Milkwood Market Garden: the first 5 months

It seems unbelievable that only 5 months ago our now abundant market garden was a scruffy bare creek flat. But it’s true! And now we’ve got produce coming out our ears, thanks to many fabulous folks coming together to make it so.

Up in the hills as we are, it’s a bit of a harsh climate for growing stuff. About 4 frost free months for growing only, poor soils, 600mm annual rainfall, crazy dry winds, etc and so on. We’re not complaining, but I’d just like to flag that this is a garden created in non-ideal conditions. Except for gumption. We’ve got plenty of that.

Nick breaks ground for a soil sample in July 2011, while Joyce and Mike from Allsun consider the possibilities...

The pictures tell the story. We fenced the creek flat, brought in a pig tractor, then followed that up with a whole lot of human labor, hard-won knowledge shared with us, trial and error, and nutrients.

The lynchpin of all this action has been Stephen Couling, our Organic Market Garden trainee. Trainee doesn’t seem the right word at all however, as he’s managed this whole garden project. At any rate, he’s the dude. The keeper of the carrots. The OMG.

I wrote a fair bit about how we wanted this garden to be when it was just starting, and somehow we’re now in mid-summer, and it’s all up over our heads. Hooray! Stephen has had many thrills and spills along the way, all recorded with aplomb and dexterity over at the Milkwood Market Garden Blog.

Nick’s currently in Sydney teaching the Urban PDC and I’m bouncing around the place, but I’m headed home shortly to start to put things in place for the next round of fun at Milkwood Farm that starts this week: Rose is back, wwoofers + crew are back… it’s all on again!

Pig tractor in action. August 2011

Spading time. August 2011

Stephen makes the first beds. Sept 2011

Soil block seedlings ready to jumpstart the garden. Sept 2011

Stephen sowing the very first seedlings - lettuce! Sept 2011

Making beds, first time round. Lots of clods of cooch grass to break up! Sept 2011

Rocket in and rolling. Sept 2011

Frost! Kills slugs, slows growth. The problem is the solution. Sometimes. Sept 2011

Starting an Organic Market Garden course. Sept 2011

Students getting into bed making. Sept 2011

Rocket coming on. Oct 2011

In which we install nutrient trenches in every path: horse bedding (sawdust and horse poo) covered in woodchips. Oct 2011

First bok choi harvest! 13 Oct 2011

Stephen the day the sprinklers got installed. Happy. Oct 2011

Mulched beds. We couldnt help ourselves. Oct 2011

The inaugral radish. 23 Oct 2011

Nick planting a tomato. Oct 2011

Tomatoes off and running. Nov 2011

The harvest starts to come in in bucket loads. Hurrah! Nov 2011

Rose with 100% Milkwood OMG salad. Nov 2011

And here comes spring... late Nov 2011

Let there be lettuce. Nov 2011

Harvest moves from bucket loads to barrow loads! Dec 2011

Beans beginning to climb. Dec 2011

Michael harvesting spring onions. Dec 2011

Christmas eve family pickathon. Dec 2011

Beans and corn. Jan 2012

And here come the tomatoes! Jan 2012

Many thanks to Stephen Couling the OMG, Joyce and Michael of Allsun Farm, Michael Hewins the super-wwoofer, Georgie and James from Ormiston all the rest of you beautiful folk that have helped get the market garden at Milkwood Farm rolling.

And if we can make it happen here at Milkwood Farm with our scruffy soils and non-ideal conditions, I’m confident that local food security for Australia is really truly possible, given the ‘good land’ that every town or community generally has.

It’s just a matter of really wanting to, good planning, and gathering enough like-minded crew and knowledge to make it happen.

Organic Market Gardening resources + articles:

15 Comments

  1. Posted January 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    yum and wow :)
    reckon that about sums it up!

  2. Posted January 16, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink | Reply

    Question… I see where are rotor tilling the soil what I assume is when the pigs where in there. Did they not turn over all the soil?

    Other than that I think it looks so awesome!!!

    • Posted January 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Yep we put a ‘spader’ over the patch after the pigs – the pigs were great and an awesome start, bu there’s no magic bullet with this stuff if you want to get cranking in your first year, i don’t think – maybe 20 pigs for 2 weeks in this space might have been ok for the purpose, but despite various advice we found 2 large pigs didn’t cut it. They did manure and rip things up tho, so all good.

      In a 2nd or 3rd year garden this might be different, perhaps then you would see a better effect, but this was virgin ground, which required a lot of breaking up and prep in order to get to vegetable bed stage…

      The spader Allsun crew brought with them – it’s a marvelous thing – sortof chops up the clods without turning the soil over – and from there on you can deal with it, as long as you have great intent – it’s hard work, turning recovering pasture into super-productive vegies the first year – no mistake about that!

  3. Posted January 16, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    Beautiful & Inspiring!

  4. Posted January 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    great job! How big is your OMG? And how many people do you think that area can feed? Have you got potatoes in there too, or do you have seperate area for ‘bulk’ crops?

  5. Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Just wanted to say how much I have learned from your endeavors! It’s amazing how many people turn up at your place just when they’re needed. The excitement is palpable even with just pictures and text. This blog is a wonderful resource. Thank you for taking the time to document.

  6. rebecca
    Posted February 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    please excuse my ignorance, but i’m a newby. i watched a doco on permaculture recently and it said that it aims to mimic the natural chaos that abounds in ecosystems and avoids the planting in rows and lines, but i see your garden is in rows and lines.

    • Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hey Rebecca, no worries :)

      Yep permaculture is about designing things in a way that mimic natural systems as closely as possible to obtain a yield. And yes there’s lots of straight lines in this market garden – that’s because we’re staring off this intensive food production system using existing, efficient strategies for growing a large amount of food in a small space, which in this case come from traditional french market gardening. We expect to move on from this exact way of doing things once we’ve learned our craft, but in the interests of expediency we’re learning an established way of doing first, then we’ll diverge from there – lots more musings on straight lines in market gardening here: http://milkwood.net/2011/07/13/shifting-to-community-scale-food-thinking/ and here http://milkwood.net/2011/06/03/planning-our-organic-market-garden/

  7. Posted February 24, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    One thing that works is to make seed mixes that include fast maturing seeds, ones that will take longer to develop and a late season crop within the same beds. That way you get leaves to shade the ground throughout the season and crowd our weeds as well. Deep mulching is always good and break away from the straight lines! Even a long sweeping curve is better because it increases edge. I certainly would have not allowed a heavy internal combustion engine on my beds, there was a soil aeration device on hand that just needed to be gently rocked to break the soil. Of course it would have taken longer, but not much, and all the while the CO2 of your breathing would have fed the soil. Turning the soil in the walkways is definitely counter productive as well. Mulch them to keep them from getting compacted, but don’t waste time tilling them! The whole idea of permaculture is to do little to achieve much, much suffering comes from imposing our will upon the landscape. Even in areas that look homogenous, there are bound to be widely varied wind, water, soil type and slope conditions. If it is too uniform, some judicious swales or berms could be used to create even better habitat for a variety of species.

    • Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts otherfish – if you’d like to look back thru our posts on this garden you’ll see we’ve chosen to go with an established methodology for organic market gardening in order to build on it in future years as we see fit with our permaculture principles (which we do understand, btw, but thanks for the reminder). As for the mechanized spader (used once only in the lifetime of this garden) i’d invite you to come and do the same job manually – but i really don’t think you would be able to, unless you had access to a huge amount of manual labour. There’s a time and a place for judicious use of fossil fuel driven machines, and the establishment of an organic market garden designed for as much productivity as possible as quickly as possible may well be one of those times…

      Also the soil in the paths is heavily mulched and we’ve established ‘nutrition trenches’ in the paths, etc etc – do a little more reading before you break out the critique perhaps?

      I do take your comments on board but i think they’re perhaps best suited to domestic production (As we have much experience with domestic permaculture garden production)… still, we’re not experts, we’re just learning. But we are also effectively feeding our community now, so we’re definitely getting there. All the best with your gardening projects.

      • Posted March 18, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

        Your beds seem to be burgeoning with growth, that is always a good sign. I am personally not comfortable with conventional tilling, as the tines dig in, near the bottom, they are banging down on the soil, compacting it at a low level. No matter how sharp or well controlled the tillers are. I would rather use the tool that shows in one of your photos, Best described as a giant angel food cake cutter that is used with a gentle rocking action. What is most necessary in the soils, are space for exchange of gasses. Since all life has to maintain itself through eating, excretion, exchanging gasses and reproduction, soils without air wax anerobic quickly and compaction is a very real threat to soil health. I always welcome new energy in the movement and want to see the greatest success to all who try their hand at this new green revolution.

      • Posted March 18, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        No we’re not much for tilling either, but as explained with this market garden project we’ve made a commitment to begin with established best-practice organic market gardening and use that as a starting point for devising a way to grow food on a community scale which is as low-impact as possible but which still gets a yield. A yield is paramount, as if we don’t have one then it’s off to the supermarket for us, just like everyone else. We don’t want to do that anymore than we have to. Thus begins the learning curve!

      • Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

        Production is inevitable, distribution will always be a problem. Many plant successionally, to extend harvest, but at many points along the way, you will have more than abundance than you can use even more than it is possible to distribute. In those cases, a solar food dehydrator, or being able to make pickles at a moments notice becomes a great resource! Good luck with your developing relationships, with food, your community and the abundance of Ma Nature!

      • Posted June 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        I have begun a controlled study of something my good friend David Yarrow has been doing out in New York, near the Finger Lakes, adding bio-char. I took two concrete mixing tubs, built a table under them, then filled them with some fairly light soil mix. These containers are about waist high and are our of the reach of most critters. They are side by side and to one I added about two cups of finely powdered charcoal. Not your average Kingsford briquettes, but the real stuff that looks more like a piece of roasted tree. The results have been phenomenal! I encourage everyone to get come carbon into their soils this way. I would like to share the link David sent me that shows his process. I’m sure that if you check You-tube and search for David Yarrow, bio-char, you might just find the info he has posted there.
        The production has been about three times as much in the “treated” tub and for some reason the weed infestation in the boi-char bin has been less than one third of what we have seen in the soil that is identical but for the added carbon. One can make their own bio-char, but as of yet I have not experimented with making my own. The high end, “natural” charcoal is surely enough for my own home use. On a larger, commercial scale, you are probably better off making it yourself. finding detailed plans for a bio-char oven may be a bit difficult and heating a bunch of wood to around four hundred degrees is not an easy task, but the results are currently speaking for themselves and this is an excellent way to boost the long term carbon storage capacity of your soil. What seemed most interesting to me about the process is the microscopic views of the tiniest particles of charcoal. The roasted cells of the tree are intact and can remain as tubules providing habitat (shelter) for the organisms that make soil healthy. Additionally, the tubular structure of the cells hold vast quantities of water.
        After setting up my experiment, I read somewhere that the carbon works best if it is inoculated with some compost tea. Even without that step I am getting awesome benefits and I just wanted to share that with you.
        Blessed Be and happy growing!
        Tony C. Saladino- director ECO-Tours of Wisconsin Inc.

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