Worm Wicking - One Year On
te an article for SGA about my first attempt at a Sustainable Wicking Worm Bed. For details see
(http://www.sgaonline.org.au/sustainable-wicking-worm-bed/). The bed above is a larger version
developed to suit the needs of my small suburban back yard.
I have kept the size down because I will need 4 of these to replace my conventional 4 bed crop
rotation system, and I have limited space. The length of wicking beds is restricted only by the
available length of plastic liner, but usually their width is limited by the distance you can reach
without climbing all over it. This bed is 2700mm long x 1650mm wide x 600mm deep.
I have smaller specialised beds for growing dwarf fruit trees (Meyer lemon and Hamlin orange),
Tomatoes and Strawberries (runners just planted). The Tomato bed is growing Broccoli until it gets
warm enough for Tomatoes.
I have used the past 12 months gathering knowledge and applying it to the first wicking worm bed I
made. I learned that the bed worked extremely well using very little water and maintaining a moist
soil ideally suited to growing vegetables. The worm farm prospered in the moist conditions
consuming about 1 litre of finely chopped kitchen/garden waste per week. The bed above is using
twice that quantity. Two different types of worm inhabit my wicking worm beds. These are
composting worms and burrowing earthworms.
They prosper in the ideal conditions provided by a
wicking bed worm farm with its consistent moist
environment, protected from predators and shaded from
sunlight. My composting worms are a mix of the
Red Wrigglers [Lumbricus Rebellus].
Indian BlueWorms[Perionyx Excavatus.
Garden worms burrow deep into the soil creating nutrient rich pathways for plant roots to colonise
as well as fertilising the soil. They distribute nutrients and micro-organisms from the worm farm
through the plant growing area. Their tunnels provide efficient distribution of water and air to the
plants roots. When establishing a new wicking worm bed, I harvest garden worms from soil in my
conventional organic garden beds, and supplement these by buying Amynthus Gracious/Cortius
Despite the high levels of microbial activity in the bed and the continuous supply of nutrients from
the worm farm, I top up the soil after harvesting a crop with rich material from my compost heap.
The bed has an isolated ecosystem, and I need to maintain this supply of diverse micro-fauna
originating in the larger garden ecosystem.
I also inoculate some of my plants with Mycorrhizal Fungi (available on the internet) by dusting the
seeds before sowing them, or the root ball when planting seedlings. This fungi develops a symbiotic
relationship with plants by penetrating their roots to set up nutrient exchange sites. They then send
their long fine root like Hyphae in search of nutrients and water. The Hyphae exude enzymes
dissolving rock and lignin in the soil, releasing nutrients and building soil structure.
In return for the fungi’s supplies of nutrients and water, the plant manufactures vitamins and
carbohydrates for the fungi’s use. Unfortunately Brassicas and beets do not form symbiotic
relationships with Mycorrhizae.
I don’t dig the soil in my wicking worm beds; it breaks up the structure and disturbs the worms too
much. The soil doesn’t get compacted because it is continuously aerated by the worms and micro-
organisms in the soil.
I use very little fertiliser to supplement the finely chopped
kitchen/garden waste I supply to the worms. However,
before planting crops, I add a little blood and bone and rock
dust to the beds surface. If the growth of flowering and
fruiting plants is too lush and sappy, I supply extra potassium
by adding seaweed extract to the bed’s water tank. A little
lime is added as a surface dressing for plants requiring a
neutral or alkaline soil. I test for pH to get this right.
I have a non commercial web site which provides detailed information on how I built my (so far) 5
above ground wicking worm beds, 1 triple in-ground wicking worm bed and 8 wicking bins for
anyone who would like to try. The address is www.jas49580.blogspot.com .
Sustainable Wicking Worm Bed
Progress Updated March 2013
When I built my first wicking worm bed 10 months ago, it was a test bed designed to gain
experience with the process. My plan was to eventually convert my vegetable and fruit
growing backyard from conventional organic drip line gardening to wicking worm beds.
As far as I am concerned the experiment was a success. Soil fertility has improved and
vegetables remained pest free without resorting to external inputs of fertilisers and
pesticides. Water use is significantly reduced, yet soil condition has been maintained at
optimum moisture levels.
I have just built my first large wicking worm bed designed to replace one of my 4
conventional beds, but last spring I built 3 new beds of a different design. I wanted to
explore a cheaper more versatile option for potential gardeners who have little or no access
to a garden of their own.
Two years ago I began my retirement with a desire to create a model backyard vegie garden. I
wanted it to carry the lightest carbon footprint possible, and conserve precious water supplies. I had
started out years earlier by the conventional organic route, with no synthetic chemical fertilizers or
pest controls. I had installed water tanks and surface drip irrigation, and I had composted large
amounts of material in my twin bin arrangement.
I was happy with the results, but during the recent years of drought, I had found it hard, even to
average over a year, Melbourne’s drinking water target usage of 155 litres per person per day. So I
began my search for a better way, and about a year ago, I came across Colin Austin’s wicking bed
innovation. (see www.wickingbed.com)
I began to experiment with cheap 60 litre bins (see above) with great results. The vegies always had
enough water, yet used very little. Recently, I built a larger unit with a built-in worm farm, and pest
exclusion frame. (see above behind wicking bins).
My aim with this unit is to restrict consumption of fertilisers, pesticides and water to a minimum.
(even organic fertilisers and pesticides). The theory is that by incorporating a worm farm into the
wicking bed, the whole bed becomes part of the worm habitat, and the soil is fertilised and aerated
by worm activity. Microbial activity is enhanced by the breakdown of Pine bark in the water
reservoir. Fertility in the reservoir is also boosted by the direct leaching of worm wee from above.
I am uncertain at this stage what will happen to all the worm poo. At this stage (2 months worm
activity), I seem to keep adding new waste to the farm all the time and I assume it is being
distributed as poo throughout the bed. If it builds up too much in the worm farm, I may need to
empty one side periodically and apply the worm poo (and accompanying worms) as a top dressing in
the open bed. The worms will find their way home.
If all goes well, the only additions to the system, apart from water, will be vegetable waste from
garden and kitchen.
Wicking Worm Bed 1500mm x 900mm x 600mm
The bed is partly buried in the ground, and the timber walls of the bed are lined with pond liner to
enable a water reservoir to be created in the bottom 300mm of the bed. Below the shade mesh
shown in the photo above is a 300mm layer of aged Pine Bark Chips. The shade mesh acts as a
barrier stopping the soil from mixing with the Pine bark but allowing water to wick up out of the
reservoir into the soil.
Right at the bottom of the reservoir is a double loop (shaped like an 8) of 50mm slotted irrigation
pipe joined by a moulded PVC “T”. A vertical piece of 50mm PVC tube is attached to the “T” and
extends above the timber walls (as shown above). This arrangement allows the reservoir to be filled
from the top without soaking the soil and plants.
Just inboard of the filler pipe is a fibro cement divider set so that there is a 70mm gap between it
and the shade mesh barrier. This divider separates the soil in the open bed from the decomposing
waste in the worm farm. The above photo shows the bed partially filled with good soil to a height of
70mm above the shade cloth barrier. This layer of soil extends under the fibro cement divider and
into the worm farm allowing the worms access to the open garden bed. The open bed is then filled to
the top with more soil.
A 3 piece cover protects the worms from sunlight and predators, and provides access to the worm
farm. A strip of shade mesh is used to provide further protection for the worms and help contain
moisture. The filler tube is capped to prevent access to snails, slugs and mosquitos, and a water
level gauge pokes through a hole in the cap. This gauge is simply a table tennis ball glues to a light
stick. The stick is painted with the high and low water level marks.
Just visible in the bottom middle of the photo, is a 13mm drain hose, which is set just under the
shade cloth barrier level. This drain allows you to accurately fill to that level, and prevents
overfilling in the event of heavy rain.
The metal angle corners serve to hold the timber walls together, and support a set of removable
frames covered with insect exclusion netting. The netting is rated at 21% shading, and this will
provide summer protection against Melbourne’s fierce summer sun. It remains to be seen how
successful this prototype backyard wicking worm bed is going to be, but if it works well, I intend to
replace my conventional beds with larger versions of it.
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You know, I’ve been doing this horticulture thing for a while, and over that time, I’ve seen a number
of garden designs, products and “innovations” come and go. Remember the giant scoping rake
hands? What about the combination chilli sauce/garden pest spray? Even the ever-popular “upside
down tomato planter” has me scratching my head a little! But every now and then I come across an
inspired innovation, a dandy design that makes me excited to get out into the patch and give it a go.
One of these I’ve been convinced of this week is wicking beds, and I hoped you’re as interested in
them as I am.
What Is a Wicking Bed and Why Would I Want One?
So, what in the world is a wicking bed? Well, as I explained to a colleague of mine, it’s essentially a
giant “self watering pot” in the form of a garden bed. Okay, there is a fair bit more to it then that,
but the idea is a garden bed designed to draw water up from a reservoir below, hence “wicking”
through the soil directly to the roots. A system devised by Australian engineer Colin Austin, wicking
garden beds (and wicking worm beds) are gaining popularity as a wonderfully water wise garden
Drawing water from a reservoir below the growing medium, wicking beds operate on the concept of
capillary action, with the soil and plant roots drawing this water upwards as required. Essentially,
this means that a properly constructed and maintained wicking bed should have nice, moist soil most
of the time, with the roots accessing the water as they require it.
Wicking beds have a number of benefits, both environmentally and horticulturally. Firstly, it’s a fab
set up for thirsty gardens (like vegie patches) in areas that have lower rainfall, or are affected by
water restrictions. Wicking beds also deliver the water were it’s needed (the plant roots), which
minimises water wastage, and can also help to reduce the risk of funky fungal foliage issues. Also,
wicking beds are said to be more effective at sequestering atmospheric carbon then many other
traditional types of garden bed set ups, meaning it’s a win for us, and the planet.
The Wicking Bed How To
Alright, it is a bit wishy washy to explain, so let’s just have a look at the nuts and bolts of
constructing a good, functioning wicking bed. Essentially, it’s all about have the right depth, right
medium (both for drainage and for growing you plants) and taking a bit of time to construct the bed
properly. Yeah, it may sound tedious, but you will thank me in the long run. So where do we start
and how do we get this cranking?
1. Choose a suitable site for your patch (full sun for vegies), ensuring that it is level (or you are able
to level it) – wicking beds work best when they are level, as this ensures even water dispersal down
2. The total depth of the patch may vary depending on what you wish to plant, but, for a wicking
vegie bed, the overall depth needs to be 600mm. This equates to 300mm for the reservoir/water
saturation zone and 300mm for the growing/root zone. It should be noted here that wicking bed
wizards all agree that water cannot be wicked further than 300mm, so bear this in mind when you
are looking at preparing your patch.
3. Of the 300mm reservoir/saturation area, about half of this (150mm) will contain a gravel or scoria
(we prefer scoria) and the water inlet pipe, while the other 150mm will contain a soil blend. Prepare
this area first.
4. If you are gardening on soil, dig a hole to a depth of 150mm, ensuring it is level. This will form
the water reservoir. If you are placing your garden on a hard surface, ensure it is level and move to
5. Whack up the sides, so the bed has a total depth of 600mm (including the hole you just dug). Line
the entire bed with good quality builders plastic or pond liner, ensuring there are no tears or holes.
To prevent tears in the builder’s plastic, you may wish to add a shallow bed of sand to the base of
the reservoir hole.
6. Now it’s time to pop in the water delivery system. To do this, whack about an inch of scoria into
the bed for the horizontal pipe to site on. This will act to improve the drainage. Then, install a
length of 50mm PVC pipe vertically, attached to a PVC 90 degree elbow the will sit near the base of
the bed on top of the scoria you have just placed. Next, attach a length of 50mm slotted agi pipe to
the elbow, and this will run the length of the bed, along the centre. Place a cap on the end of the agi
7. Cover the pipe and the bottom of the bed with scoria, to a depth of 150mm. Cover this scoria
with shadecloth, to prevent soil particles moving into the reservoir and blocking the pore spaces.
8. Fill the next 150mm of the wicking bed with a good quality water retentive soil – this will form the
“saturation layer” and is NOT where your vegies will be planted.
9. At the top of this soil level (300mm), you will need to install an overflow – this will allow excess
water to leave the wicking bed after significant irrigation events, or long periods of rain. One of the
easiest ways to do this is to use a water tank tap outlet, and drill an appropriate size hole through
the end of the wicking bed opposite the water inlet. This is important, and may help prevent the soil
in the root zone becoming waterlogged and useless.
10. Fill the remainder of the bed (another 300mm or so) with a good quality soil/compost blend. We
recommend 1/2 mushroom compost, 1/2 organic soil mix, as research and experience has shown that
wicking beds work best with a higher than usual compost portion. DON”T use the soil from
surrounding gardens, especially if it has a high clay content. Mulch well with a straw based mulch
(to about 5-7cm), taking care not to cover the PVC pipe opening.
11. Using a hose, and in accordance with local water restrictions, fill the wicking bed reservoir
using the PVC pipe opening. You may wish to use an old tomato stake or similar as a “dipstick” to
see how deep the water is. Fill the reservoir to about 200mm.
12. Once the soil is damp (you may need to water from the top initially as well to encourage the
wicking to begin), plant out your wicking bed with your favourite incredible edibles.
13. Sit back, water less, and enjoy your wicking bed and its harvest!
We know you may need a printout to take out into the patch and get constructing, so we have
whacked together a PDF for you here!
How To Keep Your Wicking Bed Ticking
Like all things in the garden, the wicking bed is certainly NOT a no maintenance set-up, and, if left
untended for a long period of time, could very easily turn into a sludgy, smelly, salty unproductive
mess. So, some things you may need to be aware of and monitor in your wicking bed over time are
Ensure the overflow/drainage hole or pipe (at the 300mm point) does not become blocked or non-s
functional. Give this a good clean out every few months.
Be aware that, as a closed system, everything you put into the bed stays in the bed. Overuse ofs
fertilisers (even some of our trusted organically derived ones) may see the soil sour fairly rapidly,
leading to an increase in saltiness. This is certainly NOT ideal for many of our productive vegies
Greywater (that is, water from the bathroom and laundry) should NOT be used in a wicking bed ats
Compost and soil mixture will need to be topped up seasonally, as will the mulch. A good idea mays
be to lightly turn the top 300mm of growing area with a garden fork at this time, to “freshen up”
Cover the open end of the PVC pipe (the water inlet) with a tile, brick or similar. This will prevents
mosquito larvae from hanging out in the tube or garden reservoir.
So that’s the wash on wicking beds, but, being that this is a fairly new concept, we just KNOW that
there will be trailblazing gardeners out there already having successes and stories to share. Now, if
you have some info on wicking beds, or would like to tell us about your attempts, whack in a
comment at the end of this article. We would LOVE to hear what’s going on in the wonderful world
of the wicking bed!
Ashwood College Permaculture Food
Garden - Sustainable Gardening in Good
in the Ashwood College Permaculture Food Garden. New volunteer gardeners keep coming back to
make a difference. They help weed, mulch, fertilise, water, sow and plant in our unique community
garden. The Ashwood College Permaculture Food Garden (ACPFG) is a communal garden where we
all pitch in with what needs doing on the day, and at the end of the session we harvest and take
home the bounty. Sometimes the bounty doesn’t make it home, as was the case with the
mulberries… They were delicious!
Ashwood is a suburb 14 kilometres south east of Melbourne’s CBD. Ashwood College is a state
secondary school with very large grounds, some of which have been dedicated to a permaculture
food garden run by local community members. The land belongs to the school, but we garden to our
heart’s content with support and encouragement from the Ashwood College Council and Principal,
Our garden is thriving. There are over 2,000 square metres of land, 200 metres of cyclone mesh
fence, 55 fruit trees, two 75,000 litre rainwater tanks, a shade house, a pergola, a pizza oven, bath
tub wicking beds, culinary and medicinal herbs, and bee hives.
What kind of fruit trees, I hear you ask? Many! Nine different types of apples including Granny
Smith, Early McIntosh, Sturmer Pippin, Gala, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Orange Blenheim. Three
varieties of pear trees including Josephine, Red d’Anjou, Doyenne du Comice, and a nashi pear. A
peach, a nectarine, an apricot, two matching avocadoes, macadamias, a mulberry (finished for the
season…) a lemon tree, a fejoa, and an olive tree. And don’t forget the figs! There are three
different types of figs!
What particularly exciting thing is afoot this March? In the next couple of weeks the chickens are
returning after a three year absence. Foxes took our hard-working ladies and we’ve been looking for
a solution to keep our chooks safe ever since. We think we have found the solution in the form of
electric poultry fencing. This mobile type of fence gives us the flexibility we need and also provides
safety for the chickens. By the time this article is published we hope that the chickens will be back in
action in our garden and you’ll be able to see photos of the installation on Facebook! Make sure you
check out our page. Better still, if you live in or near Melbourne, come and check out the chooks for
yourself. The ACPFG is open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
Our Reason for Being – sustainable gardening is
The ACPFG has been going for 6 years now. When we started in 2007 we thought the main purpose
of the garden was to grow food. Over the years we have learnt not only that it takes time to build soil
and soil fertility, but that gardening sustainably is complex. To our surprise and delight, the garden’s
main product over the last number of years has been gardeners. In the process of turning a large
grassy field into a productive garden, many people have come to the garden, helped out enormously,
learnt what they needed to learn, and have moved on to develop their own gardens. These gardeners
often go on to have chickens, worm farms and compost bins they might not have used so confidently
Growing your own food is like printing your own
Access to fresh whole food is fundamental to good health. Research conducted in our local area
shows that food security is a real issue. In particular, people living in boarding houses and
international students in the region were groups specifically affected. Ashwood College is located in
what’s technically known as a ‘food desert’: there is no fresh whole food within walking distance.
Take-away food shops yes, fruit & veg no. A weekly community market has been established where
you can purchase fruit & veg at wholesale prices. Once the chickens come back to the Ashwood
College Permaculture Food Garden, we’ll be ramping up vegie production, and with the fruit trees
beginning to come of a productive age we look forward to regularly contributing fresh food to this
community market. Meanwhile all local residents are invited to come and help out.
Story and photos copyright to Mariëtte Tuohey, business owner of Sense & Sustainability
Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/PermacultureFoodGarden
The Living Soil
When I started experimenting with wicking beds a few years ago, I was concerned about the
isolation of the wicking bed’s soil. The bed’s water tank was an effective barrier to the biodiversity
in the rest of the garden, so I decided to fit a build-in worm farm and populate it with composting
worms to try to maintain a viable separate ecosystem.
It soon became apparent, that soil fertility required more than the worm farm could deliver, and
composting worms were not the best species to distribute their vermicasts throughout the bed. I
started to populate the bed with earthworms from my compost heap and garden beds. I top dressed
the soil with compost and rockdust under a thick mulch of straw. I did this every time I harvested a
crop in preparation for the next one, leaving it to “mature” for several weeks before planting. I
found lots of earthworms in the compost residue when I planted my new crop, and crop health and
growth rate improved noticeably.
Colin Austin in his blog www.waterright.com began to talk about the symbiotic relationship formed
between mycorrhizal fungi and the plants through their roots, and how he sets up bio-packs to
establish a mycorrhizal network of hyphae (an extremely effective micro root system) which new
plants can hook into and share. His interest prompted me to research soil biology on the net to see
if I could understand it better.
I came across the Soil Foodweb Inc., and Dr Elaine Ingham who provided some very interesting
i n s i g h t s t h r o u g h h e r s e r i e s o f Y o u T u b e i n t e r v i e w s
(e.g.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEtl09VZiSU : “soil not dirt”). She explains the soil food web
as a system involving an extraordinary diversity of organisms living in their billions in natural soil
including earthworms, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, arthropods and protozoa.
The soil food web includes the plants and animals above ground which are so dependent on the
activities of the organisms in the soil. They help feed the microbes with their waste including dead
and decaying organic matter.
In natural soils, earthworms (and other small animals and insects) harvest this organic material from
the surface and drag it underground. They consume it and, in the process, shred and grind it so that
when evacuated from their bodies it is in a form which is perfect for the microbes to feed upon.
Bacteria, fungi and nematodes break down this material, rich in essential minerals, and liberate
more minerals from sand and clay particles in the soil. They absorb these essential minerals into
their bodies, and their predators convert the minerals into a form easily assimilated by the plant’s
roots. Note that the sand and clay particles have been formed over millions of years from geological
action on the parent bedrock and that is the primary source of all the minerals used by the plants to
make our food, in natural soil.
This intense activity by the soil organisms, not only provides readily available food for the plants,
they create a structure in the soil which enables free movement of air and water, and easy passage
for roots as they grow. Water drains easily through this structure so that the soil does not stay wet
for too long, but also retains some of the moisture, so the soil does not dry out too quickly.
It’s a well known saying amongst organic gardeners that you should feed the soil not the plants. I
don’t know whether old time gardeners realised this meant feeding the microbes. Anyway, I now
realise why it is so important to maintain the soil food web, and that using pesticides, herbicides and
inorganic chemical fertilisers is such a bad idea.
Like Colin Austin, I am keen to convey the message to as many people as will listen, that industrial
agriculture with its dependence on synthetic inorganic fertilisers is producing food so deficient in
vital micronutrients, that we are becoming dependent on supplements to maintain bodily health.
Why would you not eat organic food, and preferably, grow your own in your own garden.
If you are interested in my quest to develop a gardening system which uses very little water, which
sequesters carbon and is as sustainable as I can make it, take a look at my non-commercial blog
from time to time www.jas49580.blogspot.com.au .
Article copyright to John Ashworth. http://jas49580.blogspot.com.au/
Photo: The Soil Foodweb Institute
What are the possibilities when modern
communities grow more of their own food?
Earlier in the year around 70 SGA supporters made the trek out to
Brunswick to participate in the first in a series of World Café style events
as part of SGA’s ongoing commitment to inspire, empower and connect
communities to garden sustainably. A World Café event typically revolves
around a single question that participants discuss with each other over a
series of rounds. The question for the evening was “what are the
possibilities when modern communities grow more of their own food?” At
the end of the evening our panelists Pete Huff (Yarra City Council),
Natasha Kuperman (My Home Harvest) and Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth) answered questions
from our participants.
The evening kicked off with a welcome address from SGA Futures
Committee member and MC for the evening, Linette Harriott. She asked
participants to begin discussing the topic with the rest of their table and
then, after 10 minutes to elect a captain who would remain seated while
the rest of the participants found another table. The table captains
recorded ideas and questions in what was a very exciting and positive
We made a Wordle from the recorded ideas. It captures the frequency of word use and eliminates
common words such as “but”, “however” and “about”.We noted some interesting words such as
In the third and final round, each table had to formulate one question that would then be posed to
the expert panel. The key questions were:
If you could do something immediately to make possibility “reality”, what would you do?s
How do you engage people in seeing themselves as a community growing food?s
Can local government be influenced to increase access to backyard food production strategies?s
What are the most common barriers for councils in opening public space up for gardening?s
From a local government perspective, how do we capture the enthusiasm of new/novice gardenerss
and provide them with the knowledge they need to keep gardening?
What have you learned in your roles about confronting the challenges facing modern communitiess
E.g. climate change, biodiversity, connecting with each other?
How do we get more support in our schools for great benefits of gardening and cooking ofs
What about kerbside/naturestrip gardening, garden patches in new estates, encouraging front yards
How can we develop the CERES model in each community? Is there a better model?s
How do we enable individuals and communities to grow more food? E.g government involvements
versus bottom up and connecting isolated individuals and groups.
Pete Huff, Urban Agriculture Facilitator for Yarra City Council discussed
pragmatic aspects of working with local government in establishing
community produce gardens. Pete believes that building relationships with
local councillors and being flexible with ideas are a great way to start. By
bringing together diverse cultures and celebrating food and produce
gardening Pete believes we can keep the sustainable agriculture movement
Natasha Kuperman, talked of the changing nature of home produce gardening with more people
looking online for information and to make connections within their local communities. She believes
by encouraging beginners and improving access to information for the whole community we can
help individuals start growing their own food. According to Natasha, food swaps, sharing know-how
and rediscovering forgotten skills are just some of the benefits of communities growing their own
Cam Walker focused on more long-term aspects in relation to sustainable agriculture, in particular
sustaining motivation and interest with relevant stakeholders. According to Cam there is no
downside to locally produced and community controlled food and that this is something we need to
continue promoting along with its obvious benefits. Cam encourages us all to maintain an
international consciousness when considering the changing nature of food production around the
world as peri-urban agricultural practices evolve in line with exploding urban populations.
We thank our expert panellists, our participants and the Courthouse Hotel for hosting us. If you
have any ideas for a future World Café or any feedback you would like to provide us with please
leave or comment or send an email.
The video below records the panel discussion.
Harvesting and storing garlic
Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest in late spring or summer, from seven to eight months after they are
planted. The outward signs are the green leaves, which will begin to turn brown, and the flower
stems – if present – which will begin to soften, although staying green. If you are not sure, just pull
back the soil around one of your bulbs, if the clove ridges are clearly defined and the bulbs are a
decent size, and some of the leaves have died back, then harvest them.
Don’t leave harvesting until the leaves die back completely as with onions, because by this time the
bulbs will have started to split. Once the bulbs have split, they are still fine to eat, but won’t store for
long. So eat these ones first.
Some cultivars with curled flower stems, are ready to harvest as the coil in the stem begins to
straighten. Most hardneck cultivars though, should have their flower stems removed before this
time, because growing a flower stem reduces the nutrients going to the bulb so that bulbs are
smaller. But there is also some evidence to show that leaving the flower stem attached until after
curing will lengthen storage times. So you may need to choose between bulb size and length of
Garlic that has been planted in light soils can just be pulled out of the ground. If your soil is heavier
and/or you have planted them more deeply, then the best way to get the bulbs out is to insert a fork
under them and carefully lift the whole plant. Shake or brush off any excess dirt. Don’t bang them
against each other or anything else as this will bruise them and shorten storage life. Some books and
articles suggest drying the bulbs in the sun for a few days before curing. This may be OK in cool
countries and climates, but in Australia our summers get too hot and the bulbs are likely to get
sunburnt. The protective skins don’t fully develop until after curing. In dry areas, some growers
place freshly dug bulbs in groups on top of the soil, to dry out and start the curing process. They are
arranged so that the green leaves from one clump of bulbs, protect the next clump from the sun.
However, even then some garlic bulbs can get sunburnt, and the dramatic rise and fall in
temperature from day to night can harm the bulb, reducing storage times. If an appropriate space is
available they are better cured under cover, where temperatures fluctuate less. Leave plants intact
(don’t remove leaves, flower stalks or roots) and hang in bunches or place on racks in a dry airy
position that doesn’t get too hot. An old window screen, resting on sawhorses or something similar,
makes a good drying tray. Or hang them from the eaves, as long as they are out of the sun. Leave
them for a minimum of two to three weeks but if you can leave them for two months then they are
likely to store for longer. In more humid areas it is a good idea to cut the roots really short or
remove them altogether as they can act as a wick absorbing moisture and carrying it to the bulb
thus increasing the chance of fungal diseases. Also, keep an eye on the leaves and if they show any
sign of going mouldy, cut them off immediately because this mould will spread to the bulb.
Curing is particularly important if the bulbs are not quite mature, as the bulb continues to absorb
moisture and nutrients from the stem and leaves after harvest. If you haven’t already removed the
flower stem, then harvest and dry hardneck garlics with the flower head and stem still attached.
Bulbs with the leaves attached can also be plaited into strings and hung in a dry airy position. See
www.pennywoodward.com.au/articles for photographs that show you how to do this.
Once the bulbs are cured the skins will be papery and dry and the bulbs should feel firm and tightly
packed. Check for any diseased, damaged or bruised bulbs and remove them. If the damage is only
minor then just eat them. This is also a good time to select the bulbs you want to use for replanting.
Choose the best and the healthiest, set them aside and store them separately from the bulbs to be
consumed. This way they won’t get eaten by mistake. To allow for replanting,10 to 15 percent of the
crop needs to be retained. The optimum storage temperature for bulbs for replanting is 10°C, with
limits of 5°C and 18°C.
Unless the bulbs are to be plaited or hung in bunches, all the leaves and stems are now cut off about
2 cm from the bulb. Leave only 1 cm of the roots. Don’t try to wash off dirt or separate the individual
cloves as either of these actions will radically shorten the storage life. Store bulbs in shallow
cardboard boxes, in slatted wooden boxes, on trays, in net slings, in stockings, or in plaits – in fact in
any way that allows air circulation around each bulb. The room where they are stored must be dry,
airy and not too cold or hot. Check bulbs every few weeks and remove any diseased ones. Properly
stored, some cultivars will last for twelve months or longer.
The optimum temperature for long storage of commercial crops is 0°C. These bulbs are not suitable
for planting though, as bulbs grown from cloves kept at very low temperatures tend to be rough,
produce side shoots as they mature, or mature too early. For the home grower, storage
temperatures around 10°C are ideal, but consistency of temperature is important too. Don’t keep the
bulbs in a position where they get very hot or very cold. Enjoy eating your own home grown garlic
and if you run out or can’t grow your own then look for Australian grown garlic. I never eat imported
garlic as all imported garlic is treated with Methyl bromide before being allowed into Australia. For
details on locating locally grown garlic go the Australian Garlic Industry Association website
Article and photographs copyright Penny Woodward
1 Freshly harvested white softneck garlic
2 Garlic left in the ground too long so that the bulbs have split.
3 Freshly harvested Korean Red garlic
4 Garlic hanging to cure in a dry, airy position out of direct sunlight.
5 A garlic crop after curing, and trimming to remove roots and leaves.
This post has been submitted by one of SGA’s Cuttings
readers. See the bottom of this post for info on how you too
can contribute to our website.
Gardening can be a lot of fun and getting your hands dirty is part and parcel of working outdoors.
However conventional gardening can be hard work – raking, tilling, hoeing and weeding are just
some of the strenuous jobs that come with being a gardener. There are also the pests such as
cutworms and soil borne diseases and pesticides needed to combat them. However there is an
alternative and it is called hydroponics.
How Does Hydroponics Work?
Hydroponic gardening involves growing plants in a nutrient solution rather than soil. The advantage
of hydroponics is that you can avoid many of the problems that affect soil grown plants such as
cutworms and soil-borne diseases that can ruin your crop. This means herbicides and pesticides can
be avoided. Also you have more control over the nutrients that feed your plants. It is easier to vary
the nutrients that the plant receives at various stages of its development ensuring optimum growth.
Instead of soil, a porous growing aggregate is used. This can include sand, vermiculite, gravel,
coconut coir, clay balls or perlite. This allows air and nutrients to circulate more freely allowing a
better distribution of oxygen and food to each plant. Nutrients and water are fed directly to the roots
which enable the plant to spend more of its energy growing above the soil rather than pushing
through soil to compete for nutrients. Because the roots are smaller the plants can be grown closer
together thereby conserving space. This can mean everything grows faster and produces higher
yields within a smaller space. Hydroponics is so versatile that NASA has explored the use of
hydroponics in their space programs and possible use of hydroponically grown food on planets such
Hydroponics isn’t new – the Ancient Babylon’s built the hydroponically-engineered ‘hanging gardens
of Babylon’ in the palace courtyard located just outside of present day Baghdad, Iraq. Also the
floating gardens of the Aztecs of Mexico and those of the Chinese. Archeological evidence shows
that when soil isn’t ideal for agriculture, hydroponics’ was often a viable alternative.
As with all gardening artificial lighting is not required if you are growing outdoors in sunlight. The
more you substitute for nature the more complicated any system will become. However if you choose
to grow indoors you should use a grow light. You should also consider a grow tent with a reflective
inner surface to ensure the plants receive the maximum amount of light and so ideal growing
conditions are maintained. Many grow lights for plants are inefficient and expensive to run. However
due to advances in technology grow lights have become more efficient, longer lasting and powerful.
Nutrients dissolved in a water solution are often called nutrient salts and these should contain the
micro and macro nutrients required for plant growth. You can make your own nutrient solution using
water and fertilizer salts or you can buy one ready-made. The nutrient solution is than mixed with
water to provide the correct concentration for the plant and then poured over your aggregate, or
pumped through the hydroponic system. Some ready-made nutrient solutions also contain microbes,
enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, crop enhancers such as root boosters, non-ionic surfactants and PH
stabilizer and buffers. However all of these additional nutrients are not necessary. Also the ready-
made solutions containing these exotic ingredients can be expensive. To make your own nutrients all
you require are some fertilizer salts containing the macro and micro nutrients plants require.
To grow plants with a nutrient solution you require a hydroponic system. A hydroponic system is
required to ensure that the nutrients and water solution are replenished and the roots can absorb
There are many different types of hydroponic growing systems. The most common hydroponic
systems are the Ebb and Flow system, drip method, Aeroponic growing system, Nutrient Film
Technique, the wick method and water culture system. You can also make your own DIY hydroponic
system which is cheap but still affective.
Ebb and Flow system
One of the most adaptable hydroponic systems is the Ebb and Flow system. It involves a pump to
release nutrient solution into a grow tray. The pump is controlled by a timer which floods the grow
tray. The solution is then drained away back into a reservoir several times a day.
Hydroponic Drip Method
Probably one of the most widely used methods in hydroponics. A timer is used to control a
submersed pump that releases nutrients onto the base of each plant. This can involve either a
recovery drip system were excess nutrient solution is collected and reused or a non-recover drip
system that does not collect and re-use the nutrient solution.
Aeroponic Growing System
The aeroponic growing system is one of the most high tech and usually involves the roots being
suspended in air and misted with nutrients every few minutes. The rate at which the plants are
misted can be controlled with a timer.
The Nutrient Film Technique
Another common hydroponic system is the N.F.T system. This involves a constant flow of nutrients.
It does not require a timer but does involve a pump which draws a nutrient solution into a grow tray
where the plant roots are held in plastic containers with the roots hanging in the nutrient solution.
The solution is then drained away back into the reservoir.
This is probably the simplest and most versatile hydroponic system as it can be set up on a small or
large scale and does not involve any moving parts. A wick releases a nutrient solution into the grow
tray where it is utilized by the roots. The wicks cannot supply large amounts of water so it is more
suited to smaller plants rather than larger plants that require more water.
Water Culture System
This is another simple method but a less affective way of distributing nutrients and air to plants. It is
only suitable for some plants such as leaf lettuce. It involves a Styrofoam platform whereby the
plants float on the nutrient solution and air bubbles travel up from the bottom of the reservoir
thereby supplying oxygen to the plant roots.
Whatever system you choose to use hydroponic gardening is the most efficient and productive
method available for growing plants indoors or outside. Once you’re setup the system doesn’t
require the same level of work that conventional gardening requires and you can make your own
hydroponic system and nutrients making it a cheap and sustainable alternative.
Note from SGA - Simon runs a fantastic hydroponic website. For loads more detailed information
on everything Hydroponic, head to www.buyhydroponic.net
Tell us your story!
This post has been submitted by one of SGA’s Cuttings readers. We want to share your great
gardening stories with the rest of our readers. Do you have an interesting gardening story to tell?
Click here to find out more.
SGA welcomes Wilson Botanic Park
Wilson Botanic Park has become the latest public
park to be given Eclips Accreditation. The City of
Casey put 40 of their staff though a training program
on environmental management, run onsite at the
gardens by SGA. This accreditation identifies to the
public that the gardens are maintained and managed
with minimal use of water and minimal or no use of
chemicals. On an ongoing basis and whenever they
are redesigning sections of the gardens, City of
Casey is committed to enhancing biodiversity,
avoiding invasive plants and avoiding disruption of
Driving up the oak lined driveway into the 39 hectares of botanic gardens in the heart of Berwick, it
is difficult to imagine the site was an operational quarry until the late 1970s. The quarry was
founded by William Wilson in 1859 and transformation began in the 1980’s to what you can see
During the operational days they found fossils dating back 22 million years. They now boast 2 fossil
seams within the park. The fossils found include wood, leaves and pollen from both flowering plants
and conifers. Studies into these fossils have found both temperate and tropical species in the one
location. This shows that many years ago the area was a tropical rainforest.
Within the park there is a large rose collection, native gardens, indigenous grass lands as well as
exotic species making up over 1000 different species.
SGA would like to congratulate the City of Casey and all the staff involved in the management of
these wonderful gardens.
For more information head to http://www.casey.vic.gov.au or contact the City of Casey on (03) 9707
5818 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wilson Botanic Park
668 Princes Highway, Berwick, Vic 3806
Pics 1, 2 & 3 – Drew Echberg
Pic 4 – Clare Hart from City of Casey
Footprint Flicks How-To Videos
Whether you’re a first time gardener or a seasoned
green thumb, these bite-sized, fast-paced, funny little
flicks will get you growing in no time. For the low-
down on everything from worm farming and
composting to saving water, reducing your food
miles and growing incredible edibles, you’ll find it all
in these compact episodes of gardening wisdom.
Gardening videos like you’ve never seen before.
Episode 1 – Lord of the Bins (Part 1)
Lord of the Bins is a hard-hitting, 2 part expose of the relationships in your compost bin. In part one
Helen reveals the uncensored story of decomposition that’s smouldering in the backyard compost
bin. Capture carbon, improve your soil, feed a worm, reduce household waste and discover why a
hot and healthy relationship with your compost is an essential part of being a planet conscious
Episode 2 – Lord of the Bins (Part 2)
Things really start to warm up in part two as we delve deeper into the compost heap. Helen shares
her own special family recipe for sweet smelling compost, no science degree required. Find out what
makes your compost sing and what should go in the rubbish bin, it’s all about the balance in this
relationship. Who would have thought that reducing your carbon footprint could be so steamy!
Episode 3 – Mulch Ado about Nothing
Wrap your soil up in a blanket of mulch to conserve water use, add nutrients, suppress weeds and
enhance habitat. But what to use where? Meander through a multitude of mulches with Helen as she
show us what to goes where, what’s sustainable, what’s not and how to avoid common problems
when mulching. From straw, to stone, to living mulches, this flick makes mulch ado about mulching
and will have your garden beds snug and warm in no time.
Episode 4 – Renter’s Guide To Sustainable Gardening
If you only ever venture into your garden for a quick hack before property inspection, then this film’s
for you. Find out how to grow plants in a pot, up a wall, in a shoe and on a budget… without
jeopardizing your bond. Create a moveable vegie patch and cultivate much more than couch
potatoes. Tips and tricks for low cost, temporary and mobile gardening that all gardeners can use.
There’s even something for the indoor gardener in this priceless pic.
Episode 5 – We Love Tools
The behind-the-scenes tour of where it all happens – the toolshed. Get to know the colourful
characters who make your garden dream a reality.
Episode 6 – Grow Your Own Incredible Edibles
Turn your food miles into metres with a backyard full of brag-worthy produce all home grown by
you. Produce in pots or bountiful plots, Helen makes it easy to grow fruit, herbs and vegies no
matter where you live. Prepare and mulch your soil, planting from seed and seedling, companion
planting, organic pest controls and more. Everything you need to know to get growing your own.
Episode 7 – Trees, not just for hugging
Think like a Koala and take a look at trees from a whole new perspective. The home of our famous
Aussie icon can also add significant value to our homes, reducing energy use, improving air flow,
building soil health, and more. Our friendly neighbourhood koala (who resembles a certain
horticulturalist we know), gets enthusiastic about the many sustainable benefits of trees at home
and how to maximize their value in the backyard. And if you have never seen a koala ride a bike,
Episode 8 – Weeds, not in my backyard
Prevent a triffid-style invasion of the worst kinds of weeds. Not just in your backyard but into the
bush and beyond. Be alert and be very alarmed!
Episode 9 – Return of the weeds
So they’ve made it past your defences and past your bio-controls. They are running rampant
threatening to take over. Fear not, help is at hand with these tried and tested and very sustainable
garden weed remedies.
Episode 10 – Wheeley good green waste solutions
Ever felt like the third wheel? Now you know how the green bin feels. It’s here for good and not for
evil, so treat it right and feed it nice. One of our most misunderstood and intriguing bins.
Episode 11 – Tank Girl
You are about to embark on a relationship that will be long and lasting. And as there is no ‘d-i-v-
o-r-c-e’ in tank world, let us help you get it right the first time. Relationship training for you and your
tank that will bring everlasting bliss and satisfaction.
Episode 12 – OMG I’m going grey!
Just be thankful you’ve got any water at all, even if it has been around the block once or twice
before. But treat it with caution and ensure that you follow the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of greywater use to
ensure happy soil, plants and neighbours!
Episode 13 – DIY water tank
So you want to store water but you don’t have the big bucks for a glamorous tank? Fear not, you can
still have water. Learn how to turn and old wheelie bin into a portable water carrier. So ingenious!
Episode 14 – Don’t be a drip!
Take the irritation out of irrigation and go sub-surface. It’s fast, efficient and it makes the most of
every precious drop. Go on your garden will love you for it!
Episode 15 – Wicking beds
Loved by many, enjoyed by few. The ultimate ‘How-to’ guide for creating and enjoying your very own
garden wicking bed. And once the plants have been tucked in for the season, blissful self-watering
Episode 16 – How to be a good parent to your worms
Parenting worms demands a certain amount of attention to their voracious vegan appetites.
However they are rarely seen and constantly produce wondrous liquid fertilisers and worm castings.
Really, like any family member, they’re more than worth their weight in gold.