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Out in the garden

Eighteen months ago I was a lost, homeless soul. After spending six or seven years in temporary accommodation I finally found a lovely two-bedroom unit, with a small garden, through our local housing authority, Housing SA who linked me up with a Housing Association. The unit seemed like a palace after being crammed, with all of my possessions, into one room for the past few years. The back lawn was very patchy and sparse and I decided to dig it up and grow some vegetables to give me something to do.

Not being an experienced gardener, I have learnt by experience, by example and by just going out and doing it. I have found the whole process to be extremely satisfying . . . and the end product to be quite tasty. I vaguely remembered some of the things my father had taught me. When I was growing up he had kept a backyard garden and potting shed where we lived in Harlow, Essex, before coming out to Australia. I have a few friends who are prolific gardeners and I had often helped them out weeding and watering, but I had only attempted to grow a garden once before, when we had been buying our own house.

Over these posts I will attempt to document the process I have gone through and try and consolidate some tips, hints and ideas. Why not turn your own back lawn into a productive vegetable patch? Or your front lawn too? You will not believe how different and wholesome food tastes when it is grown right in your backyard. The food that you buy from supermarkets is just so bland and tasteless.

You can notice the condition of the lawn and the sparcity of vegetation it contained. You can see from these photographs how I slowly dug out the lawn and turned it into furrows and you might notice the progress of my little brick path meandering around. It is now a lushly vegetated green patch of kitchen garden.

I undertook a process of scraping up the lawn, digging out the tufts of bufallo grass that had at once stage been ground round and round by a whipper snipper and then dug out a path backwards and forwards. The remains of the lawn became the basis of a little compost heap that received daily attention until it had broken down enough to be incorporated back into the soil. 

Soon I had dug half a dozen furrows of reasonable looking earth, I was almost ready to commence planting, but I waited for a while and tried to organise some sort of plan. As I dug and scraped and chopped and poked around I came across a number of house bricks that formed the edge of a little garden border that a previous tenant had established. I pulled these bricks out and began to replace and extend a little brick path that would surround my garden and lead from the front to the back. I wasn't too worried about having everything level, I liked the higgledy piggly look of the path, but later I did attempt to level it out a bit. It still isn't completed finished, but it does lead right up to the back of the garden now. 

Gradually I worked my way, scraping and digging until I had removed most of the lawn and had two spots picked out for my garden. As you can see it was quite bare with an existing palm tree, lavender bush and a very overgrown succulent plant that escaped from a plastic tub and taken root. There was also a hint of some mint plants growning around the succulent. I decided to keep the right side of the garden pretty clear and concentrate my efforts into the two patches that I had cleared and dug out. To start out with I planted a few seeds along the back fence and soon had spinach, bok choy, rocket, radish, carrot and a few other seedlings growing in neat little rows. 

Later I was to find out that some of these plants were far too close together, which encourages pests and makes it easier for them to nibble their way from plant to plant. Pest control brings a whole new dimension to growing plants, especially if you wish to grow healthy, organic produce. I was soon to learn some basic pest-fighting techniques and strategies in the ongoing battle between in our daily survival.

Before long I was organising midnight caterpiller hunts and snail chases . . . I would go out into the garden by torchlight, seeking out ferocious caterpillers, chomping their way through my bok choy, through my rocket, my brasicas, tomatoes and anything else they could get their evil teeth into. Chasing snails and slugs soon became a nightly occupation, tracking their slimy trail as it slithered and shone over bricks, into patches of tender shoots and leafy greens. 

 I began to put all of my green waste out in the garden into my compost heap. I kept it moist and turned it over every couple of days to mix it up. The weather was pretty hot at this time so I tried not to let it dry out too much. With the scraps from the kitchen, the scrapings from the lawn and the trimming of various bits and pieces around the place my compost heap gradually got larger and larger. I used a mobile method where I kept rolling my compost heap from one side of the garden to the other, keeping the ground underneath it moist, and adding the composted earth back to the garden when it had decomposed enough. 

I have some friends who make compost and almost brew and distill and filter their end product until they have a potent brew that is quite strong and needs to be diluted. I'm happy with something that produces an enriched, earthy soil that has broken down enough to go straight into the garden. Sometimes I will add compost or chicken poo or alpaca poo, but I will let this break down for a while before use. 

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Tags : gardening organic vegetables