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Growing local

My new garden 'plan' -- green aspirations in motion with snakes and ladders, Vetiver and stuff.

Now that the mulch has settled and the seedlings are tucked up in their beds I can play the lord of the manor -- and tweak my vista.

Herein is an exposé of the underlying principles that my good self have concocted within the juicy confines of my fertile brain.

The Story So Far

My old garden was contoured up and down around mounds and terracotta pot watering devices -- olas. For years I mulched it laboriously with grass clippings --and anything else I could find that would rot down -- while planting out such that greenery covered the whole patch. I now can boast a very rich sandy loam underneath with a huge demographic of earth worms.

When I changed my irrigation protocol to a spear pump -- tapping an aquifer 5 metres below -- my gardening needs changed, and now so too has the garden.

The New Template

Aside from roughly leveling the mounds and removing the clay pots from their buried residence, I rejigged the garden into a series of rectangular beds hedged by Vetiver Grass.

To do this I needed a lot of Vetiver slips to plant out. Fortunately I had been dividing my original three clumps for over a year and when I came to harvest I had just enough stock to hedge these new beds.

Since I now was without my clay pots -- which served so well as earthworm hubs, I made a series of worm & kitchen scrap towers and have begun to add one to each bed.

Rather than trounce all over the beds, I'm locating these towers near the hedge line and close to any path. Just reach over, lift the lid and plop plop.I'm assuming that any mixing and spreading will be done by my huge army of proletarian earthworms.

Above: Aerials

Originally I had a series of aerial lines/cables criss-crossing  >2 metres above my garden. These were held up by tall bamboo canes. What I've now done is attach long narrow cutouts of plastic, bamboo or metal trellising and used the combo to train up climbers like beans and squashes.

I think plastic works best -- the coloured square stuff that is so readily available.It is much easier to work with. But I used just any trellising scraps I had to hand.

Rather than build a semi permanent structure all I need do is place a mesh-covered pole next to a climber and let nature take its ladder scaling course. And it doesn't have to be vertical. A true climber will climb any ladder at an angle.

After harvest is completed I can move the bamboo pole and its attached trellis somewhere else if I want.

Since I'm dedicated to mixing my vegetable plantings -- a la a keen polycultural impulse -- the singular narrow trellises allow me to plant climbers among much shorter vegetables.

The associated tweak -- still pending -- is to drop  a series of ropes ( likely to be many) from the aerial lines above  to support ramblers like tomatoes below -- rather than staking them. I can drop them hither and yon and use them as required.

Just make sure that these lines are not attached too tightly to the plant below as any sway in the lines above may uproot it. You need to allow for 'give'.

I find this aerial method works. The rig may wave to and fro in high winds but  there is less chance of collapse despite the weight of greenery attached. Because they are narrow, the rain/watering shadow isn't usually significant.

I prefer to use old hose lines for these aerials.


While I have trimmed all my Vetiver clumps in the past, the supposition is that these hedges can be cut for mulching the beds they contain. I now have a sprinkler system located 1 metre from the ground so all I need do is ensure that the Vetiver is trimmed enough so that it does not obstruct the sprinklers'  watering arc.

So far: so good.

As these beds are planted out I get to test my working hypothesis.

I should note that the beds are large and each one --2- 3 metres wide -- is separated from the other by Vetiver hedges. I've cut down on the number of --and space dedicated to -- paths, so I now walk on top of the mulched beds to harvest or pull the occasional weed.

The Vetiver hedges aren't simply boundaries: because their roots run to 2 metres deep they serve as biotic pumps, in the same sense as a  clump of tree, drawing up moisture and nutrients which are then recycled at the surface. The Vetiver hedges will also prevent water run off, such that the rain and irrigation seeps directly  into the soil below the beds and mulch. The hedgerow in effect creates a basin.

Ditto: wind break.

Vetiver will also  protect each bed from vegetative incursions from the bed or pathway next door. They are a barrier, in effect -- top to root toe -- three metres+ tall. (Vetiver if untrimmed will grow to 1.8 metres above ground.Cutting for mulch causes the clump to thicken) .

Once consolidated these hedges will keep the dogs off the beds and protect my plants if the chickens are let out to roam.


My sandy soil has no clay. It really is (or was just) sand -- as in beach sand. Years of adding mulches has changed its carbon quotient. All good. But with the explosion in earthworm numbers I'm wondering that the new slimy stickiness I feel when I handle the now black soil, may be due to the intensity of worm activity. Thats' one very big worm farm.

For those with heavy clay/poor draining soils the same intervention applies -- although you can also build up your beds from the getgo inside the Vetiver boundaries.The Vetiver grass hedge will keep your raised bed in place so there will be no need for edging. For those gardening on sloping land, the Vetiver hedge will prevent erosion and run off on the lower edge of your garden so long as you plant the Vetiver along a contour line.You can level your bed or not -- but leveling is preferable.

Getting Vetiver hedging going: Simple to do. Buy some Vetiver -- I started with three slips. Plant it out and divide it each time the clump reaches 8-12 stems and plant the divisions out. Do the maths. Vetiver like all grasses grows fast.

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Comment by Dave Riley on July 28, 2018 at 2:18

I've harvested enough Vetiver stems to seriously begin mulching my garden. And that's from growth during the cold months!

So we're away mulching as it  matters: transitioning to a new biomass lay down.

In some places my garden soil is spongy and springy from years of mulch layering and rot down. Years of grass clippings.

The LADDERS are working ever so well. I've rejected the rope rig for tomatoes and will henceforth run them up the ladders too. So I'll have a reserve army of 'x' number of bamboo cane ladders with mesh runs I can deploy for climbers, creepers, beans,  and tomatoes. Kept slim they don't cast a broad shadow  and can be erected almost anywhere. All I need do is throw another aerial somewhere nearby to support them.

After I harvest my current tomato plants -- since I planted far too many without much planning -- I'll be able to generate some order and consolidate the 'beds' as determined by the Vetiver hedge boundaries.

The last couple of days I've been filling in any gaps in the hedge lines with new Vetiver slips -- from stock I harvested from Elaines'. Separating the slips from the big clumps was quite a task so remind me never to let Vetiver clumps grow too big if I intend to later harvest them for planting out.

Uprooting the clump was easier than separating out the tillers.

[The harvest technique we used -- oblique shovel slice and crowbar lift (thanks to Elaine's tool shed resources)-- worked extremely well. I've now got my own large heavy crowbar specifically for that removal purpose. I purchased a second hand blacksmith-made one at the Caboolture Markets for $40. The stall had a good range. I know I'll never uproot any large plant without using one.]

All I have to do now is keep the Vetiver slips alive for local distribution. As for planting out at home, I'm  running out of space options.

The Vetiver maze at the school garden is fully planted and we've also harvested mulch from that.

Looking good. The small above ground pond I placed in the middle of the maze and seeded with Striped Marsh Frogs eggs has been a major attraction as the tadpoles are very popular with the children. We're thinking of adding further ponds...Since we have unlimited tank water supply, these water features are easy to maintain.

The cage compost bins are working great there as we bury all the tuck shop waste. One of the teachers even ran sessions upending and sorting through a portion of the school yard lunch waste( a whole council bin)  in a sort of 'dumpster diving' mode in sync with the ABC TV series War on Waste with Craig Reucassel.

Burying this stuff is very do-able folks. Not even my dogs are accessing these rigs at home -- despite the meat and bone content -- and it's remarkable how quickly the rot sets in and the bulk shrinks. As it is I'm set to make a few more of these rigs so that I have one per bed.

The trick is to locate them near a pathway for easy access.As I've suggested before: just keep throwing in your garbage and let nature take its course. My monitoring of soil lifestyle suggests that the earth worms et al will mix and carry the goodness elsewhere in your bed without any need for your intervention.

If you ever manage to fill a  hole completely (and that may take years)-- just move the rig to another location. It's really a process of inoculation.

Nonetheless, I'd calculate that any garden -- even a small one -- can consume at least a kilogram of garbage per day through burial like this. The school garden eats two 10 litre buckets per week -- and is still hungry.I'm using 10 rigs at home and have trouble keeping them fed so I'm planning on adding manures to their diet.

Compared to all the effort of composting or the angst and fiddly business of farming with compost worms --I'm much taken with this chuck it/bury it/forget it.

No plastic bags/ No worries.

Comment by Mary-Ann Baker on May 20, 2018 at 8:10

we use New guinea beans or what ever they are called a lot as well mostly everyone here loves it as a soup - as much bean flesh as potaoe some onion and some bacon , lots of pepper and a little salt, cillantro parsley from the garden, there is a pot going at the moment on the fire - yes the wood burning fire - along with a stew and corned beef !  and voila yum ! 

Comment by Mary-Ann Baker on May 20, 2018 at 8:07

awesome informative read as usual Dave - you really are an inspiration ! 

Comment by Dave Riley on May 19, 2018 at 22:47

Soon approaching my mouth:Kabocha.

I planted these Japanese pumpkins from a seed I retrieved from a supermarket veg buy. Along with this year's Butternut vines -- I'm sure to be well supplied with pumpkins.

Ate the second of the butternut harvest tonight.

But oh the Kabocha! Grows well in my patch...takes up little room(for a pumpkin) ...and fruits keenly.

Can't wait to get to the eating thereof. 'Tis a very sweet pumpkin as I recall. Tastes like sweet potato crossed with a pumpkin.

Indeed it may not be a pumpkin as such. The Americans are squash nomenclature Nazis. There's also a bright orange variety.

Best thing is that it's on the smallish side so you can cut it up and eat in two sittings rather than having to store a major beast in your fridge.

You need to take care with the cutting(look up 'Kabocha cutting' on YouTube) as the skin is a hard shell.

(And you know how a severed finger ruins a dinner party.)

Also in my mix are the ongoing harvest of Bottle Gourd/New Guinea Bean/Cucuzza Squash. Very versatile veg: search for 'Bottle Gourd and [name your other key ingredient]'  to get a feel for the huge recipe range in several cuisines.

Last night we ate Bottle Gourd and Pork Stew (Nilagang Liempo with Upo).RECIPE. Upo is the Filipino name for Bottle Gourd. Of course, harvest early. Still our repast was made from a very narrow , one metre long monster. On the slim side.

Turn your back on these gourds and they shoot out like Pinocchio's nose.

Much as I love Tromboncino Zukes I think the Bottle Gourd is more versatile in the kitchen. They go so well in stews.

Despite the large size they may get to, they are still edible at that stage but some bitterness sets in when huge and heavy. Taste the flesh before you cook the huge ones -- just to make sure.

You can grow them on the ground if you haven't a trellis system, but you get contortions in the shape of the long variety and the squatter, Indian preferred, type seems hard to come by.

Bottle Gourd info:LINKS.

The other item new in the dirt is Leaf Celery -- or Chinese Celery --aka Smallage, Cutting Celery or Wild Celery. Planted out in batches. Easy enough to grow when you can get it started from seed --and seeds are sold in many Chinese grocers.

My muse, Alys Fowler loves this celery:

If you have limited space and energy, I suggest you meet celery's ancestor, leaf celery (sometimes known as herb celery). This is as close to its wild relatives as a cultivated plant can get. It is all leaf and little stem, but oh boy does it taste good.LINK

Comment by Dave Riley on May 19, 2018 at 21:18

I appreciate BLF so much because I can have conversations with myself (and others) that force me to do some research.It also serves as a great record of what you do, when, and why you do it.

Pushes you to think and imagine.

Thinking out aloud.

In that sense, I think I have so many earthworms underground because I have consistently mulched layer upon layer for years and the mulch was always grass clippings: which quickly break down.

Indeed grass clippings are probably the least reliable mulches you can use as they so quickly compost and soon cease to function as mulch.

I'm sure the golden showers of urine act as a catalyst to break down.

Fast food for worms. (With in-house white wine).

When I switch to Vetiver mulch (gotta grow and harvest it first), the ecology will change.

All those trips back and forth from the nature strip wheel-barrowing desiccated grasses to the outback soil. It was a lifestyle thing.

In the future: cut it and drop it.

I now have seven worm towers. Really, they're mesh lined holes with hats. These are now fed with almost all kitchen scraps -- while a boutique selection goes to the chooks. This is our way for dealing with the fast approaching plastic bag  drought.

I don't mind serving up scraps to poultry but harvesting their manure isn't an easy job and chook poo is a tad on the burn side. Best to process it first like -- shove that in the towers too.

Let Nature deal with it. Keep the rot local.

So while I have seven towers I plan to make another five. In the end, one tower of rot for each bed. As the scraps and whatever (paper and greens, etc) in each tower break down, I'm expecting the worms to spread the material about the place in the form of pooped worm castings.

Even more worms!

Can you have too many such that the garden soil becomes  omnivore or even a carnivorous diet -- if one were to eat  it in handfuls?

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on May 16, 2018 at 4:53

There's Perpetual Leeks Dave. I've enough to get you started. Once they hit their straps, there's no stopping them and they make babies like there's no tomorrow. They need a bright spot out of too much sunlight.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on May 15, 2018 at 22:32

I now have 3 elephants growing, 6 Arginta and your 10 in pots.  

Comment by Dave Riley on May 15, 2018 at 22:26

Another great joy of the garden is the keen growth of the garlic: Glen Large and Elephant 'Garlic" (actually a leek).

I'd plant garlic every where -- and may indeed still do so -- as I've always assumed that garlic was the ultimate companion plant. If I could only get leeks to follow suit...

Long time in the ground is leeks. I've yet to find a type that will suit my patch.

I grow a lot of Spring Onions so I'm in the ambit. But I'd like to grow a large range of the stem onions and growing them from seed myself isn't  easy. My usual stock comes from my seedling supplier at the Caboolture mkts.

So what's out there in the soil as we speak?

Roma Pole Beans,,Japanese Pumpkin, Garlic, Broad Beans,Scarlet Runner Beans, Tomatoes ( Roma, Tommy Toes, San Marzano), Tromboncino Zucchini,Black Jack Zucchini,  Corn (Balinese), Perennial Capsicum/Peppers, 3 types of Chili, Winged Bean, Yacon, Asparagus, Parsley, Coriander, Culantro, Tumeric, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes(2 types), Bottle Gourd (Cucuzza Squash), Pepino, PawPaw, Pigeon Pea, Okinawan Spinach, Longevity Spinach, Katuk, Dill, Basil (3 types) , Spring Onions, Leeks, Radishes, Carrots, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, Aloe Vera, Dragon Fruit, Lemon, Lime, Mulberry (Red & White), Passion fruit, Bulb Fennel, Endive, Radicchio, Chicory, Pomegranate, Jabuticaba, Silver Beet, Cabbages (3-4 types), Burdock, Cucumber, Water Spinach/Kangkong, Lemon Grass, Banana, Choko,Tomatillo,...

How well these plants  are growing  is another matter. In play, so to speak. What you gain on the swings/you can lose on the slides.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on May 14, 2018 at 9:07

Happy to share around the love ;-) Originally our beans (Lissas and mine) came from Jane from Benaraby. We met Jane at a show on the Sunshine Coast a few years back. Haven't heard from her for some time though. Anyway ... she was given the seeds by one of her neighbours. So we don't know what they are exactly. Except that they grow for 9 months of the year, the beans when young are really sweet and crisp. And they are enthusiastic.

Comment by Dave Riley on May 14, 2018 at 0:48

Thanks to Elaine and some online orders I'm sure to be tootsie deep in flat beans to plant out.

A few varieties for sure and enough to stretch my ladder climbing rig.

It's funny how pole bean trellising is a particular gardening genre. Even the name -- 'pole' -- suggests a design essential.

Oh the trellises I have built in days of yore...!

Each effort was gonna be 'it' ... but I've learnt that up is up and all Phaseolus vulgaris wants out of life is something to cling to (and to make more beans).

Therein lies the clincher: it's all about hanging on. Twirling and whirling . And not all things that stand upwards are grab friendly.

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Vetiver grass helps to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.  It can protect against pests and weeds. Vetiver is also used as animal feed. (Wiki.)

GrowVetiver is a plant nursery run by Dave & Keir Riley that harvests and grows Vetiver grass for local community applications and use. It is based in Beachmere, just north of Brisbane, Australia.

Place your business add here! ($5 per month or $25 for 9 months)

Talk to Andy on 0422 022 961.  You can  Pay on this link

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