Starting from scratch


We have the wonderful (?) opportunity to start from scratch in a reasonable sized backyard (its a rental and our landlord is keen for us to do sustainability stuff). At the moment it's mostly grass (and giant noxious weeds!! which we're gradually getting rid of). We are working with a T-shaped area. We'll have chooks at the northern end of the T, and hopefully a "food forest" with fruit trees etc at the southern end of the T. In the middle, with the most sun, we will have a series of no-dig garden beds. We have a square shaped wire enclosure (with a lid that can open and close). We sometimes use it for our rabbit, but currently our growing chickens are living in it. The enclosure is 122cm square.

What I'm wondering about is whether it would be a suitable size to base our no-dig beds on. If we made the vegie beds the same size as the enclosure, then we could also use it to prepare the beds, by having the chooks in one area to scratch it up, then one it's ready we could move them on and build up a no-dig bed in that spot.

Then later we could use the enclosure to shut newly planted beds away from free-ranging chooks!

So............ do you think that 122cm across is too wide for a no-dig garden? I know I need to be able to access the middle, when kneeling on the edge of the garden. Anyone got any advice/recommendations?

Thanks from a novice!!

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  • Hi Karen,
    I figure 122cm ok if you have perennials on the side the furthest away from the path. These could be chookfodder plants, or companion flowers, herbs etc. If you have a path on both sides of the beds, 122 should be fine, you can reach about 80 cm from the border, especially if the bed is more than 40cm high.
    This being said, I far prefer low and really narrow beds, so I can stand with one foot on each side of it, which is really useful when planting or weeding or arranging the mulch etc. As I'm quite small, that means narrower than 60cm! So if I were in your situation, I'd probably let the "chook cage" go over two beds, and just rake up the mess they leave on the path onto the beds when I move the cage, rather than building up borders of wood or stones.

    I think you should envision a larger enclosure for the chooks (for example where you want to have the fruit forest) and keep them out of the vegebeds. The few examples I've seen, made by complete newbies – a wee bit too idealistic! – of free ranging chooks in gardens have been absolute catastrophes!! I have netting on all my beds just to keep the wild birds out, and would never even dream of intentionally letting chooks roam there... well, it would be a nightmare :-) !

    Good luck! Try to get hold of a comprehensive Permaculture book or even better, go for an introduction or a certificate course. That's by far the best thing you can do to learn how to design your own place! ANd ask older neighbors, local gardengroups etc. what works in your area.

    • I agree about the chickens.....definately need to be supervised! Unless you have a massive, established garden with only 2-3 chooks. Made that mistake in my current garden and they definately hindered my progress and dissimated seed beds and ate ALL my cauliflower! and much more!!! I now have them fenced in the back 1/4 of my section where my fruit trees are establishing. The girls get an occassional fossick in the garden beds carefully watched of course :-).

      I also agree about the garden beds, I have just put in four 120cm x 120cm beds. Fortunately I can access these from at least 3 sides. They are on the large side and I am not vertically challenged.

      If I could have my time over on my current garden I would definately explore going circular.

      Best wishes for your new garden...Happy gardening.

      Warm regards, Michelle
    • Thanks for the advice. We've built one bed and haven't yet had time to fence off the whole vegie garden area (we'll probably have 4 beds altogether), so we've temporarily got the moveable wire pet enclosure sitting on top of the vegie garden so the chooks can't get to any of it. Later on we'll build a fence around the entire vegie garden area (we got some chainlink fence off Freecycle so that'll make it more affordable!).

      The bed I've started has strawberries, sugar snap peas and a little bit of kale. I've heard lettuce goes well with strawberries, so might add some of that when we get back from hols. A perennial plant in the middle of the garden would probably go really well. Any ideas of what would work well? Like someone said, even just a good companion plant for the strawberries would be helpful.

      I've got another bed the same size ready to fill soon, after we get the last of the Green Cestrum roots out. I also have an empty bathtub waiting to be used as a water garden perhaps.

      Then to build a compost bin!

      So much to do!

      About to plant 6 advanced fruit trees too! A question: We're planting them a bit raised cuz we have clay a foot or so down the soil structure. The fruit trees are in a part of the yard the chooks CAN get too. How do I stop them digging up all the mulch in the raised mound around the tree? I've heard chooks go well with fruit trees, but I'm worried they'll dig up all the mulch and expose the tree roots.
    • My you have been busy.......Asparagus is a great option, you do have to be patient and not harvest it in the first year. That needs to go in now. Garlic is another option. Otherwise globe artichokes look cool but take up a bit of space.

      In regards to the ground surface around fruit twigs poked in the ground can discourage them, chookwire around the outside is effective and even wire as a mulch workd for the feijoa's (they have very superficial roots that hate being disturbed. Other strategies are pebbles or thick established comfrey plants. I am experimenting with the 'watertubes' this year ( contact), and google watertube), and these are about 40cmto 60cm in diameter and the chooks wont be able to get any closer once they are in place, staked and filled with water. ($12.50 each) they apparently last 4 years so trees should be well established by then.

      Hope this helps

  • 122cm is wide but should be fine, works better if bed are raised, and you can sit on the edges.
    Free ranging chooks in the veggie garden? Uhm... not sure about that one, unless they are supervised...
    • From what I understand, chooks are usually ok free ranging around advanced beds; it's more new seedlings that they tend to ruin? Perhaps I'm wrong and we should fence off the whole veggie bed area? I suppose we could do that - it's just more work & more money, but might save us in the end if it stops the chooks destroying all our hard work!!??? Perhaps we should fence the veggie bed area, have an access gate, and just let the chooks into specified areas (using the 1.2 x 1.2 wire enclosure to just put them in the one bit that's been harvested & needs to get dug over?). Does that make sense? So yeah, can someone please confirm that it really would be crazy to let them have access to the vegie area at all?
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