Permablitz revisited: Upwey 18 months later
About 18 months after the original Upwey Permablitz, we visited Tom to see how it has developed, what worked, and what didn’t. Certainly the veggies worked–the garden has supplied enough leafy greens for him and Aich and their two children ever since. The tromboncinos are so prolific that he supplies the neighbourhood it seems!
When the family sits down to a meal, it will include more seasonally available vegetables – tomatoes in January, broccoli in July, and some more exotic food such as yacon. Tom and Aich take more care to prepare food grown by their own labour in interesting ways. They have become more aware of what surrounds them, when it ripens and the effort that goes into it. They are also less willing to buy food out of season when surrounded by the burgeoning ‘supermarket’ that is in their own back yard.
While there is much joy in being surrounded by the abundance of this food, the children are learning by example. They, too, are excited by participating in the growing cycle and the care of chooks.
Tom says that in the process, he has learned patience. His enthusiasm has not waned; he just understands that things take time to happen.
I am so full of gratitude for all the people who have come and helped create this fertile little patch.
Things that worked:
- Several Hugelkultur gardens scattered in the backyard are bursting with produce
- Variety and experimenting with less common plants, such as arrowroot, ground cherries (physalis) and tomatillo
- Use of branches rather than purchased timber to form supports for netted enclosures (they may be native, but Tom wants to feed his own family, too)
- Including some plants grown purely for nitrogen-fixing and companion planting to keep the bugs away.
- Food forest plants – various fruit trees and vines. These are growing well and should produce well in the next year or two. Tom wants to ensure the canopy is giving good cover before setting in more plantings at the tree bases.
- Possum spray – chilli and garlic and fish emulsion mixture –readily available ingredients and no dangerous chemicals
- Keep the day’s plan simple – some complicated tasks did not work well on the day. The corrugated iron wicking beds, for example, which were completed later with a small team of friends. They were planted out the same day and were producing within weeks.
- Not everyone who volunteers will be expert with garden tools and techniques. Some of us are keen to learn.
- Complicated plantings – some plants did well, but not all. Tom feels he would have benefited by having a knowledgeable planner help with the design.
- It takes a while for the soil to mature in the composted Hugels and other areas. These are still maturing and will produce even more in the years to come.
- Pond and sand pit – turned green with alga after a while and, in any case, Aich was concerned that the little ones might fall in
Some months after the blitz, another group descended on Tom and Aich for a Permabee to give it a tweak with more composting and planting.
Originally, the typical hills-style garden was pleasant to look at, with camellias, pittosporum, and agapanthus, but it was not a producing garden and things like agapanthus and pittosporum are environmental weeds here in the Dandenongs. They wanted to create a food source for the family.
The change in the garden has been significant and the project has bought unexpected benefits to the family as a whole.
Tom himself had a few comments about the experience:
The wicking beds I completed building after the first Blitz, but they were filled and planted out on the follow-up Permabee.
We had another, unofficial, follow-up to plant a whole lot of indigenous tubestock, which was another activity that worked well.
I should also mention that Aich really struggles with the mixed polyculture plantings or, as she would put it, ‘impenetrable jungle’. Another important lesson, because if she can’t pick out the parsley from the plantain (you like that?), then all the work falls to me, and food goes unharvested. So my next challenge is to work out how to maintain – and expand – the diversity, but somehow plant in blocks, or rows, or something, so that it’s easier to find stuff for someone who’s not a plant nerd. Who knows, it might even look nicer.
The possum spray may well work with repeated application, but that’s just the kind of thing I find difficult, what with kids, work and all kinds of other stuff going on. That was an important lesson for me. I struggle with any part of the system that needs regular attention, which can’t be put off for, say, a week (and which can’t just bok-bok louder when hungry!), including growing from seed; fussy plants; turning hot compost; picking off caterpillars; and reapplying possum spray after rain.
Finally, I took this photo (shown above) on the way in this afternoon when I noticed the first coneflower. It’s kind of how I envisage the whole productive bit of the back yard in a few years’ time, only with more fruit. You can see the water chestnuts, arrowhead and pickerel rush in the pond, which is also the reservoir for the wicking beds. In the beds you can see (trust me) kale, celery, tomatillo, silverbeet, climbing beans, basil, dill, tomato, pumpkin. There is a little pomegranate in the background, which has roots under the wicking bed to take advantage of otherwise wasted soil and which will shade the window in summer. In the foreground is the espaliered pear, with borage, buckwheat, lucerne, tatsoi and coneflowers to keep it company. You can’t see the lupin, strawberries, comfrey and chives.
Overall, the garden is reflective of a family surrounded by nature – and influenced by it.