Breaking new ground in the market garden

This spring we’re extending the market garden, and that means more rabbit-proof fencing, and more ‘breaking ground’. In permaculture, we try not to break (both literally and figuratively) ground wherever possible, but one exception to that rule is when cultivating annual vegetables en-masse.

Before we started this market garden, I thought that maybe we could just lay compost and mulch on top of the pasture, plant veggies and it would all work out, the pasture magically changing into rich humus. It worked for my domestic-scale no-dig beds with brassicas and beans, after all?

The fact of it is that if you want to grow annual vegetables on a community scale  on ‘first year ground’ in a climate like ours, there will be cultivation involved. We needed to dislodge a tight and extensive layer of perennial grass roots and transform the soil into something that annual veggies could grow and thrive in, in one season.

In the end we pig tractored and spaded last year’s ground before making up beds and planting, and that worked well. This year, we didn’t have the benefit of Allsun Farm’s spader on hand, and no-one in our area had one (that they were willing to lend) and we couldn’t hire one.

So for the extension patch we wanted to plant into this spring we first ran over the area with a chisel plow to open up and aerate the soil without turning it over (a keyline plow would have been better, but again, we couldn’t get hold of one).

We then hired in a small walk-behind rotary hoe and went over the ground with that. Not completely ideal (a walk-behind spader would have been better) but the best option we had – we certainly didn’t want to plow and harrow like conventional tillage, upending the entire soil profile. So we worked with what we had access to.

Since then we’ve been busy making up beds and fencing the new area to make it rabbit proof and stock proof. Enter Shane the amazing fence builder (he also helped us put together a fine tinyhouse recently).

We’re also welcoming our first Market Garden intern of the season, Michael Zagoridis, to the farm to work alongside Stephen and Michael.

‘Zag’ (to reduce our multiple Michael confusion) is a Milkwood PDC graduate who plans to establish a rooftop farm in Sydney following his time with us this spring, so we’re pumping him full of all the good skills of growing that we can.

Zag mans the walk-behind rotary tiller on the new area, in preparation for bed making

Zag’s piles of rocks, removed from ground and thrown to the edge during tillage. Yay rocks.

The market garden extension area

The whole shebang – click to enlarge

Mulching the beds as we make them, after planting with spring peas

In last year’s ground, the broadbeans are slowly rising, now that they’re protected from cockatoos nipping off their tops

Quick but effective temporary bird netting solution…

Fencing time…

Shane does his thing, and does it well.

Planting double-rows of peas per bed, with a sprinkle of rock dust between

By the way, no these photos are not sepia toned intentionally, we’re just in the middle of a dry spell.

We have plenty of water for irrigation thanks to our top dam fed by kilometers of swales, and beneath the winter grasses spikes of spring green are lurking, but until we get a good fall of rain, it’s all about the sepia in the Milkwood landscape.

The trays and trays of soil-blocked beetroots, lettuce, pak choi and other green things are awaiting their time to be planted out, so the promise of green is just around the corner. Until then, it’s all about digging, fencing, prepping and planning. Fine work for the beginning of spring.

Hard to believe it will all look like this in only 4 months (click to enlarge)…

>> More organic market garden goings on and growings on…

3 Comments

  1. Posted August 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Super effort guys. To see you succeeding on that land is an inspiration – from one with more rain, better soil, less beating sun, and no starving/curious wildlife!

  2. Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hiya, what kind of rockdust are you using? It’s hard to find anything uncontaminated in SA. Basalt? feldspar?
    The pics are wonderful!

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