In our garden we have three major challenges to gardening success;
Lack of water– We live on tank water, harvested from the rain that falls on our roof. This means that when it doesn’t rain for a long time we start to get worried. The garden makes do with water from our washing (and hopefully our showering later on) once a week and whatever rain falls on it. Of course generational pampered vegetables don’t really like this arrangement and many either die or sulk their way through life producing nothing.
Lack of time– I am a teacher, which means that most of my time is taken up thinking about the educational needs of my students (I even dream about lessons), my partner works full time and my daughters visit but don’t really live here (although my eldest picks up her mail here). All this means that the garden is left to it’s own devises a lot, and tends to revert to a Dionysian jungle during the course of each school term.
Predators– Aside from the usual (for our area) bower birds, insects and possums, we also have domestic predators; sheep, chooks, ducks (and now a goose). All these predators love the taste of carefully nurtured vegetables and fruit. We grow our vegetables in cages, but they fail with alarming regularity.
Over the years I have tried many different solutions to all these problems but nothing works all the time. I have some success and quite a lot of failure, like all gardeners. Small, regular changes make the most difference in the long term. With that in mind I have put the following solutions in place;
lack of water;
compost- Compost from the chook pen (that used to be cardboard, paper, food scraps, grass clippings, straw and garden waste) is added to all the beds on a fairly regular basis. I also buy compost to add to the garden when I run out. The humus in compost helps to retain moisture in the soil.
mulch- Mulch at our humpy consists of anything organic that can be spread over the soil. The raked up straw from the sheep shelter, rough compost from the chook pen, grass clippings, bought mulch and raked up leaves (not gum leaves though) all become mulch in one area or another. Mulch helps stop moisture from evaporating from the soil, it also protects the soil from erosion during heavy rain; mulch is truly a miracle.
Hugelkultur- Hugelkultur is basically the art of sweeping your rubbish under the rug (or mulch) and calling it tidy. By piling up old, rotting wood and covering it with mulch and soil we have created new garden beds and tidied away mess. We have also made a water retention system that is hard to beat. The rain (and occasional watering) soak into the buried wood which retains moisture for a very long time, plants send roots into the softened, rotted wood looking for water and in the process help to break it down. This is probably the most effective water saving system we have in our garden.
This is how our Hugelkultur beds began…as piles of rotting wood.
I covered the wood up with piles of compost and soil
I kept adding woody weeds and cardboard to the beds until over time…
It has become a rich and fertile growing space.
shade cloth or old sheets– At the height of summer when plants wither and die by lunch time no matter how much water they have, I cover some plants with shade cloth or old sheets. Just this little bit of extra shade can slow evaporation enough to let sensitive vegetables like lettuce and silver beet survive the heat.
lack of time;
mulch- mulch is such a useful thing to put on the garden; it not only slows water evaporation it also stops a lot of weeds from popping their heads up. This means I don’t have to spend as much time weeding (in theory). It also means that the soil is being fed, slowly and evenly as nature intended. Reduced weeding and not having to fertilize saves me a lot of time in the garden.
buying seedlings- I have been buying a lot of seedlings lately. I haven’t started seeds for such a long time. Buying seedlings is not ideal and doesn’t really fit my philosophy, but it does fit my time constraints at the moment. Buying seedlings means I can bypass the messing around with seeds and potting mix. When I have more time I will start planting seeds for seedlings again, but for the moment time constraints win.
doubling up on jobs- By this I mean never going anywhere with empty hands, for example, I go out to feed the chooks, taking their grain bucket and the kitchen scraps with me, on the way back I notice that the washing is dry so I take an armful of clean clothes back into the house (one trip to the chook pen = chooks fed, scrap bucket empty and washing in). This saves time because I am not spending a lot of time walking back and forth. Another method for doubling jobs is to make work do more than one job, for example, if the lawn is being mowed (everyone has a go at that job) the wheelbarrow is nearby to empty clippings into, the clippings then go into the chook pen or straight onto a garden bed as mulch (lawn mowing = lawn mowed, compost making topped up and garden mulched). While each little thing saves only a minute or two the cumulative effect of all that time saving is huge.
fencing- Our yard is fenced, the garden beds inside the yard are caged. Still the possums and goannas manage to find a way in. We have electric fencing that helps keep the sheep out too, but cloudy weeks mean the solar unit goes flat and they still get in.
over planting- This year I have started to plant about three times more of everything than we need in the hope that some would be left over for us. I also plant the same thing in different areas so that if something happens to one bed there is always another to go to. This strategy is only just successful; it seems that more food equals more predators.
If all that fails…I sigh and start again.
What are your gardening challenges? How do you get around them (or try to)?