Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

I guess I am obsessed with irrigation, with 'water use' in the garden.

(Did I tell you I live on sand?)

After my most recent experiments with bucket irrigation  I re-affirmed my engineering activism and have been returning from my every day walks with bags full of junk mail and 'community' newspapers conveniently rolled up in user-friendly logs of cellulose.

Every time I go out now I take a shopping bag with me and scoop up these items from the massive amount of literature that is thrown at my neighborhood's front gates and left there by residents simply because there is so much of the stuff.

I live in junk mail central. It's distribution is a local cottage industry. Three to five deliveries per week of newspapers and catalogues -- more if you add Australia Post letter boxing seven days per week!

I'm a one man anti-littering movement. Mr Clean-Up-Australia every day. A standard trip will net me at least 3-5 kgm of paper product.

All I do is bring back my gatherings and throw the contents of my billy bag onto the garden paths.

I used to unwrap the rolls and lay the papers out flat but now all I do is remove any plastic bag covering before I dump the lot in a tumble over the path. Rolled up paper like this doesn't blow away. It may not look neat but as soon as I get any delivery of grass clippings or collect some other green mulch, I throw a slim coating of that over the paper piles. The carpet of green mulch helps  composting as well as format neatness.

These paper pathways are often soggy to walk upon and present a rough ride for a wheel barrow but who uses them as a major thoroughfare? Traffic is light as access to the garden beds is required only for harvest or garden management.

So far, I am delighted with my junk mail gardening experiments. I  have buried so much paper in my garden that I'm sure you could call outback  papier mâché-ed.

I guess I'm trying to create a permanent thickness of mulch material at least 10 cm deep (and beyond!) between the garden beds. My base layer follows my various trench mulching experiments  -- so underneath all that paper product is a narrow gutter -- my wicking gutter.

This means that with plant invasion of the pathways -- my street map is not well defined any more. 'Shape' and 'design' are very dynamic and a sort of organic process rules as I learn that I don't really need main thoroughfare access as I originally presumed. Why dedicate so much space to a network of paths if you only use them occasionally?

My grandfather's garden -- built on the side of  a Melbourne hill -- had a network of paths created from cement stepping stones. He had poured cement into a mould foot-width square and each path was made up of these steps. To navigate the garden you stepped through and over the vegetation onto each block. 

I suspect I may end up in the same territory as in time my mulch is gonna be delicious plant fare and my annuals won;t stay in their beds.

The rationale for pathways kicks in if you are dependent on them for management chores. But since I mulch the beds, weeding is not a significant task; planting is an occasional activity, a one off. If I am hand watering I need access. If I am spreading green mulch on the beds I appreciate wheel  barrow access but then I disperse mulch by hand arm fulls at a time.

So my paths are beginning to have a life of their own and are as interesting and as engaging as the beds  between them. 

Remember I am on sand and building up the garden beds doesn't make drainage sense so the normal defining function of engineering a different contour for a pathway doesn't register with me. What could matter is compression caused by human weight and activity on the soil. But then, I am on sand and sand is forgiving of weight  so compaction isn't a major issue. A handful of my sandy loam springs back when squeezed tight in the palm of my hand.

And on sand, no water pools: that's my core problem -- hanging onto water. 

I guess a rider to this is that I try to keep up the Nitrogen to the garden beds with all this paper rotting away to the left and right. So I manure the beds  as I see fit. Fungal/toadstool activity is richest at the interface between bed and paper -- just on the bed border. Nonetheless, I still need to keep mulching the beds to keep weeds down, moderate soil temperature and lock in moisture. But the process and intention is different of course. Bed and path are different worlds -- for now anyway.

It is too early to start analysing the ecology -- and the potential biology -- of the paths as this sort of engineering intent is still  an experiment. But as all this breaks down what do I do with the stuff? Leave it there? Turn path into garden?

Like all of what I do: I'll wing it. Suck it and see...

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Comment by Dave Riley on June 26, 2012 at 12:04

No I don't. I understand that most dyes today are vegetable anyway -- but aside from that the proportion of glossy colored papers is always small compared to the newsprint stuff. I'm not obsessed with pure organics as I see organics as a way to produce, not a way to eat and my primary impulse ids to make best use of the resources I can collect and junk mail is one of my resources. 

Further mulching adventures here:

Comment by Jane on May 20, 2012 at 16:41

great Idea, I've been putting newspapers, cardboard & junk mail on my paths for years, I find it all breaks down & every now & again I shovel it into the beds, in the meantime it stops the weeds on the paths. One year I tried wood chip on the paths but the weeds soon grew through so now its paper & cardboard again, big appliance boxes are great, just have to remove all the plastic tape.

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