Permaculture Gardening, Part 4

Reader Contribution by Michelle Martin

Building Layered Garden Beds

Last summer (2013) we read about building garden beds using a layering system. This entailed making layers of logs/sticks, cardboard/paper, compost, soil, dung and straw.

The idea is that the logs/sticks break down and replace nutrients into the bed. The cardboard and paper hold moisture. The compost and dung improve the soil immediately by adding organic matter and the straw acts like a mulch, suppressing weeds, slowing evaporation and stopping erosion of the soil by the wind.

We have one area in our front garden where there is natural shade in the Summer. Trees have grown along the outside of the fence and we have an almond tree inside. In the summer the leaves give shade and in the winter the bare branches allows the sunlight to stream down.

Correctly Site Compost Bins

Originally we placed our compost bins here, but we soon found that they were in the wrong place. Too far away from the growing area of our garden meant that energy was used walking around the garden to place anything in it. We decided to build a layered bed here instead, hoping that the shade the trees produce will help our crops in the summer when the heat is around 40 degrees.

Build a Rock Wall

We spent time collecting rocks, from our pool mound and moving them from the back of the garden to the front. We marked out where we wanted the bed to go, just making a line by clearing the weeds and proceeded to build a rock wall. We chose to go behind the tree with the wall as we really did not want to remove it, it would give more shade to our bed especially at the height of the day when the sun is directly above.

It took us 2 weeks to build the wall, remembering we had to find the rocks first, then the fun bit started. We placed logs and sticks that we have collected from pruning’s along the bottom. We covered it with the large cardboard boxes you can see in the picture and emptied the black bags of paper over the top. (So that got rid of all the rubbish!)

We covered all of this with a layer of compost. Next we added a reasonably thick layer of soil dug out from our land. We covered that with a layer of sheep dung that our friend the shepherd had given us.

We had to do this in sections as it was such a big area to fill.

Garden Watering System

Next we needed to put in a watering system but we needed to be able to control how much water would be used. Using a water butt and attaching a pipe and tap we had our water holder. Next we placed the black drip feed piping onto the bed using T pieces and taps. We split the bed into 5 sections and placed taps on every section so that if they are not planted up we don’t have to water them. This ensured we could water just the bits we needed too. By the way, the water pipe was collected from a field where they had replaced a system and just discarded the old. We spent 3 mornings there sorting and untangling the pipes. We now have enough piping to irrigate the whole garden! And all for free! All we have purchased are the T pieces and the taps!

At the end of February 2014, we planted up this bed with peas, broad beans, kale, spinach, leaf beet, tomatoes, carrots, climbing beans, lettuce and potatoes. We still have one section left on the bed unplanted, I am hoping to put salad seeds in there in March. I mixed all the plants up hoping that the range will confuse the pests and so lower any problems. We then covered everything with straw to make sure the pipes were covered. Now we have to wait and see what happens!