Finally, “That” blog post.
Firstly, don’t faint, it’s a blog post from narf7! Yes. A real blog post finally. I am not going to mutter any of those vague excuses as to why I haven’t posted. I just haven’t…but here I am back again with a brain full of things to post. The first half of the year has been a whirlwind of study and ensuring that we pass this year. Things are going really well in that department and what was so much gobbledy-gook last year makes perfect sense this year. We also have more girls/women in the class this year and the male confraternity are in the minority. It is amazing to see how very different a class can become with an injection of new people. This year most of the class are interested, invested and “there”. We have a vibrant community of people who want to design, to create and to learn as much as they can which fosters a really good class community of like-minded people who share what they are learning and anything that they find that might help. SO much different to last year when I felt the need to bring as much cake as I could to fill the gap that my complete lack of understanding about the subject matter brought to the board. I have only brought cake once this year and that was to yesterday’s morning tea to farewell the first half of the year and welcome our school holidays.
That brings me to the next phase of Serendipity Swamp (don’t ask…) and the promised Sanctuary redevelopment. We had to wait until we had a few spare weeks to get this project underway. We also had to collect the required amount of fridges. Yes, fridges, from the tip shop. “Fridges?! Has the women gone mad?” No, not yet, BUT I have found a way to significantly reduce the amount of water that we use in the vegetable garden each growing season and which is going to completely change the way that we grow our veggies here on Serendipity Swamp (Farm). Ok, the “swamp” bit refers to the amount of rain that we have had here and what it has done to the soil and our driveway. I refuse to complain about it as we had it SO very dry over summer but occasionally, when I am holding onto a gate post to stop myself from performing a magnificent narfish version of the splits I must admit to being a wee bit muttery under my breath…
Now, back to the main event. That garden! Stevie-boy and I have had a really bad cold. He is just recovering from his, after 9 weeks of hacking and wheezing. I have had it for just over a month but I seem to be recovering a bit faster than he has. Hopefully we will be back in our prime for next week’s start on the veggie garden reno but even if we aren’t, it will be “full steam ahead” as we don’t have another window of opportunity like this one for the rest of the year and we NEED to get this underway so that we can have it all set up and ready for planting out come spring. Now to a bit of back history…(consider that wibbley-wobbley like visuals for “going backwards” into the past OK?)
Sanctuary is my summer sanity. If I didn’t have somewhere green to go in summer I would probably start to dry out, turn brown and blow away just like everything else does here by February. As someone who was born an optimist, I can’t allow my husk to dehisce, so I had to find a way to reconcile the ENORMOUS amount of water that is inefficiently poured into Sanctuary each year in order to feed the whiteflies in the manner to which they have become accustomed. I got up at 3.30am and headed off to water the garden at 4.30 till 6.30am when I woke Steve up and we headed out to walk the dogs before TAFE. For 2 hours I speed watered Sanctuary and by the time I turned off the water and started racing for the door I could see the water seeping down the slope and knew that by that afternoon the top beds would be bone dry again. Our whole property is on a steep slope and as you may (or may not) know, water likes to pool at the bottom of slopes and is averse to staying put halfway up. Every day I would feel enormous guilt about how much water I had to use to sustain my little green bit of sanity but I wasn’t ready to give in and give up. I HAD to come up with an idea for how to efficiently water Sanctuary and use less water as Tasmania is now prone to drought in our summers and this is only going to get worse with global warming so “How to reduce water use and water more efficiently?”
Well enter Bev from https://foodnstuff.wordpress.com/water-wicking-boxes/ and John http://joharthash.blogspot.com.au/ who taught me about a concept called “water wicking garden beds”. I have alluded to this premise and we have even dabbled in water wicking by turning dad’s old yacht dinghy (that I ran into in the car and put a hole in) into a strawberry bed. This was the ONLY garden that didn’t need daily watering in Sanctuary, in fact, it could go without being watered for a week thanks to a large reservoir of water held in situ in blue stone chunks at the base of the boat. I can check the level of the water through a length of plumbing pipe that we buried vertically in the mix and the water level is easily ascertainable by looking into the pipe. I keep a pot on the end of the pipe as I don’t want mosquitoes breeding in there.
I knew that I wanted to find a way to convert Sanctuary to water wicking. I headed off to find tutorials about how to do it and ended up back where I started, and even more depressed because the cost would be prohibitive due to the amount of plastic, rocks, soil, pipe etc. and the most expensive part would be the surrounds. As penniless student hippies, we have had to rely on our wits and our ability to problem solve to find ways around paying out for what we want to do here. I had to go back to the drawing board in a serious way to work out how to do what I wanted to do without turning the moth eaten sock under the bed inside out and having to rehome an entire generation of moths…
How to do it? I had NO idea. That was when my old friend Google came to the rescue. I typed in “cheap water wicking beds” and about 7 pages into my search (I am nothing if not persistent…) I happened upon a story about a couple in Perth, Western Australia, who had turned some old fridges into water wicking beds. Perth is very hot and dry in summer and if anywhere needed waterwise gardening techniques it is Perth! The couple said that fridges were perfect for the purpose as aside from being cheap to get hold of, old fridges offer a nice deep space when turned on their back that allows for a decent reservoir of water to be held and thus, less time spent watering due to less evaporation of water from the soil. Efficiency, thy name is “fridge!” So Stevie-boy and I decided to work out the logistics of how we could use fridges to facilitate what we want to do.
I remembered seeing fridges lined up at our local tip shop and so we headed off to the local tip shop to see if we would be able to purchase them and if so, how much they wanted for them. We had a heck of a time convincing the tip shop man about what we wanted to do with the fridges but after we explained (twice) he finally got it and told us that we could have the fridges for $3 each. Over the course of the next few months we assembled 24 fridges in various stages of decrepitude. Some of these fridges were most probably in action prior to my birth back last century and some are so new they still had the stickers on them but all of them were currently defunct and ready for action. We had to strip out the shelves etc. and some have more holes inside them than others but we have our fridge potential and we will be spending the rest of this week sealing them up and assembling the blue-stone chips to fill up the reservoir section of the fridges ready for shoveling the soil out of Sanctuary’s garden beds and into the lines of fridges.
I have already thought about the aesthetics of this garden. I don’t want to be greeted by mouldering white goods every time I open Sanctuary’s door, no matter how waterwise and verdant they are, and so we cleverly kept the back grills of the fridges and are going to turn them into the fridge equivalent of a picket fence in front of the first (visible upon entry) line of fridge wickers. I will be using the rest of the space on either side of the wickers (as they shall from now on be called to save my typing finger) to plant out with perennial herbs and at either end of each line of wickers, we will have a keyhole garden or a small pond to take advantage of the thermal mass of that big line of garden.
The benefits far outweigh the negatives in this situation. Anything can be made more attractive with a bit of clever thinking and so I don’t care that there will be 24 upended fridges lined up in rows in Sanctuary. I have plans to buy chest freezers to line the sides of Sanctuary and plant out dwarf fruit trees (in particular citrus) and to make Sanctuary even more impervious to predation but for now, we have our 24 initial fridges and will be setting out excitedly (and with some trepidation, as moving 24 fridges over hilly, rocky terrain isn’t ANYONE’S idea of a fun way to spend their holidays…) to shovel out the slippery slopes that currently house my summer sanity. We ended up paying $2 for most of our fridges and by the time we got to the end we were getting three for $5. We are doing the tip a favour as they have to pay someone to haul the fridges away and thus, their bill this quarter will be significantly less than what it was last quarter. We are reusing something that would otherwise go back into the chain of production and that can only be a good thing. I keep thinking about all of the excellent potential of our fridge wickers. Here are some of the good things I have assimilated: –
1. The fridges, when installed, will be higher than current garden beds so not as much bending involved.
2. When assembled, a row of fridge wickers will hold significant thermal mass which will be good for both the plants growing inside them, and plants we choose to plant next to them.
3. We can run a series of hoses directly to the water fill pipes on the fridges and could theoretically fill them automatically by using a timer. “SQUEE!”
4. We can install worm tunnels into each garden bed but John has said that he doesn’t think this will be necessary.
5. By elevating our garden we will be minimising the problems of gardening lower down and it should (theoretically) be easier to protect them from pests or at least treat them organically.
6. It will be harder for the local rat population to scale slippery fridges and easier for us to install rat bait stations should they ever try.
7. We will have a significantly lower water bill and more importantly, we won’t be wasting water inefficiently watering a large garden.
8. We may actually be able to collect all of the water that we need to water Sanctuary right through summer in a series of water barrels over our wet winter period.
9. No more 2 – 3 hours a day spent watering Sanctuary and no more guilt! I will still have to hand water a small area of perennials that will remain in the soil (berries etc.) but I can set up an automatic watering system for this area until we can figure out how to make it more water efficient.
10. Time saved in daily watering is less stress for me, more time to walk the dogs earlier in the day so less stress in having to race back and get ready to head off to TAFE.
I am guessing I could probably add 10 more reasons easily and probably another 10 with thought to why this is a GREAT idea. I know there are drawbacks including soil fertility etc. but I know that we can get around these problems and that these gardens are going to save my sanity as well as give us the best chance to garden effectively and efficiently in our terrible rocky, silty and sloped conditions.
So there you have it. I have revealed what we are going to do. I have also reinstated my childhood habit of having my nose welded to a good book and have been hooking up a storm. Add TAFE studies into the equation and I have filled those blog free months to an elegant sufficiency. Sorry to have been AWOL for so long but you know how it is. Now I have to go and find/take some photos to populate this post and make the length of it worth your effort ;). Cheers for staying with me folks. Sometimes you have words and sometimes you don’t. My words are back for the duration and I will be sharing the progress and process of how to move, install and wick a fridge garden over the next few weeks.