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– Tiny Eglington’s method, educator Geoff Lawton

This is a photo report of a vegetable garden built for Ann Foster in Condobolin, NSW Australia, which shows basic steps that allow you to build your own permaculture veggie patch.

Needs:

You don’t need much, but you do need:

  • compost
  • any ruminant manure
  • lime
  • cardboard (or hessian bags)
  • Lucerne hay (or any acacia leaves)
  • straw (seedless)
  • water
  • plants and seed

The basic tools:

  • shovel
  • rake
  • sharp knife/screwdriver (for punching hole in cardboard)
  • hose/watering can
  • wheelbarrow

How to built a permaculture vegetable garden – the steps


Check out the site, discuss possibilities where to set up the garden.


Explore the present vegetation, and determine its qualities and uses.


Clearing the site of weeds and grass, evaluate locations and levels for the trenches.


Dig trenches (levelled), the soil from the trench is put on the garden beds.


Dig out the trenches a bit more, level the beds. Try and keep the bottom of the
trenches level, so they fill evenly with water.


Add manure (sheep manure in this case), put it on as thick as you can, don’t
worry if some falls down in the trenches. Then sprinkle a bit of lime.


Wet the cardboard and place it over the bed, in the trenches as well,
approximately 3 layers thick.


Also hessian (jute) bags work, similar procedure, 1 layer thick.


Cover with Lucerne hay or any acacia leaves, then a layer of straw (seedless).
Cover the trenches with straw as well to minimize evaporation.


Fill the trenches with water (you can check here how you’ve done with
levelling, by letting the water in from one point (set up dams) till completely
full and decided where your 1 watering point will be. You can put a short
pipe in the top of the dam to overflow into the next trench. Notice
capillary rise is working, the water making its way up into the bed.


Get your plants and seed! Check a companion planting guide for good
combinations of plants. I like to check the moon planting guide and practice
it when possible. Using hybrids or non hybrids is up to you but non hybrids are
sustainable by collecting your own seed.


Separate plants where possible and cut holes in the card board
(only big enough for the tap root to go through), make a cup in the
straw and fill with compost and plant the plants or seed.


Concerning planting space, consider the size of the plants when they are
fully grown; the whole bed is covered with vegetables, including down
the sides to the water mark. The new plants and seeds have to be watered
from the top (daily in the summer) until the tap root goes through the
hole, then it will receive its water from the trenches.

A permaculture vegetable garden can be built at any size. From a few pots to a 1000 acre property.

All about building a permaculture vegetable garden and more you learn in a permaculture design course (PDC). And there are loads of information to be found on the web as well!

How to Maintain – tips and tricks

Watering:

Again: The new plants and seeds have to be watered from the top until the tap root goes through the hole, then it will receive its water from the trenches. Every area is different (depending on rainfall and soil types). Eg. in Cunnamulla, western Queensland, temperatures were in the high thirties, with no rain, so had to fill the trenches every 7 days.

Harvesting:

If you cut a cabbage, trim the excess leaves off and chop them up and leave them on the bed (in permaculture terms; chop and drop). Leave the tap root where it is and plant a new plant or seed beside it, the new plant will feed off the old root as it composts.

Now the important thing: put compost around the new planting as to replace what the cabbage took away. Composting is the key to a sustainable garden.

What you have done

1. You have created an organic garden that’s water friendly
2. You have created a weed free garden, which will remain weed free as long as you keep composting (with seed free compost)
3. And most of all: you have created a sustainable food supply in your backyard

I was a monoculturalist for many years, this way is much too easy, it’s the GO!

Happy planting.

Further Reading:

16 Responses to “How to Build a Permaculture Vegetable Garden”

  1. JBob

    I love the posts full of pictures.

    Two caveats I’ve learned the hard way:

    1. Raised beds irrigated by flooding the furrows will exacerbate any salinity problems you might have with your water. The salt accumulates at the ridge of the bed. I went with drip irrigation to fix this (and to make starting seeds way easier, and to save water and labor.)

    2. Pill bugs, aka sow bugs, aka rolly pollies populations will explode in mulch. These bugs love to eat seedlings and even small transplants. I think all areas of the world have these bugs. I only use mulch around perennial or at least mature plants for this reason alone.

    And I think it’s “hessian,” not “heshen.”

    Reply
  2. Rhamis

    Excellent – thanks for putting this up. I covered the previous post you had about Tiny’s idea on the Detroit PDC.

    Reply
  3. Christine Baker

    In the US you have to be very careful when using straw as mulch as much of it has been sprayed with herbicides. Even the MANURE from animals eating sprayed hay is not suitable for gardening and the herbicides can take three years (or longer?) to break down.

    In my area most people feed alfalfa hay to their horses and that’s OK — they can’t spray alfalfa because it would kill the alfalfa too.

    I just found this out and the guy at the feed store where I got our straw didn’t know whether it had been sprayed. I’m currently testing beans in a variety of potting mixes including some with lots of straw and so far, only the beans without straw in the mix sprouted.

    I also mulched part of our garden with straw and another part with manure. Then we planted lots of beans, beets and radishes. Nothing’s coming up where the straw is and the beans that had been growing there before mulching with straw don’t look good. The beans mulched with manure are looking great and lots of beans and peas are sprouting.

    The herbicides mostly affect broad leaved plants, beans, peas, alfalfa, tomatoes and peppers, …

    I’ll update with the final results of my test in a few weeks at my site, but for now, our straw will only be used for adobe building and not for growing.

    I read several studies about this from a few years ago and the American universities don’t seem to have a problem with this. They recommend spraying the fields and then disclosing to everybody that it can’t be used for gardening. Of course nobody discloses anything.

    Reply
  4. JBob

    “Sow bugs, rolly pollies, etc. are a sure sign of a chicken deficiency.”

    In that case, the presence of mulch and living vegetable seedlings are also a sure sign of a chicken deficiency.

    Reply
  5. Geoff Lawton

    I have created mulched gardens in 30 different countries and never had a problem with “pill bugs, aka sow bugs, aka rolly pollies populations that explode in mulch that love to eat seedlings and even small transplants”.

    Having had such outstanding success with mulched gardens if I came across these kind of problems anywhere I would make careful observations of the potential imbalances that may be causing these problems.

    Reply
  6. Jessica Still

    I’d like to ask respectfully how many seasons’ experience the garden-makers have with putting three layers of cardboard over the planting beds. Yes, it prevents water evaporation, but I have to wonder how the oxygen transpiration of the soil bio-life fares with such an impermeable man-made vapor-barrier? I garden in the high-desert Rocky Mountains with continuous dry air movement – aka wind – & have found even a veil of grass clippings is surprisingly effective at preventing evaporation in a newly seeded bed of carrots. I wonder if covering the moist soil so tight results in any rancidity?

    Reply
  7. JBob

    Initially my mulch gives no problems, but in a matter of months the populations grows to troublesome size. I’ve gone out at night with a flashlight and watched pill bugs swarm and eat many types of vegetables seedlings. Particularly beans and cole crops. This has happened over all 3 years I’ve been here and in any part of the one hectare I’ve tried to plant such crops.

    I would love to be able to scrape away a line of mulch and plant seeds directly. I will keep my eyes open, but I don’t have much optimism.

    Reply
  8. JBob

    Jessica, I don’t worry too much about cardboard reducing oxygen (rots fast, many small pieces have many gaps). One mistake I have made is using cardboard on mounds. It’s easy to inadvertently build a “roof” that will shed water. Make sure your pieces don’t overlap like shingles. I skip the cardboard on new tree plantings on mounds now.

    Reply
  9. Christine Baker

    When I lived near San Francisco, we had so many pill bugs and earwigs, I did NOT plant any veggies outside. We just landscaped for eye candy.

    We did NOT mulch at all, but I’m sure there were leaves from the eucalyptus trees on the ground. Here in the desert we mulch and I’ve never seen an earwig or pill bug. It probably has to do with humidity and temperature.

    Reply
  10. Deb Kellock

    Christine Baker – Just wondering if you are using your straw/hay bales fresh? “Spoilt” bales should be used on garden beds because during the first few weeks of rotting the hay or straw produces toxins that interfere with plant growth. Try ageing or weathering your straw first. To spoil the new bales, leave them outside in the weather for a couple of months, turning them every now and then. If it doesn’t rain, wet them down a bit. This will also germinate any seed in the bales so they don’t come up in the garden. Spoilt straw/hay can sometimes be bought and should be cheaper too. [This info is from my old book 'Indolent Kitchen Gardening' by Libby Smith].

    BTW I’ve always thought pill bugs (we call them slaters) only occasionally eat seedlings and only if the garden is imbalanced. Try to plant a variety of things together, including flowers such as marigolds, calendula and nasturtiums, and let plants like parsley and carrots go to seed. Try to have plants of different ages, stages and sizes mixed. Also, I protect my new seedlings with half a toilet roll pushed into the ground a bit.

    Reply
  11. Christine Baker

    Deb, I’ve never heard that about straw. I’ll have to run that by the experts at the organics group, thanks for letting me know.

    I’m into the 3rd week of a test planting of beans and peanuts in straw, horse manure, compost and a neighbor’s “regular” soil and so far NOTHING has grown in the 3 pots with mostly straw. It probably was fairly fresh straw, we had just bought a bale for more adobe.

    For now straw is banned from our soil and mulch!

    Reply
  12. Bovis

    How do you prevent the standing water in the ditch between the beds from becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes? I live in the Southeastern USA and I am leery of contributing to the mosquito population.

    Reply
  13. Daniel

    Probably a silly question.. but as a first i’ll set up a vegie garden this summer here in the czech republic, and wonder if this is a universally applicable method or does climate come into play in regard to trench size, etc?

    Reply
  14. Fred

    Re straw: You may want to google straw-bale gardening. The secret seems to be in “seasoning” the straw bale. There’s a finely worked-out recipe, but VERY ROUGHLY this translates to keeping a straw bale moist for one week (via watering), then feeding it with nitrogen-rich fertilizer for another week. Moisture and nitrogen start of composting in the interior of the bale (which also generates heat that “should” kill off weed seeds). When the bale starts to cool down (or even when fungus growth appears) one plants directly into the bale. So it would seem that “fresh” bales are not such a good idea, no nutrients that have broken down enough for plants to use.

    Reply

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