Organic garden design – Case study in urban agriculture
Organic garden design and build is always an interesting challenge. There are so many factors to consider with any organic garden design to ensure the mix of design elements match the goals and resources of the gardener. I wanted to share some experiences and photos of quite a large and interesting project we are currently working on.
The project is in Northern NSW close to Federal and Byron Bay on a property called Windaboo. The land is 120 acres with grassy paddocks, beautiful forest, large house yard with many structures and a well established orchard and sad looking vegetable garden.
The owner of the property bought it in 2016 and has a big vision to turn the property into a healing, conference and educational centre. This vision also includes a significant upgrade with organic and biodynamic food growing activities.
Our first project with the organic garden design was a total remake and doubling of the vegetable garden in the house yard from about 100 m2 of gross space to 220m2 and to increase the proportion of bed area in the space, as well as making the layout within the organic garden design much more functional and beautiful with sitting areas.
- Space survey – Working out contour of space, how it could be expanded, any impediments to expansion, sun levels, proximity to building areas and water resources.
- Soil analysis – We conducted a comprehensive soil test which was done by EAL. This gave us recommendations to tune up the soil for its purpose of intensive vegetable and herb growing. The base soil was very promising but needed mineral balancing.
- Layout design – We did a drawing of the bed layout and then fine tuned this as we built it, a more agile approach since bed garden structure was easy to manipulate.
- Design features – With the gentle west to east slope of the space, we cut the beds into the slope and used one sleeper on the lower edge of each bed (16 beds in all up to 7m in length).
- Beds – Running north south across slope and nearly all beds and paths had the same width of 80 cm. This provides very easy access and allowed us to use soil from the paths to build up soil height in the beds (lots of digging involved in this and the method works a treat on a slope). Central paths are 1 m wide.
- Sitting spaces – We provided 3 sitting spaces for small table and chairs in the middle of the garden all around a tall palm tree. This tree provides shade from afternoon sun on one side, morning sun on another and midday on another. And yet because of foliage height, it still leaves enough light for the garden.
- Other elements – The fence around the garden needed to be replaced, proper gates set up to match the flow of people around the space and a composting area established in the garden area. There was also 3 fruit trees on the southern edge of the garden area and we choose to leave these in the garden
- Tree root issues – In preparing the site, we noticed many roots spread through the existing garden space from trees on the west side of the garden. We also had to deal with roots of the palm tree sitting in the middle of the garden and the roots of the fruit trees in the southern edge.
- Dealing with organic refuse – The materials gathered from cleaning up the existing garden were all to be reused around the garden. This included grass, weeds and tree clippings. There was quite a layer of soil in the grass which was scooped off with a bobcat.
- Area – The vegetable garden now occupies about 220m2 of area with sixteen beds and a net bed area of just over 100m2
- Beds – With all beds level, we worked the slope to create soil and level paths. Organic refuse piled on lower edge and will be used for planting.
- Drainage – Optimised with no hard edges on the upper side of each bed enabling easy flow of moisture overland through the garden
- Soil – 60% of the garden was all the native soil, loosened, as well as lifted from path soil and based on soil tests, we added boron, sulphur to bring the pH of 7 closer to 6.5, seaweed and fish emulsion with the biodynamic compost preparations and biodynamic soil conditioners. In another section garden area, we brought in some good quality soil to top up beds and used about 4 cubic metres. This soil was enhanced with the biodynamic conditioners and mixed in with native soil. We will monitor how each section goes, I expect improved native soil will work best.
- Tree root issues – Created a lot of work and we put in a metal root barrier at 0.5m depth on the western edge. This will need to be monitored. Around the palm, we found that roots did not spread far, so the 3 sitting areas surround this tree, thereby reducing root impact on beds. With the fruit trees on southern edge, we positioned paths in front of them giving good distance from veg area.
- Planting out – We wet beds, mulched them with beautiful grassy hay (no seeds), then planted all beds in a rotation pattern. We have a mixture of 60 crops: root, leaf, flower and fruiting veg as well as annual and perennial herbs. Many flowers have been planted around the garden to create form, beauty and bring beneficial insects. About 600 plants and 600 seeds (1200 in total) were planted. Water baths for birds are being set within the space.
- Fencing – The fencing was 1.3 high on 1.65m high star pickets rammed into the ground. About 60m of boundary around the garden and then 3 compost bays within the garden. Beautiful wooden gates are being placed on 2 entry points. The fences on the north, west and eastern borders are being used for climbing edible annuals and perennials
- Watering – Initially 2 sprinklers are being used, but a drip tape system will be installed. This area gets a lot of rain
The other major projects to get underway this year are:
- First stage of commercial cropping area of high value herbs in one of the paddocks
- Improvement of orchard which has about 60 well established fruit trees, many requiring some special care
This organic garden design project sits within our garden build, consulting and mentoring services. A great bunch of people to work with (including my two sons, Rory and Joe) and an amazing piece of land for our creative palet with organic garden design.
Authored by Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au