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Converting to wicking beds End of summer.

Hi everyone.  Well, what a beautiful day today was compared with the last couple of shockers.  So hot the previous week that I think I almost died :) and the cool change on Saturday felt like the onset of winter.  Lucky for me, the beds continued happily on their way and most things survived.   Only casualty was my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings.  I planted seeds and they just shriveled up and died or didn't even come up -> too hot I guess.  So, I gave in and bought green dragon broccoli seedlings at masters yesterday.  There were two cauli's left so hopefully with the cooler change, they'll get going nice and strong.  Also, my capsicums didn't come up at all, maybe I was too impatient? As I had a couple of plants in another bed that will need to get ripped up when I get motivated again, I decided to transplant them -> last weekend -> before the god almighty heat wave!!! I was so worried about them but I cut them right back (sorry baby capsicums, but you needed to be sacrificed for the greater good) and they bounced back after a couple of wilty days.   So what you can see from below is that I finally finished the fourth bed yesterday (overcast = great day to work in garden) and this is one month on for the other 3. See here for previous wicking bed blog Corn and zuccs going great, beans far left good, toms, caps and eggplant in far right and I just planted sugarsnap peas, cucumber biet alpha and soy beans in the front right (new bed).  Just to re-emphasize -> NO wilting of established plants even for the past week of horrible heat.

Here are a close up of the zucc and corn -> they look amazing!!  Also I'm excited as my first white eggplant has appeared.  Has anyone ever tried these?  I was a bit disappointed with my black eggplant this year and thought I'd try something new when I saw these at masters. They're supposed to not be bitter at all and I'd be interested in any feedback.

I've had a few problems with the front self wicking beds.  The Lebanese cucumbers got downey  mildew (which I had never seen before).  Have sprayed and am waiting to see if they will survive.  I think it was my fault because I used cheap potting mix to fill that bed and didn't add any slow release fertilizer.  I have planted new seeds from Mr Fothergill's (Biet Alpha F1 in the back beds) as I haven't had much luck with this batch of leb cuc's so it could be the seeds themselves.  When they come out, I will add loads of compost and try planting peas or beans in it.  Another problem was my beautiful Charentais rock  melons.  They're the biggest I've ever seen them, the vine looks great and healthy (minimal powdery mildew) but I've learnt a valuable lesson -> the large blossom end is very susceptible to rot.  I've already lost 3 because I didn't realize that they were rotting until one collapsed.  Inspected all the other fruit and only those where the blossom end was resting on the ground (as opposed to the side of the melon) was there damage.  LESSON LEARNT!! I will from now on always twist the developing fruit slightly so the blossom end is not on the ground. (normal is on the left, rotted one on the right)

I have also built self wicking beds down the side of the house with some of the left over wood.  These have the water reservoir dug into the ground and the wood holds the planting soil.  I decided that the wood was not in good enough condition to build a proper double story raised bed for the back garden and rather than let it go to waste, am using it on the side of the house where nothing was ever planted (as I had hibiscus's that just got chopped down -> was going to plant screening bamboo and then realized -> DUH!! I can fit more veggie beds in).  These are not as self sufficient as the properly designed beds as the water reservoir is much smaller but they still only need refilling every 5-7 days.  As the are down the side of the house, they are currently being used for more rambling plants.....  Pumpkins and moon and stars watermelon in the older one (built end of December - no female flowers yet) and I just built the one on the right yesterday.  It's 2 meters long and one half will have sweet potato (the potato bags did not do well for me -> prob my laziness with watering to blame) and I planted new batch of charentais rockmelons on the left (circled). 

My latest addition to my growing self sufficiency is a worm farm.  I figured I can no longer rely on earth worms getting into my beds and need to start building up a supply of red composting worms to put into the beds with a built in worm feeder later on. So in aid of that, my little worm farm is the beginning.   My son is so excited, trying to explain to him that he can't add all the scraps to the bin yet is very hard.  Hopefully he'll get bored with lifting the lid and looking at them soon, though I must admit, I'm just as guilty... can't help myself, I have to see if they are ok. :)

The other thing I did this weekend (and it was thanks to the event page that I found out about it) was head down to the Wynnum/Manly community garden.  I didn't even know it was there and was so excited to find something like that so close to home.  Am thinking about joining but don't know if I will be able to find the time to attend all the working bees.  Will email them for some info.  Anyway, today was a harvest share (which I only found out about Saturday night) and I thought "crap - what do I have that I can take"   I would have taken tomatos but just gave away a whole bunch to my neighbor the day before and the rest weren't ripe.  Nothing is really ready to harvest yet what with the new beds and all.  I have a bunch of banana's, not ripe yet but surely soon so I cut a hand (18 in all), had two green capsicums, 2 pumpkins, 3 red chillies, Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass that I put together.  Took my little harvest down to the swap...... I loved it!! Banana's were the first thing to go so I felt happy.  But I scored big time... There was rosella jam (my granddad used to make it so I just HAD to have some), small bits of honey comb (kids begged me to get some), tomato relish and beautiful purple beans.  I also found a guy who grew edamame beans successfully and picked his brains about how to grow them.   Also, it was nice and shady -> was worried about it being on at 2.30 in the arvo and had a nice shady park that the kids ran around in while I walked around looking at the great garden.  Will definitely attend this event again but hopefully be more prepared for it and have more to swap.

Well hope you enjoyed the updates..  Elaine, if you could give me instructions on how to link to the previous wicking bed post, it would be appreciated. 

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Comment by Elaine de Saxe on February 27, 2014 at 22:04

Clarification: wicking-bed conversions used the same soil that was in the beds and I added extra mix and 5 in 1 to it then a cover crop. I didn't replace the mix with something else.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on February 27, 2014 at 20:40

A lot of different aspects to wicking beds are starting to be made known now there are more people on this site experimenting with them.

Beans - I've noticed this with the climbing beans and the Soy beans. I have interpreted the sign as Iron deficiency - that affects the new leaves. The quick solution is to add Iron Chelate, which I've done and they look a lot better. It is weird though, because it's usually evident with acid-lovers like Blueberries growing in too-alkaline a soil for their needs. The quick solution is still Iron Chelate.

I would not discount the 'too much organic matter' solution either. I have gone overboard adding organic matter to my new wicking beds (the 3 commercial ones) and all is not growing as well as I had hoped.

For the composting process to work well, you need lots of different microbes - they can come from active soil or other compost or perhaps cow manure rather than horse. But then I read that all manures should be composted before being used.

I have begun to realise that well-made compost at the humus stage is what we need. Not the half-made stuff I have been putting around. Even when the red compost worms have entered the compost bins, the compost is not humus. Although a lot of the contents have broken down there is still some recognisable components and that means the 'compost' is not really compost.

I can see the benefit of cover-cropping and adding biodynamic compost (humus on steroids ;-) until the beds are really bursting with life. Impatience which I have in abundance doesn't benefit the plants.

My other wicking-bed conversions (from bottomless above-ground beds) had the original soil mix replaced and added to. So far they are growing reasonably well without the obvious deficiencies of the 3 big wicking beds.

Comment by Susan on February 27, 2014 at 16:22

Hi Donna,  I don't think it is blossom end rot on the melons as any that the bottom was not resting on the mulch are fine and only those where the blossom end was sitting on the beds was there any rot. I'm not watering from the top at all with the beds.  The melons I've found are very susceptible to powdery mildew but I've had much less of a problem with them in the wicking beds than previously.  The cuc's however are a mystery.  I've not really had a successful crop at all with these seeds so I bought a Mr Fothergill biet alpha variety that I hope will do well.

Elaine, that is good to know and I will keep an eye out for problems.  So far going alright but the beans look a bit pale and have green veins.  Everything I've read said this is either manganese or iron deficiency.  As my soil is really good (it has had plenty of compost, fertilizer etc added to it, I don't want to add excess nutrients as  all the sites say this is particularly bad to do for wicking beds.  One thing I read said that sometimes an excess of organic matter within the bed will sometimes lead to these deficiencies.  It is interesting to note that to this bed, I added 2 bags of horsemanure as well as chucked in all the green waste from the next bed thinking that this would "compost" down which I didn't do for the others......I'm hoping this is the reason and if so, this should self correct once the breakdown process is complete.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on February 27, 2014 at 15:25

I've found powdery mildew on Cukes which are not growing in full sun nor did they have enough air circulation AND I've found in this newly-made wicking bed, the Searles 5 in 1 lack sufficient Calcium for Tomatoes.
Since allowing in more sun and air, the Cukes have prospered but the blossom-end-rot on the Toms has not responded as well as hoped after I added Gypsum.
Next time I use 5 in 1 I will be adding Gypsum.

Comment by Donna on February 27, 2014 at 13:11

Sorry if you are already aware of this, and you may not be watering at all from the top with a wicking bed however to help avoid powdery mildew ensure that you are not watering the leaves and also leave any yellow ladybugs as they are mildew eaters.  Milk/ water spray can work on this.

Could the rot on the melons be a form of blossom end rot?  This can happen if there  is not enough calcium, try adding gypsum to the soil for plants that have high calcium needs.

Your gardens look awesome!

Comment by Lissa on February 25, 2014 at 5:13

Read the list of natural fertilizers and pleased to say I'm using them all, except the seaweed which is a bit hard to come by often. I don't bother washing the eggshells - that's a bit of unnecessary bother. They go straight into the giant bucket under the sink along with all other RAW kitchen vege scraps. I learned long ago not to use any meat or cooked items in the compost.

Weed tea is invaluable. I throw in any greenery/weeds/comfrey from around the garden, fallen fruit, a bit of molasses, a handful of Organic Xtra, a handful of the good stuff from the bottom of the compost pile, some Seaweed Extract and anything else I have around.

The solar bubbler Elaine gave me some time back has proven it's worth keeping the mix aerated. I just keep topping it up with water and occasionally empty the contents out and start again.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on February 24, 2014 at 21:40

Depends how you assess 'cost'. In absolute $ terms, probably not especially when you add in your time. BUT - and I've no proof of this - I reckon that home-grown fresh organic/biodynamic is as health-giving as anything you'd buy and probably more so. Just the flavour alone is worth extra $s. Never mind how quick it is to cook your tender veges.

Grow-your-own sprouts or micro-greens is a quick and easy way to have fresh greens always to hand. And they would be cheaper and certainly fresher than anything from the shop. And there's a better variety, too.

Comment by Valerie on February 24, 2014 at 21:03

Yes by the time you buy fertilisers, I wonder if it is really cost-effective to grow your own. Hoewer you quickly learn to make do with what you have around you. Here is an interesting link for fertilisers

I love watching Rob Bob's video. I subscribed to his youtube channel. He is very inspirational and very generous too.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on February 24, 2014 at 20:55

It makes total sense. The fertility comes from the interaction between various micro-organisms and the plant roots. I've yet to make enough compost to only use that - it is the ideal and most benign. So I do use Organic Xtra pellets with occasional waterings of Seaweed, Worm juice (not 'wee' worms don't have urinary bladders ;-), and I'm trying liquid Biodynamic Tree Paste. The idea is to feed the microbes which feed the plants by a complex interaction.

Comment by Susan on February 24, 2014 at 15:04

Thanks guys for the feedback re white egg plant.  It's good to know that it should be money well spent.  I agree Lissa, it is looking rather pretty :).  Valerie, I didn't know this.  I've been watching Rob Bob's video's and he always seems to have tonnes of worms in his beds -> I just assumed they were the red ones as he showed a feeding tube for one.  I might just try one as a trial in a bed and see how it goes then.  Definitely plan on using the vermicast and juice on vegies.  I want to get more away from using bought fertilisers as I can whilst still imputing minimum effort, if that makes sense?

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