Helen McKerralFrom Scratch – 6 months on (Part 2)

I had big plans for the paths, the rocks, the mulch and the first vegies …so how did they all turn out, six months later?

Well, the paths were all meant to have a gentle gradient without steps (planning for me in twenty years’ time!), with the beds forming interlocking leaf-shapes, rather than traditional rectangular strips.

The result is reasonably close to my aims – you can see them marked on the garden plan. I did build three sets of steps, but all the areas they access can be reached via an alternative, more gentle gradient. Therefore the steps are short cuts, not main routes, and the steps by the chicken coop were added because I found myself constantly climbing the wall to access the beds!. I also added two extra paths. They’re reasonably steep, but I was often taking the routes as a shortcut: from the coop to the seating area, and from the woodshed to the centre of the block. I’m also quite happy with the aesthetics of my curving paths – again, a compromise between appearance, practicality and the physical constraints imposed by the fact all the contouring was done with a pick and shovel.

As for the rocks wow, I didn’t think it would happen but I’m running out of them! Nearly all the piles have gone! I’ve dug them out from about half the block, with the remaining native area to be turned only minimally, so I’m not expecting to get many more from there. Two of my uphill neighbours still have plenty of rocks, though – many, many more than on my land! Perhaps later I could ask if I might clear a paddock of surface rocks (together with an agreed payment) or, for another neighbour, to dig out rocks from an area so that she can plant into it.

Considering their extremely rustic appearance, the walls are standing up amazingly well- actually, no one could be more amazed than me! – and I doubt they’ll collapse anytime soon. They should see me out at any rate! Here and there a rock has come a bit loose but, on the whole, the winter rains are bedding them in nicely and, in areas with permanent plantings, roots should help hold them as well.

The mulch has been fabulous and I have to say, I LOVE MY MULCH FORK AND YES IT WAS WORTH EVERY PENNY! I’ve now moved at least forty cubic metres of mulch, and there will be more next spring. The pine mulch, underlain with newspaper in the weediest areas, is doing a good job of suppressing the weeds on the paths, and the mulch I’ve used to backfill the retaining walls is breaking down nicely. Some areas won’t be ready for planting this winter but they certainly will be the following season; I’ve added compost accelerator, pelletised chicken manure, and Go-Go juice. I’m wondering whether it’s worth buying worms to speed things along, or whether I should just wait – I’m finding plenty of worms already when I dig down, but I don’t think that they’re the stripey composting variety.

My first vegies were a thrill. I didn’t buy tomatoes for months – there was plenty from my own plants, even though they weren’t in peak health – and I just dug the last of the spuds this month. I didn’t buy basil all summer and autumn. But my eggplant, as I suspected, didn’t ripen. You know how sometimes you can eat vegies (eg tomatoes, chillies) when they’re not fully ripe? Well, eggplant is not one of those vegies!

I’ve included a picture of a little basket of produce, including those dodgy eggplants – oh dear, the memory alone is enough to pucker my mouth, even now! I’ve always grown herbs, and a wide range of individual crops, but my lack of sunlit space meant that I could only plant a few varieties at once. So this is really the very first time I’ve harvested such a range of vegies all at once from my own patch, and I’m sure gardeners with established plots will smile, but I felt inordinately proud of that first little harvest! I wish I’d thrown in a couple of spuds to make it look even more impressive! For the first time, I’ve been able to make a meal entirely from my own garden produce. What’s for dinner? Frittata! Again! (Sorry, Geoff!).

And the plain little woven basket holding my first harvest from the new area is extra special… because it was my grandmother’s. It must be at least sixty years old, and I can remember it lined with newspaper and filled with fresh peas, beans, beetroot, carrots – you name it. Often, my grandmother would give me or my grandfather that basket and send us out into the garden to pick the vegies for that night’s dinner. Wonderful memories.

Parents like me with daughters aged in their twenties know that it is definitely, never, ever appropriate to even whisper the “g***********n” word and it shall not pass my lips… but sometimes, such as when I look at that basket, I can’t help thinking about it!

 

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Helen McKerral

About Helen McKerral

Horticultural journalist, photographer, contributor to many garden magazines, and author of 'Gardening on a Shoestring'. Adelaide Hills, South Australia

5 thoughts on “From Scratch – 6 months on (Part 2)

  1. AliCat on said:

    Hi Helen
    My daughter Lexie, also had an aversion to anything related to garden/ing. But since she and her partner have purchased their own home, she is now an avid vegetable grower. She also wants the front of her home to look good, hence the help from mother, but doesn’t like the maintenance part of gardening! It is all a learning curve for them.

    • helen on said:

      Haha, Alison, my daughters don’t mind the “gardening” word… it’s the other word, one that not-yet-grandparents might think about, that I don’t mention;-)))!

  2. What a bounteous harvest Helen. Your frittata ingredients look delicious although it’s the rhubarb that has really caught my eye. i’ve tried twice in my Sydney garden with no luck at all – both died back within a month, never to return. Is there a secret?

  3. helen on said:

    Hi Catherine
    To be honest, rhubarb grows like a weed in my garden, there’s little skill involved! Did you grow from crowns, or from seedlings in little pots? The latter are pretty crap, frankly. Crowns – big, chunky ones with strong growing points – should be planted in a moist spot but with excellent drainage – I imagine your humidity would make that even more important? The head of the crown should be just above soil level. The rhubarbs in my garden are all in sheltered spots and don’t die back completely over winter, but they produce just fine. It may be worth treating your crowns with a fungicide before planting if you think that’s been the problem. I’m also not sure what the ideal planting time would be for you in Sydney… perhaps a local will chime in..?

    • Yes, my rhubarb started as a small plant in a 6″ pot. And just got smaller from that point until it was not there at all. I’m trying to imagine from where I source a rhubarb crown……perhaps that same Sydney local will offer me one!

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