I happened to stumble across a great BBC2 TV show called “It’s Not Easy Being Green”. It is hosted by a retired Lieutenant Colonel, called Dick Strawbridge.
Dick and his family embarked on a quest to live a more sustainable 21st century lifestyle without any major impacts to their existing way of life. He still wanted to be able to have his coffee machine, fridge, washing machine etc, and all the other modern conveniences that make up the western lifestyle. He sold the family home in Worcestershire and moved to derelict farm in Cornwall, with no electricity, heating, water or toilets. Crazy or what!
The first series consisted of seven episodes, which took us on a journey of the family for the first year in their new home. Some of the things they did were;
- Build a water wheel to power their household lights,
- Grow an organic vegetable garden,
- Fix and insulate the roof,
- Install solar hot water,
- Install a whole house ventilation system,
- Draw drinking water from their spring by wind power,
- Raise pigs and chickens,
- Make bio-diesel from waste vegetable oil, and
- Had a great time doing it!
It was a very inspirational series and both Kim and I enjoyed our weekly dose of the show. After the series finished, I wanted to be just like Dick! He was, and still is my hero.
As we were already started on our own sustainable living journey, and had kicked off our eco house challenge measurements and reduction campaign, we decided to take one of the suggestions from Dick’s show and try them out at home.
In late April 2007, I began to plan an organic vegetable garden for one side of our house. We had a garden (if you could call it that), that was the main entrance and it was half dead because of the lack of rain. We thought that if we built the garden beds as a feature of the house then we were more likely to maintain it. This was based on permaculture principles (not that I knew this at the time), whereby your basic food needs should be as close to the back door as practical. Well, our patch was going to be at the main entrance, so even better. Everyone who visited it would see the wonder of our vegetable patch in all its glory!
I based the design on the “No Dig Garden” developed by Esther Dean. I read her little book, which was full of great information about establishing a garden for Australian conditions. I modified the method slightly as per “Greeniology” and added raised garden beds to make it easier to work on. The soil in Melton is clay based and is very hard when dry. There was very little organic matter in the first 2 cm of topsoil, so I had to improve the soil before I planted and improve drainage.
I decided to use red gum sleepers as the frame for the beds and constructed them 2100 x 1200 x 100 cm and spaced the beds 70 cm apart. This was enough space to lay some pavers for a little path between each bed. The beds were fastened together with 100 mm galvanised nails with a butt joint, and the wood was so hard that I had to pre-drill each nail hole. During the construction I managed to hit my left shin with the full force of a hammer blow! It swelled up like a melon. Nice and sore for the rest of the day, but some ice helped the swelling go down.
As recommended by Esther Dean’s book, I filled the beds in the following order. The first layer was a cover of cardboard and newspaper about 5 sheets thick. This ground cover was to kill the weeks, grass and provide food for the earth worms. Next was a 10 cm layer of either lucerne hay or pea straw. I chose pea straw and Amy and Megan laid it for me. The third layer was a 2 cm layer of Dynamic Lifter (you can use well rotted manure). For the four beds I finished off an entire 25 Kg bag of very smelly Dynamic Lifter. I then covered the DL with another 5 cm layer of pea straw and then a layer 20 cm thick of mushroom compost garden mix. I think it was a 50-50 mix of mushroom compost and a loam type soil. It was filled with organic matter and was very suitable for the purpose of growing vegetables. I ordered 2 cubic metres and used it all! Adam lugged most of it from the roadside and Kim and I raked it level in each bed. Lastly, I topped it off with a 5 cm layer of sugar cane mulch, to help conserve water by stopping evaporation.
It was a very satisfying feeling to finish all of the beds in one weekend. Read on in Part 2, to see how and what I planted in my first Winter crop.