One of the first things we did in the back garden was to decide on the location of raised garden beds. We had to work out the area that would receive the most sun during all the seasons and that would be the prime location for the vegetable garden. Our neighbour has a large tree at the bottom of their garden which shades some of the beds during the colder months. During the warm months it does not provide any shade at all.
The perimeter of the back garden consisted of raised beds (using old sleepers) which surrounded a large expanse of lawn. This open lawn area provided a fantastic blank canvas for a vegetable garden. As the soil consisted of area consisted of only a thin layer of soil on top of CLAY, raised garden beds were essential to prevent water-logging of the plant roots! We made the first bed from old hardwood sleepers and filled it using mainly soil we purchased from the local landscape suppliers. To improve the quality of the bought soil we added lots of cow manure, chicken manure and humus. We used weed-matting as the bottom layer to kill off the grass, but have found that this works well for Paspalum lawn, but not for the Indian grass (couch). The mix of soil was then put on top of the weed mat, and the bed filled.
There are many examples and diagrams on the internet as to the layers of material that should be placed into the bed, but we just used the mix of materials and did not layer them at all, and were still successful. Every time a bed is cleared, more manures are added to the existing material.
We went off to the local permaculture and organic shop called Green Harvest (just outside Maleny at Witta) to look at their stock of heritage seeds and plants. Steve sowed the first seeds in Summer of 2018 into polystyrene boxes we get free from the local fresh produce shop. Sowing seed into the boxes was much easier that sowing directly into the beds, as we could control the amount of moisture (rain) they received far easier than if they were sown directly into the beds – especially during the unusual wet season we experienced. Once the seedlings had developed sufficiently they were transplanted out into the garden beds. During the hotter months we also mulch around the plants using sugar cane mulch to keep the plant roots cool and to reduce the amount of evaporation from the garden beds.
We quickly filled up the initial three beds and after looking for reasonably priced hardwood to make more beds, we settled on beds made from ZincAluma. The problem with using hardwood is that it is treated with chemicals and although they say that the chemicals used on the sleepers recommended for vegetable gardens is not poisonous, we opted for the zinc alumina. These new beds were prepared in the same way the first ones were. We now have 9 vegetable garden beds.
In the process of creating the garden beds, we discovered that we could buy fresh mushroom compost, direct from a local farm, and ordered 10 bags to be delivered. We used the mushroom compost to enrich each of the vegetable beds. We also kept aside a couple of the bags and managed to successfully harvest our own button mushrooms – until the maggots got into them.
2018 proved to be a really wet year for Mapleton, and unfortunately some of the vegetables succumbed to the heat and humidity. The tomatoes were a prime example. We still had a bountiful crop of the little cherry tomatoes, which germinated on their own accord, and grew magnificently!
The vegetable beds proved to be extremely productive, even during winter! The climatic limitations of Rockhampton are not experienced here in Mapleton! Instead, we have four seasons, and the first year here has been a learning curve discovering what we need to plant and when. The excitement of producing our seasonal vegetables has been wonderful! But we still have a lot to learn in terms of the correct planting time, and learning about the correct variety and type to plant.
We have had a very productive vegetable garden during the year and a bit that we have been here. We are able to produce a variety of home grown vegetables during each of the seasons. It is still a great learning process for us, and hopefully we will become more efficient in the years to come.