Saturday, August 22, 2015

Veggie tales

Like the bush rats, digging through our vegetable bed, I've been busy lately too. This post is all about that particular vegetable bed, but also our daily reality of doing anything around here.

I want to start at the very beginning of our vegetable bed's journey though. It started with something, a little like this...

January 2008

We didn't know it was going to be a vegetable bed (left of the wheelbarrow) because we were just keen to get some flat land happening. Like the complete novices we were, we grabbed some hand-tools a wheelbarrow, and started to remove vegetation and chip away at the dirt. Our daughter was a wee four year old, and my mother helped by distracting her.

 April 2008

My husband and I were determined in those days. We could erect a retaining wall in a few weeks. Every day off from work, my husband was bringing home trailer loads of gravel, to backfill the walls. More about that gravel soon.

But after we got that wall built, we finally had some flat land to run our new chicken tractor on, so we put it to work.

 June 2008

With those first sprouts of green appearing, after the chicken tractor passed over, we started to wonder if this could become our vegetable bed. That was back in 2008, and we got several years of vegetables and flowering plants, out of it since.

January 2011

The day this post went up (the picture above) little did we realise, it would be just under a week, until the 2011 Queensland floods, would hit our region. That day, changed our lives in substantial ways. It changed the nature of our marriage, forcing issues we had to deal with and fix - plus it also changed how we saw ourselves here.

It wasn't anything we could see at the time, because we were too busy in survival mode, thanking our lucky stars, the damaged caused was minimal. But the damage still had to be repaired - both in the landscape, and ourselves.

Only since getting back into the vegetable bed, recently, have I realised the extent of what we were dealing with, back then.

August 2015

Because this is the state of our vegetable bed today. It had been overrun by sweet potato - our most successful crop, but it made weeding difficult and it even started to push up the blocks. The sweet potato vines have died back, over winter (hanging over the wall) so its easier to get in and see what I'm dealing with.

Rat tunnel

I've seen the evidence for quite some time, but native bush rat tunnels, were everywhere in the vegetable bed. Do you see the gravel, they so kindly removed from behind our retaining wall? They burrowed to get at the sweet potatoes you see. Makes for a good meal during winter.

I managed to get some sweet potatoes out, but they weren't in very good condition.

Sweet potato

This is the Japanese, white flesh variety. Not as sweet as the orange ones, but they do very well in our climate. I will find another place to plant the sweet potatoes, where they will cause less problems.

I had known about this stuff happening in our vegetable bed for quite some time, I just didn't deal with it. Part of that being, because the children need attention, oh yes, and that pregnancy thing and rebuilding retaining walls, the flood had damaged - but there was one more thing, preventing me dealing with it.

I was missing my husband. He had taken on other activities, outside the home and they were constantly calling him away. Then he changed jobs again, and we got to see him even less. Just recently (as in, the past seven months) my husband has achieved one of his goals - to join the Army Reserves. This will hopefully lead to a change in career - though, we've still got an incredibly long way to go!

Work begins

A garden, seems much smaller, in comparison. It appears insignificant, but we both know its not. So with my husband, otherwise indisposed, I got to work on our old vegetable bed. It was like revisiting a forgotten dream. I remember putting in those star pickets, and the rebar wire - only David was there to help me.

I even remembered that tree (do you see it in the picture above) which I'm pretty certain is an avocado?

Avocado or mango?

It sprung up from the compost we dumped in the bed, once upon a time. It must be at least four years old now. I'm torn whether to remove it or not. It will surely suck any moisture I put in the bed, but its an avocado (I think) and I love avocado!

It hasn't fruited yet, but it will stay until I decide its fate. I hate removing trees, because they're such givers. It even shaded me on the days I was working on the vegetable bed.

The supervisor

And I certainly worked on that bed! With my little toddler by my side, playing with the sweet potatoes I'd removed from the bed, I was able to dig in the Besser blocks, as they had formerly been before. As edging. I even had to remove some of the original retaining wall blocks on the opposite side, and reset them, as the sweet potatoes had pushed them out of alignment.

I needed a straight wall, because I intended to reuse some roofing iron, left over from my chicken coop renovation.

Mission almost complete

Once again, it started to look like a vegetable bed. Something I can use in a substantial way. I have seeds in mind, and some transplants. I want (and need) to see productivity here. Because while I may have had other things to attend to, I very much believe in growing our own food.

It was far easier to attack this small area, rather than approach the whole length of the wall. If my husband was helping, we could have done it all, but that's not our reality at present - and I'm sure, this reality, isn't unique to our marriage. Sickness, jobs, hobbies, family commitments, volunteering (sadly, even death) there are many reasons, one partner finds they have to work alone.

What my husband has contributed to this vegetable bed however, is an endless supply of coffee grounds from his work place. I felt like I was standing outside a coffee bar, after I sprinkled them on the ground. And I thought of him. The soil will be much sweeter!

Shade of the avocado tree

I even sat on the Besser block edging for a while, being shaded by the avocado tree. My toddler came to my lap, and we pulled faces at one another. Giggling under the shade of a tree, smelling that sweet aroma of coffee and simply stopping for moment, reminded me of why I needed to be here.

It started as a wall, which became a chicken tractor landing, which eventually became a vegetable bed. Many more things happened in our life in the meantime. Challenges came and went, but we still have our vegetable bed. Even if it did become overgrown for far too long, I returned to it anyway. And that's the trick. Returning, when you get the chance. One of you, or both of you, but someone has to return.

Pineapple sage

I transplanted the pineapple sage, roughly in the same area I had dug them up from. There was just enough soil/compost, to fill in this little section - I will fill up the rest of the bed later. I also hope to plant a choko in the middle, if I can find one this late. It will climb up the wire, and over the top of the bed - helping to shade it during summer. Or, at least, that's the plan!

We made quite a few plans since moving here in 2007. We weren't planning on the Queensland floods however, and we've been playing catch up, for four years since. While I've spoken about the fragility of our relationship in this post, it's more about continuing the journey, despite imperfect situations.

Much of the life portrayed out there, seems to be about getting ahead - when I think much of life is lived, just trying to catch up on unexpected things. Life is an unexpected thing. It happens, regardless of what we want of it. I want a lovely vegetable bed, full of abundance (with my husband by my side) but I'm likely to experience a fair share of pest attack, overgrown beds and native critters eating what does manage to flourish. Plus my husband, will more than likely, still be indisposed.

Does that mean, I do not return? I hope not. I hope I don't leave it that long again - and I know in the future, there will be days to share in the garden with my husband again. It's what we do in the meantime. What can be done? Even if the work crew is halved - or, the work is being done elsewhere, earning income. What can each party, still do? It may have to change to fit into your current life, but growing our own food is important - so even a little, achieves a whole lot.


  1. We changed our gardening in a very serious way due to Garry's accident and haven't really done much towards growing much food this year. We have some things that are holding on-green beans namely-but instead of worrying about it, we just went with the flow of it.
    There is really nothing more a person can do. Just hang on and see where things go.

    1. Definitely going with the flow, but I also need to fight for what I want as well - and I hadn't really been doing that. I've been patiently waiting for David's availability, in our time honoured tradition of breaking new ground, in the garden together.

      By breaking that ground myself recently, I got to enjoy all the things I love about gardening. Albeit, a little differently. ;)

      When accidents or natural disasters first happen, letting things go is an absolute must. We're into four years after our particular incident though, so I was ready to take back some ground. More than ready. I just had to figure out, how to do it differently to time honoured tradition. ;)

      I know you guys will get back into the gardening flow, when all the signals are there to do so. Meanwhile, give yourselves the time you both need to heal. I guess I found my green light though, and just had to learn how to respond, appropriately. :)

    2. PS, thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts here. I do value them. :)

  2. I remember those walls being built. They were so beautiful, I was envious. I remember the floods and the photos of water everywhere and felt your devastation at the time. Your previous commenter has wise words: go with the flow and hang on. I'm sure you'll do that.

    With the veggie growing, have you thought of trying wicking boxes like I do? They're easy to set up, can be put on a sunny patio and will at least grow you something. And you can build on the collection, putting in extra when you have the space, compost and time. Easy to do on your own, you won't need David's help.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here too. Going with the flow is easier than fighting something you cannot possibly win. For me, I've reached a point now, where I can push my boundaries out a little more. But its challenging, doing it alone (at first) when you're used to working as a team.

      I've often thought of wicking boxes, and have some appropriate containers. What's preventing me is the thought of putting all that effort in, only to have the same effect as my container plants currently - cooking the soil in full sun. Do you find your soil remains moist, or does it go like dry potting mix at the top third? Do you use mulch to cover the soil? Does the container get so hot it cooks the soil anyway?

      I wasn't sure if wicking beds would require me to water overhead, just to stop the top section of soil drying out. I have a couple of containers I want to try wicking beds on, so I'll have to start experimenting.

    2. I wondered about the hot sun on black plastic too, when I first set them up, but I didn't want to use clear plastic, because I felt algae would grow all around the sides. I do cover the soil with mulch and it seems to stay moist, but I do just give them a spray in summer when I'm passing with the hose and in some cases I have 60 litre rubbish bins near the wicking boxes that collect rainwater over the winter and if I'm not passing with the hose, I use a dipper to water the wicking boxes from the bins. I like to be able to see water through the viewing pipe at all times, then I know the soil at the bottom is saturated and the water-loving roots will be there OK.

      I also felt that the black plastic boxes would be an advantage in warming up the soil quicker in spring than ordinary veggie beds in the ground. I haven't had any plants die over summer in wicking boxes which might have been due to hot soil. You've given me an idea, though. I'll start measuring the temperature of the soil in the boxes each week, both near the edges and in the centre, just to see how hot the soil actually gets, from spring to summer. My boxes aren't in full sun all day though, they get part shade for some of the day.

    3. I wondered if they got shade during the day. I found I couldn't keep plants alive in my regular planting containers without that shade, because the soil would cook and become hydrophobic.

      Though I imagine wicking boxes would do a better job at keeping cooler. It would be very interesting to discover what your soil temperatures are in your wicking boxes. Thanks for sharing your experience with them. :)

  3. your learning to work on your own and sometimes thats a good thing, until we sold up and moved to our next adventure here at Early Bird Farm, i worked alone on pretty much every thing as Andrew was either working or wasn't interested in helping out with all the things i was doing.
    now i have to learn to work along side Andrew and it can be a challenge as we both work at different rates. im a go all day kind of person, i like to get jobs finished, and Andrew works at a slower pace. I think it has been a challenge for both of us and will continue to be as we learn to work with each other and spending pretty much all of out time together has helped and has been stressful on both sides. It has probably been harder for me as i have pretty much worked on my own for most of our marriage, now i have someone else who can lend a hand, share ideas and someone to stop and have lunch with.
    I am sure you both will find a balance and even if David cant be there all the time to help out, he can still admire the work you have done when he gets home and share in the fruits of your labour.

    1. PS. hope you dont dig out your avocado tree, it looks like it will fruit soon :o)

    2. At different ends of the spectrum, we're getting used to working differently with our partners. There are many times I work in the garden alone, I call it my pottering time, lol, but on big projects, its great to have someone else in the mix to motivate each other. :)

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and it was interesting to see how we differ but still require that self-adjustment stage.

      I thought my advocado tree might flower this year too. I saw some bumpy bits developing that didn't look like leafs. I had to cut back two roots, in order to get the roofing iron in place, so maybe that will stimulate the tree to fruit as well? I hear if you stress them, they desperately try to put fruit out.

      Plan B, if I keep the tree, is to remove the beds and put in perennial herbs as an under-story.

  4. I'm glad you found that green light at long last! I forgot to say how nice it all looked! I do know you value my opinion:) I'm sorry you felt that you had to fight it all. Did you find that by doing this on your own, it became less of a fight and more of something else? Something more peaceful?

    1. Yes, doing this was a great exercise for me overall. It cleared out a lot of internal cobwebs. I didn't realise it at the time, but there was some issues from the flood hanging around that area. It was one of the first places to let go, as we focussed on repairing others.

      Flood meant separation for me - being cut off from everyone I knew, so here I was, about to attack an area that represented flood, all by myself again, lol. I guess (realising later) I wanted David there as a mental reminder I wasn't cut off. I didn't get what I wanted, but life often works like that. I enjoyed the experience anyway, and I'm making new memories. Which is something I needed to do. :)

    2. Maybe there is a lesson for you to have come fill circle-that you can do this by yourself and successfully at that. Just throwing it out there because I remember the trauma you endured and I know it was very hard for you to be alone on top of everything else. I can only guess at the meaning here of course-just offering one possibility.

  5. Definitely hit the nail of the head. It was harder being my own motivator in that particular area, but as I've been gradually doing more to the bed, I realise how much easier it is, since taking that first step. I don't feel like superwoman, I just realise it can be done - with or without help. :)


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I love reading what you have to share. Gully Grove is a Spam free environment though, so new commenter’s only leaving hyperlinks, will be promptly composted.