Summer is coming... I think... no really, Melbourne make up your mind! Despite our city's temperamental weather, it's that time of year when the dark beers start leaving the taps and shelves and we transition to summer with the lovely malty lagers and golden ales of spring. For anyone that has ever set foot into their garden, this change of seasons (albeit debatable in Melbourne at the moment with our current back and forth of extremely hot and extremely rainy and cold...) also marks the time to start sowing some summer seeds!
We recently sent our brewer Annabel off to a permaculture course/urban farming once a week for 17 weeks to learn all about sustainable gardening so that we can grow our hops naturally and hopefully add some fruit trees, spices and vegetables to our future repertoire for both brewing and cooking in the future brewery kitchen. We love growing our own ingredients at Himmel Brewing - things just taste so much better when you know where they've come from.
Not sure where to start? Annabel showed us how to make a "no dig" garden, which basically means making your own raised garden bed 'mille feuille', although it doesn't taste as good and we don't recommend eating these layers of compost, straw, fertiliser etc...! Disclaimer: "Eat garden bed at own risk!"
The reason for making a "no dig" garden bed is because you can be assured that you have good soil that you made yourself (but do check it anyway with a simple pH kit from your nursery), you don't have to break your back turning over layers of soil in an old garden bed (and if you work in a small brewing company, you'll understand the benefits of not overusing your back after a day of filling kegs!), no digging also avoids collateral worm damage and digging can also stir up old dormant weed seeds. So Annabel's going to share her new found knowledge with you:
How to build a garden bed in 6-10 easy steps!
Layer 1: the weed blocker
If you are planning to build your garden bed on an impermeable surface like concrete or bricks, this step is not required. However, if you decide to build a no dig on top of an existing garden bed, you can stop old plants and weeds by blocking their access to sunlight. We did this using some old beer cartons but you can use any cardboard, newspaper, bed sheets.... anything biodegradable that you have lying around - you get the idea!
Now, water! You want to hydrate each layer really well because this means less watering is required later on for maintenance... so a light spray and swing the hose from side to side to get an even coverage... this was described to me as the same action as chipping onto the green when playing golf... now my chipping has always been a weak point so perhaps don't copy my technique too closely :-) When you think you've watered enough, keep going for as long as you've already watered again.
Layer 2: Breathing space
This layer allows air to flow through the bottom of the garden bed, which is especially important if you building your no-dig straight onto concrete. Just get some twigs and sticks and make a big nest on your weed blocker! I was so excited at this stage that I completely forgot to take a photo in between layers, but I'm sure you'll manage!
Layer 3: The sump
In the glamorous world of chemical engineering in my previous life, I spent many a day trying to get to the dolomite and limestone tanks for inspection without disappearing into the perpetually blocked sump around it... so the sump is just a moisture collecting layer that keeps your bed hydrated. I used bricks of pea straw (you want to try and keep them together in solid bricks) but you can use shredded paper, Lucerne or whatever you can get your hands on. Lay out a thick sump layer of about 15cm, but no need to use a ruler, there's no competition. Then of course, water the layer. Here's a picture (large oversized sun hat optional):
Layer 4: Compost
You can buy compost from any good nursery or make your own at home (but this takes time). Pour a layer about half the thickness of your sump onto the bed and gently rake it with your fingers (don't press it down as this stops airflow) to get an even mound on the top and sides. Then water the layer!
Layer 5: Fertiliser
I used a mixture of cow and chicken manure as my fertiliser but you can use whatever you like. Apparently coffee grinds are also a good addition to your fertiliser mixture. Just check what your plant of choice prefers before going crazy with just any old manure. Same method as layer 4, but only 3-5cm this time and as always, water the layer (you may want to hold you nose closed here). Here's one we prepared earlier and as you can see, it looks exactly the same as layer 4 so you'll have to take my word for it that I added fertiliser:
Layer 6: Mulch
The mulch layer protects your plant roots from the hot sun, retains water and can also slow down the slugs and snails who don't particularly like moving over rough surfaces. I used the same pea straw as the sump, but made it light and fluffy first by breaking up the bricks by hand. Did I mention water well after each layer...?
Layer 7-10 (optional): A s%$# sandwich
I once read a great business blog by Mark Manson where he asks "What's your favourite flavour of shit sandwich and does it come with an olive?" because everyone has to eat the dreaded metaphorical aforementioned sandwich at least once in their life because sometimes life sucks, so why not put an olive on it, right? Well I struggled to answer this question of course, but now I think I've found my proverbial s*&% sandwich in the garden bed... this layer just means that you won't have to add a whole lot of fertiliser and compost next season and the plants will love you for the extra love you've given them. It's basically like this:
more fertiliser... water... more compost... water... more fertiliser... water... mulch... water
So there you have it! The easiest garden lamington recipe ever (remember it is NOT edible!) The garden is now immediately ready for planting! And the best part is that by tomorrow so much heat will have generated in the layers that you could sow your seeds directly into the bed instead of making seedlings... happy growing everyone! And don't forget to enjoy a beer after all the hard work... I opted for something Mexican this time, despite having planted not a single cactus ;-)
Cheers amigos! And don't forget to share your garden photos and tips with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! We'd love to hear from you.
For more information about urban gardening and permaculture, a good start is www.ceres.org