About elephants and bull ants

In those early days when we laid out the vegetable patch we made a lot of mistakes. Sure some of those were our own errors, because we had no idea up-front how big our organic growth, or rather the explosion thereof, was going to be. But this post is about another type of mistake, where we merely worked around our predecessor’s legacy and jumped in boots and all with a new project without a proper plan or understanding of the impact of such a legacy.

Back then, we thought we had all the space in the world, and we could dream and do as we saw fit! Compared to where we are going now, we needed to plan much better for space utilisation, distinct plant microclimates and for optimal movement. Believe me; one of the biggest time and energy wasters even on a one acre property is walking from the one corner to the other to fetch a tool or to fetch a load of mulch. We recently read that in The Market Gardener too.

So, in our vegetable patch we inherited a planted “fence”, a few meters away and parallel to the border fence, along which some grapes of unknown colour or flavour were trying to grow. One or two of the vines produced some red eating grapes, but never really well. That should have been a hint already, but we were excited that we “had” grapes and we thought we could doctor them better with biodynamic preparations, better irrigation and some TLC. However, as we expanded, the space between the vine and the border fence became more and more precious and eventually we squashed a long 5-sector vegetable box as well as some young fruit trees and Josta Berries in between the vines and the fence. The vegetable box was actually so close to the vines you couldn’t squeeze between them when the vines were growing in summer and the vegetables in the box were cast in shadow by huge grape leaves. I built the box there during the winter, and there I was thinking I was so clever in how I was using each little space optimally.

What finally drove the realisation home was that nothing grew well in that vegetable box – there was too much shade from the grapes and maybe also because it sat half-way across the grapes’ roots. But furthermore, we read in our Companion Planting Guide that some vegetables like cabbage and radishes do not like growing near grapes. So we moved the grapes far, far away – that’s another project which I’ll describe in another post.


Veg garden - long box for relocation - lines

The veg box has got to move

However, during the last summer the trees and the Josta Berries started growing and it became hard to move on the other side of the box as well, especially when the trees and berries were netted. And besides, their roots would be growing too. So, the 5-sector box had to move. Easy man, heave-ho all together, let’s just shove it a meter sideways! Not so easy, cowboy. Markus begged us to get a Dingo for the job, but I would not have fitted it in there without damaging the trees, and I doubt whether it would have been able to move a double-layer vegetable box dirt and all. So it became a manual project. But doing it bit by bit presented its own challenges:

  • The bolts of the boxes were so tight, I could only get some of them loose – so I had to move large parts of the boxes as pre-assembled frame. For the others I had to use an Allan key in a long pipe to lever the bolts loose before the drill could turn them further.
  • Do you know how much a single 2.4m x 7.5cm x 50mm thick hardwood sleeper weighs? OK so how about 6 of those bolted together? We used some very interesting levers, sliding and flipping the frames side-over-side in order not to pick them up. Mmmm, how did the Egyptians build the pyramids again?
  • The biggest problem though was much smaller. Well not that small… One of the joins of the frames sat right on a bull ants’ nest. Now if you have ever been stung by a bull ant, you would know how important it is to avoid them. Yes, they sting, painfully so, and they don’t die like a bee – no, they keep on stinging. And they are aggressive, territorial and very fast. So it was quite an act levering the stuck bolts a few centimetres from their nest’s opening and wedging the frames over their nest. Yes, they are now buried inside the vegetable box. We are now observing them as slowly their advance patrollers are reappearing on the surface of the box again. Planting and harvesting our summer crop will again be fraud with bull-ant danger.
Bull ant on ruler

Bull ant on ruler (on the veg box)

So, during this project young Markus learnt of wedges, levers and ways to reduce friction, and he and Micaela had a lot of fun collecting bugs that crawled out as we moved the wooden frames – all kinds of spiders, centipedes, millipedes and cockroaches, which were all collected in a large lunchbox, given names and were watched for about two days before being turned loose again. Disappointingly for them, no-one ate no-one else, but they had fun showing their horrified mum all the beautiful creepy crawlies they had collected. So it turned out a good science and biology lesson for the kids – better than any classroom demonstration.

Veg garden - long box getting some help

Helping hands between creepy-crawly collecting

Lastly, the irrigation and paving stones were relocated. So, after a lot of sweat, backache and bull ant and mosquito avoiding, the whole “eat the elephant one piece at a time” project was done. We’ve also mixed some fresh organic mushroom compost into the soil as we moved it and garlic along with winter seedlings such as kale, broccoli, cauliflowers and cabbages have been planted. So all it needs now is “much more mulch”, both around the new plants and over the exposed soil where the box had previously stood.

Veg garden - long box finishing touches

Last finishing touches

Lessons learnt

  • Maybe spend a little more time seeing how things fare on a new property before wildly jumping in and planting.
  • Study companion planting before planting anything – we do that religiously now.
  • Sufficient planning – both in terms of layout and planting – can avoid some headache (and backache) down the line, but of course, hindsight is 20/20 vision.
  • You don’t have to get everything at once – some research and slower development is not all that bad.
About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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