Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Waffles, Sponges, Cornmeal and other delicacies.

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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Comment by Dave Riley on August 15, 2014 at 13:10

The OPEN VEG GARDEN DAY is primarily about networking among the locals but ring-ins are welcome as each event comes around...
I have no idea how many will turn up nor what they will be seeking if they do; nor what we'll talk about or walk away with.
But the idea is to kickstart a locavore dynamic and see where it leads...

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on August 14, 2014 at 21:08

Saturday 16th is the same day as a BLF Garden Visit. Remind us next time Dave.

Comment by Dave Riley on August 14, 2014 at 17:26

I'm hosting an OPEN GARDEN DAY this coming Saturday , August 16th from 9am-12 midday if anyone wants to drop in while out and about. 

16 Lalroy St, Beachmere

It's also a market day -- in that each fortnight I sell my produce: alternating between the local community markets and my own  backyard market garden

'Tis a vegetable garage sale! [You need to walk thru 'the garage' to get to the garden.]

Comment by Dave Riley on August 14, 2014 at 1:49

I did the figures with my latest water bill and was a bit taken back by the fact that despite not using the rainwater tank -- because we've had no rain  to fill it -- our consumption is way below the regional domestic average. But I have a more-or-less thriving garden.

What gives?

My 'soil' is so sandy no water stays put for long, nor does 'structure' consolidate.I was harvesting sand-soil from the chook pen today and my only consolidation was that it was grey and not yellow.

I'm also finding that my methods keep the irrigation up despite the sieve effect:

  • terracotta pots
  • paper fertility sponges
  • frequent hand watering (only way with sand is to water often) in dry weather.
  • adding plenty of carbon/organic matter --whatever I can get
  • waffle -- dimpling -- bed contours

I've also saved on  water usage by harvesting my own urine as a fertiliser.The good stuff that comes from  our bods is overwhelmingly the pee and to flush it away is water intense, despite dual flush commodes.So what I save on toilet visits I invest in  my water budget.

The saving is impressive...

Indeed , because of the impending crisis in phosphorus reserves, even some scientists are urging urine harvesting on a national scale.

I'm not quite there yet -- but my aim is to replicate a customised version of  French-intensive gardening methods -- minus the double dig -- and purge myself of the elements of the Permaculture template that has been distracting me.

I'm not a brilliant gardener by any estimation,  but the journey of creating this garden has been fun as I work through one problem after another in the conditions I confront. How far I can take this in way of sustainable production is still an open question, but my guess is that the garden I have today may be  different from the one I'll own up to a year hence.

However, if I had begun with 'good' soil I would have saved myself 3 years work of trial and error and could be growing stuff -- like I do today -- from the getgo. When I think back at previous gardens I've had, I'm bemused by the scale of the challenge this one presented me with. As a learning curve it's been one helluva ride.

I only now feel like 'a gardener' because I can actually grow what I intend to grow rather than being victimised by my land's gross  limitations. 

Raising the beds and creating holes when my 'soil' was so sandy seemed counter intuitive as drainage was never an issue. Originally I could not make the earthworks work  as a water harvesting technique. But after I invested more 'texture' in the soil mix through mulches,  the holes and hills  engineering began to pay off.

My experience is eclectic but I definitely now prefer wide beds (mine are 1.5 metres) and narrow walkways that double as water retaining culverts. If you think of cattle tracks -- by making the walkways narrow, you get more compaction  so that any rain either stays on the surface of the path  or seeps  laterally into the beds.  

My mound are knee high and built by burying any woody stuff I had, even suspect cuttings like Melaleuca. They're a sort of hugelkultur experiment via the Pacific Islands. My variation is to embed terracotta watering pots in them so that plants on the slopes get easier access to  whatever pot fed dampness within.

So I'm working with two approaches -- mounds and traditional beds. Where I have holes, and little traffic,such as between some mounds, I'm now just throwing down all my cuttings that can't go through the chooks' back end. Paper  I can never get enough of and nowadays I have a papier mache mix brewing all the time. My experiments suggest -- thus far anyway -- that tearing, almost pulping the paper, and mixing it with manures in  a marinade  is the best use of my manure and paper resources. Just as creating sponge holes and trenches is my best use of the paper/poo combo. But I also realise I need to sprinkle manures as a 'glue' to hold any new sand hill mounds in place/shape when I have no mulch reserves -- like this time of year. 

I also have a bathtub which I'm experimenting with. Setting that up was arduous as I sifted manure with sand 1:1. ..and added captured worms. The bath outlet is a constant source of manure tea. It's fertiliser on tap.If this tub  garden works I think I can fit in  another two.

This video from Brad Lancaster makes a strong 'pro-holes' point. It's a bit slow but the argument is a game changer. So you start thinking...Originally I thought that since my land was flat I could't harvest 'run-off'. But then gravity has it own rewards.

Comment by Dave Riley on August 11, 2014 at 17:25

My batches of hole fill are getting better and better. Improving the recipe...and I'm sculpting them more. Gotta get more paper, more junk mail. Cow dung I get from local farms.

But with run-off I reckon the earth  moving/shaping is the goer in non-sandy soils.I'm substituting paper. But its' bizarre that you can papier mache to such good effect in the garden.

We are especially 'blessed'  with junk mail. For some reason: junk mail central -- two local newspapers plus  catalogue wrap ups each week. Most of it just lays on peoples' nature strip as delivery is via a throw from a passing car.

That's right: littering! 

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on August 11, 2014 at 16:22

You are a never ending source of info Dave.  I like the idea of the holes to save water.  My front garden has no real soil as yet.  The water just tends to run off.  I've started to direct it into holes where it has a hope of draining in.  


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