My attempts to find a 'square' project that would interest Wombat were remarkably unsuccessful, and then I had a brainwave!
One of our most popular activities lately has been restarting a tiny raised-bed veggie garden. Several years ago, well before Wombat was born, Yeti and I built a number of large raised beds for growing our own produce. We had some wood left over, so Yeti put together this little SQUARE bed, right down the back. While the bigger beds were very productive, this one was used just for potatoes.
Then life intervened and gardening took a back seat for a while. The big beds became (and remain) hopelessly overgrown with kikuyu grass. Being down the back, almost in the bush, the little potato bed was below the kikuyu line and escaped the invasion. There it sat until Wombat and I decided to make it our own. We weeded, and spread a load of homemade compost. The pumpkin plant you can see in the front corner was a self-starter, from seeds in the compost.
In honour of the square project, I lugged the old welded-pipe frame down and Wombat and I gleefully planted blue lake runner beans. We also planted nasturtiums in the the other front corner. So far, we have three little bean seedlings. I shall be sure to post more pictures of them, once they are grown.
The raised-bed idea comes from the 'no-dig' gardening philosophy. It can even be used to create a garden on a concrete surface. In fact, beneath the bed you see in these photos there is a solid sheet of sandstone rock! As far as I know, the concept was pioneered by an Australian lady, Esther Dean, in the late 1970s. It is particularly effective in areas with low soil fertility and erosion problems. Instead of turning the soil to remove weeds (thus burying the weed seeds and perpetuating the problem), you simply smother them with layers of paper and straw, thus inviting the worms and other beneficial micro-organisms to aerate the soil and do the digging for you!
For a good-sized garden, you will need a frame, a bale of lucerne hay, a bale of straw, a bag of organic fertilizer or dry poultry manure, and some well-rotted compost.
The first step is to build a frame of some sort - you can use wood, as we have, or bricks (this is how my flower beds are built) or even recycle a frame from an old bed or table. The possibilities are endless. With a bit of imagination, you can even lift your raised bed up off the ground, making it accessible for those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities (Esther Dean does this by building a frame around an old bedstead and lining it with plastic before proceeding to the next step).
Once your frame is in place, you build the soil in layers. To construct a garden on hard rocky ground, first put down a three to four inch layer of old leaves, small sticks and bits if seaweed. If you are building your garden over an existing lawn or garden bed, you can omit this step and go straight to the newspaper.
Cover this with a layer of newspaper. (Avoid glossy advertising pages or thick cardboard as these will not break down properly.) It helps if you wet this layer before proceeding. The layer needs to be about quarter of an inch thick and make sure the newspaper is well overlapped to prevent any weeds popping through.
Cover the newspaper with pads of lucerne and sprinkle this lightly with the fertilizer. Next, add a layer of loose straw, about eight inches deep, with another sprinkle of fertilizer on top. Finally, spread a patch of compost about four inches deep and eighteen inches across where you plan to plant your seeds. Water after planting, and then as needed to keep the straw just damp.
Ms Dean suggests starting out with summer vegetables, such as zucchini, squash and pumpkin, at one end of the bed, and tucking some potatoes under the straw at the other end. This sets you up ready to rotate your crops by alternating a leafy vegetable with a root vegetable.
By the time your first crop is harvested, the straw will have broken down to form a lovely rich soil. To plant your next crop, just add a new layer of compost and off you go! (This is the stage Wombat and I are at with our square bed - there were only a few weeds that needed to be pulled out, then we added our compost layer and started planting. To recover the big beds, however, I am going to have to start again at the beginning.) Have fun and happy harvesting!
You can find more weekly inspiration over at Unplug Your Kids! The next challenge is "balance".