We’ve run this workshop three times this year with great feedback. I promised to summarise the process, so here goes.
Step 1) Lay polythene for five months or longer to kill the perennial grasses and weeds. We cover our polythene with mulch to prevent UV degradation of the plastic and to make the market gardens look nicer. After 20 weeks peel back the much and reuse it somewhere, and then lift the polythene.
Step 2) Loosen the compacted soil. We use stainless steel broad forks that I had welded up by a friend for a box of beer. Any broad fork will do or garden fork. The point is to mechanically break up the soil. First go lengthwise.
Then go crosswise.
Step 3) Break up the soil cubes you’ve just formed into smaller chunks. This is best done when the soil is not too wet and not too dry. It may pay to wait a day or two before doing this step. A rake or a hoe or a garden fork or a spade can be used.
Step 4) Form beds. Standing on one side of the 1.2 metre wide bed rake the path from the other side up onto he bed. The switch sides and repeat.
Step 5) Continue to pulverise the soil and rake the beds flat with a back and forth motion to prepare a fine planting surface.
The end result is a series of raised rows in a no-dig system easily maintained with a stirrup hoe.
A common misperception of permaculture is that “it is a messy form of gardening” – or that it is a form of gardening at all. Permaculture is a system of design. Growing annual vegetables can be a small part of a much larger farm system. For small-scale organic growers, annual veggies are an important source of income especially during the first years on a property.
We took a totally different approach. Annual beds have mostly (except for our commercial garlic crops) been on the back burner for the last three and a half years while we’ve focused on water management and drainage, planted over 2,000 trees, fenced 400 metres of stream, renovated the house, and improved soil quality in the paddocks. With off-farm income and a fully-booked internship programme we were able to take it slow, which also happens to be the best way to convert paddocks to no-dig beds.
We lay polythene down for six months…
…and then broad fork the beds.
We shift the plastic to a new area every six months and cover it with grass or branches to reduce UV damage from the sun. After forking we form raised rows and plant out the annuals from our nursery.
Garlic takes up bed space for six months each year, which has meant we’ve not been able to grow much else until now.
Three more large annual beds will go in over the next 18 months and then we’ll have the market gardens fully up and running – after five years.
Slow and steady wins the race.