A friend was talking about the Three Sisters (corns/beans/squash) and indigenous agricultural practices in arid regions of North America. Some of these approaches are covered in Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster. Inspired I was trying to replicate the Zuni waffle garden practice. It really suits our aridness.
However, my sandy soil is so friable that I couldn't build the walls so that the grid stayed put. So I've used galvanised edging which I had and cut it roughly into 2 metre lengths(see image bottom right and centre left) and direct seeded within that.
The metal gives me any shape I want, not just squares.When the seedlings come up, the plan is to remove the wall and reuse it elsewhere. Hypothetically the metal reflects sunlight onto the bed and protects young plants from wind.
I thought, great! So I got myself another roll of some of this stuff so that now it's a gardening essential. I either enclose the seed bed or just wall it on three sides.
My 'soil' is so sandy that even digging holes in new land the sand simply falls in on itself.While I previously built my beds on top of these grains, I'm now experimenting with sifting and mixing manures through the sand to give it texture.The manures hold water in place and counteract erosion.
I'm also experimenting further with Vertical Sponges and I'm impressed with the results.I'm making the paper/manure mixes really pithy and soggy so that when I ram them into the freshly dug hole they really take a basin shape as I extend the lip wider than the hole to engineer a broader billabong. Rather than mulch over & mark, the exposed paper mix on the surface flags the sponge's presence. I've also used the same approach for elongated trenches, when building new beds. They act like an underground skeleton.
Any new planting of perennials I make sure a sponge hole is located nearby.Once you master the mix the technique it really is like sculpting with papier mache.
Soaked and torn up paper + water + sifted manures + anything else you may have on hand and you'd like to add...with gloves on: mix and churn it up. Let marinate then use. Yum.
This comes back to keeping garden worms happy and feeling at home.Worm requirements (moisture + pH + food, etc) are specific it seems and it took me a few years to attract them to my garden in any census numbers.Now I'm trying to get the in-house population to move about and settle new lands.So my next trick is to sprinkle cornmeal about. It's a form of baiting.
Thinks: maybe I could add cornmeal to the sponge mix as well?
This issue came up because a neighbour, recently moved here, could not get over the fact that her new plot had not one garden worm. I said,"sure -- it's a fact, a brutal fact, that worms aren't in residence."She has some clay but still...So I went looking for the DIY of worm accommodation. But in sand -- which is constantly drying out --there isn't enough moisture to enable the worms to breath.Pretty basic lifestyle stuff, right? So that's task #1 -- water.Then you look at the menu. The worms moved in soon after I solved my irrigation challenges...and now I'm seriously worm farming and Butcher Birds alight nearby every time I turn a bit of soil.I have chooks but I can never bring myself to share my worms with them...they're my hard working peasants, my angels, and I dedicate myself to keeping them healthy and happy.
While I'm experimented with a few earth moving approaches to harvest rainwater, when I widened the beds recently and built my mounds I dug down, so that now you step down into the garden when you walk through it. Given that my land is flat, this geography is novel. This is not something to try at home if you have clay underfoot but these narrow walkways between the beds and mounds are impacting such that, if we ever get any rain, they'll slow its run off and seepage. I've experimented with mulching materials before -- especially old rags and plastic -- to cover these footpaths, but managing these materials was painful. In some areas I've simply covered these walkways with scrub cuts , like with banana circle fill, but I suspect that maybe a variation of the sponge mix may suit if I can get enough paper. Sheets of paper not only look unsightly but they blow away. But a layer of papier mache -- paper mash + sand mix? -- could work? Any mulches I get go directly onto the beds.
Nonetheless, may be foot traffic will suffice to compact the paths' surface enough so that seepage is delayed after any downpour. To hold up the sides of the garden beds so that they don't erode into the paths, I'm planting directly on the bed verge --and since I eat a lot of the stuff -- the best thing I've found for this so far, are spring onions! They're deep rooted -- and rather than deploy my seedling supply, I also plant the root ends of bunches I buy at the fruit & veg shop to supplement my consumption. That and chives take root in the friable edges.It is a bit of a potager effect. Since I try to harvest spring onions via a cut-and-come-again approach without uprooting them, I'm hopeful the spring onion borders will work.
I've used lemongrass in similar mode before but lemon grass can be too big to garden around.
Another traditional American practice I follow is ollas -- terracotta pots -- for irrigation.The pot lids are the parked flying saucers in the photoes. That's magnificent and has been a game changer because with sand you need to water often.
But then-- another Indian trick also followed in north west China -- is using sand as mulch.This time of year I can't get green mulches until the grasses start growing again.While I use junk mail bits on the soil surface, sand I have a plenty. And I'm experimenting with that as a mulch cover. Hypothetically sterile sand should make an excellent mulching material. All I have to do is dig for it and scatter it between the plants.
I'm finding after using trellises and other apparati that any old long piece of wood can be supported upright or on a lean to carry climbers like beans. I don't grow corn, because I don't eat it -- so no '3 Sisters'. That doesn't solve the choko issue -- its climbing requirements -- and I grow a lot of chokoes -- but any old branch can be put to use. so long as I keep up a supply of metal rods (old tent poles and such) I get from the tip to anchor any upright. Thats' how the poles stay aloft in the gallery.Many are feral bamboo harvests left over from old builds.You can never have too much bamboo.
Tomatoes I just lean brushes around the plants but I'm running out of branches.
Related is this book: Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land - Lessons from Desert Farmers ... by Gary Nabhan.
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