Garden Update

Our gardenGarden Update: We put in a solid five hours of labor today out in the garden. We pulled out loads of weeds, trimmed back the palm, and cleaned up a few of our growing areas. Then it was time to build our four beds for our experiment with Square Foot Gardening. We used four lengths of 3m Ezy Edge to define each bed. (This was a compromise, as we were unsuccessful at finding untreated wood that didn’t cost a fortune and I flatly refused to use plastic.) Our main garden bed is 4′ x 5′, and we also have a long 2′ x 5′ bed along the back fence. We also made two 2′ x 3′ beds under the bottlebrush tree and along the side wall. Once we’d weeded and levelled each space, we put down the edging and then lined it with weed matting. (We used bamboo stakes to hold the edging in place.) Then it was time to make the “Mel’s Mix.”

As mentioned in the previous post, Mel’s Mix is the key ingredient with square foot gardening. We did the maths and worked out that we were going to need approximately 600L of mix to fill our four beds. This meant 200L each of vermiculite (coarse horticultural grade), peat moss, and compost. (We followed the book’s advice and used five different types of compost: cow manure, mushroom compost, chicken manure, general compost, and special organic compost.) Mixing and transporting the Mel’s Mix took up the better part of the day, and I decided I’d document it for future Googlers.MixingWe followed Mel’s advice and purchased a tarp to do all the mixing on… but our tarp was much too small. So we decided to do it in two batches. Here I am using a shovel to mix up the first half-batch of Mel’s Mix. You’re advised to wear a breathing mask when you do it, as some of the particles can be quite fine. (We also used the hose to mist the pile a bit.) We used a shovel and a fork to mix, along with Mel’s trick of pulling the corners of the tarp to turn the pile over itself.

Mel's MixEventually we had this! This is the finished Mel’s Mix. It’s very loose and friable. The white specs are the vermiculite, which are hopefully going to act like little sponges and hold water within our raised beds.

Main garden bedHere we are filling the main garden bed. All of the beds are meant to be filled to a depth of 6″. (Note: 1′ x 1′ x 6″ = about 14L of Mel’s Mix to fill.) This bed gets a couple hours of full sun a day, but it’ll get more once we trim back the lilli pilli tree.

Another bedThis is one of the small 2′ x 3′ beds beneath the bottlebrush tree. We’ve got some pretty walking lilies growing around it too.

Another bedHere’s another small 2′ x 3′ bed along the side of the house. This is the spot where I planted my two pumpkins last year that went nuts and tried to take over the whole garden (yet never produced any fruit).

Fence bedThis is the medium 2′ x 5′ bed along the back fence beside the pawpaw tree. If you look closely, you can see how I’ve defined our squares: green garden twine. We didn’t have any luck finding cheap slats, so that’s what we went with. I nailed the twine to the top of the edging, and I used bamboo stakes to secure it on the sides with no edging.

Ferny gladeThis is a small “ferny glade” we’ve got along the side of the house close to the street. It gets a lot of shade and there are a number of native palms and walking lilies growing happily there. We’ll probably put some more similar plants in.

Side of the houseHere’s one last view up the side of the house. The pathway looks much better when it’s not overgrown with weeds. We’ve got loads of peace lilies growing there under the palm. We’re planning to put some more potted dwarf fruit trees along the other side to go with our frangipanis and lemon tree.

Now comes the fun bit – what are we going to put in those 42 squares?! Planning has commenced.

Expense report: This project was partly inspired by the GRS Garden Project, and I’m going to copy their method of tracking their garden expenses.

Month Time Cost Harvest
September (so far) 5 hours $295

The 5 hours listed there only accounts for our manual labour. We also spent nearly double that time going to garden stores to price and purchase materials. Also, a fair bit of the expense was actually in purchasing some new garden tools that we needed: a shovel, a wheeled cart, a watering can, etc. The Square Foot Gardening book is up-front about the fact that the initial cost of setting up your beds isn’t cheap, but from now on our expenses (other than seeds) should be minimal. Next weekend we’ll plant!


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  1. Good Luck, Kris. We have 5 billion little tomatoes seeds sprouting all over our garden beds after using the compost into which we dumped all our organic food waste… Not sure if any of our seedlings that we actually planted have taken or just been swamped…
    Oh, about your pumpkins, when I was growing gourds a few years back I had to do some manual pollination with an ear but between my male and female flowers before any would fruit. perhaps that was the problem?

  2. Nah, Bex tipped me off on that trick and I was ready to do it. The problem was that every single flower on the thing was male! We never got a single female flower. No girls, no fruit. 🙁

  3. Looking good! I cant wait til we are ready to get a vegie plot happening.

  4. This was really inspiring & super informative! I’m really excited about getting my garden going, although we have a different problem: an existing raised bed with a bunch of stuff to clean out and mediocre soil quality. I’ve already started sprouting my herb garden seeds & am about to order my veggie seeds.

  5. Hey Andrea – you may have already heard of it, but our new favorite garden store in Sydney is Gardens R Us. We went to the one in Kingsford last week and it was just great. All the staff looked like aging hippies (who knew what they were talking about), the whole complex was fun to wander around, all their plants look healthy and well-cared for. That’s where we’ll be going back to on Sunday to get our plants and seeds.

    (We also went to Flower Power, who do a lot of advertising on the radio. They were okay, but it was much more corporate and homogenized. I much preferred Gardens R Us.)

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