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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Getting ready for Spring

Moving into the last week of Winter means it's time to get ready for planting the Spring vegetables in the temporary Spring/Summer bed. Mainly this is Tomato but also includes Eggplant, Capsicum, Corn, Okra, Rockmelon, Watermelon, Pumpkins, Bitter melon and Cucumber.

This temporary bed is built in the paddock on the hill and enclosed in an electric fence. The cow manure collected and stockpiled in a concrete block compost bin near the hayshed will be the first layer and then covered in broken down chicken litter and sawdust from the chook pen.

The cow manure was collected from the paddocks each week and dumped in the bin until it was full a couple of months ago. It has now been broken down by the compost worms and will provide a sweet layer for the plants in our rocky hill.

The sawdust in the chook pen was put in a year ago. It was back then about 150-200 mm thick but has now compacted to much less. During the year the chooks have turned it over many times and occasionally if it formed a crust we would turn it manually with a garden fork. The material under the roosts is particularly rich in droppings and it is mixed with the less nutrient rich material from the run.

The final layer will be mulch hay biscuits in a thick layer that will keep weeds at bay until we finish with the bed in May - life span of 9 months. Depending on weather and luck we will start harvesting produce from late November or early December through to May. For the effort of about 3 days needed to build the bed which includes dismantling last years bed we will be rewarded with a harvest spanning 6 months.

Last years bed

This is a low maintenance bed with the only ongoing work being mowing around the outer edge to maintain access. The mulch is usually good enough to keep weeds down until the plants have matured and then they shade out any regrowth.

This section of the hill has been in use for three years with the beds being moved east to west each year onto a fresh piece of ground. This year the bed will be moved north to south 30 metres onto a fresh section. It takes about 12- 15 years to traverse the hill and so this is only the second time this patch of ground has been used for vegetables. In the intervening years the pasture is allowed to grow and the cattle have access to it in their cell grazing cycle.

Once the harvest is finished in May the electric fence is removed and the cattle clean up the vegetation. Because the bed is well water the growth is substantial. The by product of this method is that the top of our hill gets a good feed gradually which has greatly improved the pasture.

Today's job was to remove the tomato trellis and all the timber and tyres that were holding down the weed matting. The weed matting was laid in a grid leaving 500-600 mm gaps for the melon/pumpkin/cucumber mounds. The irrigation pipe was pegged with short pieces of star pickets and all these were lifted and put aside. All the material is reused in the subsequent year. The only tricky bit today was to make sure none of the tyres held any snakes. They seems to love over wintering in the warm tyres. Phew, all clear this year.

Rather than stake the tomatoes we use pig/dog netting with 100 mm openings laid horizontally to support the tomato plants as they grow. The netting is in three tiers about 300-400 mm layers. This greatly reduces the work load and only the tomato foliage that grows outside the 900 mm wide panels needs to be tucked in every now and then. Because we struggle to reduce the number of tomato varieties we grow the tomato section of the bed is about 20 metres long. The last section of this strip is 10 metres long and will be planted to Corn, Okra and Capsicum.

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