting in mounds addresses both soil temperature and moisture constraints. Mounds can increase soil temperature in two ways: 1) the higher elevation creates air flow that moves cold air from the top of the mound to the furrow, as suggested by Doolittle [5] and others, and 2) increased surface area of the mound allows the soil to warm up more quickly, compared with soil in level fields [15]. The increased height of the mound also permits better drainage of excess water and enables farmers to keep young corn plants out of standing water, particularly in early spring, when excess water in fields is common. Many home gardeners in the Northeast gain these same advantages when they plant in raised beds. Ridge tillage, a contemporary soil management practice, allows farmers in areas where soils are wet and cold in the spring to create the same conditions in field scale ooerations with mechanize -The Science Behind the 3 Sisters Mound System.

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