Not everything we try in the garden, works. In fact, a lot of what we try, doesn't work to its full potential. But as David likes to say, "we're doing the right things, we just have to do more of it." So autumn is the best time to see how the garden performed, against our well intentioned, efforts. So what did we do?
Back in late winter, I resurrected our old vegetable beds, which hadn't been managed for several years. I created four new growing beds to plant out. August was a busy month, because I also made a new sweet potato bed, away from the main vegetable area, they were attempting to dominate.
The sweet potato bed was a failure, because we didn't get the rain that would fill the swale next to it. We also had ground, around the bed, fully exposed to the sun. Moisture was quickly sucked out through evaporation. It was just another reminder, gardens work best with many functioning parts. Some parts, landscape water storage, some parts water retention strategies. Other parts, climate modifiers by the use of foliage cover.
We had one part right - the landscape water storage, via swale. But it failed when the rain didn't arrive, to fill it. In the end, it was just a huge sponge, sucking water I could cart by hand, to keep things alive. When I got busy elsewhere, our sweet potato bed, went into decline. If I know sweet potato though, it may well bounce back, next rainy season - but it won't be feeding us this season.
Mid September 2015
The next job we completed in spring though, was the raised bed, built, around the newly renovated, Hilltop chicken coop. It was designed for several purposes. To grow strong scented plants, to deter pests: to grow greens I could pick for the chickens; and to create a screen to help block the Western sun in the afternoon.
The choko I planted, died. But we successfully grew Sunflowers and a a few beans up their stalks. I collected the seeds and will plant more, next year. We ate a few beans, like maybe 10 in total.
Sunflowers, as a living trellis for beans
Mostly, we grew tall grass, really well though. Which helped shield the chicken run from the weather extremes, in the end. The kale I planted, fed the chickens, until the heat of summer, and lack of rain, made them too tough to eat. We got some tomatoes, which I threw into the chicken coop - a delightful (if infrequent) treat for them. And several spaghetti squash grew, which were enjoyed by us. I saved seed for next year too!
But it was not enough to say, this production area was successful. Saving seed is great and all, but we really needed to eat from the fruit of it. It gave us some things, just not enough of what we needed. And this bed, also went into decline, without regular watering and the heat of summer.
Vegetable production, early October 2015
How did the vegetable garden perform over the growing season, though? Well, it took off with Spring and the warmer soil, which gave us some delicious treats to eat from the garden. The guinea pigs were fat and the chickens happy, with what I could throw in too. I was thrilled with how everything was growing. It made the effort, to water daily by watering can, worth it.
Yacon growing (centre) late October 2015
If the truth be told, it was a milder spring and summer, temperature wise though. We had many overcast days, which helped keep things a little cooler. I suspect if this hadn't been the case, my manual cans of water, may not have been enough to keep everything hydrated. So the weather worked in our favour, at the start.
Harvesting ~ November 2015
By early November, we were starting to see some harvests. We were never overwhelmed at any point, but it was enough to feel the difference between store bought and home grown. I was looking for ways to use our scarce offerings in our meals, rather than have them go to waste. That's what happens when you spend the time nurturing a crop. You want to see everything used. Plus they taste better than anything you can buy.
Finished retaining wall ~ February 2016
As the vegetable garden chugged along, in November, through to December, we were busy erecting a new retaining wall, opposite it. This was intended to expand our growing area, as the soil and passionfruit vines above, were constantly threatening the crops underneath. We hadn't used the area for growing vegetables in a long time, because of this constant invasion.
Now we could look forward to planting something underneath. What format would we settle upon though, when I didn't want to compromise the footings of the wall? More on what we came up with, at the end.
I was delighted, for Christmas lunch, however, to be able to make a peasant loaf, with fresh tomato and basil, picked from our garden. It truly felt like a luxury to have fresh food available, thanks to all our efforts. While we hadn't managed to harvest a lot from our garden (I keep repeating this) it was still memorable enough, to keep wanting to do more.
But then things changed in the garden, by mid summer. Between January and February, David left for five weeks, to boot camp. Where he would become...
...A Private in the Queensland regiment of the Australian Defence Force. During his sustained absence however, it meant all the running of the property and our dependents, fell to me. It meant our garden, filled with so much promise at the start, stopped being watered by hand. I tried to keep up with the task, but I was quickly inundated by the rest of my responsibilities.
Those remaining months of summer were not kind to the vegetable growing areas. We didn't get much rainfall either. And it has been mostly dry all the way, into autumn too. Little showers, here and there, but not our usual amount to soak the soil properly. So my vegetable growing area, went from looking like this...
Main vegetable beds ~ February 2016
...to eventually, looking like this, today. Notice the difference in the grass, on the pathway, when the rain vacates for a sustained period of time?
Main vegetable beds ~ May 2016
It goes to show, two very important things. Firstly, we were on the right track with starting the vegetable growing areas, we just weren't able to keep up momentum. Had we been able to, the garden would have severed us well and yielded more. Secondly however, and more telling is, it demonstrated how utterly dependent our growing systems are, upon us.
Which is why David and I are going to develop a new growing system, away from our existing vegetable patch. One that harnesses the natural forces which enter our property, and use it to our advantage. More on that later though. We're just getting the ball rolling, as autumn and winter are prime months for physical labour.
We aren't leaving the existing vegetable area, though. It will receive some upgrades. Especially, when we went to all that trouble, building a new retaining wall. We had something in mind, which shouldn't compromise the wall footings, and will actually improve the watering situation.
We are building a series of Wicking beds. Because a can of water, received straight to the base of the plants, via the wicking bed system, won't have to contend with surface evaporation. This is especially important in summer. But more on our wicking beds, in another post. They deserve their relevant details expanded upon, rather than glossed over.
What David and I learned, after assessing our end of growing seasons notes, however, is that we need a more strategic approach. One which doesn't rely completely on the weather, or completely on man made systems. We actually need both, with many different variations in between.
Might I also add, we need imagination during this process too. It keeps our minds engaged, with exploring what's still possible, rather than focusing on negative feedback from what has failed. I can see the success we had at growing seeds for saving, and the small windows of production for us and our animals to eat - but it showed shortcomings, when tested. It makes sense to diversify and try different things.
I look forward to sharing our new developments, as they eventuate.