Cover crop

So with the beds built and left for a few weeks it was time to put in a cover crop as a green mulch and help break up the underlying soil. Decided on some faba (or fava if you prefer) beans to fix some nitrogen into the soil, oats to provide a natural trellis
Woolly pod vetch.
Started by taking away the top layer of straw and hand distribuing the oat and vetch seeds before lightly raking them in and covering with the straw again. The beans were simply pushed into the rows of soil about 30cm apart.
Now for some rain and sunshine ūüôā

Putting it together

Now for the fun task of putting all the raw materials together!

While the original plan was to fill the entire nature strip (while abiding by the council rules), spouse pulled the reigns and the area was reduced for the time being. The up side of the current area is that the boys can still kick the footy.

It is just like making a a posh french cake Рlots of layers. The basic recipe for my no dig vegie patch is;

  • A layer of cardboard (or 10 sheets of newspaper) slightly overlapped to shade out the weeds
    • interesting to note that I didn’t have sufficient cardboard for the reduced area and had to resort to newspaper for about 4 square metres
  • A decent soaking with the hose (a good job for the boys)
  • A layer of chicken manure 5-10mm thick, well moistened with the hose
  • A layer of straw, well moistened with the hose
  • Then another layer of manure and straw at least four times

2013-05-20 08.18.03 2013-05-20 08.18.24

Two thirds through the job. Plenty of manure and straw remaining but the cardboard is all but gone

By the time you have finished the beds are quite high but it doesn’t take long for the straw to break down and the beds to reduce by half the height.

I was lucky enough to have just over a cubic metre of soil left which I had delivered to top up another garden bed so I utilised this to make rows of soil by raking a path into my straw/manure beds. This meant I could plant some seeds immediately.

The process took a couple of afternoons over two weekends. Thanks to Rod from work who offered to help on the second weekend.

Neighbour complaint

Received a phone call from spouse while at work one afternoon. A compliance officer from the council had knocked on the door. Apparently a neighbour had complained about “the state of the nature strip” with regards to both visual and smell (due to the chicken manure). Spouse explained that we had a permit which he was well aware of (good to see process works) and just said that we needed to hurray it along a little.

Sourcing materials

Sourcing the materials to create the vegie patch wasn’t too difficult. After mentioning the idea to a few people I managed to get access to 2 cubic metres of some well composted chicken manure.

I found some cheap straw on gumtree.com however the cartage made it uneconomical. Once again, using my friend network  I got the number of an acquaintance who is a farmer not far out of Bendigo. He had a heap of flood-damaged straw bales which were available for the low cost of $0. A short drive with a mates trailer resulted in 2 round bales being loaded with a tractor Рeasy work.

The nature strip was slowly being consumed by couch from the neighbours lawn so I needed a good layer of cardboard. One Saturday morning while I was in town I noticed a store owner transferring flattened boxes into her car. I struck up a conversation and learnt that she was taking them to the rubbish tip (to be recycled). A polite question asking whethe she’d mind dropping them at my place (which was a lot closer than the tip) resulted in a pile of flattened boxes almost a metre high. Spouse was not impressed stating “there will be way too many boxes for what you need”. It took an hour or so with the assistance of the boys to remove the tape from the boxes and then everything was prepared for layout.

How to guide

So you want to set up a vegie garden on your nature strip and want to know how to go about it, then this is the post for you. Note that the method below is specific to City of Greater Bendigo and was completed in mid 2012.

  1. Having reviewed the Nature Strip Policy¬†(2006) it was evident that vegetables were outside the listed “alternatives”. Having had a discussion with the engineering department it was determined that I would need to make a specific application.
  2. I submitted a simple email (see below) to council on 24 July 2012 with a Sketch Plan of the proposed layout. At the time of making the application there was an existing ornamental plum tree which was ageing and splitting apart.

    I wish to make an application to make a change to the current nature strip adjacent to our property. This application is for an alternative not listed in the current Nature Strip Policy approved by council October 4 2006.

    This application is to plant a combination of plant species listed in Appendix 1 of the Nature Strip Policy in combination with vegetable plants abiding to the maximum height restriction of 1 metre. As per the Nature Strip Policy the soil will not be built up more than 40 millimetres relative to the footpath or existing kerb. There are no distances listed in the Nature Strip Policy relating to offsetting vegetation from roadsides (to allow exit/entry to vehicles) or footpaths (to reduce vegetation overhang). If you could provide minimum offset distances it would be appreciated.

    The attached sketch shows the area of the proposed nature strip development. The existing tree in the middle of the treatment area has substantial damage and rot and has been referred to council for assessment. If the tree is to be removed I am more than willing to cut down the tree and stack the materials for collection by the council.

  3. I hadn’t had a response from council at the end of August so I sent another email asking for an update. The relevant person (Landscape Architect) had been on leave and responded 4 September stating they would look at it in the “next few days”. I did receive a phone call from the person that same day and had a general discussion about the proposal around the lack of defined council policy and potential risks. This was all summarised in an email which stated the council “generally supported” the idea and in addition to the Nature Strip Guidelines approval was subject to the following constraints;

    –¬†A clear, level and safe area 80cm wide should be maintained between the kerb and the edge of the planting. This can be surfaced in mulch.

    – An access path between the kerb and the footpath should be provided every 12m along the garden bed.

    – No retaining wall, stakes or other obstacles should be placed in this area.

    – Any vegetable planting should be maintained to not attract vermin or produce odours.

    – Vegetable plants should be removed after harvest, or if the area is not to be used productively any further.

    Рcompletion of a Works Within Road Reserves application (no charge)

    – in addition the council was going to have an arborist check the suspect tree

  4. I emailed the completed Works Within Road Reserves application to council on 7 September and received a response confirming approval on 5 October.
  5. The council did end up removing the ornamental plum tree along with a few trees in the street. The amusing thing is they planted 2 more of the exact same tree in its place. The council must have a “like for like” policy but from my perspective the plums trees are pointless and simply make a mess – something we will have to live with.
  6. While having the best intentions to begin the vegie patch prior to the end of 2012 life seemed to get in the way. The project was physically started in May 2013.

Take home messages;

  • Take a look at Gardening Australia’s high level step-by-step guide
  • Do your homework on the existing policies of your council
  • Get on the phone or make a visit to determine whether the council is amenable to the idea of a vegie patch on the verge
  • There are hoops that need to be jumped through so be patient
  • Once someone has “broken the ice” it will be easier for those that follow so make sure you document the process for your council and share it accordingly.

Inspiration

Prior to expanding onto the nature strip our vegie garden consisted of¬†12 square metres of raised beds and¬†10+ square meters of “normal” garden area allocated to edible plants plus 3 blue berry bushes, 4 rhubarbs and a 1×4 metre area of raspberries. While this area did provide access to fresh, healthy food diversity and timing was an issue. Too much “regular” stuff and all ripe around the same time.

As you would have guessed¬†Costa Georgiadis¬†from ABCs¬†Gardening Australia¬†program provided the real inspiration to “expand” our existing vegie garden onto the nature strip (or verge). The Gardening Australia program in March 2012¬†was the “eureka” moment that made me look at nature strips differently.

Being an regular runner I would run around Bendigo and notice the huge wasted resource of our nature strips. The areas close to the centre of Bendigo often have nature strips 3-6 metres wide with a tree (most often not native) plonked every so often to break the monotony. The combined time spent by property owners mowing/maintaining the nature strips for no tangible gain also seemed wasteful in addition to the 30+ square metres of land that was unproductive. So that lead me to start my own verge and this blog is dedicated to sharing the progress.