A garden is one of those things that provides you with peace, tranquillity and relaxation, whilst simultaneously providing you with a never-ending pipeline of hard work to keep it in a state that provides you with said peace and tranquillity. It sounds almost like the hard work would cancel out any peace, tranquillity or relaxation you might get out of having a garden, but I think the net effect is overall very positive.
I love that my children have a place where they can explore and learn, pick and eat fruits and vegetables straight from the garden, watch birds and insects that visit the garden, and understand what is involved in producing some of the food that we eat. Eating produce from your own garden is also very satisfying.
Prior to getting my own place, I would stare out of the window of the train on my way to work, and marvel at the number of empty (apart from grass) backyards. Where there were plants or trees, very few (if any) were food producing varieties.
To me, it never made any sense. If you have the space and ability to grow your own food, why wouldn’t you?
As soon as I got my own place, I proceeded to plant as many edible plants as I possibly could in the space I had available. In our garden, if you can eat it or it produces something you can eat, I planted it. If it’s inedible, pretty and/or smells nice, then my wife planted it! It actually works very well, as the various flower varieties my wife has planted attract a lot of bees and other beneficial insects to our garden, and they help to pollinate the edible plants.
Many people have told me that I plant my fruit trees too close together. This could well be true. I guess I’ll need to wait a number of years to find out if it will be a problem. My feeling is that trees, like mangos and avocados will get huge… if you let them. My plan is to keep the trees pruned to a manageable height, and where they are planted close together, cut away any branches that grow where I don’t want them (like where I want to walk between the trees), and let the trees grow only where I want them to. Hopefully this is not a fool-hardy approach and I will be able to manage it well enough to get the effect I want, which is a dense canopy of fruit-producing branches above, with pathways cut out between the trees so that you can easily walk between the trees and under the canopy. Time will tell if it will work out or not.
I have seen videos and read articles saying that you can get improved yields when planting mango orchards, through high-density planting (more trees planted closer together) and regular pruning/canopy management. Larger trees will produce more fruit, no question, but harvesting fruit from a 10m tall tree is very difficult, so you end up losing most of the fruit growing higher up on the tree. For trees like Macadamia, this is not an issue, as the nuts fall to the ground and you harvest them from there, but something soft, like a mango or avocado is a different story.
My hope is that the high-density planting method will also apply to multiple varieties planted close together, and that this method does not only apply to orchards with a single type of tree.
Fruiting Plants and Trees
- 1 x Washington Navel Orange
- 1 x Tahitian Lime
- 1 x Eureka Lemon
- 1 x Lemonade (sweet lemon)
- 1 x Dwarf Meyer Lemon
- 2 x Macadamia
- 1 x Feijoa
- 2 x Kensington Pride/Bowen Mango
- 1 x Nam Doc Mai Mango
- 2 x Black Fig
- 1 x White Fig
- 1 x Imperial Mandarin
- 1 x Satsuma Mandarin
- 1 x Hawaiian Guava
- 1 x Jaboticaba
- 1 x Hass Avocado
- 1 x Fuerte Avocado
- 1 x Wurtz Avocado
- 1 x Pinkerton Avocado
- 2 x Sheppard Avocado
- 2 stands of Dwarf Cavendish Banana - yes, bananas are a herb, not a tree
- Sage (deceased) - need to plant more
Berries, vines and bushes
- 10 x Sunshine Blue Blueberries (planted in a row to form a hedge eventually)
- 1 x Northland Blueberry
- 1 x Reveille Blueberry
- 1 x Brigitta Blueberry
- 1 x Burst Blueberry
- 1 x Thornless Blackberry
- 1 x Thornless Loganberry
- 5 x Passionfruit
Vegetables, grains and annuals
I have a range of these growing at different times of the year in the raised veggie beds and have recently started experimenting with growing grains as well. Here is a list of some of the things I have successfully grown:
- Chili (Jalapeno, Bishops Crown, Long red)
- Cherry tomato
I’ve had limited success with brassicas. I almost always end up with cabbage moth caterpillars, aphids and other creepy-crawly critters that seem to mess up most of the plants. This probably has to do with my dislike for using any sort of insecticide pest control in my garden. I need to experiment with some home-made, natural sprays to deter these pests and hopefully prevent them from destroying my brassicas.
- Romanesco broccoli
- Brussels Sprout
- Bok choy
- Choy sum
- Chinese broccoli
- Lettuce (Iceberg, Butter Crunch)
Cucurbits, Melon and Corn
- Cucumber (Lebanese, Continental, Muncher)
- Pumpkin (Butternut, Kent, Whangaparaoa Crown)
- Watermelon (Sugar Baby, Stars and Stripes)
- Sweet Corn (F1 Hybrid, True Gold)
- Peas (Snow, Sugar Snap)
- Beans (Scarlett runner, Purple King, Borlotti, Red Kidney)
- Broad Beans
- Peanuts (growing now for the first time, haven’t harvested yet)
- Chick peas (didn’t work very well, might try again some time)
Grains and seeds
- Wheat (Khorasan)
- Oats (growing now for first time)
- Sweet Potato (growing now for first time)
Raised Vegetable Garden Beds
The raised vegetable garden beds are made from retaining wall blocks. The blocks for the first two raised beds came from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s place when they rebuilt their house. They didn’t need the old retaining wall blocks, so I gladly took them and made my first two veggie beds out of them. I also made the round bed from the curved retaining wall blocks from their place.
I bought some additional blocks to make the remaining beds. They aren’t exactly the same as the original ones, but they look close enough.
The idea of the raised beds is to provide good drainage and means I don’t need to bend down as far when weeding or planting out the beds. The edges also make a nice seat to sit out in the sun and appreciate the garden on a warm autumn afternoon.
Prior to having the irrigation system in place, having great drainage was a double-edged sword, as it also meant I needed to be fastidious with my watering efforts, and sometimes, I was not. During the hot summer months, good drainage and irregular watering means dry beds and unhappy veggies.
Compost, Worms and Fertiliser
Apart from creating compost that can be used on the garden, composting serves as a good way to get rid of a lot of the organic matter produced in a garden. Stalks of plants, small branches and leaves from pruning trees and hedges, spoiled fruit and vegetables, weeds and grasses (prior to seed formation), vegetables peelings and seeds… pretty much anything other than large branches and weeds that have seeds and/or bulbs that we don’t want growing in the garden.
Putting seeds of plants like pumpkins into the compost is a great way of ensuring that when you use the compost, you end up with pumpkins coming up without having to buy pumpkin seeds or seedlings. If they come up where you don’t want them, you pull out the young plants and put them back into the compost. If they come up where you want them, great! Let them go and you get pumpkins. I’ve had lots of butternut and kent pumpkins come up in the veggie beds and they are very productive. The plants do take up a lot of room though.
I started with a worm farm and a compost bin in the back yard. You can put most things into the worm farm, but the red-worms used in worm farms are apparently not fond of citrus, onions, garlic or chilli. I don’t put any meat or table scraps into the worm farm or compost bins. Prior to getting chickens, food scraps used to go into the bin, but now pretty much only inedible, non-compostable items go into either the bin or recycling. The worms provide a liquid fertiliser, known as worm wee, which is collected from a tap at the bottom of the worm farm. They also produce worm castings, which is basically worm poo, that is a rich fertiliser and can be incorporated into the soil. I sometimes dump the worm castings into the compost bins when I don’t have anywhere else to put them, as there are worms and worm eggs among the castings, and these will thrive in the compost bin… and I will eventually use the compost on the garden anyway, so it isn’t going to waste. Just being stored for later.
I ended up getting two more compost bins in the front yard when I got the bananas, one under each stand of bananas, on the uphill side. My reasoning was that when a banana stem has fruited, it never creates another bunch and is usually cut down to make room for another stem to grow. The stems and leaves are usually left around the base of the stand of bananas to decompose and feed back to the trees. I usually spread my lawn clippings under the bananas, so I figured having a compost bin close by means I can just dump any leaves, stems or other garden refuse from nearby into the bins, let them decompose and when the compost is ready, spread it under the bananas. Any nutrients that leech out from under the compost bin into the ground will help to feed the roots of the bananas.
The chickens are now providing me with a regular supply of chicken manure, which is common fertiliser and very high in nitrogen. I’ve been putting this either under the bananas or into the compost bins. Chicken poo does smell a bit, so when I do put it under the bananas I cover it with lawn clippings after mowing the lawn. The irrigation under the trees helps the wood shavings and chicken manure decompose and feed the bananas.
This has already been a hugely successful add-on to the garden. It was space that was previously not utilised and is very productive. Adding a trellis to a fence opens up a whole new space to grow food. It gets good morning sun and has already provided us with black muscat grapes, blackberries and should very shortly produce passionfruit, sultana grapes and loganberries.
I decided upon stainless steel wire balustrading for the trellis, as it is strong, looks quite neat and can be easily re-tensioned if required.
I will be repeating this setup twice more along the fences on the opposite side of the property. Those are metal fences, so the setup will need to be slightly different, but should give the same effect and allow lots of passionfruit to grow in the afternoon sun.
The irrigation system was put in mainly to water the garden beds around the edge of the garden, the bananas and the raised veggie beds. The fruit trees, once established, don’t really need water very often or at all, so I haven’t made any provisions to water them. If we end up with a very long, hot, dry spell and the trees are looking in need of water, I can easily hook up a garden hose and sprinkler to water the trees. My poor lawn gets very neglected in terms of watering, but I figure I can’t eat lawn, so I’m going to focus my watering on plants that produce food.
This is getting long, I should end it here
The coming years are going to be very exciting to see how much the growth and productivity of the garden will increase, now that I have regular watering, multiple sources of compost and fertiliser and some well established fruit-producing trees, vines and bushes.