grass or grain

The area where I live is rather infamous for growing a contraband herb commonly known as ‘grass’. Personally, I think the human race should working on waking up rather than medicating it’s pain. But I’m playing with the possibilities of regular grass here.

When I first started working with this plot of earth, the ground was like rock, with no worms or signs of soil life at all. Most of the region had been seeded with a particularly tough variety of pasture known as setaria grass, for beef production. It is a hardy, vigorous clumping perenial that grows a foot a week in summer, reaching a height (that falls over) of up to 2 metres if not grazed by permanent livestock. Although, thankfully, it slows growing in winter, keeping it in check without constant grazing or weekly slashing in summer is impossible. Heavy cattle grazing & yearly burning off contributed to the compacted lifeless soil condition & so not an option for me. AND I don’t have a tractor. For lack of a solution, mostly it has been allowed to simply grow for many years & inadvertently added compost & protected the soil from erosion. The result, especially after the last few wet years has been a vast improvement in soil life & condition.

However, the wet won’t last forever & long grass is a fire hazard in dry years & setaria is not the best quality grass for grazing ruminants; horses suffer calcium deficiencies & so too, most likely do other species. Grass is food for animals but a more varied diet is preferable. My plan is to intercrop with other grass & herb types by slashing in autumn when growth slows & seeding with lawn varieties & clover for nitrogen-fixing in open areas & roadways/access tracks as fire breaks. Once new pasture is established in a few months, the introduction of goats should help with maintenance over summer. I have chosen goats for their usefulness in browsing brush & weeds & have found their barn/straw droppings a bonus in the vegetable beds; their small size does much less soil compaction damage & they conveniently eat more grass in summer & more brush in winter (lantana & woody weeds abound here).lantana eating goatlings

So far, I have reclaimed perhaps an acre or two by hand digging fully grown clumps of setaria grass, laying on contour & creating garden beds with the decomposing grass, a back breaking job of many years. In fact, anywhere the grass isn’t over your head & looks like garden is the result of this work. Now I have a new method that looks unsightly for a time but far more effective- covering with old carpet or black builders plastic, leaving for months until the grass dies & directly planting into the resulting layer of mulch. Instant garden!black plastic

This piece of black plastic has been progressively rolled downhill & now the newly cleared area has been planted to linseed, a crop I tried a patch of last winter with great success. The great advantage of this method is not digging. I’ve found that as soon as one turns the earth or it is laid bare, a new nightmare begins, weed seeds that have laid dormant invariably sprout, creating more work in the cropping area.

My latest grass experiment is to try inter-cropping grain into the permanent pasture, taking advantage of the dormant winter growth of setaria to interplant wheat & oats (a winter crop in Australia).  Without tilling or disturbing the soil I have been spreading seed between the clumping grass (although the clumps are massive, they are almost a foot apart). After the harvest in spring, the permanent grass will re-grow to be grazed by the goats who will also manure & fertilize the area for the next season’s winter grain. That’s the cunning plan!

Here’s the progress so far: first, cut the grass! Easier said than done- this stuff is like rope & has been un-cut for years, resulting in tangled masses that only the toughest brush-cutter, time & gritted teeth can conquer. Fortunately, I have the machine, although it took 5 tanks of petrol to clear the first 10m2! before rakingThe pic at right is after the first cut before raking the mulch for the vege gardens. Did I say raking? Yeah right- no rake can get through it. Human tractor picks up with bare hands.

Next, after clearing bulk of mulch, leave to re-sprout one week & cut again.big clumps This picture will give you an idea of the monster grass I’m dealing with here. Next to the boot is ONE clump before the second cut. Grass is cut in the forth lunar quarter on the waning moon; hopefully it’ll stop growing. Hopefully (now late April).

Now for the fun part. There is is still a good layer of mulch on the ground between the clumps. I don’t want to expose the soil or dig but take advantage of the very wet soil & use the mulch to cover,but the seeds do need soil contact. Human tractor gets low & dirty. Hands & knees, hand fork in one hand, rake surface mulch towards self, sprinkle seed, rake next section over first, one foot by one foot, across contour. 12m2of wheat sown in first lunar quarter (sow leafy greens).         IMAG0040 Left: soil bared for seeds before raking mulch over to clear next section.

Ok, so this is madness, you may think. Why would I bother? This isn’t even a grain-growing area. Sub-tropical, mountainous ex-rainforest. Tell that to the traditional Asian populations of the world. AND I don’t have a tractor! AND I don’t want to turn the soil, slowly returning to fertility after years of slashing, burning & over-grazing. Why even grow grain? Because I eat it! Because I’m not trying to make money & grow large areas. Because I have inadvertantly realized a tractor would have compacted this super saturated soil (one has time to think & observe when on hands & knees tending the earth). Will wheat even grow here? Well it did last year! I tried a small patch (5m) of biodynamic wheat from a farm some 100km from here- the nearest I could find. It grew fine & fortunately we had a very dry spring when it was heading (a usual pattern). I saved the seed & have re-planted the small amount in the crop circle for extra care to save again. I plan to save (not eat) my seed for generations to breed a wheat variety acclimatised to my zone. Taking the time & trouble to do all this by hand is worth it to save seed, the most important thing any gardener can do in this age of multi-national take-overs of our sovereign right to food! after first cut

At left is the slashed area one week later, before sowing to wheat.sprouts 1 1/2 weeks After sowing, I cut grass to cover seeds.At right are the newly emerged seedlings another week later. Aren’t they beautiful? At the same time, I am applying the same process to an area adjacent to the ‘crop’ that I hope to keep low over summer as an access road/ fire break parallel to the creek line (which is being planted to native rainforest). The edges slope & I am created mini-terraces planted to sub-tropical tubers (ginger, galangal, cassava & jerusalem artichokes) as a living fence/windbreak. new lawn seed

To the left is the new wheat crop, to the right, new pasture grass seedlings emerge, with root crop beds at the far right. Towards the rear is the next slashed & grass seeded zone one month later.at 4 weeks

 

 

The picture at right is the one month old wheat crop (late May). As the ground is still moist, I have not yet watered the new crop at all, including at planting. Meanwhile, I have prepared the next zone for oats to the left of the area in this photo & planted another section of wheat  3 x 10m between as a test for best sowing times for future reference. (1st & 2nd lunar quarter in May)  Below right

left wheat right oatsmay 25/201Above the grain growing area is the ‘crop circle’, now with an outer ring of wattle branches & up-rooted lantana. Late sunflowers, Oats & chickpeas have already been sown into this area & will soon also be planted with stone fruit, as this whole flat zone is liable to get frost at times. The crop circle (above right) is now being planted with a succession of winter vegetables, one segment per month. Note the ‘special’ wheat (from last years home-grown seed) to the top left of the photo. The milk carton cloches front left I now regard as indespensible to protect the new seedlings from wind, sun & insect exposure until their roots have established. So that’s the autumn planting, on to goat fencing preparations!

 

food

Nothing is more basic than food

Let food be thy medicine. The human body has co-evolved in conjunction with the naturally available food in the surrounding environment- roots, greens, fruits, seeds & nuts. The use of animal products (eggs, meat & dairy) was generally secondary to plant based foods, as evidenced by many hunter/gather societies, probably gaining in importance when plant growing conditions were stressed (such as drought or winter snow). At any rate, food was usually eaten in the freshest possible state, mostly raw & according to location & seasonal availability. Even with the advent of agriculture & animal husbandry, food & herbs were frequently supplemented from wild sources.

For optimum health, we recommend eating a wide variety of fresh, living seasonal food – vegetables, herbs, nuts, seeds & fruit. As far as proportion is concerned, consider how much of each type of food might have been available in the wild- a large number of wild grains for instance, would possibly have been less abundant at times than roots & greens, fresh meat or eggs might not have been so easy to catch daily. Three regular meals a day would have been unlikely for early humans ; most probably, we would have eaten as we found it, sometimes in abundance, sometimes fasting. It is also likely we would have gorged on single foods when they were prolific- fulfilling every ‘food group’ in every meal is a modern construct to make up for the fact that we don’t graze on a rich variety of wild foods.

Today, with increased sanitation & access to modern healthcare, many have forgotten that “we are what we eat” & fail to examine the nature & content of products presented as food. Healthful foods are fresh, derived from naturally occurring living species, grown in good soils for maximum vitamin & mineral content & harvested & treated in such a way so as not to destroy their positive qualities. Any time food is heated (egg pasteurized) or artificially manipulated (eg. irradiated) it is chemically changed to a form that our bodies may be unable to recognise or digest. Too many contemporary time-stressed people are living on a diet consisting of denuded, processed, pre-cooked foods, edible only because of a vast array of artificial flavourings to render them palatable. Strangely, malnutrition is a major contributor to obesity- the excess of nutritionally empty foods starve the cells of the body, making it permanently hungry!

Even ‘fresh’ food from the supermarket has been shown to be up to six months old or more before reaching your shopping basket, picked before maturity, transported from around the other side of the planet, kept in cold storage & artificially ripened by gas. ‘Sterilising’ food by irradiation is now being considered as mandatory treatment for internationally transported food.                           (see Codex Aliamentarus).

The economics of corporate supermarkets are such that small farms are no longer viable, instead, food is grown in vast monocultures, necessitating the use of large machinery, an arsenal of petrochemical fertilisers, chemical insecticides & herbicides to control weeds- all of which destroy soil biology & ultimately turn naturally fertile land into wasteland. Meanwhile, we face global population explosions, the breakdown of rural farming communities & the displacement of traditional cultures (those who understand the land) & ever increasing urban sprawl. Interestingly, as humans have colonized every corner of the globe, we have preferred to settle in the most fertile areas & close to water sources but as populations increase, those best agricultural areas become predominantly residential, meaning we require ever increasing areas to feed us.

Why don’t we grow food where we are? It’s not necessary to move to the country to grow at least some of your own food (weather & wildlife create challenges of their own). Where I live in subtropical Northern NSW we have everything from scorching sun to mouldy wet seasons, freak hail storms to black frosts (kills everything) & without secure fencing, brush turkeys, wallabies, bandicoots, bush rats , bats & birds get the lion’s share of the crop. A suburban backyard can be just as productive; even if each tiny terrace garden in the city had one fruit tree, imagine, a street would equal an orchard. Unfortunately though, modern gardens tend to be purely ornamental; lawns are the biggest cultivated crop in America (probably Australia too) using more fuel & man hours to maintain than any food crop- & these grasses are not grown for grain! Suburban streets are lined with grassy verges than could be cultivated for more useful things, Council spraying & toxic run-off from the street not so good to eat, but perhaps green manures for mulch, flowers for the bees or public fruit trees would make these areas more productive. If you have no garden spaces at all, get together with your neighbours to create a community garden (there may be one in your area) or become a garden guerrilla (Permablitz) & occupy public spaces. Perhaps your local school or sporting club has space for food garden beds or fruit trees- get involved, collective gardening helps strengthen communities & is so much more rewarding than TV. The therapeutic benefits of touching the earth, getting out in the fresh air, being physically active, creating something useful & caring for living things, sharing with others & eating your own food is the ultimate panacea for a modern stressed lifestyle.

zone one stocks a range of locally made products: fresh farm eggs & honey, jams & preserves from locally grown produce, dried herbs & spices, teas & coffee, olives & cheese, plus beautiful hade-made string bags & baskets for your goodies. We are proud to host Nimbin’s own Community Grain mill & local biodynamic rice, wheat & spelt to grind into fresh flour.

We have all you need to get you started growing your own food garden, from quality vegetable seedlings from Farmer’s Choice Organics to root crops, herbs & fruit trees as well as bulk soil food (composts, vermicast, kelp, manures, biochar), beneficial micro-organisms & organic mulch. We also have a range of bamboo plants & bamboo construction kits & local rainforest trees for land care remediation.

We recommend growing to suit your particular climate & conditions & eating crops in season. Remember, if you choose to grow from seed, use non-hybrid & heritage varieties- and SAVE your SEED! Grow as many different varieties of food crops as you have room for (hedging your bets!) And remember, “Nature fills every niche” so be creative & pack the space.

what to do with weeds

Are they nature’s mistakes or do we not understand nature’s processes?

In the same way that a volcanic island is colonized by lichen & moss, then grasses, ferns and woody shrubs, eventually to become a tropical forest, the perspective of time is worth bearing in mind when observing the landscape. Certain plants create the conditions needed for others to thrive. This natural succession of species may take longer than one human lifespan. The more we try to create limited species landscapes, the harder Nature tries to redress the imbalance. It is our own activities (disrupting existing ecosystems) that create the conditions for invasion by weeds.

A great many common plants we now regard as garden weeds were once considered medicine & food, hence their introduction. If you already have them present, then understanding & using this freely available resource could be beneficial to our own good health!nature fills every niche

                 Life on Earth:

Rule no. 1 : everything is connected

Rule no. 2 : each element has a purpose

Rule no. 3 : nature fills every niche

Rule no. 4 : nature tends to diversity

Rule no. 1: A mature natural landscape has a wide range of species, symbiotically inter-connected, each supporting/feeding another.

Rule no.2: Every element has a purpose. Many weed species concentrate minerals that the soil is deficient in. The presence of excessive weeds often indicates depleted soil that is unable to support nutrient hungry crops. The plants we consider weeds are notoriously tough & adventitious, often growing in conditions our highly bred preferred species can’t survive. Avoid choosing plants that are unsuitable for the local conditions such as those that require intensive irrigation in dry areas. Grow local natives & hardy naturally bred heritage varieties of food crops that have stood the test of time. (Save your own vege seeds to develop hardy local varieties.)

Rule no. 3: Nature abhors a vacuum. Think of weeds as ‘scabs’ for the soil- they may be ugly, but they protect the damaged surface while it heals (if we keep picking them off it will only take longer). Empty spaces (bare soil) will be colonized. Natural stacking (different height & growth types- deep-rooted, suckering, ground hugging, climbing etc) will fill every gap.

Rule no.4: Nature tends towards diversity & abundance. Many of the plants we think of as ’taking over’ the landscape (such as lantana) thrive in areas that were once dense forests or complex mixed landscapes. Of course they run rampant, it is in the very nature of the climate zone(sub-tropical Northern NSW). For a period of time a single species ‘appears’ to dominate & prevent the proliferation of anything else. But in a long range perspective, after 100 years of land clearing, burning, slashing & grazing, it’s not surprising so few native varieties germinate, where would the seed stock come from? Rampant weeds like lantana & blackberries at least prevent topsoil erosion, create biomass to build up the soil & provide shelter for seed bearing birds. Eventually, vigorous native pioneer species, (marangas & wattles) appear, and although lantana will grow up these (relatively) short lived trees & possibly strangle & pull them down, a more complex topsoil is being created & long-lived top-story trees (rainforest) that sprout in low light conditions will push through & overtake the vines. Weeds like camphor laurel & lantana are often spread by birds, whose native food sources we have destroyed. By providing habitat and food even these trees play a part in protecting wildlife while they spread the seeds of native varieties from remnant forests. Unless we can replace these interim species, it may be best to let them do the work for us. Consider the possible benefits as well as the negative impacts before determining the necessity of eradication. I am not referring here to intact native landscapes, but to those areas we have already altered. Of course, it is important to be mindful of introducing any new potential pest species  so as not create more future imbalances & restrict the further spread of invasive exotic weeds in the natural landscape.

So now to gardening: Remember Nature’s plan & imitate her processes. Leave well enough alone & don’t bite off more than you can chew. Before clearing an area, make sure it can be immediately replanted. Try to grow many varieties & many different growth types- avoid monocultures; mixed plantings are less likely to deplete the soil of any one nutrient & will contribute different mineral/nutrient combinations in leaf litter. Plant thickly to fill gaps & mulch heavily to protect bare soil & impede new undesirable weeds sprouting.

Throw weeds back on the ground where they grow (upside down to kill the roots) or compost them. If they are flowering or forming seeds (& at their most vital) make a liquid weed tea fertilizer to prevent them germinating – cover with water in a bucket for several weeks to rot the seeds & & use the resulting liquid tofeed the soil. Add EM-1 (Effective Micro-organisms) to promote fermentation & dynamic accumulators such as comfrey, tansy, dandelion & nettles. Just as seasonal vegetables & herbs are best for our health – so too with weeds. Consider the properties of any plants added to the mix, such as aloe vera for heat stress, woody & deep rooted weeds for strength etc. USE the medicine Nature suggests!

IMAG1198Left: Weed tea soil tonic

In larger gardens, consider sheet mulching. Simply cover overgrown areas with cardboard, newspaper, weed mat, even old carpet, so nutrient rich weeds can compost where they are. (start where you are, use what you’ve got)

Right- Sheet mulching with cardboard held down IMAG1206with branches.  I use cardboard for heavily infested areas & leave for months. Newspaper mulch breaks down faster & can be covered with mulch for better insulation in vege gardens. Such treatments may seem untidy but saves work!      

IMAG1204Left- cardboard planted over with pumpkin vines.

Below Right- Sheet mulching with black plastic-  directly over long grass, crofton weed, bracken & lantana for 3 months (summer)

black plastic/setaria grass

 

  IMAG1214                                    

Left- freshly prepared ground after black plastic, newly planted on right (with tamarillos & soy bean cover crop         using weeds                                                       

 

Ingredients for an instant garden: layer box with mixed weeds at bottom, cover with newspaper, straw mulch & worm castings, finish with topsoil or potting mix & plant!

why grow food

free food swap

At right, Frog Hollow Lane, zone one’s entrance: Transitioning to a money-free economy! Locals bring in their excess produce to swap.
Nothing is more basic than food! And the simplest thing we can do to take responsibility for our own needs is to grow our own! Most shop bought food has travelled round half the planet, may be up to 6 months old when you buy it & may have been grown with any number of added chemicals or preservatives added (& probably irradiated for good measure)

Growing your own food might not be that easy, but you sure get to appreciate how the real world works, from soil health, water cycles, seasons, weather patterns and sharing with our animal & insect neighbours! Plus, you get to spend time in nature – a panacea for the soul!

Growing your own food : *Saves money *You control the inputs – we recommend go organic! *better health (fresh, in-season food, exercise, relaxation, ) *Reduces environmental impact (no transport, no drain on elsewhere)

If you can’t grow your own: *Support farmer’s markets & Co-ops *Buy local & support independent businesses *Buy organic produce *Avoid processed & modified foods *Reduce packaging – buy in bulk *Get involved in community gardens, farm/land share or co-opt the neighbours

No matter how keen you are, or how much space you may have, it’s unlikely that you will be able to grow everything you may want to eat, so prioritize. Try planting the things you like to eat the most first & food whose freshness is critical & likely to be eaten raw, such as salad greens, as well as health boosters like kitchen herbs.

Better success will be achieved by growing to suit the local climate & season, as well as your particular site conditions. Lack of space for a traditional vegetable bed need not be a limitation, there’s a plant type to fit most spaces, get creative with containers & surround yourself with living food. True wealth is natural abundance! The miracle is that from little things, big things grow.

creative gardening ideas

Small spaces. Even if you don’t have a backyard or live in an apartment, you can still grow some of your own food. Try potted herbs & salad greens on the kitchen windowsill or hang outside window boxes, plant the balcony rails with climbing peas or beans or make a vertical garden using stackable containers. As long as there is sufficient natural light & water, there will be something useful that will grow for your conditions.IMAG1069 No need to spend money on growing containers, anything can hold soil (spend your money on good quality potting mix & organic soil conditioners). Here’s some garbage gardening balcony ideas:      

Milk bottle madness cut tops, leaving handle & pierce holes in base for drainage , fill with good quality potting mix.            

           above: Lettuces hanging on fence in laneway      IMAG1076                                    

nimbin ricebottom left: Organic dry land rice (locally grown Nimbin Valley rice)

right: bamboo ladder with lettuces at bottom & snow peas above with supporting stakes . Note angle  & alignment of bottle handles providing protection from sun. 

Below from left: narrow lanewayfrog hollow lane with straw bale garden, (detail at centre)       right: milk crate potato patch & Styrofoam box onions (or other shallow rooted crop- salad greens, herbs etc) laneway potatoes & onions   

straw bale 

Temporary containers made to decompose Plant seedlings into cardboard containers, (toilet rolls, wax milk cartons,etc) & plant directly into ground when ready (less transplant shock). We like hessian potato sacks filled with soil &  straw mulch for growing potatoes. By the time the spuds are ready, the sack has decomposed & you can leave it where it is to build up soil. Placing the sack directly on the ground kills any weeds or grass lawn (useless stuff) so after the crop is harvested, you have clean bare ground to replant.  strawberry patch 

We make instant strawberry patches with sacks too, laid flat, filled with straw/compost & planted to runners & put directly on grass where the sack eventually decomposes & runners left to spread the next year.         See right: 

Bambooherb spiral1 is a very useful renewable resource that lends itself to many creative garden ideas. Apart from stakes for climbing plants & fencing we make spiral herb gardens (left) & our ‘garden mangers’ (below centre) to make raised beds or straw bale gardens as well as wagon covers- cover with netting or shade cloth to protect young plants. (right)  wagon frame covers   the manger

                     living bridge  

This little strangler fig is growing in a piece of bamboo- which make nice vases or pots for bonsai. We’re hoping this tree will grow up to become a living bridge one day, to which end, it will be transferred into longer & longer lengths of bamboo as it grows. Living bridges take generations to grow, best start now!

Raised garden beds take of lot of backache out of gardening, & commercial versions are available, but of course, anything can be used for the walls. I like to build soil where it will be used, so raised basket gardenstart your raised garden as a compost bed, layering sticks & pruning’s at the bottom for drainage, pile up green weeds (biomass, biomass yah!) & kitchen waste, cover with newspaper to stop weeds re-sprouting, add layers of whatever organic matter you can get, leaf litter or straw mulch, manure, worm castings, seaweed etc.  Allow to cook for several months & plant. Yum!

Above: I call it a food basket! These beds (m2) have been made by weaving mulberry branch pruning’s (flexible) through bamboo stakes. Looks so cute!

IMAG1231

Start where you are, using what you have        Making good soil means lots of organic matter.  As in the raised gardens above, use the existing growth & sheet mulch over the top. Rampant weed growth is turned into worm food. The new vege bed at left was a foot deep with wandering dew. More weeds & leaf litter from the surrounding paths & spent coffee grounds were piled on top, covered with newspaper & left to compost for 2 months. When the pile was sufficiently decomposed, more newspaper was placed on top, covered with straw & planted. The new seedlings are covered with milk carton cloches (bottoms cut off), whose plastic is designed to diffuse light, protecting the babies from wind & the hot midday sun, still allowing enough light while they establish roots in the new soil. These 2L cartons seem to be the perfect size, they act as mini-greenhouses & the new plants need little watering. The cloches are taken off when the plants fill them or start growing through the hole at the top.   For more ideas for using waste, see garbage gardening & what to do with weeds 

 water chestnutsAquatic gardens Water is an important part of a natural garden & a beneficial addition to any space, no matter how small. Make use of your water feature to extend your growing range, add edible aquatics like watercress, water chestnuts & kang kong (Chinese water spinach). Many plants that have high water requirements can be grown in containers floating on the surface. (left)Aquaponics (combining fish & vegetables) is becoming popular & hydroponic systems are now the preferred growing method for many commercial lettuce & strawberry farms. I prefer my food plants to grow in morepipe garden complex natural soil, but the fill & drain method of hydroponics can be adapted for well drained growing mediums. Try a mix of biochar, gravel, sand, broken terracotta, perlite, vermiculite (expanded clays), & compost. Add weed tea & seaweed solution regularly to replace nutrients that may be leached out by constant flushing. Better still re-use the water by pump or bucket collect. The strawberry pipe garden (above right) is a vertical reticulated system (solar pump) that doubles as a fence/ balcony railing.               

water garden

Because aquatic plants take nutrients from the water. they can be used in water purification systems (reed beds) Many also convert toxic compounds into less harmful elements & can be used to take up heavy metals. The pipe garden at left receives water from a hand wash basin above it. It collects in a vertical pipe filled with charcoal, before filtering through the horizontal pipe filled with gravel & planted to weeds before entering the fish pond (local Rainbow fish & silver perch- who take care of mosquito larvae, no feeding required!) Of course, only non-toxic liquid castille soap is used & bio-active cleaners in the bathroom. Don’t put down the sink what you can’t drink!    If it makes the fish sick, it’s probably not good for you either.

garbage gardening

“There is no such thing as waste– only unused resources”

Get creative “Start where you are, use what you’ve already have”                      

zone one is lucky to be next to Nimbin’s famous ‘Rainbow Cafe’ & we have access to some great resources that would normally be called ‘rubbish’. Not only do they make kick-ass coffee, (local brand ‘Cafeind’) which used grounds we take home by the bucketful every day to make super worm food, but also lots of useful containers as well as newspaper & cardboard for sheet mulching (see below). Food wastes, however, are snapped up by local chook-keepers whose free range eggs the cafe serves up for their ‘big breakfasts’ , otherwise we would use for making compost. In fact, any cafe could supply at least some of their own herbs or fresh greens by using their wastes.                  

Anything can be used as growing containers- here’s some of our experiments:

styrofoam box

IMAG1088

styrofoam box with bamboo wagon cover                      Styrofoam produce boxes (the ones with holes at bottom) make great mini-gardens- even to float on ponds (centre picture) for edible aquatics like watercress, kang kong, water chestnuts. We have started rice seedlings like this & grown lettuces in hot summers when they would normally wilt in the full sun without constant irrigation. I’ve contemplated covering my whole dam with these strung together to prevent evaporation in summer & plants would be self watering

IMAG1100

potato crates

Old Milk crates filled with straw mulch watered with seaweed solution (helps prevent mould, as well  as fertilize) & good compost are planted with seed potatoes. The crates at right are stacked to make a wall of potatoes, tops grow through the gaps. Easy to harvest, good drainage & a great space saver! We have these in the narrow footpath lane that leads to zone one.sack o'potatoesOld car tyres make stackable potato patches too.

seed potatoes

Left: We start the seed potatoes in these foil lined 1kg coffee bags with good potting mix & barely water (just keep damp till sprouted)       Right: These potatoes are growing in old hessian sacks (potato sacks!) Start with one layer of straw, plant spuds & then add layers of straw/soil mix, rolling bag up as plant tops grow. We call it ‘a sack o’potatoes’.

milk carton ladder

Milk carton Madness Lots of our city visitors to zone one in Nimbin say they don’t have enough space, so Steph started on the milk bottle madness to demonstrate a do-it-yourself vertical garden, using 2L milk containers (The Rainbow Cafe goes through dozens every day) Small containers like this are best for shallow rooted plants like lettuces & herbs, although they are also good for raising seedlings. We’ve also grown rice & peanuts in them too! More pics below: 

hanging carton detaillettuceIMAG1069 carton cloches  From left: carton detail, lettuces, milk pots hanging on fences, cut bottoms & remove lid for seedling cloches- protects newly planted seedlings from insect attack, sun & wind burn, conserves moisture (mini greenhouse)

Steph makes these hand painted tea light lanterns from milk cartons. They float on water or can be hung up in the trees.       butterfly lanterns   

 wanderer butterfly  purple butterfly

Now what to do with all the bad/old news? And bottomless piles of cardboard boxes at the back of shops? Hopefully, they collect & recycle such things in your area, but if, like me, you don’t want to spend endless hours battling weeds or break your back clearing bare ground for new gardens, start collecting newspapers & flattened cardboard boxes to use for sheet mulching. Newspapers are lighter & break down faster, so I use these to cover freshly prepared beds before planting & cover with straw or raked leaf mulch to impede weed growth.   Cardboard is heavier & takes longer to break down, so I use this to cover large new areas. Don’t bother digging! Place straight on top of grass/weeds (a bit of slashing helps with tall rampant growth) If you like, add lime, seaweed, weed tea, activated EM , or whatever organic soil boosters you prefer before covering with cardboard. Hold in place with branch trimmings (for strong winds) or cover with mulch if you can afford it or can’t stand the messy look. Personally. I no longer bother-the neighbours can’t see in & I’m happy knowing the rubbish is working for me. After 3-6 months, I can plant into the area, the cardboard has broken up a bit & the original growth is gone, composted in situ to feed the new garden area. 

cardboard sheet mulching new pumpkin patch pumpkins                     Above: 60m2 covered in cardboard (without mulch), planted to pumpkins

Remember, Nature fills every niche (& wastes nothing), so we can too. Replace your lawn & pot plants with things you can eat. Use whatever you can think of for growing containers, remembering different plants have differing growing habits- one local friend without a permanent garden grows all his food in buckets (for deep rooted plants) so they can move with him. A little creative garbage collection means you can always have your own free food garden spaces!     

More creative gardening