Our forest garden is not a dense canopy forest, it is more of a savannah patchwork. We obviously have a lot of areas where we have relatively densely planted guilds of fruit trees, bush tucker, herbs and other beneficial plants, all perennial. But we also have other areas which we have designed to be more open to sunlight, which we target for growing annuals. Although our focus is mostly on vegetables, we also include flowers, annual herbs and other beneficial plants. They key point is that these are not monoculture vegetable rows, as we are doing in our market garden right next to the forest garden.
In these areas we also try and mimic forest nature by planting a bunch of plants that complement each other together in a wild, random fashion. In two of these beds, over summer we had (mostly) corn, sunflowers and various types of pumpkins and squash in the one area, and tall cut flowers, more pumpkins and some leafy greens in the second area. So it is these two beds that now needed to be cleared and planted for winter.
Beds at the end of phase 1
In these beds I used to have little sprayers threaded through the middle of the beds, but as the vegetables got big, they became pretty ineffectual. So the first step was to redo the irrigation by putting much higher sprayers all along the edges. Getting rid of the pipes running through the middle of the beds also make future work much easier – there is now nothing to worry about. The only downside of this step was that I needed to step on the beds a few times, so there was a bit of compaction of the soil. This new setup will work well for most vegetables, but when we grow corn again, we may need a different approach. I have seen people raise the sprayers to right above the corn to get it work well.
So for the bed preparation I firstly used a set of long-handled secateurs and I cut all the vines and stalks off against the ground, leaving their roots to decompose in the soil. I left one straggler to get ripe on the vine; he wasn’t getting in my way at all.
During this process I still managed to gather a nice little “late harvest”, which will go down well in some soups over winter. There were some odds and ends of straw lying around that we used to mulch the vines running outside the beds, so I spread that evenly over the beds too.
Next I spread some fine organic Lucerne mulch over the lot, in order to get more nitrogen in there to aid in the decomposition process.
Lastly I spread a layer of my precious “paths phase 3” topsoil over the beds. We discussed this briefly in the Geelong permaculture forum just a short while ago – you need some soil, compost or mixture of both in which to plant the seeds. I know you can make little pockets of soil mixture in the organic layer, and sow the seeds in the pockets. However, for the number of seeds we want to plant in order to get a dense, forest floor-like mixture, that approach is just not practical without trampling the beds to pulp. It was much easier to spread the layer of composted topsoil and then finely work the seeds in with the collinear hoe.
Top soil done
In the one bed we planted two types of garlic and carrots (seeds we harvested ourselves), while in the other we planted peas and carrots (seeds from Eden seeds). I planted the peas mostly on the Southern side, to allow as much winter sun as possible on the carrots. I may add a few more winter greens after-the-fact but we’ve run out of seeds, so I need to order more.
Lastly, as I usually do, I tested the irrigation.
Very happy with the outcome, now we’ll have to see how well it works! I’m very interested to see how the stalks, vines, straw and Lucerne decompose over winter.
Low sprayers among the vegetables don’t work well, unless you’re only growing something really flat like carrots or strawberries. Even then, the sprayers and pipes get in the way when you’re working the bed. The 450mm high sprayers we’ve now mounted on the sides seem to work much better.
It was interesting to do a no-dig phase 2. Working on the beds I could definitely feel how soft and spongey they were from the phase 1 planting. Hopefully this trend continues.