Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Two recent indulgences: sand mining and milk crate gardening

I've mentioned it before  but I get a lot of fertility value out of mining my chook pen. I only have 2 chooks but the pen is large --occupying a shady dead area of the outback. All the veg house scraps and garden cuttings and weeds go over the fence and the chickens gobble everything up. They also get grain but chooks are eating machines. Pigs with feathers.

If I'm building new beds or topping up old ones --such as my mounds --  I've found my best option is to dig up the floor of the pen. So herein is a great advantage of living on sand: you can run your own sand mine.

The chickens begin the process of converting sand into soil. Like some production line I just ferry wheel barrow loads of their handwork about for gardening with.

Looking at my latest chook-poo sponsored beds I gotta say: wow! The chickens have come home to roost!

Mind you, my chooks are now living in a rough patch with holes and hillocks here and there but I'm sure it only adds to their lifestyle.

I also find that under mound protocol I throw a lot of stuff -- paper and twigs especially, and mulch -- in the walking path valleys between my mounds and when that rots down I simply spade it onto the mounds and dig deeper.These trenches become places for more of the same . It is not neat but the system works.


Since I'm a keen a supporter of all things milk crate I'm delighted that my local dump shop sells them for $1 each -- if stocks are in.

An example of a milk crate garden

My put together is a bit rough but with some weed mat and a pair of scissors you can convert a milk crate into the makings of a garden bed. Compared to 'pots' they have the great advantage of insulating one another when they are butted together. So arranged they serve as a ready made 'square foot' type  garden offering a good soil volume with easy elevation.

I'm using my own sandy garden soil mix in the crates so it will be a useful exercise. Chook pen dirt + a little potting mix.

My hope is to explore the option so that we can adopt it to the school garden as the crates would make a great gardening focus for small groups of children....and we can move them about the place to suit weather , pedagogy and such.

At home I'm interested in using the crates for tomatoes and peppers.I'm growing some tomatoes in a few car tires I had and they are raging on. Same soil mix as the crate plan. In similar mode, I'd filled up an old bath tub and am harvesting a good crop of sweet potatoes out of it.

Once I exhaust the soil, I can tip it out and replenish the crate.

The crates are heavy when filled with soil and moving them is quite a  lift -- so I suggest using a hand trolley if you aren't into weight lifting.


I guess the point about the chook pen and milk crates is a sort of : 'Have soil. Will Travel' approach. While I have stable beds and none of the garden is 'turned over' I am relocating bits of it strategically. Since  this 'soil' is all my own work and my greatest creation -- I not only respect it in a sort of Earth Mother way, but I ration  its usage. It is still a thin coating over yellow sand so there's logic in the deployment of milk crates and mounds which are but reflections of one another's logic. Counter intuitive when you think how sandy it all is. I go 'up' when I don't need the drainage attributes.

Can I adopt my terracotta pot system to the crates?  I use a pot in the bathtub... but the crates have a small surface area. Hypothetically you could embed the crates with terracotta wine coolers  but I've found that since I've located them in cooee of the kitchen door, I can water these beds primarily with water I collect in the kitchen -- from cooking and washing vegetables.It's an easy routine.

However, I'm sure the cartes can be retrofitted with a simple wicking system such as this (and pictured right)

Just on that-- on irrigation -- I used to religiously top up my terracotta pots under a regime of 3-4 day turn arounds. But now I do it selectively by assessing my plants' individual needs. I hand water very often (seedlings you see)  so I'm relating to all my plants on a get-to-know basis.

The mound approach has also had a major impact on my use of terracotta pots. I'm using fewer pots because I'm using each one much more efficiently. So I have fewer pots to fill and because they are elevated atop a mound of dirt, access is much easier.

My first self consciously designed mound bed like this is my most verdant patch. It is amazing! It's one big explosion of tomatoes, climbing beans, coriander and potatoes mixed up together like a jungle. There were a few tweaks in the mix -- like a lay down trench of manures on which the mounds were built -- but wow! Who woulda thought?


Of related interest is the fact that most of my garden has taken off. There are a few lulling spots which are still dominated by the lethargy of the original sandiness, but generally, where I consistently tried to mulch and colonise with selective species the areas have taken off. My explanation for this isn't driven by the standard change in soil chemistry but like the biodynamic notion, my garden has been vitalised by the spread of soil food web demographics.

I know how little I invested in some places for  stunning results and the only explanation is that the good bits of the garden colonised the rest. I was merely the instrument.

This is what you get for not fretting over individual plants and seeing 'the garden' as a whole rather than in parts. In that sense my garden paths are as much part of the mix as my garden beds. Now when I turn over a sod with my hands I get so much life. And my fungi output is something to be experienced. So many different species pop up at any opportunity.

This maybe explains why my cucurbits have problems and don't thrive but you wont hear the leafy greens complaining.

This leads into the big moment: garden dramatics. In a few weeks I can expect to have my whole garden planted out. That is covered with  a jungle of plants with no mulch to be seen underneath (because it will be hidden under the greenery). I've been pursuing the green mulch ground covering logic and it is very clear that the best garden is one that is covered in plants...almost 'any' plants.

To that end I've got a few favorites which I plant among everything else: pigface, dog bane, coriander, Indian shot canna, nasturtium (and my coastal creeper legume thingy).  I used to use a lot of lemon grass but it is no where near as effective and can be fickle in sand. I'm also experimenting with Brazil spinach and some of the other generic spinaches such as Warrigal Greens. And I found a supply of PIGEON PEAS so I'm adding that to the plant out cover mix.

On that: pigeon peas are readily available from most Indian grocers. Those I got are locally grown and were as cheap as chips per kilogram. I also buy my coriander seeds from the same source -- and per kilogram. This time of year, just throw them at the dirt.  My preferred supplier -- Geeta Enterprises--  offers two types : Indian imports and local seeds . Also of note is the kilogram lots of dill seeds. Again you can never have too much dill.Just throw it at the dirt. Now that I have it in kilograms that's exactly what I'll do.

I've planted out some African Horned melon with this in mind too. Pumpkins won't work to rule thus far -- but I've drafted choko to fill that ground covering niche. I used to use sweet potatoes but some of the soils are unfair to them and they won't thrive.As the soils improve I'll re-introduce the sweet spuds, but i find that standard potatoes do well on my marginal lands.

I planted out two types of yams today -- African and Asian purples -- on my marginals to see if they'll take in new places. The purples do grow well outback.  I've also got more nasturtium coming on for covering purposes...and for any shaded area I have some more Katuk cuttings potted up. I'm also hopeful about multiskilling Okinawan spinach.

This time of year I can look forward to taking mulberry cuttings in order to pursue my quest for a hedgerow around the chook pen. I was watching a English gardening program on cottage gardening and the host, Carol Klein,  employed the services of a fencer who specialised in meshing hedgerow plants together. Obviously an archaic art predating barbed wire, but by pulling down and intertwining the stems of shrubbery, small tress and such, you can create a thicket.So I'm doing the same with mulberry --sort of espaliering them horizontally in order to get a fence effect. Herein is another use for jute twine.

Views: 296

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Brisbane Local Food to add comments!

Join Brisbane Local Food

Comment by Dave Riley on May 8, 2020 at 23:17

Here's my latest milk crate project:

Important note about adding photos:

Always add photos using the "From my computer" option, even if you are on a mobile phone or other device.


  • Add Photos
  • View All


  • Add Videos
  • View All


Vetiver grass helps to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.  It can protect against pests and weeds. Vetiver is also used as animal feed. (Wiki.)

GrowVetiver is a plant nursery run by Dave & Keir Riley that harvests and grows Vetiver grass for local community applications and use. It is based in Beachmere, just north of Brisbane, Australia.

Place your business add here! ($5 per month or $25 for 9 months)

Talk to Andy on 0422 022 961.  You can  Pay on this link

© 2021   Created by Andrew Cumberland.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service