The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 

Passive Land Hydration Pt 6 Micro Swale

The simplest of all garden edging is the spade edge. Where the garden meets the lawn, a spade is used to cut the edge of the lawn. A small furrow is left in the garden bed to prevent mulch washing into the grass. In an unplanned garden this furrow usually acts as a drain. If our garden beds are created on contour, this furrow will become a Micro Swale.

I create all my garden beds on contour because it is the best way to passively hydrate them, and the greater landscape. Garden beds made off contour don’t capture runoff, only the water that falls on the surface of the garden bed. 

Construction of Micro Swale

I cut a Micro Swale across the uphill side of the bed, around 10- 20cm wide and 100mm deep. This becomes the collection point for runoff from garden paths, to spread and soak through the bed downhill. Each garden bed overflowing downhill into the next one, all the time spreading and soaking across the entire yard.  

This edge takes maintenance twice a year to keep it from growing over with grass. The Micro Swale sometimes limits my access to the double reach garden beds on the top side because the furrow is not big enough for my foot to easily fit. In some instances where the path runoff above is considerable, I may dig the furrow wider to fit my foot, but I prefer to fill the furrow with round pebbles as mentioned last week when I introduced Secret Swales.

If the path above the bed is also covered in pebbles, there will be less debris washed into the Micro Swale, maintaining capacity for longer. If the pebbles become filled with debris they can be easily lifted to wash out or replace them. Any grass or weeds that strike in the pebbles will be easily removed by hand as there is no soil for the roots to set.

This is a watering only system used in conjunction with other passive hydration systems to create a waterway through my house garden. I keep an eye on plants to make sure they have the water they need, and occasionally hand water. Most of the watering is done in my garden by Mother Nature and her Skywater deliveries. My input long since complete, the system now looks after me. Its not totally hands off, but its as close as I am willing to get without going to full automation.

This week

I find Autumn one of the busiest times of the year in the garden and in other homesteading duties. The weather is more palatable than summer, the days are shorter and the preparations for winter wait for no human.

Basil is still growing strong. Ive harvested end of summer seed so now its fresh leaf until the frost comes to melt it. Some have become significant shrubbery with stems as thick as my thumb. Fresh basil is awesome so im going to see if I can protect it from the frosts and maintain harvest longer than usual. To do this I have planted Snow Peas to create a living Cloche as they sprawl up over the basil. Its going to be a race to see if the vine grows fast enough to provide cover before a significant frost arrives.

After the Tomatoes

The Tommy Toes are the only tomato left in the garden. They are still producing flowers and ripe fruit. The other tomato root systems were so extensive that removing them would have disrupted the entire bed. So I chopped them at the base and left the roots in there. 

Leaving the roots in the soil provides organic matter for microbes to munch and convert to plant food. The decaying roots will leave air pathways through the soil, reducing compaction and allowing for water infiltration to hydrate the soil. The main reason to leave them in the soil is to maintain the complex structure created by the microbes. 

Tomatoes are usually the only roots I remove, but only to prevent the build up of nasties in the soil. However, with good crop rotation and awareness of the potential issues I will not plant nightshades here again for 2-4 years. 

New Plantings

I am planting brassicas and leafy greens in the empty tomato beds. Succession planting every two weeks will provide tucker throughout the winter. I already have lucerne planted in the bed for summer nitrification and deep mineral mining. Now I plant Snow Peas next to the tomato root and grow them up the tomato trellis. This provides winter nitrification and in 6 weeks Ill be eating Snow peas.

Snow Peas

Ive often heard it said that peas don’t grow over winter in our region. I grow them every autumn and all through winter into spring. Every year for more than a decade Ive been eating fresh snow peas all winter. What they don’t like is summer heat, so spring plantings are less productive.

I find them a great winter garden filler. I grow them up deciduous trees, fences, trellises and sometimes I even let them run across the garden as a ground cover. I plant them along paths, so visitors to the garden always have a nibble nearby. There are never enough snow peas in my garden. Plant them after a feeder crop. Plant them to establish a new bed. Plant them in a tired bed. Plant them as a Cloche for next seasons Tomatoes. Plant them next to the gate. The back door. Plant them everywhere. 

In our rich mineral soil, they taste minty, way better than anything you can buy. You can eat them within seconds of picking them, so they are fresh, fresh, fresh and nutrient dense. I don’t recall how many times Snow Peas have made it into the kitchen over the years, but it hasn’t been many. Most of the Snow Peas I grow get eaten in the garden. 

Removing summer plantings reveals thinning mulch, so don’t forget to top up. The winds are on their way and that can be as dehydrating as summer sun. Mulching will also supress the weeds when they start to pop again in the milder weather.

The Braidwood Markets are on this Saturday, at the top of the hill in Ryrie Park. We have a limited stock of winter seedlings on offer, mulch and of course our new Soil Thermometers. Stop by and have a chat, we always love to hear about your gardening adventure.

Stay Awesome

The Gordon Gnohm

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