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Growing local

The garden in July: insects, mounds and milk crates

The way it comes together!
There may not be the explosive growth of the warmer and wetter months but the plants that appreciate a bit of chilling start doing their mid Winter thing. And you still get new growth. The seedlings come on. Plant cuttings take root. And the garden's navvy gets to work longer shifts in the cool and sunshine.
No sweat. Nothing gets away from you and you can engage more with the dirt.
It's potting about weather.
Insect Hotel
A friend had a wee small hostelry for insects. The horticulturalist I work with who is new to the area bemoans the shallow local bee population. And I, to my credit, was renovating my two ponds when  I thought in a sort of 2 plus 2 equals five moment...I'll go into the hospitality industry.
So the last few days I've been collecting bits and pieces from around the yard and recycling them into apartments for insects. Re-imagining yourself from the house hunting insect POV is a lot of creative fun. With so much old bamboo about the place my industry had ready hardware. Saw up a few canes. Chop through some pawpaw trunks. Recycle some old bamboo curtain beads. Make use of some old containers...Hang em up. Attach them.
I already had structures: Sculptural local woods laid and strutted together around the ponds and skywards for a wind chime,  so I simply inserted the apartments among all that. Clambering over these was some keen growth: nasturtium, Bolivian cucumber and a coastal legume.
So now, all I gotta do is wait for the clientele to come visit. Here and a the local school gardening project  methinks stingless native bees may be an option...
It makes me distinctly uncomfortable to be obsessed with a gardening contour that no one else (on this continent at least) seems to indulge in: mounds. (See the recent: Notes on Mounds)  I may be an eccentric gardener but I do not garden in the nuddy. I do however build up mounds of dirt, shove a terracotta pot in the top as a flu and grow stuff at an angle of  45 degrees.
I grow at an angle... I'm telling you it works!  45 degrees. 45 degrees.

My mounds aren't Polynesian/Melanesian huge. My mounds are little islands rising up out of the detritus like a volcano in a shabby sea.

On these pet knolls, I've planted out a lot of stuff. A lot of different stuff to see how it grows.
I've got potatoes, oca (NZ Yam), pole beans, tomato, zuchini, coriander, Sunchokes, spring onions, carrots, sun jewels, sunflowers, sweet potato, pumpkin, purple yams, aloe vera, cannas...planted atop or on the sides of my wee hillocks.
Truth to tell I thought such a polygamous mix was sure to be a hard ask of elevated soil, but each mound is becoming its own micro-climate. Each is its own fantasy land.
I'll need to christian each and everyone of them. That's a lot of champagne!
Indeed when I look at what can happen at 45 degrees and then gaze  at the flat beds,  the horizontal beds seem desultory and vapid  in comparison. But here's the thing: I can see these islands'  flora  easily  because the convex contour offers a 360 degree look around. In a polycultural gardening indulgence such as  mine, that's a real plus.
Gardening is easier...because it's diced up into manageable parts.Wee round beds: O-O-O all about.
While the initial mound I built this year is so verdant -- I cannot see anything at all except jungle -- the others are likely to follow suit. I'm now meditating on the option of engineering mounds on my east/west beds. My north/south beds are so far gone that they'll all metamorphasize into mound-dom within a few months. Any delay in earth moving is simply about waiting on what's there now to reach harvest.
Between the mounds I throw all the brush and cuttings I collect and tramp it all down as I traffic hither and yon.

Garden vistas

Looking south: poles supporting aerial lines for climbing plants; seedlings on the go at bottom right;    
behind them a two mound bed buried under growth; milk crate garden bottom centre. Click on image to enlarge view.
In my mix are a lot of climbing plants. The old garden hoses I strung through the air across the garden are now supporting feeder lines both vertical and horizontal as I drop twine down to pole beans, Bolivian cucumbers, Mouse Melon, an exotic cucurbit (so exotic I can't recall or pronounce the name) and choko. The advantage of taking these plants so sharply skyward is that this time of year they don't shade their neighbours so much and I get to plant climbers more or less where ever I like without having to build trellises. No need to clump plant. I'm still gardening with an eclectic polycultural, companion planting, mix.
I give aerial gardening with jute twine: nine and a half out of ten
As the Vulcan salute says, "Live long, climb up and prosper."[ Or should it be?: " Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to bravely go where no plant has gone before".]
Milk Crate Gardening.
Not my norm, but I'm experimenting with container gardening. Usually I hate containers as they are so routinely thirsty.
I'm a milk crate junkie. Can't live without them. And now that I've found a regular supply of these design masterpieces at the local tip, a lot can now happen.
At the local school gardening project  we've been vertical gardening with pallets and I passionately hate them. I think the whole exercise is absurd. So in looking around for useful hardware, that could use weed mat in its walls, I  researched  milk crate gardening as an option.
Bingo: crates have wings. 
The pros of milk crates as gardening containers are:
  • milk crates are cheap ( I pay $1) or free.(Retail: $12)
  • milk crates offer good volume to grow stuff. Indeed a milk crate on average has a volume of around 27 litres.
  • milk crates neatly butt against one another so they are easily arranged into 'garden bed' shapes.
  • milk crates when butted together insulate one another and the soil they may contain.
  • milk crates can be stacked so that a quick 'raised bed' is a milk crate atop a milk crate.(You can also create vertical gardens this way if you must.)
  • milk crates are sturdy and moveable so they can be shifted about with changes in the seasons and weather.
The one drawback with  milk crate gardening is that when filled with soil, a milk crate is a hefty lift (over 30 kgm I'd guess) -- so moving them about may (or 'should' for the back conscious) require the use of a trolley.
Are they worth the effort -- collecting them and fabricating with weed mat?  That's why I'm experimenting. My beginner plant is tomatoes. I suspect crate gardening will also suit sweet peppers and cucumbers...and they may offer me the advantage that some of the fungal diseases my garden is prone to will be  less when the plants are grown above ground in a crate.
Or so I hypothesize...

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Comment by Dave Riley on July 14, 2015 at 12:43

I used to sculpt  figurines in polystyrene and consequently had a garden covered in the stuff. As when it breaks apart it flies everywhere. I also recall the many times when I've lifted PolyStyrene boxes with dirt in them and the sides break apart under my thumb. Polystyrene doesn't like sunshine.

RECALL: I had a Polystyrene garden atop a verandah above a newsagents in Alphington, Melboune.I had to garden out the window...

But the insulation factor is so attractive...that's  why I was attracted to milk crates because you can arrange them in blocks of 4, 6 or 8 -- just like any raised garden bed.

Also I've had the same milk crates -- used variously for different tasks -- for at least 10 years. Indestructible they are. As well as container gardening, they serve as great platforms in fish ponds for various aquatic plants. The plants sit on the shelf and the fish have a large roomy underneath to escape the heat of the sun or predators.

They are also great for moving house: indeed you move house with them packed with your stuff > fill them with dirt > and garden at the new address > then when you move again,empty out the soil (into bags?) and use them to pack up your chattels again....

Comment by Roger Clark on July 14, 2015 at 7:42

Milk crate gardening seems a lot like Polystyrene box gardening. I have a lot of these going. The advantages of polystyrene is that it is a good insulator and also cam be made into wicking beds which is great for summer conditions. These are also very heavy when full, and one disadvantage over crates is that they are also quite weak and moving them about when full is not advised. Definitely a trolley job. The depth of soil available is also another disadvantage, so many deep rooted plants are not suitable. I currently have mine planted out with Garlic. The real advantage of growing in smallish containers like this is that they are portable. So they can be moved about into sunny spots in winter, when the sun is low, and then into shadier spots in summer when there's too much sun. I started off a new garden site by moving containers there and seeing how crops grew before putting more permanent beds there. 

I do favour growing in sacks, as I find they provide a bigger soil mass for a greater variety of plants, plus they drain very well. Potatoes, cabbages, broccoli, tomatoes can all be grown well in these. They don't look very neat, but you can't have everything.

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