The Wilson’s get rid of the (City) menace

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[Below is an article written by one of our clients, Tristram and his family have made the break and are settling down in their own piece of paradise. This is his initial post describing their beginning, we at wish him and his family every success and joy in their courageous descision]

At the beginning of 2010 we made a conscious decision to leave the city to start on our journey of self sustainability. We took a conservative approach and retained our suburban home whilst taking up residence in our very basic small country cottage. The idea being to at least start the journey and make that first “city” break, sever the ties as it were.

The advantages (depending on how you look at it of course!) was to be able to leave behind the clutter, gadgets, crime, and general consumerism. We became sick of crime, not only because of feeling threatened, but because of having to constantly watch your back and be “expected” to do neighborhood watch.

At the end of last year we had made a decision to home school as we had totally lost faith in the sausage machine education system and were keen that our children get as much time to be children. The underlying pressures (peer and marketing/in your face advertising) in a City environment certainly don’t promote this. Children need to be able to free play, to be able to create, and more importantly to self stimulate (boredom is a swear word!). It is also important for them to develop self confidence through making things and seeing the result. For this, the countryside is a canvass of opportunity.

So, I had 2000 square meters and a small house to start with. My first priority was to get the veggie garden going and so I demarcated an area of 3m x 20m. Up until this point I had been reading and tinkering around with a small veggie bed to give myself the best head start. A small garden is a good start, firstly because it is easily manageable and secondly it teaches you how long growing times are, what seeds look like, and collecting them. It also teaches you as to what is eating the veggies and moulds and how to overcome these issues. Yes, I had my fair share of issues; letting the mint get out of control, snails, caterpillars, aphids and generally not keeping on top of things!

View of all our vegetable beds
View of all our vegetable beds

I decided on 10 beds which would be laid out down the left hand side of the property as it is the “driest” part in winter and closest to the house. The grass had to be cleared, irrigation installed, and compost laid down. Unfortunately I had none of my own compost yet, so had to get in a truck load. This was after doing a little research and listening to some recommendations from the locals into organic compost.

In the meantime I had got a few old pallets together and set them up against the back fence and added some sides. Initially, to start the heap, I went to the local dump to collect greens (fresh grass and leaves) and browns (dead grass and autumn leaves) and layered them with some horse or cow manure and kitchen scraps and a little wood ash in between. To maintain this, I am adding my lawn clippings and any other of my neighbors’ dump material.

The beds were laid out 1mx3m. I opted for drip irrigation with the main line running down the side of the property and the smaller feeder/drip lines running perpendicularly off of this and over the beds. Each bed has 3 lines running along the length with drippers spaced approx 300mm apart (I figured this would be a good standard spacing). I bent wire into 300mm long “hoops” and pushed them into the soil over each dripper which helps to keep the dripper line straight, and when the compost was laid down, helped me to locate where the drippers are were (I figured this may be good when it came to planting, i.e. plant near the dripper!). 100mm of compost was laid over the top of each bed, burying the lines under it. There was a little experimenting here as this is a half mulching and half raised bed method where the set up is fairly minimal. I took up the grass which is very intensive, but I had no cardboard or plenty of newspaper to sheet mulch. The flexible polypropylene irrigation piping was purchased in rolls from a national agricultural supplier who had their “own” brand of drippers.

Irrigation pipes into beds
Irrigation pipes into beds

Then came planting. I had various sources of seeds, and although wanted to plant the basics, I was keen to try out different crops, specifically heirloom. The reason for this was to rediscover crops that had been lost through the modern marketing forces of today, and of course variety.

I decided to plant about 10 -12 rows, depending on the crops, along each bed. Although many people write about companion planting, I decided to basically plant whatever I felt like next to each other, onions being the exception! I will fill in with some of the pest preventing plants like chives, nasturtiums and marigolds etc later. I started with carrots, beans, peas, beetroot, NZ and Swiss chard spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, chives, radishes, lettuce and cabbage.

The challenge has been to try to figure out how many of each variety to plant for my family of four, and how to stagger the planting times to ensure a continuity of crops. Here I have flown by the seat of my pants and letting experience be my guide. There are always ways to improve, for instance I got caught out with frost with my beans and had to make a simple tent system until I work out something more permanent. Common sense and a little creativity is all that is required; see what you have lying around.

I set out an excel document, documenting each bed; what had been planted, where and when, and who’s seeds were used.

Time passed and the crops began appearing. Peas had to be staked and the crops checked for bugs and a bit of weeding etc.

After about a month and a bit I am already eating lettuce, radish and NZ Spinach.

So let’s see what happens! Watch this space.

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