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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 3:36 am 
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Sooooo...

My current existence as a quazi-economic refugee takes me from place to place, and in some of those places I repay the nice peoples by setting up gardens for them. I find myself back at one of those places again (hence my current return to teh interwebz) and in addition to the thriving garden and internet connection I also find... a digital camera!

Internet Connection + Digital Camera + Zombie Squad = Picture Thread!
Therefore without any further ado - behold, a survivor no-dig/raised bed garden in words and pictures.

Image
^ Here it is with a standard issue zombie-slaying watering can in the foreground for a sense of scale.
Please note: Retaining wall constructed of brick flails :wink: :lol:.
Constructed and Planted Out on Australia Day Jan 26th. Photos taken today March 6th.


As some of you may know, I have a background in permaculture and permaculture design so I guess I should go into the thought process behind this sucker.

The area you see in the pictures was basically a fenced zombie-proof unused courtyard area - brickpaved, with full sun and an interesting feature: namely, the evaporative airconditioner on the roof of the house spills it's watery guts onto this area once a day by way of a downpipe (white pvc pipe in pic below). A tank to collect this runoff is economically unfeasible right now for the good folks here so applying some permaculture principles, a little outside the box thinking and zombocalyptic perspective I came up with the following.

Image

resources:
>The aforementioned area, brick paved and in full sun.
>The aforementioned flooding.
>The pavers (brick-flails) you see in the pictures, which were piled against the fence originally.
>A small pile of cardboard and newspaper that I dragged out of thier recycling bin.
>Some large sheeting plastic I also dug out of the same recycling bin.
>4 x 20L Buckets of Clean Fill/Sand I liberated from slavery from some evil despot's landfill empire.
>A budget of about $100 dollars Australian. Spent as follows...
...1 x bale of Straw.
...1 x bale of Pea Hay.
...1 x large bag of DPM (Densified Poultry Manure - pellets).
...2 x bags of Mixed Manure (Cow/Horse/Sheep/Poultry).
...1 x large bag of Spent Mushroom Compost.
...1 x bag of Seed Raising Blend Potting Mix.
...1 x bottle of Seaweed Extract/Fish Emulsion Liquid.
...Seeds, Seedlings.

I wish I'd got to take step by step photos when I was laying it in but beggars and choosers and all that. lol

design:
I've always used variations on the raised bed layered no-dig <---clicky approach when going about this sort of gardening and in this situation it was pretty much the perfect fit. The desire of the good folks in question to have as much good food goodness as possible and kitchen herbs mixed in with the scant amount of decent biomass onhand to apply to the task pretty much demanded it.

We settled on gross feeders to meet most of thier expectations - Butternut Pumpkins, Large Candy Watermelons, Round Sweet Watermelons and Rockmelons. Gross feeders love no-digs and thier expansive spreading habit suits the small compact nature of this particular garden. That may sound counter-intuitive but it's not. The gross feeder's roots stay nicely contained and are therefore easy to keep fed and watered. The bulk of the plant, especially when faced with the close (read as: competitive) company of it's kith and kin grows outside the raised bed.

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^ Gross feeders sallying forth to discover new worlds and subdue the couchgrass barbarians who dwell there; to populate those same new worlds, multiply and be fruitful.

Things like Cherry Tomatoes, Chillies, Capsicums, Telephone Peas, Mexican Tarragon, Chives, Basils and Mints would tough it out in the bed growing amongst the grossfeeder's initial leaf sprawl.

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^ Common Mint "toughing it out" amongst the comparative ZPAW luxury of the leaves of a Round Watermelon.

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^ Capsicums, Columnar Basil and Cherry Tomatoes "toughing it out" amongst the comparative ZPAW luxury of the leaves of a Butternut Pumpkin.

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^ Cherry Tomatoes, Capsicums and Chillies "toughing it out" amongst the comparative ZPAW luxury of the leaves of a Rockmelon and a wall of Telephone and Field Peas.

The flooding thing was going to be interesting, obviously I wanted to harness the water but didn't want to create a steenky anerobic mess. I could have pulled out some pavers to allow for drainage but quite frankly, the gutless sand that underlies the area would have caused more problems that way - drawing away any benefits and giving the incredibly invasive couchgrass an opening into the growing area. So drawing on previous knowledge and experiences I settled on harnessing the miracle of capillary action which I'll go into shortly.

application:
First I built the retaining wall bar the top two courses, then I lined the "floor" with the cardboard and newspaper as a weed mat. I then lined the walls with the plastic sheeting which normally I wouldn't do but the threat of couch making it's insidious way into the bed was worse than any downsides to the plastic lining. The final two courses kept down the plastic. A healthy layer of the liberated clean fill sand then evenly covered the cardboard/paper floor. Due to the almost hydroponic flood and drain nature of what was going to happen with the aircon water I wanted to make sure that any initial nutrient loss due to this was going to be minimal so the clean sand acts as a sandfilter of sorts keeping the good stuff in.

Now the trick to no-dig gardening if you didn't click on the above clicky is to create layers of nitrogenous and carbon materials much the same as you would an aerobic compost. Then you use your hands to push holes into the top or so layer, throw some compost and/or soil into those holes, plant your stuff in them and then mulch the lot with more straw. However, with the aircon water daily deluge and my plans for it in mind I screwed around with the system somewhat.

The first layer (besides the aforementioned cardboard, paper and sand) was a carbon layer (in this case straw) but I made it much, much thicker than the normal single pat o' hay layer would be and compressed the hell out of it. Basically I wanted as much medium for capilliary action as I could get so the garden would draw much of it's water from below rather than relying on humans to water it from above (in the long-term).

After that I pretty much followed my SOP for this sort of thing and added layers in the following order (shown below graphically)...

Quote:
Carbon (thin layer of Manure & Mushroom Compost only where the plant holes were going to be)
....................................... ___ ___ ___
Nitrogen (thin layer of DPM)......_____________
Nitrogen (Pea Hay)................+++++++++++++
Carbon (Straw).....................=============

Repeated ad nauseum, treading in for compaction action.
Then, as noted I used my licensed weapons (hands, hahaha) to push holes into the top or so layer, threw in a mix of spent mushroom compost and seed raising potting mix into those holes, planted out seeds and seedlings into them and then mulched the lot with more straw.

after action report:
The capilliary thing worked (I wasn't surprised - honest :oops:) with the bed drawing up water as high as five courses. Great Success!

The flood and drain nutrient loss thing I was concerned about did come to pass, discoloured water coming out with the retreating fluids. I covered the areas affected with fresh straw and instructed the peaceful villagers to keep this up until the colour went out of the discharge (sounds mucho ewww, but not so much). My intent was that any nutrients lost to the initial flood and drain as the bed moved towards some sort of balance could be captured with the straw with the intention of using it in the bed's first top dressing/relayering. Since I'm about to do that tommorrow (w more pics) I too count this as a victory from a designing-on-the-run point of view. Great Success!

Image
^ Photo taken from rooftop zombie sniping position.

Thanks for reading! Questions, etc - welcome. 8)
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Last edited by Tetra Grammaton Cleric on Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:54 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:06 am 
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Very Cool. My Lady and I enjoyed your post and look forward to more soon.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:19 am 
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What's the sun like in the courtyard? In Florida those melons would burn on those pavers.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:09 am 
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yale wrote:
Very Cool. My Lady and I enjoyed your post and look forward to more soon.

Thanks Yale, much appreciated. 8)
I'll try and do justice to you and your good lady's interest with the update tomorrow or so.

Kathy in FL wrote:
What's the sun like in the courtyard? In Florida those melons would burn on those pavers.

Hi Kathy. :)
It's full sun from early morning to about 3ish in the afternoon when the shade starts to creep across the bed from the house side.

Summer is starting to lose it's teeth now but still has quite a bite to it.

The vines are all being trained/herded/encouraged to head for the couchgrass so the melons and pumpkins can make thier nests ( :wink: ) off of the pavers.

I used to grow watermelons back in the day on baking hot hard clay by planting into deep, well mulched moist pits and basically making "nests" of dry mulch / hay under the spots where the melons "budded".

If you meant the pavers that make up the retaining walls of the raised beds, I agree - that was definitely one of my concerns when I was turning the design over in my head. The microclimate created within the bed with all the transpiration and such going on seems to pretty much keep things under control. I've swung by to take a look on some of the hottest days we've had since I laid it in and the butternut's leaves were barely wilting under heat/moisture stress. Betting on the capillary action thing has definitely paid dividends in what would normally be a hotbox. Then again, I've pretty much insisted on foliar feeds of the seaweed extract/etc mixture suspended in good water and I've always found that that tends to give big plants more hardiness in the more extreme of situations.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:49 am 
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Is this broad-leafed plant one of your squashes?

Image

Because that looks a lot like the zucchini and summer squash I plant here in Virginia (zone 7), but it needs a TON of space to grow. Like, 3 feet on all sides. It wouldn't fair well in that kind of planter. I wonder if your variety would do better in my small garden. I also have to plant mint very carefully because it spreads and takes over like crazy. If I "free planted" it like you have, it would run amok and be righteously competitive with everything else.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:28 am 
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Heya Salam9nder,

The fellows you pointed out are butternut pumpkins (one of the Cucurbita Moschatas)
Image
and as you can kinda see in the pics in the OP they're already packing up the covered wagons and their vines are heading into the great spaces available to them outside the bed.

I must admit to being concerned about the aggressive mint but the nice folks really wanted some in this patch. At the moment those early watermelons are keeping enough competition the mint's way so before the mint hit's it's straps I'm probably going to suggest that the majority of it ends up in teas and a big ass lamb roast ricky-tick and the surviving remnant gets tubbed.
Then again, nodigs are funny things and plants that are normally badly behaved seem to tow the party line when grown in this sort of set-up. :lol:
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 2:21 am 
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Speaking of Butternut Pumpkins...
Image

Look what I found!

Image
^Babies!

And so to the promised update...

To give you an idea what's going on under the surface the picture below is an example of the compost that's already forming just underneath the mulch. Below that is a handful of spent mushroom compost out of a bag for comparison.

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^Compost that's already forming just underneath the mulch

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^Spent mushroom compost out of a bag for comparison.

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^Today's contestants...

Adding to the above (Seaweed Extract/Fish Emulsion is the holdover champ from the OP btw) we'll be bringing back the crowd favourite "Straw!" (there was about a pat+ left over from previous) and we'll be seeing just what the anerobic soak straw from the OP will bring to today's proceedings.

Image
^Gratuitous "before" shot.

First I used about 1/3 of the bag of Mushroom Compost and generously topdressed the whole shebang as seen below taking care not to overdo it around the stems of the inhabitants as I don't want to introduce the possibility of them succumbing to such diseases as Stem Rot, Collar Rot, Solanum or the T-virus.

Image
Image

Next, I scattered about a 1/4 of the Blood & Bone about the place, again as seen in the pictures below.
Image
Image
You'll notice I'm completely avoiding the plants. This is mostly because the whole no dig concept as far as I see it is about feeding the whole system not individual plants. Also, a lot of them have been watching movies on the internet and they might rise up in the night and try something stupid if they get the taste for mammal.

Image

Next I gathered up all the straw that had been laid down to soak up the byproduct/outflow from the aircon flood/capillary action thing. The photos below show the judicious distribution of same which was followed by a light watering in with the Seaweed Extract suspended in good water.
Image
Image

Then another 1/3 of a bag of the Spent Mushroom Compost...
Image

Then more Blood & Bone...
Image

And finally, the final thick loose straw mulch followed by another light watering in with the Seaweed Extract suspended in good water....
Image
^Gratuitous "after" shot.

Thanks again. 8)

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:56 am 
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Very cool! Do these boxes do well when fed greywater?

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:19 am 
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DryGrain wrote:
Very cool! Do these boxes do well when fed greywater?

From my experience I'll say yes. Gross feeders (like curcubits) do as well as kikiyu on grey water. Someone smart like Herbalpagan, ZombieGranny or Kathy would be able to tell you about phosphates and heavy metals and the like but to my dumb ass I'm inclined to go with the old truism "shit in > shit out". That is, if you keep an eye on what goes into your grey water to make it "grey" then all should be fine. You know... low phosphate detergents for doing the dishes, happy dolphin shampoo, enviromentally friendly sulphuric acid when disolving zombie corpses in the bath... that sort of thing.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:33 am 
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Cucurbits? Kikiyu?

Keeping it nontoxic should be simple, the design I'm considering will be fed by a single kitchen sink.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:34 am 
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Curcubits - basically all the pumpkins, all the melons, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, even those gourd things - are gross feeders. In that they love living in a target rich environment. Whole compost heaps, grass clippings piles, piles of rotted hay, old manure, more old manure these are a few of their favourite things. They are big eaters and need to be fed often (thier pigstrough refilled if you will). Gross also refers to thier ability to make use of large, coarse or otherwise "unbrokendownintosmallerpiecesyet" nutrient sources. This ability lets them drink big as well and since they like stuff that's still composting/decomposing it means they can just as easily deal with taking up/expelling fluids with large amounts of suspended solids in them. In short it shouldn't bother 'em.

Kikiyu - Kikiyu is probably better handled by wiki as I don't know what it's called in your neck of the woods. Anyway, it too is a gross drinker and it goes sick on grey water.

The kitchen sink thing works.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:04 am 
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Cool beans! When I get around to setting up the graywater system, I will definitely have it feed one of these. I'll be sure to make a thread with lots of pictures while I'm working on it, too. I'm definitely going to have some questions regarding water retention and avoiding the anaerobic stink-puddle you mentioned.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Are there any edible curcubits you know of that don't require full sun?

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Tetra Grammaton Cleric wrote:
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HA! I like it!

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TGC, what do you think about the feasibility of using hydrocrystals/watering crystals in a survival garden when water supplies are low or need to be rationed? Do you think they would significantly increase the water retention of the soil enough to save the plants in low-water situations?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 12:19 am 
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razi wrote:
Tetra Grammaton Cleric wrote:
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HA! I like it!


Free from Vistaprint no less. 8)
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Anianna wrote:
TGC, what do you think about the feasibility of using hydrocrystals/watering crystals in a survival garden when water supplies are low or need to be rationed? Do you think they would significantly increase the water retention of the soil enough to save the plants in low-water situations?


TCG will answer better than me but my experience is those crystals work well for some container plants but don't seem to do quite as well "in the wild" of an open garden. Too many things vying for the water they are holding onto.

You'll do better to make sure and have lots of organic material in your soil. I have miserable sand in most of my yard. I've spent years building it up in certain locations using compost, mixing in potting soil, layering mulch, etc. In a couple of areas the sand was so poor it wouldn't support even weeds. That's sugar sand that was further sucked of nutrients by the trees from the orange grove next door. I actually dug out that side of the yard ... 10' x approx 20' ... nearly three feet down. We did this when we were having a new septic field laid and "borrowed" the little bobcat they were using. I then paid a little extra to have them run the septic gravel in a thin layer where the yard had been dug out.

On top of that I layered grass clippings, fully processed milorganite, shredded oak leaves, compost, sand, and then in a top layer I added another thin layer of well decomposed compost mixed with top soil/potting soil. On top of that I planted a cover crop of white clover. It didn't do as well as I had expected but it was also during a very dry year and I was testing for drought tolerance. That side of the house gets a brutal amount of sun. I've since added blackberry canes along the fence but even they don't do as well as I'd like because the trees in the grove and large oaks that surround the perimeter of the rest of our property steal all the nutrients they can get to.

That's another reason why I like growing things in containers. I know what I put in the pot will stay in the pot. :wink:

Got a little OT but hopefully I explained why I feel that organic stuff is preferable to the water crystals.

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Thanks Kathy.

I plan on a raised bed type garden similar to the one TGC posted here. I was going to mix my own soil for it from equal parts vermiculite or pearlite, pete moss, and homemade compost. I got that from the "Square Foot" gardening method and I've talked to some peeps who have used it successfully. It should be relatively weedless and already require less water than a typical garden. I don't expect to use the water crystals at all for general planting, but was wondering if it might be a good idea to keep them in my survival gear in case I need to stretch the water that would typically go to my garden.

I will already be purchasing the crystals to make some "cool ties" with. If it would be a good idea to save some for the garden just in case, I would consider purchasing a bit more for that purpose.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:29 pm 
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Hi Anianna - Kathy's 100% right on the best in water economy and retention strategies.

Be careful of the nature and "cheapness" of certain "water crystals" before use in a garden. Some types are "water thieves" and do not allow the system access to the water they have absorbed/become jellylike with. The good crystals may have some application in your variation on "square foot" gardening but having organic carbon matierial (humus, etc) present in the soil and having high, thick, loose mulch above the soil are the be all and end all.

Organic carbon is best added to soil by way of composting actions. Once there is organic carbon present in the right proportions and company (silicon in the form of clay, hydrogen and oxygen in the form of water, nitrogen in the form of atmosphere for example) almost religious things start to happen on a "microscopic" level.


There is a beautiful science to this...

...humus is basically "jelly like" in it's form. This is a result of all these things mentioned liking to hang out in a set up called a colloid. Things like ions, molecules, particles can be freely exchanged throughout this "gel" by way of colloidal action.

...organic carbon, amongst other important things tends to make colloids that favour microporic and mesoporic pore spaces. Vermiculite has a vast porous nature btw, which is why it's use in hydroponics was so widespread.

...the "fluid" part of the "jelly like" state comes from the fact that water is suspended semi-permanently within these colloidal solids, inside the micro and meso pore spaces. In many ways on a molecular level.

For an example - lets take a solid, still together spadeful of some really good soil and drop it gently into a bucket of water.

Now let's do the same with some crappy dirt.

First off we will notice stuff floating on the top. This is detritus. Solids that haven't broken down signifigantly enough to be called humus but are essential in that they create macropore spaces (ie: big ones) that are usually full of atmosperic gases (air haha). They, like wormtrails, fungus mycorrhizae and plant's root systems allow for the miracle of capillary action amongst other cool things when water is introduced to things.

Now paying attention to the crappy dirt bucket we will notice the water has been mixed with the dirt and we have dirty water. Look over at the bucket of really good soil. Sure there's detritus floating on the top and sure there's a miasma of suspended solids around the shovelful of soil but it has kept it's structure. Why? Because of it's "jelly-like" structure it was already saturated to it's holding capacity at the microporic and mesoporic level. Sure, water would have rushed in to fill macroporic spaces and spaces created by the disruption but on the whole the soil was already "full" - so the new water cannot enter either.

That's why organic matierial is so important as a water economy and retention strategy. If your soil "jelly reservoir" is already "full" and you have taken steps to protect the water contained therein from evaporation/transpiration etc by way of decently thick mulches (which do not have to be feeding mulches by the by but double/triple duty is always best practice) then your garden is already a "jelly water tank" that the water absorbing crystals are trying to be a poor facsimile (at best) of.

All you are doing when you water it is "topping off the tank" and keeping the mulch moist. :D



edited for teh corract speeling of the word "reservoir" - damn.
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Last edited by Tetra Grammaton Cleric on Mon Mar 09, 2009 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:42 pm 
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DryGrain wrote:
Cool beans! When I get around to setting up the graywater system, I will definitely have it feed one of these. I'll be sure to make a thread with lots of pictures while I'm working on it, too. I'm definitely going to have some questions regarding water retention and avoiding the anaerobic stink-puddle you mentioned.
Look forward to it, sounds like fun.

DryGrain wrote:
Thanks for the inspiration!

You're welcome. :)

DryGrain wrote:
Are there any edible curcubits you know of that don't require full sun?
I'd check local sources, they are all different and range in variation from cultivar to cultivar, climate to climate.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:52 pm 
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Lovely description, TGC, and very clear. I don't think I've ever heard anybody describe soil with such literary eloquence. Image

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 3:58 am 
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Anianna: Instead of those water crystal things, I use coconut coir fiber to improve the water retention of my soil. It's cheap and organic. It comes in big bricks, which you wet with water and shred apart in a bucket. I mix it in with native soil at a ratio of about 1 part coco coir to 5 parts soil, and it has helped improve some sandier parts of my garden from drying out on hot days. It also works well in those containers which are prone to being forgotten about when it's watering time. :oops:

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 7:45 am 
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aww shucks Anianna. :oops: :)

Today I noticed moar babies - round early watermelon & candy (large ovoid) watermelon - and that the rockmelon had grown an extra two foot or so. Couldn't take photos because batteries in camera were flat. Will do so tommorrow if I get the time.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 8:31 am 
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could one dump waste food into that mess or do i need to break it down a bit first?

ive got a spot between a fence and a garage that id like to use for something like this but im afraid the sun can be a bit harsh as the walls act a bit like mirrors. also, my dog thinks squash and tomatoes == "KonG" and mangles them

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:27 am 
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thefirebuilds wrote:
could one dump waste food into that mess or do i need to break it down a bit first?
Straight from the kitchen food waste is best broken down first by basic composting (a compost tumbler f'rinstance) or basic vermiculture (like a store bought worm farm). It doesn't have to be completely broken down to join the party as a nodig garden is kind of a still composting compost heap that's being used as a garden bed if you will but mostly broken down is best.

thefirebuilds wrote:
ive got a spot between a fence and a garage that id like to use for something like this but im afraid the sun can be a bit harsh as the walls act a bit like mirrors. also, my dog thinks squash and tomatoes == "KonG" and mangles them

Image
Got dimensions/aspect/etc for that garage-fence space? It would be interesting to mull over.

Don't know what to do about the target i.d issue with your dog. Is he/she a shepherd? I was going to suggest potatoes but they look kinda kong-like as well. Maybe the fact that they're underground guerilla tuber kong-impersonators could keep them off his/her radar? :P
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