Late last year I visited another inspiring organic farm, Allsun Farm near Gundaroo in NSW. I was interested to see that this was already the second farm I had seen recently where vegetables were grown in long rows of raised narrow beds. I decided I might try this in my own vegetable garden this summer. So far I have been very happy with the result. The commercial growers don't mulch these raised beds, but I decided in my garden to add a thick layer of mulch, using certified organic sugar cane mulch around the plants and grass hay on the paths between the raised beds.
I prepared the beds by getting rid of all weeds (which I fed to the chickens), incor-porating as much organic matter as I had, including composted chook manure, homemade seaweed brew and cow manure brew. I then created raised rows and prepared the necessary "infrastructure" - bean poles, a fence with wide mesh for tomatoes etc.
My main vegetable bed has a rabbit proof fence around it. The fence was installed a few years ago when a rabbit plague made vegetable gardening a rather frustrating enterprise.
Once the seedlings appeared, I applied a thick layer of sugar can mulch around the seedlings and added a layer of hay on the "paths" between the raised beds. By the way, this year the rabbits are back in force and I was worried about my second (unfenced) vegetable bed, but there is very little damage so far.
That has left me wondering whether maybe rabbits don't like sugar cane mulch? Or maybe there still is enough green grass to eat for them so they don't bother with my vegetables? It would be nice if it was the sugar cane mulch, as the fence is a bit of a hassle and I would rather do without more fences.
This year I am growing tomatoes, corn, a range of climbing beans, zucchinis and various other summer squash, different kinds of pumpkins (including Queensland Blue, Turk's Turban, Pottimaron and Japanese pumpkin), a range of Asian greens, silver beet, amaranth, beet root, red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, capsicums, hot chili, carrots, snow peas, lettuce, Tuscan kale, many different kinds of herbs, broccoli (from my own seed), potatoes, and of course perennials such as asparagus, jerusalem artichokes, globe artichokes and yacon. I have probably forgotten a few things, too.
Everything had come up nicely and was growing well. And then we did, what so many Australians do - we went for a summer vacation and left the garden to its own devices. I was a bit worried about how my vegetables would fare while we were away! My dear neighbour very kindly fed the chooks and looked after our cat. She also watered once during the week we were away, and thanks to all the mulch, the garden survived well.
Luckily, though, summer had waited until after our return before really turning up the heat! At the onset of this week's heat wave (according to the weather report, we reached 36 degrees Celsius this week), I added some shade cloth over the more vulnerable plants such as lettuces and the green leafy vegetables. Even the most vulnerable lettuces survived the heat in the shade.
I am also having another go at growing melons. I have had no luck in previous years, as my melons remained tiny and pretty much inedible due to the limited growing season. However. This year I decided to plant them in tyres (seen here next to Turk's Turban pumpkins), hoping that this will give them some extra warmth and better protection and maybe also improve the amount of water available to the plants (by watering into the tyres I can avoid any run-off and ensure that the plants get all the water I give them). So far it is looking good, but of course I am still a long way from harvesting.