Worm Wicking Beds for Drought Gardening

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Worm Wicking Beds for Drought Gardening

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Worm Wicking Beds for Drought Gardening

  1. 1. Worm Wicking - One Year On L a s t A u g u s t , I w r o 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.
  2. 2. CompostingWormsaresurfacedwellersthatthriveindecomposingorganicmatter. 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 following:- Red Wrigglers [Lumbricus Rebellus]. TigerWorms[Eisenia Fetida]. 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 worm eggs. 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.
  3. 3. 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 . Photos: Sustainable Wicking Worm Bed
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. 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.
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. 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. John Ashworth 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. Wicking Beds 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
  8. 8. 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 bed alternative. 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
  9. 9. 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 the track. 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 next step. 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
  10. 10. 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 pipe. 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
  11. 11. 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 as follows: 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 and herbs. Greywater (that is, water from the bathroom and laundry) should NOT be used in a wicking bed ats any time 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” the soil. 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!
  12. 12. Ashwood College Permaculture Food Garden - Sustainable Gardening in Good Company E x c i t i n g t h i n g s a r e a f o o t 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, Kerrie Croft.
  13. 13. B a t h t u b w i c king beds 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 complex 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 before. Growing your own food is like printing your own
  14. 14. money 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
  15. 15. 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
  16. 16. 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.
  17. 17. 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 atmosphere. 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 share h o o d , e n o u g h n e s s and guerrilla. 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 produce? What about kerbside/naturestrip gardening, garden patches in new estates, encouraging front yards veggie patches? 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.
  18. 18. 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 surging forward. 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 food. 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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBngfC2QGV0 Harvesting and storing garlic
  19. 19. 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.
  20. 20. 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 storage!
  21. 21. 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
  22. 22. 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. Storing 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,
  23. 23. 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 http://www.garlicaustralia.asn.au/ Article and photographs copyright Penny Woodward Photographs: 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. Hydroponic Gardening
  24. 24. 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 as Mars. 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. Lighting 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
  25. 25. due to advances in technology grow lights have become more efficient, longer lasting and powerful. Hydroponic Nutrients 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. Hydroponic Systems 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 oxygen. 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
  26. 26. 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. Wick System 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.
  27. 27. 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 natural systems. The Gardens 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 today.
  28. 28. 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
  29. 29. 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 wbp@casey.vic.gov.au 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
  30. 30. 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 gardener. 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
  31. 31. 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, watch on… 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!
  32. 32. 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 takes over. 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.

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