Challenges to gardening


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

Second planting of the Hugelkultur beds

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)?





Update on the Hugelkultur beds


Hugelkultur beds tidy…sort of

I just love Hugelkultur; not only is it a great way to grow vegetables with minimal water, it also gets rid of piles of unsightly woody weeds and sticks. I first posted about my Hugelkultur beds way back in 2013, when I began building my beds in a chicken run/vegetable growing area. Since then the beds have been planted, harvested, laid fallow, used as a chicken run, used as a duck run, housed wildlife, been tidied up and replanted and finally laid fallow again.

This time the whole area was a terrible mess of weeds, mostly paddy’s lucerne. I spent the day digging out or cutting off all the large, woody weeds in the path and beds, these weeds were then piled onto the areas of bed that needed building up. Weeds have a lot of nutrient in them which would otherwise go to waste, by piling them onto the beds I can allow them to break down and keep the nutrients in the garden where my vegetables can use them (most of them had not seeded yet so they won’t add to the weed seed bank in the soil much).


Weeds piled up in the beds

Before i got too carried away with gardening, I made a planting plan, partly to help me remember where and what I planted in there and partly so I could put some thought into placement of plants to provide shelter to those that need it.



I then shoveled as much soil from the path to the beds as I could and collected chook compost from the chook pen to pile on top. This was topped off with some bags of bought compost (there is never enough compost is there) and mulched with bought sugar cane mulch. All this was only enough to finish the front third of the total area of beds, so I planted that out according to my planting plan


Lettuce, eggplant and silverbeet in this section


Tomato, basil and beans in this section

It rained just as I finished mulching (conveniently) so they all got a good watering in. I just love planting out garden beds; everything is so full of hope and potential.  I will have to finish the rest this weekend, I am going to buy a trailer full of compost to top up the beds. It is extravagant to buy a huge amount of compost and I could simply wait until the chook pen compost is ready for harvesting again, but I am really enjoying making this section of the garden productive once more and I want to keep my momentum up.

We have been making plant labels by painting stones at school lately. They are so pretty I think I will make a few for home too. I just love seeing the little pops of colour around the school gardens, and they will look amazing in my garden too.


Plant label stones we have been making at school.

Gardening is so therapeutic isn’t it? I love to try new things in my garden and potter about wasting whole days. Unfortunately I also get distracted easily and forget to maintain entire sections (or the whole lot sometimes), I guess that is the kind of gardener I am…sporadic.





Making pasta sauce

The tomatoes in the Hugelkultur bed have been supplying us with yummy Roma tomatoes for some time now and we have added them to most lunches and dinners (and the occasional breakfast), we are all at the ‘I don’t like tomatoes any more’ stage, reached at some point in every harvest season when there is a glut. Therefore, I decided (this morning) to make some pasta sauce and bottle it using my trusty but under utilized Fowlers Vacola (FV) unit. That way we can have our tomatoes to eat in the winter when we are all craving them. I decided to use glass jars with metal lids (the ones you buy pasta sauce in in the supermarket) instead of the traditional FV jars because the FV jars I own are all huge (1 litre is the smallest) and we use our pasta sauce in small lots so the smaller jars are more practical for us.

A bucket of Roma tomatoes from the garden

Stage one of the Hugelkultur beds cleared and waiting for a compost top up and mulch before replanting.

I found a fairly easy recipe for tomato pasta sauce that can be preserved using the water bath method. The recipe below has been copied from the Brisbane Local Food site and changed only slightly. The link in the title will take you to the original post.

Home made pasta sauce
Makes 1.5 cups

You need a large non stick frying pan or a wok and a stick blender

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
500g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sprigs of basil, oregano or mint
sea salt, ground black pepper. About 2/3 tsp of salt per 1 1/2 cups of sauce is recommended.

Heat oil to medium heat, add onion and bay leaf, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is softened but hardly coloured. Add tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Cover, cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until tomatoes have collapsed. Add seasonings and blend until the sauce is a pleasing consistency and you are ready to bottle.

Put sauce into clean, sterilised jars with good lids that will vacuum seal. If the pulp is still really hot, put a sterilised spoon in the jar before filling to prevent cracking. Place jars in a water bath up to their necks and bring the temperature up to 93.3 degrees Celsius (or 200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hold at this temperature for two hours. Remove from the preserving pan and press down the lids to encourage vacuum sealing.

N.B. The Fowlers Vacola manual states that unless you use all their gear they won’t be held responsible for these instructions being no good.

The chopping begins
But not before they get a good wash
Pasta bottles; found, de-labeled and washed by my eldest daughter (thanks hon)
The sauce; boiled, seasoned and blended, ready to bottle.
My good old FV stove top unit. Isn’t she a beauty?
The bottles in their bath, all carefully positioned so they don’t touch each other or the sides. Fowlers Vacola frowns on touching in the bath.
The final result; six yummy bottles of pasta sauce. I had better label them before I forget what they are though.

I want to do more preserving, it’s so much fun.

Hugelkultur beds update

Stage four of the Hugelkultur beds has not yet been completed, but stages one, two and three are producing lots of food. The beds look like a jungle with plants fruiting, seeding and new plants emerging, there is a good mix of vegetables and flowers too. At the moment everything growing in these beds are annuals as I have plans to top up the soil at some point and I don’t want to move perennial plants to do it.
The jungle on the right are the Hugelkultur beds, the potato towers can be seen on the left, against the fence and the whole floor is layered with cardboard. The chooks stare longingly through the fence at this little oasis of green.

The corn is doing well in stage three, but there will only be enough for one meal from this tiny planting. I need to put more in, looks like another bed building day is required.

The zucchini are producing lots of fruit and providing shelter for eggplant seedlings.

Green and purple sprouting broccoli are still producing enough heads to feed us. 

Roma tomatoes are giving us enough vine ripened fruit to qualify as a glut.

Good old silverbeet just keeps on giving, although only one plant remains of the original three; the other two have gone to seed. The climbing beans are picking and the second lot of bush beans are almost to flowering now.

The amaranth towers above it all and provides some colour to the scene as it seeds. After collecting seed from it for more plantings, I will give the seed heads to the chooks.

I am really pleased with the Hugelkultur method of building garden beds; it retains moisture, it is an attractive looking bed, it makes piles of rotting wood useful and it encourages me to build new bed space. I will be continuing to build more beds in the future (as time permits).

This is me, mowing the lawn. We put up an electric fence around all the stuff we don’t want them to eat first. Sheep are nature’s mowers and whipper snippers.

Dry days of spring and Hugelkultur update number two

The hot, dry, windy months of spring are here. I am using lots of water on the garden and there is no rain in sight to refill the tanks. I water the garden with the water from the washing (about 160 litres a week) and from the chook and sheep water buckets when I refill them (about 30 litres); I also use about 20 litres a day straight from the tank to water the seedlings and potted plants. I am happy to be re-using the water from the washing and animal waters but I think I need to start putting a plug in the bath when we shower too, so I can scoop it out and water more. This drying wind really affects the vegetables.
In an effort to save my seedlings and tender plants, I have been covering the seedling hardening off area with old sheets to conserve water and provide a little shade. 

My seedling raising area.

Happy seedlings in pie trays to give them time to soak up the sprinkle I give them every day.

In the Hugelkultur beds everything is growing well. I still only water these beds once a week with the washing water (about 80 litres). This bed badly needs re-mulching to further conserve water (that is my goal for this week).

I know it looks dry, but the soil under the plants stays reasonably damp.

In the hugelkultur beds I have……

Roma tomato, just little fruit at present.


brocolli, just starting to bud.

And good old silver beet.

The trailer bed has broad beans and some really late snow peas; so I covered it to provide some protection from wind and sun. We might get lucky and get a crop.

The heirloom lettuce in the trailer bed is going well and we eat off it every day.

We are looking forward to beetroot soon, but in the meantime the leaves are added to stir fry and salad (when my partner isn’t looking)

The seeds are here!

My package from the Diggers Club arrived. I got open pollinating seeds of;

  1.  rocket – pronto
  2. Beetroot – Chioggia, Bull’s Blood , Golden and White Blankoma
  3. Broccoli – Purple Sprouting
  4. Eggplant – Rosa Bianca, Violetta di Firenze, Slim Jim and Listada di Gandia
  5. Green beans – Lazy Housewife (I wish)
  6. Carror – Purple Dragon
  7. Tomato – Tommy Toe
  8. Corn – Golden Bantam
  9. Water melon – Moon and Stars
  10. Silverbeet – Five colour mix

My new seed collection

I decided to take my daughter’s advice and put the seedlings beside the back door. I didn’t have to move the sick animal aviary after all because I bought one of the little plastic covered green houses suggested by Jacqui (Dusty Country Road blog) and put it in the most protected position I could find, as also suggested by Jacqui. The little green house is now full to the brim with seeds planted in punnets and newspaper pots.
The new seedling raising area. My potting table is to the left against the aviary wall and the little green house is full of enthusiasm.
Some of the seedlings in my little green house. Roma tomatoes potted on from a punnet I bought. These are bound for the school gardens I am custodian to.
In an excess of enthusiasm I also potted some herbs into an indoor herb tower which will live beside a North facing window in the kitchen and hopefully result in us having lots of parsley, chives, oregano and mint added to our meals (not all of them together, obviously).

The next challenge for me is to complete stages 3 and four of the Hugelkultur beds so I can plant out all these new seedlings. I have given myself a month to do that. Wish me luck.
I am finding that setting myself goals that have to be met by a certain time is helping me to get things done in the garden. What techniques do you use to get things done?

Hugelkultur update

The Hugelkultur beds (stages one and two) have been in for a month now, so I thought it was time for an update.

The beds themselves look great; there has been minimal sinking and the soil below the mulch layer is moist despite only having been watered twice and rained on several times. So the moisture holding capabilities of this gardening method are proving to be exceptional.
The seeds of beans, peas, tomato, lettuce and cucumber have failed to come up so far, that could be the age of the seeds though. The seeds of grain amaranth and fenugreek that were strewn over the beds as a green manure crop (and to clear them from the seed packet container) have sprouted extensively so there will be a carpet of green on the beds within the next month, which should help to hold the soil together and prevent too much erosion if we get the wild spring storms common to our area.

You can’t tell from this distance..but things are stirring in there

One tiny plant coming up….possibly a tomato

I also bought some seedling in from our local nursery; broccoli, cabbage, zucchini , tomato and lettuce. I planted these out in the Hugelkultur beds too and so far they are doing Ok.

Zuchini in the Hugelkultur beds
Cabbage in the Hugelkultur beds

I have also had some success with planting in the trailer bed; with everything I have planted in there growing wildly.

Strawberries are going well in the old trailer bed

The broad beans are trying to make up for a slow start by growing really fast

Some late calendula is growing well, destined to be ointment one day

 So that is the extent of my garden at the moment.
Work continues on stage three of the Hugelkultur bed and on the half tank herb bed; both of which are still at the ‘collect a heap of old wood’ stage. I try to collect at least one wheelbarrow full of wood every day I have at home, but have been sadly lax lately. The beds will be built, even if it takes until next school holidays.

Stage two Hugelkultur bed finished

Today was a really productive day. Firstly we decided that we need firewood this morning, which mean’t that the trailer had to be emptied of it’s current half load of top soil. My two daughters and I got all that soil moved onto the stage two hugelkultur bed in about an hour then collected some mulch and planted a few seedlings in it (just for fun).

 I am so happy to have that bed space to plant out, I can’t wait until it starts to produce. The chooks are beginning to lay again, so I have heaps of eggs to play with.

We also had a visit from our heron; he stops by to check out the dam about once a month.

  Meanwhile my partner (who had another day off; two in a fortnight!!) whipper-snipped a path through the tall blady grass so I could move the sheep onto new ground. This involves taking down the electric fencing and putting it up again in a new spot.

 They are now busily clearing a pile of tree heads I want too use for firewood and hugelkultur. I am so pleased we got sheep; they save us so much work and they are such characters.
So almost time to go back to work, I hope I can continue to develop my garden.

Dirt is hard work!

Well.. I hate to look gift dirt in the mouth (so to speak) but the last lot of soil from my sister’s house has turned into really hard work; I knew I would have to sieve out the grass roots but I didn’t factor in how sticky the stuff is. The soil from further up the ridge is red basalt; the most sought after growing soil there is, but it has a high clay content which means that it sticks to everything!!
I spent the afternoon scooping soil into a bucket with a flower pot (a small one) while sorting out blady grass, bracken and kykuyu. The chooks loved the extra greens though and I got a little bit done (about a third of the load). Oh well back to it tomorrow.

You can see the beautiful colour of the soil; like chocolate.

 I did manage to plant some bush beans in the stage one area though.

The bush beans I planted today
The beds in that run are starting to look respectable.
The chooks love the extra greens

I can’t wait till there are vegetables in my new bed.

stage two Hugelkultur bed in progress

Today has been a lot of fun; we cleared up a pile of saplings from the front yard that had been cut down because they were shading the solar panels. My partner had a rare day off, so I made him cut up the whole pile of saplings with his handy chainsaw.

 The saplings became my next Hugelkultur bed.

In the process of cleaning up the saplings I decided to use an old half tank as a Hugelkultur bed too.

Then my sister rang and offered me some good red soil from her holiday home (just up the road) so off we went to pick it up.

Red soil from my sister.

Tomorrow’s adventure is to get all that lovely soil into the stage two bed and mulch it over.
I really need to get some seeds and seedlings soon!
I am really enjoying this process.