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Plott Jottings - Ralph & Sam

posted Sep 10, 2009, 12:00 AM by Faye Connors   [ updated Sep 10, 2009, 12:05 AM ]

Garden Experiments in a truck!

Following our successful experiments in roof top gardening and wheelbarrow gardens, Ralph and I decided to up the ante in our experimental (emphasis on mental) gardening trials. This time turning an old truck into a garden and hopefully over time becoming a truck shaped garden with all rust holes, pockets, and gaps growing some wee thing. This is our “ode to peak oil” and a possible use for all cars when the planet has run out of fuel!

We have gardened the truck for just over 12 months now and I will outline the 3 main experimental areas and how the did or did not work

Area 1; the engine area

After removing the bonnet hood, we layered old blankets in the cavity around the engine and other components to create pockets where straw/ poo and potting mix where filled. We also put potting mix in the rust spaces around the window and in other small spaces in the front of the truck.

We planted herbs- calendula, mint, rosemary, parsley, oregano, sage, thyme and nasturtium seeds. Some of the plants survived but did not prosper, most died over the summer. But as we were in Canada for January it did not surprise us. Over the next twelve months we replaced dead plants with experimental strikings of succulents and other hardy plants just to see what grew, mostly we relied on fake plants to provide color and humour!

The engine got one can of water, twice a week.

Conclusion: Failure.

Not enough moisture retaining capacity to support even small shallow rooted plants. Especially over the summer.

Subsequently we have recently pulled everything out and started the process again but this time lining the engine cavity with plastic first and nestling in plastic containers into the bigger holes and planting directly into those as well as filling any other gaps with compost. Hopefully this will hold the moisture for longer allowing the plants to thrive.

We have replanted- mint, chives, chillies, sage, thyme, parsley, marigolds.

Will see how they go?




Area 2; Truck flat tray

In no-dig garden style we lined the existing timber flat tray with cardboard and newspaper, then alternating layers of horse/ chicken/ cow manure and straw. A few potatoes were planted into the mix to help break down the soil. Planting seedlings directly into pockets of potting mix. Over the last 12 months, this mixture has composted down so recently required another few layers of poo and straw.

In the first autumn, we planted strawberries, celery, lavender, rainbow chard, spinach, peas and spring onions. These beds took only 2-3 cans of water twice a week and were reasonably productive. We did not suffer any pest problems and were quite happy with the way this worked with only about 15cm of soil.

We were absent most of winter and did let thing go to seed to then use next time around. The plan for the flat tray is that eventually to have plants there that continually self seed or use plants like herbs and strawberries that we don’t have to continually add to. We also transplanted 2 passionfruit that were not prospering on the fence line and the hope is to train them up over the cab of the truck! Give the truck a hair do!

Our summer crops included strawberries, and self sown spring onions, spaghetti squash and sunflowers. We have recently added celery, broccoli, beetroot, Spanish onions, parsley, oregano, thyme and marigolds.

Conclusion: moderate success

Again inability to hold water is a problem but it seemed to work anyway. It would be good to dig it all up and line with plastic but that job will have to wait. The key to this bed will be to have shallow rooted perennial plants, like strawberries.


Area 3; the Crates

Continuing on with the no-dig/ recycled material theme and on the assumption that the soil at the CG was not particularly good (however, a subsequent soil test proved that theory incorrect, the quality of the soil is in fact quite good but dealing the subsurface limestone quite hard work), we used potato crates to create raised garden beds.

To make these beds we placed bales of straw on the bottom so as we did not have to fill them quite so high and lined the sides with “biscuits” of straw. Most vegies roots only go down between 10-30cm so we were confident the depth would be sufficient. We then alternated the layers of poo and straw and or sawdust and planted directly into pockets of potting mix.

The crates provided protection for the small seedlings to get established and the no-dig method created humus rich composted soil that really held its moisture well. Particularly the crates that used sawdust as the carbon layer.

We planted several generations of brassicas including wombok cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and broadbeans. First generation effectively was wiped but by poor management of cabbage moth, subsequent generations worked amazingly and with a little early management of cabbage moth and then complete neglect over the winter, we had the best crop of broccoli of our entire gardening careers. Our kids fought over who got to eat more broccoli! Management of cabbage moth (which involved picking off the tiny green grubs and squashing them) and plant timing, to avoid the cabbage moth altogether seemed to work well!

Our summer crops with my co-farmers Libby and Lu, consisted of sunflowers, pumpkins, spring onions, calendula, radish, rocket, roly poly carrots, zucchini, peas and beans, (or eating sticks as Gus lovingly calls them) and the “salsa boxes” which has cherry toms, chillies, banana and bell peppers and coriander.

Most crops worked well, despite the heatwave and probably not getting enough water. The crates seemed to protect the plants from the hot northerly winds. The peppers and cherry toms did not fruit at all, the chillies are just starting to fruit now. The pumpkins fruited but the stems shrivelled in the heat leaving small half formed mini pumpkins.

We have just planted another autumn crop of brassicas, Spanish onions and rainbow chard. We have also just filled gaps with spring onion, coriander and rocket seeds.

In winter we will add more broccoli, potatoes and garlic. Also need to add more peas, beans and broad beans.

We always try to companion plant and include a useful flowering plant to attract bees and butterflies. Calendulas and marigolds do this well. I also try to rotate the crops so each season a different thing is grown in a different box.


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