From Small Things …

Big things grow!!  I hope!

For more than 30 years, I have wanted a vegie patch.  I planted tomatoes in the very first place I rented.

When we moved to our Perth house, I had a small patch for a while but, before long, palms and trees created much too much shade for vegetables, so they went by the way.

I have owned a book entitled ‘Vegetable Growing” for as long as I remember.  When I opened it just now, the pages were yellow, the spine cracked and the pages fell out. Poor thing.

And when permaculture first appeared, I was onto it.  I have had Bill Mollison’s Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual since it was released in the early 80’s.  I studied every page and was a theoretical expert on the subject.  We even planted an acre of native trees at the bottom of the block in accordance with permaculture design.  The theory is that you plant trees furtherest from the house and the trees create firewood.  It has worked; we are self-sufficient in firewood as trees fall over or lose branches.

But still no vegetable patch until …

In early June, our friends, Sue and Patti, came down south for the weekend and Sue gave me several sprouting garlic bulbs.  “Here”, she said, “plant these.”  But where could I plant them?   I still had my lush, tropical paradise in Perth that shaded everything and our block is, literally, the side of a hill. So I got some pots out and planted the bulbs (much too close) in some potting mix.

Clearly, the time had come.

When we built our garage, we had to cut into the hill.  This resulted in a significant pile of clay that had to be dumped somewhere.  The digger dumped it next to the house.  This pile of fill is the only flattish bit of land we have.  Perfect for a permaculture-style vegetable bed.

The  sheet mulching method of making a vegetable patch is well documented… but what the hell, I will explain it, anyway.  Essentially, one can build a vegetable patch anywhere and on any type of vegetation, soil, even clay fill. 

Step 1

Build a border for your garden bed out of whatever you have.  We used corrugated zinc alume left over from the roofing when we built our house.  The corners are the roof capping.  We rivetted it all together.  Our plan is to have 2 long garden beds about 1.5 metres wide – one this year, one next year.  I can just reach the centre of the bed.  We made it about 12 metres long – the pile of fill is about 15 metres long.  We intend putting star pickets every 1.5 metres as supports (at present, they are randomly placed just to maintain the structure) and Maus is going to insert braces/reinforcers to keep it upright.  We will cover the edges with slit poly pipe.  We didn’t finish it because we had to come back to Perth to go to Sydney.

Another popular edging is old railway sleepers.  Use whatever you have.

Step 2

We only built up about 2 metres of the area because I only needed to plant the garlic and we only had a very short time to do it.  We will extend it next week.

If you have vegetation on the site (weeds, lawn, etc), leave it as it is unless it is very shrubby.  If shrubby, slash it and lay it out flat.  Cover the ground with prunings, weeds, leaf mulch, lawn clippings, food wastes, etc – anything organic, really. We used leaves and lawn clippings from Perth and pine needles from the pine trees next door (You can see them in the background in a couple of the shots).

Step 3

 Sprinkle everything with blood and bone.  This starts breaking down the first layer.

Step 4

Cover the whole thing with soaked newspaper, cardboard, carpet (natural fibre only), old clothes, chip board, etc (we used newspaper).  This creates a perfect environment for the weeds and grasses to die and break down. Step 5

Next is a layer of seaweed, stable sweepings, raked leaves or manure.  We went for sheep poo just because we could buy it at the local shop.

Step 6

Next is a layer of a hard product, pine needles, seagrass, straw, etc.  As you can see, we bought a bale of straw for the job.


The last layer is woodchips, bark, sawdust, nut husks, rice husks, compost, leaf mulch, etc, or any of the above mixed together.  We used a product we could buy at the local soils supply place.  It was pine bark shreddings mixed with pulverised sheep and pig poo.

Water each layer well before adding the next layer. 

When you are ready, plant your seeds or seedlings.  Bill Mollison advises that deep root crops do not do well in the first year as the soil below is still compacted and there may be too much manure in the mixture.  He suggests waiting for the second year to grow root crops. 

By the end of the first year, the soil should contain hundreds of worms and soil bacteria.  Just add a little top mulch to keep the levels up (a mix of chips, bark, pine needles and staw).  Add some lime or blood and bone and you are away for the next crop.

Wish me luck with my garlic.


14 thoughts on “From Small Things …

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  4. Good luck with the garlic ! What a lovely post, so clear and easy to follow. I’ve done a sort of layering system on my allotment, but there is a patch of very heavy clay that I have my eye on for a bed like yours. And the garlic is looking great already 🙂

  5. That looks impressive and promising. In our Brisbane summer our salad leaf plants get cooked by the midday sun, so my husband built me a rustic ladder affair to arch over the garden bed and I grew a pumpkin vine over it which gave me the room to grow pumpkin and also provided shade however it rained buckets, the vine got terminal powdery mildew and died:(. I have bill mollison’s book too but sometimes, just sometimes, a squirt of something lethal is very tempting!

    • Hi Jan, thanks for visiting.
      I wish we could have some of your rain. Our problem in summer is always a lack of rain.
      We will have problems with heat, lack of rain and birds this summer. We are thinking a timer for the irrigation, shade cloth for the sun and bird net for the birds. Who said it was fun?
      Something lethal every now and then can come in very handy:)

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  7. Hi Glenda
    Hope you both enjoyed Sydney! Wow you have been busy good on you it looks wonderful that assistant of yours is very clever too? I find coriander grows very well on our back decking in winter time as it gets the morning sun and I know you love coriander. Maus can always rig up a shaded area for the vege patch especially in our summer to stop things from burning too much. Are you going to put in a water drip system from the tank?

    • Hi Gail, Sydney was great. Most of the handiwork was Maus not me, I was the trade’s assistant. We will have to put in some type of irrigation otherwise nothing will last the summer.

  8. Wow, quite the adventure! And a purist approach as well – but if I were you, I’d forget about saving $ on what you grow – I only grow what I can’t get in the market, or what is way overpriced there – but the real payback for the gardener is freshness and/or ripeness, and being able to grow unique things – you’ll never save money – I don’t come close, and I’m not a purist gardener. It’s a hobby – do it for the pleasure, and you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Enjoy the fun.

    BTW, are those round things behind your raised beds water treatment tanks?

    • Hi Doc, they are rainwater tanks. They are our source of water. I certainly won’t be saving any money. It cost a bit with all that straw and poo!! We are going to find a cheaper source. You are right, you don’t do it to save money but because you want to. We will have to put in some irrigation too, which will cost.

  9. Hi Celia, we get to minus 3 degrees. I hope that is cold enough. I don’t really know what is next. I guess I will have to wait until spring to plant more. I would love to plant lots of herbs because we spend a fortune on them at the moment.

  10. What a project! Great job so far, and I do wish you luck with your garlic, we can’t seem to grow large bulbs here in Sydney because it doesn’t get cold enough. Can’t wait to see how this garden continues to grow – what’s going in next?

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