Hoping the IT issues are behind us and apologising for the lengthy silence….SORRY, Did you miss me!

The most precious gardening resources are water, soil and sunlight.  How can we have a ripper productive garden through summer and not squander Perth’s rare two of the three most precious resources – water or soil nutrients?????

We had a good look at in-ground and raised wicking beds in detail within the previous blog titled: Planting in Spring…. Surviving through Summer – Wicking Beds are one Option! and you got a good look at the Guru’s work in the front yard with the clay lined in-ground wicking beds within our verge garden.

I included heaps of photos, but it was noted by a discerning reader (Thanks Matt!) that I had omitted photos of the gardens through summer.  As the front garden is essentially a winter garden and ignored (except for soil protection!) during summer, we had no historical photos of this area in the heat of summer.  (It turns our that shots taken out the front during the 2013/14 summer were just of the battle between my native climber and the Gurus’ Lablab to take control of the old bald pepper tree. Obviously he won, but his victory was short lived …. My climber is still triumphant (see below photos!) and making the tree look lush-ish throughout the year!)

Whilst I admit summer may not yet be over – there is still time for more cooking – this is the initial summary of the Wicking Beds operating in dormancy mode.

Firstly a quick recap –

Here is the generic description of a Wicking Bed, but with specific descriptions associated with in-ground clay beds as that is what we’ll focus on today.Wicking Bed copy

These in-ground wicking beds consist of a Reservoir Zone at the base which is lined with clay to form a water proof liner.  A spacer material, in this case we used wood waste – large old branches – to hold up most of the soil and leave a water reservoir for ongoing supply of soil moisture.  (The plan being that the clay and broken down branches could just be left in situ to the benefit of the soil, once the clay no longer held water). The water in this case is can be delivered to the reservoir by just watering the top of the beds.

The large branches were then covered with coarse tree mulch – to form the spacer material as the Reservoir/Soil Interface.  (Fitting in with the plan to leave the system in situ). This spacer acts to minimise the silting/sanding up of the reservoir zone, which displaces the water hence reducing the holding capacity of the bed.

Above the Reservoir (and interface mat, if applicable) is the Soil Zone.  Finally as we learnt during our tour of Soils – you need to ensure that you soil has been TORKed, making sure you cover the soil with coarse mulch.  You can also continuously add fertility from the top with compost and manures as a top dress with each crop followed by mulch replacement – the water will take the nutrients through the mix, the reservoir will catch what drains straight through and the capillary action will delivery it to the plant roots.

Where we left it in the last blog: AUGUST 2014 – note the expansion of the beds to the left and the cascade of sweet potato forward.  Farewell to my native front garden.

Front Garden Now SmallerDecember 2014 : Sweet potato working its magic as it extends towards the road and the lab lab engulfing the table (as my Hardenbergia has dominated the old tree, the lab lab is now looking for a new target!!!)….

Early December 1 smallEarly December 2 small

Mid Jan 2015 : New year, new plan – rather than leave the beds to be protected by the sweet potato all summer (believe me, they would look the same as the above photo as heat does not phase them – the top leaves get yellowed/burnt in extreme temps, but the new growth soon comes through.) let’s see what might survive/thrive over the summer in our “winter beds”…. The Guru is never one to sit idle and, for the first time in about 18months, we can see where the beds actually are!

Late Jan 2015 before refresh small 2

The plan/experiment:

1) Trim back the sweet potato and runner it both forwards across mulch to road and back across beds, but before it takes over….

2) Inter-plant crops under which (and between which) the sweet potato can grow.Sunflower small

Sun flower seeds in across front, but out the end of each of the beds (i.e. well draining soil!).

Just because both I and the chooks love sun flowers! We have some ripper memories of our early success with sunflowers, and in my early days…. I need to obtain that yield!

Summer green manure crops to renew bed fertility – cow pea, lab lab, buck wheat, millet, peanuts.

Essentially a range of nitrogen fixing, carbon building and other nutrient accumulating summer active plants. Used to feed the bees and predators, provide some edible flowers and minor food production with the majority of the plant being cut and mulched over to build fertility in the soil heading into autumn.  (I’m looking forward to harvesting buckwheat! Did it down in Permberton…. but that is another story/blog ….and it would be great to take it from go to wo!) 

The experiment is looking at the ability of these crops to survive in such an exposed position with limited water application and sweet potato protection!  This should enable the soil to be ready for the heavy-feeding winter crops to go straight in.

3) Re-mulch /cover to protect soil (and already composting mulch!) mainly out the front of the beds whilst all of the above establishes.

Whilst awaiting the seedlings to come up and to protect them (and the soil) from the sun over these 35+ days, you’ll notice a “less than natural” means of protection has been applied.

Late Jan 2015 smallLate Jan 2015 small 2

And here they come (27/01/2015):

(A) The exposed bed areas – left is under the kale tree and the right is in front of the banna grass.

Exposed ground(B) Zoomed in on the Left bed – I must point out the rows – I’m not sure I have ever seen rows of planting in our garden as it is not in fitting with the way nature would grow a system and work with plants teaming up to help each other – Diversity within an area is the key to discourage competition and encourage co-operation / nutrient sharing.  So I had to ask the question….Turns out a key use of rows is when you are unsure about the viability of the seeds, its good to know where you’ve planted them.  However, I digress with shock, back to topic.

If you look closely you’ll see the three rows of buck wheat and if you look very closely you might catch a glimpse of the grass like millet coming up too.  A couple of lab labs have also made themselves at home. No sign of the peanut yet…

rows are unheard of(B) Zoomed in on the Right hand bed – we see the buck wheat on its way and, if we squint at the terrible photo, the millet….buckwheat1

Cute photo of buckwheat Terrible photo of millet

Finally – here are the seedlings that have self seeded in the most eastern bed (second from the left in the above photo) under the flourishing Pepper tree.  Self seeded brassica and some kind of bean (likely Lab lab).  These have been provided no protection, but are shaded until about 3pm by the large Pepper tree above.

Self seeded brassica and bean unknown

February 19th – After jagging some kind weather which has sent the buckwheat into overdrive….they are off and our crop is coming along nicely… I wonder what effect 41 DegC will have…..

Note the sweet potatoes are now covering the ground across the front.  The Pepper tree has been allowed to bush out substantially to give as much protection as possible.  However note also that there is an absence of sunflowers…. they lost the battle for light against the sweet potato.  (PS at least those blowies are good for something! Who knew pollination was a side hobby?)

zoomed outrows2  rowsflowers  At least Blowies are good for something

March 17th – Are the 40+ days over? A week of under 30 DegC days would suggest surely not too many stinkers yet to come.  This is where we’ve got to…..I reckon we survived.

Looking East – Note our effective potato trimming tool in action on the left!

Potato control measures

Looking West

looking south west2

Buckwheat – looking north, then zoomed in looking south – ‘drying’ nicely in this damp weather….

Buckwheat drying back  Buckwheat drying

Looking south at the very east end of the garden – the only surviving sunflowers out the front can be seen flourishing.  Turns out that in a battle Sweet Potato Vs Sunflower, the Sunflower does not stand a chance – as mentioned above death by sunlight deprivation. Noted as a learning…..

sunflower survivors

And while we’re recapping, you’ll be glad to know that our old friend the cotton bush is loving this weather and his produce has even featured in a North Carolina “Ag in the Classroom” pamphlet ( So proud of him.  He deserves to be famous – he’s a fighter, as you’ll see from the pot he is growing in!

Jan 27th 2015 – (A) Sharing a pot with spring onion and paw paw among other things…. guess we were hedging our bets!; (B) Flower buds ready to bloom; (C) Flower ready to bloom; and (D) Flower past its best…. can you tell I was disappointed not to provide you with a photo of our flowers in my original Plant Blog – Our Cotton Plant

Cotton bush spring onion and paw paw  Cotton bush flower budsCotton bush flower bud opening cotton flower spent

Jan 28th 2015- (A),(B) The flowering captured at last; (C) Many more to come!

cotton flower open flower open 2 cotton new buds

Feb 7th 2015- (A) Here comes the “fruit”, (b) Yellow flower turned pink as it closed.

Fruit starting Pink and closing

Feb 24th 2015- (A) “Fruit” still growing, (b) The “Many more to come” batch has flowered and is fruiting too.

on its way The moretocome group

Looking forward to April for these babies!

And our resident front yard predator….

Front yard pets

Praying Mantis – Gorgeous chappy who likely eats more predators than pests (Wiki says: “they feed on any species small enough for them to capture, but large enough to engage their attention”) but you can’t deny he’s worth feeding!  Even if it is just for the eyeballing he gives you if you get too close.

Until Next Time…


Planting in Spring…. Surviving through Summer – Wicking Beds are one Option!

The most precious gardening resources are water, soil and sunlight.  How can we have a ripper productive garden through summer and not squander Perth’s rare two of the three most precious resources – water or soil nutrients????? We went down the path of investigating wicking beds.  The theory is that they capture the water which […]

Festivals, Fetes and Fun

Unsustainable September has well and truly spilled into October and November, but fear not, the learning continues as we prune, pick and propagate our way through all the events.  Today I thought I would share what I have learnt (through failure and success!) whilst trying to pull together a primary school fete plus a few […]

Pick a Plant Day – Our Cotton Plant

Those cotton wool balls you have on hand for various uses around the home must have been significantly processed to look the way they do? Not as much as you think… Our experience: Our plant was grown from seed planted in spring 2013 within a wicking barrel (will cover wicking beds in another discussion). It […]