Permablitz #200 – Upwey
In the week leading up to the blitz I’d been watching the weather forecast, hoping for a respite from the rain that had been sticking around Melbourne all week. There was a 40% chance of rain around 10am of the morning of the blitz – or a 60% of no-rain by my reasoning – but alas, rain there was! I was worried this would dampen people’s spirits and encourage them to stay home, but as the start of the blitz approached a steady stream of eager and friendly faces came to Helen and Morris’s home in the hills of the Dandenongs with but one purpose in mind – they were going to blitz!
There was a lot to do – Helen and Morris live on a large property with a great deal of elevation, and due to Morris’ illness the garden had gotten away from them over time. The aim of the day was to improve accessibility through the property (as some areas were quite jungle-like!), plant out a number of fruit trees, introduce a series of leaf baskets and compost bays to handle the sheer volume of organic matter that is constantly being passively produced, build a hugelkultur bed and build two irrigated raised veggie beds.
A tall order for one day, but with around 35 volunteers we were willing to give it a bash! (And to be honest – the transformation achieved throughout the day was truly astonishing…)
One of the nicest parts of this blitz was the surrounding Dandenong mountains, with all the wildlife that brings with it. Through the design process it was not uncommon to see rainbow lorikeets, rosellas and kookaburras popping around the place, and Helen would often talk about the nocturnal scourge of the possums. The day kicked off to a great start with a kookaburra peering in the living room window at all the home-made muffins and treats awaiting the eager blitzers!
After the obligatory intro and warm-up, we started off by splitting into three teams: the first was to clear the site of the original veggie bed area, salvaging star pickets, posts, old irrigation pipes and sleepers all to be re-purposed elsewhere. The second team was to scour the property from north to south, collecting the numerous fallen branches and small logs to be collected near the soon-to-be-established hugelkultur bed. And finally, the third team got stuck into removing all plastic and staples from the cardboard which was intended for sheet-mulching. (Disappointingly, the amount of mulch available on the day removed the need for this to be used, but the cardboard will be used for future blitzes and other projects).
As more people arrived, more tasks were begun in earnest. Many existing paths were overgrown and had become difficult to walk through due to overgrown trees and shrubs, so while some people trimmed branches from trees to create improved walkways, other people set about creating a series of stairs that were built into the contours of the back yard leading to the rear of the property. These steps were constructed using old sleepers that had been previously used in either the old veggie bed or old compost area, so we were able to repurpose them with zero cost to the host. For stakes we were able to recycle old gardening stakes, star pickets or branches from some of the many trees.
Next up was clearing out all the fish-bone fern which had taken over a large expanse beneath some of the established native trees (and the odd pittosporum). None of this organic matter was going to waste, as it was all destined to go into the hugelkutlur pile!
Meanwhile, Tom led a hugelkultur workshop at the rear of the property, and had a team dig a 50cm trench for burying the large amount of tree trunks and logs that had been scoured for the task. This was Tom’s third hugelkultur bed, and he has great experience with his own from the Permablitz #164 as you can see here eighteen months later!
The digging was tough work as there was quite a bit of rock to come out, but using the picks and mattocks, the team made short work of it – and all of the rocks ended up being used as part of the path now winding down the back yard.
When the fish-bone ferns had been removed, a level clearing beneath the trees was revealed – the perfect place for a picnic on a sunny afternoon! Not today though – there had been the odd light shower and even a few periods of hail! Word came through that it was snowing 10kms away in Olinda, but everyone was cheery as the work warmed us up and kept us in high spirits.
Finally, a team commenced the task of putting together the garden beds for the veggie patch area. Led by Jeremy, Alex, Brad and Den, it didn’t take long for the first bed to form (although a quick run to the local hardware store was required for longer screws!)
Before we knew it, lunch had arrived – and what a feast it was! ‘7 layer dinner’ (mince & veg layered in a slow cooker), Sicilian chicken pasta bake, Middle Eastern vegetables, Burghul be Dfeen (vegan chickpeas, cracked wheat and spices), vegetarian minestrone, Renouka’s chicken wings, sourdough bread and gluten free bread – no volunteer left hungry!
After lunch, we got back into it – topping up the hugelkultur with more biomass, continuing with some weeding and step-making, as well as building the compost bays with a few pallets and star pickets – so easy! Natalie took a workshop on creating leaf-baskets, which Helen and Morris can now use throughout the property to create portable compost areas for the huge amounts of fallen leaves their property produces.
Near the back of the house was a 6-8 metre log, almost a metre in diameter. It was a beast! It was decided that it would be much better further down the hill at the base of the newly created clearing. So within minutes a team of men led by Alex began the arduous task of moving this monster down the hill. Groans and sweat were plentiful, but finally it reached its new home – where the team were promptly able to test out this log’s great seating potential – and a great resting spot it was!
Throughout all of this, the hugelkultur pile was slowly topped up with soil and rabbit-poo straw, where it is now happily awaiting the warmth of spring for it to be planted out with pumpkins (in the base) and tomatoes at the top.
Rabbit Poo Straw
This straw was sourced from a local Olinda Rabbit Refuge, where disposing of such organic awesomeness is a constant struggle. The straw itself is former bedding for the rabbits, hence the “rabbit poo straw” name. It’s great for the garden – and you’re doing the refuge a solid if you take it, as they often have to pay for its removal. If you need good mulch or straw, hit them up!
(And if you’re closer to the city, try Dandelion’s Rabbit Retreat in Box Hill. Same deal.)
Next up – it was finally time to plant out the trees! Now that the back of the property had been cleared of the fish-bone fern understory, and several low-lying branches had been removed, the amount of light entering the area was significantly increased, dramatically improving the ability for the area to be able to support the planting out of some nut and fruit trees. And the kookaburras were right into it – free worms!!
Finally, the first of the two veggie beds was installed, and the volunteer teams quickly filled it up with layers of rabbit poo straw and a cow-poo/soil mix – it looked amazing! Once the first bed was full, Adrian did a drip irrigation workshop to demonstrate how easy it is to clip together the parts to hook up system that allows regular watering with minimal effort – perfect for people with little time!
Unfortunately we were unable to complete the second bed, but a follow-up day is planned for September 10. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see you there!
At the end of the day, everyone went their separate ways. We were tired but happy, satisfied with the transformation that had unfolded before us as a reward for the work that we put in. And as for Helen and Morris – they are thrilled! Their garden is now MUCH easier to access, and there are clearly defined areas for fruit tree growth and vegetable production. We hope this is the beginning of a new garden adventure for them!
Photos were taken by Helen Cameron, Eka Moseshvili, Natalie Kunst and Adrian O’Hagan. You can view the full gallery of the day here.
All design illustrations were drawn by Natalie Kunst. She’s kind of amazing.