Garden goes undercover

This year my small plot summer garden, full of beans, corn and tomatoes was decimated by Cyclone Gabrielle’s high winds and incessant rain. Anything left standing in the mud was consumed by army worms the following month (HM July 10).

Changes in the patterns of temperature, precipitation and carbon concentrations are increasing noticeably and the climate chaos and unseasonal weather has completely changed my gardening practices. 

As a result, we have built a small-scale protected gardening environment, which will ensure our home garden plot produces the necessary vegetables regardless of adverse weather, pests, or the season.

Laserlite, which is designed to withstand harmful UV rays, rain and hailstones, was the ideal material for covering the roof and sides, while a heavy grade recycled plastic framed in the bottom and was used, along with tin, to form the raised gardening beds.

The enclosed raised beds were 800mm across and 1m high, and filled using the hügelkultur method. First, rotting woody materials were covered with tree trimmings, banana leaves and stems, branches, garden waste material, grass clippings paper, cardboard, and leaves. A layer of wood chips then provided a base for a layer of a mixture of chicken poo and horse manure, on top of which compost material from the worm farm and compost bins was added. Finally, well-rotted compost and quality garden soil topped up the beds providing plenty of nutrients for the plants while the wood chips decompose.

As the wood and natural materials decay over time, beneficial bacteria, fungi, and the soil food web work to create immense biodiversity in the soil and release nutrients that feed plants over many years. The rotting wood absorbs and retains water and the decomposing plant materials generate some heat keeping the beds warm. 

This method also provides a fantastic way to up-cycle plant waste. All in all, an ecologically friendly method of food production.

The beds are 1m high, so I no longer have to bend over to tend the garden, the wind chill has been eliminated and daytime temperatures in the protected environment often reach 25°C, although night temperatures drop to about 12°C. If needed, I could use a plastic covering over zucchinis and pineapples. 

All organic processes are temperature related, so this enclosed area will not only allow for intensive growing but will also provide a reliable year-round supply of a variety of vegetables, many grown out of season.

I will now be able to demonstrate many more ways to garden more sustainably in The Survival Gardening Workshops that I run. 

Imagine being able to garden in the middle of winter in your bikini in your purpose-built protected garden – Club Veg at your doorstep!

This is an addition to my garden – I still have my outside spaces. It will take time for the compost material in the protected garden to break down, providing enough soil for things with deep roots, like carrots. 

The beauty inside the protected area is that the soil temperature is already nice and warm and even though temperatures drop at night, the ground stays warm for quite a while.

All the plants that need heat – tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and pineapple for example – will be grown in the protected space. As well as tree tomatoes and hopefully papaya.

It will also allow early plantings like zucchini and hopefully keep tomatoes and eggplants producing well into the autumn.