[* To be uttered in Dramatic Cinema Trailer Announcer Style]
Back home, I’d had a small piece of a shared garden to grow my plants in, and I got quite adept at squeezing in lots of different things in a small space. Choosing the right plants for the space and, for veggies, crop rotation is key. So I knew I could grow lots in my new little back yard. Top of my list was a nice big veggie bed.
Our main issue with the garden is that about a quarter of it is covered in a large concrete slab. (See the ‘sad neglected garden’ photo here). I guess there had been a garage there at some point. Now there was a meaningless L shaped wall, a small shed, and not a whole lot else. Quotes told us it would be ridiculously expensive to remove the concrete, so we decided to embrace the damn thing and put raised beds on top of it instead.
This left us with a nice clear area about 6 x 7 metres.
The soil in our yard is a poor, sandy rubbishy thing. Below a foot or so, it’s actually ash grey, and unhealthy looking. It won’t hold water and it doesn’t look as if it could support weedy grass, let alone lovely plump, yummy veggies. As we were starting afresh on the concrete, it seemed sensible to buy in some good organic soil.
After lots of research online we decided on cedar as the main material for our beds, as it doesn’t need any kind of chemical preservative to prevent rot – it’s oils are naturally rot resistant. I didn’t want to use treated pine because of not knowing what effect the treating chemicals would have, leaching into the soil over time. We considered concrete blocks too, but then concrete isn’t so eco either, and frankly it looks ugly. There’s even a company out there that make a kind of photo stable plastic from recycled printer cartridges, but I just wasn’t happy enough about the possibility of chemicals leaching from the plastic into the soil – it’s too new a process for there to be much information.
We settled on Natural Yards to provide the beds as we figured it would save us hours and hours of amateur carpentry and swearing! They’re based in Melbourne, so there was a bit of a carbon footprint in having the wood delivered, but we figured we make that up by doing everything locally – and longer term of course by growing all our veg! They were happy to create beds to our design rather than boring old rectangles at no extra cost, and 6 weeks later they arrived flat packed on the back of a lorry.
They’re held together by metal pins drilled right through the ends of each plank, and there are also supporting trusses at intervals along on the inside because it was quite sizable (4.5 metres to a side).
Pretty sturdy! We used bashed up bricks, from the demolished wall, as drainage on the bottom of the beds. Then we covered that layer with special water-but-not-soil permeable fabric called ‘geotechnical fabric’ that I found from a supplier online (good job I love doing research!). It’s the grey material you can see at the bottom on the beds in the photo above.Turned out that the owner of the company – which is based locally – loves to buy his coffee from a nearby café and was happy to bring us the fabric on one of his coffee fix trips!
A few dirt-y words….
Finally, it was time for the soil. Obviously the soil your plants grow in is one of the 2 or 3 most critical things to get right – along with water and light/warmth levels. I was really keen to ensure it was as organic as possible – so no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides – but at the same time be balanced & great quality; and not too expensive…tough call! I actually couldn’t find anyone who would confirm that their soil was certified organic (one company I called didn’t know what organic meant, despite their website claiming that it was!).
Overall I was the most impressed with Arfjes, who were fairly local (that carbon footprint again), knew their products & what they were talking about, and were friendly and helpful. They were able to tell me exactly where the components of their soil came from, including the mushroom compost, the pH, and plus the lady I spoke to told me all about her own veg beds that she’d used the soil for. Nice! We ordered 12 tonnes, on the basis of calculating the cubic meterage and adding on a bit for luck.
12 tonnes of soil is a LOT of soil it turns out:
With only 2 shovels and 1 wheelbarrow, Mr C and I moved that soil, barrow by barrow, from the front garden to the back, bumping up the 3 steps to the higher level lawn, a distance of about 100 metres per barrow. It took quite a while, I can tell you. But I refused to think about the enormity of it – well, as best I could, seeing as the mountain of earth was on our front lawn for weeks! – and we picked away at it gradually, gradually. Over the first 3 days we shifted about 8 tonnes, and then had to have a bit of a lie down with a cold compress on our fevered brows. Much groaning, sore backs and numerous trips to masseurs later the beds were full and ready for planting!