Introducing: Organic gardener and author Dee Pigneguy has taken over Hibiscus Matters’ gardening column from editor Terry Moore. Dee has been living in Manly since the start of this year and she and husband Mike are establishing an edible garden on their small suburban site. Dee enjoys sharing her knowledge at schools and through workshops and books and is also assisting with the community garden at Whangaparaoa Hall.
Like the ancient paradise gardens of Persia, urban gardens can be relaxing places to spend time. People garden because it is fun working in such a stimulating and vital living environment. In this column in Hibiscus Matters, I will help you discover the wonderful taste of garden produce, where fresh means growing just a minute ago.My husband Mike and I left our magnificent food forest garden in Glenfield, relocating to the Hibiscus Coast to a section covered in kikuyu grass overlaying deep clay. Removing a sticky, water resistant spade full revealed the absence of a functioning soil food web—nature’s worldwide web that allows plants to grow without chemical fertilisers.
All plants depend on the soil food web: the network of microorganisms that live in the soil. They get their nutrition and energy by feeding on either the organic matter in the soil or on each other. Soil is the underground kingdom of microorganisms who are the key caretakers of the soil’s mineral balance, humus content, aeration and moisture.
Soil is actually a complex system of living organisms, cycling nutrients and making them available for plants.
It was apparent that the first job, before any gardening could take place, was to build some soil and not being a fan of digging, I decided that sheet mulching was the way to go. Covering a large area of the kikuyu grass with heavy cardboard overlaid with a couple of truckloads of chippings from local trees gave the earthworms and microorganisms in the soil the opportunity to begin the process of “digging” and making soil.
While nature’s diggers and recyclers were getting on with the job, I began to prepare for a fertile soil, gathering plenty of organic matter to build compost. Nature’s soil organisms have been making compost since life on earth began and making backyard compost is just a natural process of decomposition in which once living materials are transformed into nutrients for plants. Seaweed, grass clippings, coffee grounds, nettles and comfrey leaves, untreated sawdust, paper, hair, teabags, straw, leaves as well as household scraps are among the things that can go on the compost pile. As the decomposers get on with the job, the compost materials shrink quite quickly. Really, once you put a pile together, compost makes itself!
The sheet mulching prepared the bed, the compost was ready, now the next big adventure was about to start – planting the summer garden. But was I ready for a potential summer drought?