Posted by Sharon on December 19, 2017

In August 2017, Phil and I taught a food garden module of our permaculture design course. (This course is offered through RECAP). We try to provide some hands-on learning in each of our workshops. This time, we planted up a couple of garden beds at the Ashhurst Community Library Garden. These beds already had decent soil structure, as they were developed in March 2015. We used no till methods to avoid soil disturbance.

This blog post is primarily written with workshop participants in mind. It's thin on some details. I mainly want to show planting results for participants--to give them feedback, close the loop on their learning, etc.--all those permaculture principles that come into play when we observe the results of the way we interact with the earth.

Bed 1: Chop and drop

One of our two beds used a chop and drop method. Barley had been planted over the winter as a green manure crop. We cut this down above the soil and simply left it in the bed to add to soil fertility. The barley greens were quite thick and thoroughly blanketed the soil at 2-3 cms in depth. The only plants we left unchopped were calendula planted in a thin line at the end of the bed.

We then basically threw seed into the bed and let it come up through the barley. We used a combination of seeds, including mustard seed. I'm having trouble remembering the other plant species (sorry), but I think they may have been silver beet and Massey peas. Here is the result, from photos taken 13 Nov, ten weeks after planting.

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  1. Out of the seeds we planted, only the mustard sprouted. This may have been because some of the seed wasn't viable, such as our pea seed, which was both old and poor quality at purchase. However, the thick chop and drop cover may also have acted as a seedling suppressant, and the broad-leaf mustard, which thrived, certainly out-competed other seedlings.
  2. The mustard thrived.
  3. The calendula also thrived and spread considerably beyond their original thin row. This is a good indication that the green manure barley crop added considerably to the soil fertility.
  4. Some few barley green regrew through the mustard.
  5. There were basically zero weeds.

Bed 2: Sheet mulch

Our second bed was a sheet mulch garden, with layers of organic material added on top of an existing bed. Into this we planted seedlings into a top layer of compost. Here's the result, again, ten weeks after planting.

sheet-mulch-Phil-sm.JPG

Pretty much all of the seedlings did well: kale, cauliflower, red and green lettuce, silverbeet. This mid-November bed is packed with food. The wet spring certainly helped.There were a few weeds but they couldn't really compete with the thick planting of seedlings.

Update: Mid-December

It's now mid-December, too hot, and too dry. The mustard in bed one had started to bolt, so anything left after a final harvest and feast of saag ended up going back into soil recycling via the compost.

As of last week, much of the healthy food in bed two remained. Things change quickly in a community garden and I haven't visited in about a week, but I suspect some of it may still be there, just suffering a bit. I'd encourage anyone who can to stop by and have a look and harvest everything you can eat. Be generous with yourself! Encourage your networks to come as well. We'd like this very healthy food to get eaten!