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Back yard blank slate in Helensville  RSS feed

 
Leslie Viljoen
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Hi guys!

I have recently moved into a rental property in Helensville, Auckland (NZ). I am in the process of getting permission to make something of the garden - which would probably be ok since everyone around here seems to have some kind of farming operation going on.

The yard is currently just grass and masses of onion weeds and hawksbeard. Its not a huge but there's at least 70m2 of fairly sloping clay soil. Rainfall is quite high and its quite windy.

I want to start planning but don't know where to begin. I have read a ton of books and articles about permaculture and organic farming and watched videos but I almost feel like I need some kind of *local* expert to tell me what to plant and where and how to prepare the soil. I wonder if there are local travelling permaculture advisors?

I am quite inexperienced at gardening, my previous effort at my old place in South Africa was just to try planting every fruit or vegetable seed I could get my hands on and try to get some experience that way - but I mostly had to put everything in pots and nothing did really well except maybe the basil. It was a lot of hard work (and money) for very little success.

I'm thinking I'm going to have to terrace the slope and plant some kind of wind barriers first of all - assuming I can get permission. So any recommendations in these conditions?

So far I have planted a tomato plant and some peas in the soil and they have grown well despite being in the wind - so the clay soil is not a total loss.

Les
 
Milton Dixon
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Hi Les,

The best experts on what and how to grow things where you are are the locals. People are really your most valuable resource. Is there any way you can connect with the folks around you? Even if it's not organic you can learn a lot from them. Also the local plant life around you can give you great information about what will grow. For a start it sounds like you should try planting onions (from the onions) and lettuce (from the hawksbeard). What other kinds of plants and trees are growing in your region?

It sounds like you were on the right track in SA and now in NZ, just don't try things willy nilly. Start with a few things (like your peas and tomatoes) and based on your observations move on to other plants as you learn more. You shouldn't be spending a lot of money on this now until you're clear on what is needed (possibly ever if you work it right).

Mini terraces and windbreaks sound like a good place to start. What do people use locally for windbreaks? I would look into nitrogen fixers too.

I live in the Midwestern US and the clay soil here is great, full of minerals and holds moisture very well, you just have to observe how it works and go from there.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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do you have to get permission to plant what you want on your own land?

i would also start with the windbreak/living fence. as it will be some time until it matures and works as a fence/windbreak.

you will be happy you got it done early. when your garden inside is full of goodies that wild animals(in my case) want to eat.

clay soils are actually some of the most fertile, the problem is they just need a little help with air and water moving through it.
 
Zenobia Quambush
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what I find fun is getting outdated seed packets, which you can get at a great discount or often for free. I throw the seeds out in a space that I dug and see what happens. I know, not terribly scientific, but it gives me a good idea of what will do well and what won't. I get a chance to see how my site reacts to the plants. I am actually growing something while I get to know my site. I know that a lot of people look down on outdated seeds because of loss of viability but the loss in the first year is only about 20%, that means 80% of those seeds are just fine. If you are getting the seeds for free, who cares if some of them are duds?

The best made plans often go awry so don't get to hung up on getting the right plan or the right plant for the spot. A designer can come in, pick out all your plants for you and tell you where to put them, but that designer doesn't know the quirks of your space you could lose the lot of them. The quirks can only be found by watching your yard for the course of a year, or more. Just jump in and have some fun. Play! Yeah, some plants are going to die and others will have to be moved. Oh well! You said you have read tons of books, trust your intuition and go with it. Get your hands dirty.
 
Leslie Viljoen
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Thanks for the responses!

I will try some onion and garlic, though I suppose I'll have to keep careful track of what I've planted versus the similar looking onion weeds!

Seeds I had lying around were tomato and watermelon, so I just planted them. I had tons of expired seeds in SA but I had to leave them behind

The one tomato I planted did very well in the clay soil - but down at the bottom under the soil there is what looks like genuine potter's clay. I don't know how I'm going to get anything growing in that. There is some less dense soil above it so I'll start by planting in that.

I'll attach some photos so you can get a better idea of the space I am dealing with. The second picture is the trench I just dug. I heaped up the soil next to the trench and poured some potting soil over the top, then planted tomatoes all along the mound. It rained straight after and you can see how the water is sitting in the trench. I plan to bury organic waste in the trench. There were tons of worms as I dug, so that's great for drainage.

The last picture is a weed in the grass that is so successful it pretty much already is 50% of the grass. Can anyone identify it? There's plenty of oxalis in the grass too, so strawberries will probably do well.

As for local experts, there are plenty of farms in the area and Google shows a couple of people that seem to be permaculture friendly. I will try to make contact with them (that was part of my motivation for posting here!)

backyard-slope.jpg
[Thumbnail for backyard-slope.jpg]
Overview of the area showing the slope
trench.jpg
[Thumbnail for trench.jpg]
Trench behind retaining wall
grass-competition.jpg
[Thumbnail for grass-competition.jpg]
Grass competition
 
Leslie Viljoen
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Hmm, the trench is still full of water an hour after the rain. That's some heavy clay there! I suppose its because we are pretty close to a river.
 
Milton Dixon
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Standing water is fine, as long as you don't get mosquitoes. You should dig a whole lot more swales!

Is that yellow flower a buttercup?

Remember, anything you do will be better than what's there already.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Hi Leslie, clay's awesome if you use it right, and the Aukland climate grows some great veg.
I think Hellensville has/had loads of orchards and market gardens,so that means fertile. I'm not much good with anything north of Wellington though...
If you're renting, I wouldn't suggest spending a lot of time and money on things unless you're confident you'll be there for ages. There's lots of things to do that are short-term and can be picked up and taken away. Eg: windbreak cloth. Totally un permie, but it's instant and can be reused loads. I recommend horticultural-quality woven black 800mm (green looks really stupid).
In Aukland, I'd plant garlic around May-June. I've had really bad experiences with onions and think they're a total pain, but I'm a bit rough-and-ready with them.
Do you want to plant more things now, or after you've sorted a bit of design stuff? Soon it'll be time to get the cool-season veg in, and there's always lettuces.
I think one of the most valuable things is to get to know what does well locally. Not much in the way of frosts, so parsnips might be average, etc. Talk to local gardeners if you can.
Things that might be interesting to look up online and there may be Aukland contacts: Koanga gardens/institute for permie seeds and info, based up north so ideal for northern gardeners. Oooby. Transition Towns. gardengrow is a pretty easy and reliable website for planting times.
 
Leslie Viljoen
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Milton: I'll dig a bunch more swales once I have a response from the landlord
Yes, that is definitely a buttercup. We have tons of those!

Leila Rich wrote:Hi Leslie, clay's awesome if you use it right, and the Aukland climate grows some great veg.
I think Hellensville has/had loads of orchards and market gardens,so that means fertile. I'm not much good with anything north of Wellington though...


Ah great, you are at least from New Zealand. Perhaps you can tell me if there are any regulations I should look out for with regards to composting or keeping of animals? Auckland bylaws seem to prohibit chicken tractors! http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/council/documents/bylaw/part3.asp#3

There are many farms around here, our neighbours have sheep. They'll probably be able to inform me on some of the laws.

Leila Rich wrote:
If you're renting, I wouldn't suggest spending a lot of time and money on things unless you're confident you'll be there for ages. There's lots of things to do that are short-term and can be picked up and taken away. Eg: windbreak cloth. Totally un permie, but it's instant and can be reused loads. I recommend horticultural-quality woven black 800mm (green looks really stupid).


Thanks for that. We plan to be here for ages but you never know when a landlord might change their mind!

Leila Rich wrote:
In Aukland, I'd plant garlic around May-June. I've had really bad experiences with onions and think they're a total pain, but I'm a bit rough-and-ready with them.
Do you want to plant more things now, or after you've sorted a bit of design stuff? Soon it'll be time to get the cool-season veg in, and there's always lettuces.
I think one of the most valuable things is to get to know what does well locally. Not much in the way of frosts, so parsnips might be average, etc. Talk to local gardeners if you can.
Things that might be interesting to look up online and there may be Aukland contacts: Koanga gardens/institute for permie seeds and info, based up north so ideal for northern gardeners. Oooby. Transition Towns. gardengrow is a pretty easy and reliable website for planting times.

Thanks for all these great tips!

 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Leslie, how big's your back yard?
I'd weigh the up and downsides of chooks up very carefully before getting them: they will wipe out vegetation wherever they are and there's a lot of poo...
Your bylaws look very similar to ours. I think it's nearly impossible to comply to the letter, I'd just go ahead. Neighbours are the only real potential issue as far as 'dobbing you in', so maintain a good relationship. Give them eggs and don't even think about roosters!
As for composting, I'm pretty sure there's no regulations, except you can't create a rodent hotel on the back lawn. It comes back to the neighbours and not freaking them out too much. Bribe them with produce
Which way does your yard face? That yellow flower is buttercup. It's a bit of a pain and I'd try to keep it out of garden beds, but I wouldn't fight it generally as it will win! It thrives in waterlogged, acidic conditions, which backs up your thoughts...btw, it's toxic to stock/poultry. Free-range chooks ignore it, but. I'd be careful about a tractor though, since they're more likely to eat everything.
I stopped trying to kill the oxalis ages ago and it was a relief to stop caring! Hawkbit's great for insects, you can eat onionweed...
 
Leslie Viljoen
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Leila Rich wrote:Leslie, how big's your back yard?
I'd weigh the up and downsides of chooks up very carefully before getting them: they will wipe out vegetation wherever they are and there's a lot of poo...
Your bylaws look very similar to ours. I think it's nearly impossible to comply to the letter, I'd just go ahead. Neighbours are the only real potential issue as far as 'dobbing you in', so maintain a good relationship. Give them eggs and don't even think about roosters!


Fair enough. The space is probably about 70m2.

Last week I was in the Hamilton Gardens' "sustainable back yard" section and saw the chicken tractor there - though they did say that the Chickens have regular "holidays" in an orchard
Maybe I should think about Rabbits? I was listening to this podcast today: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/620-podcast-099-lessons-from-the-forest
...one of the points was that sustainable systems require animals.

Leila Rich wrote:
As for composting, I'm pretty sure there's no regulations, except you can't create a rodent hotel on the back lawn. It comes back to the neighbours and not freaking them out too much. Bribe them with produce
Which way does your yard face? That yellow flower is buttercup. It's a bit of a pain and I'd try to keep it out of garden beds, but I wouldn't fight it generally as it will win! It thrives in waterlogged, acidic conditions, which backs up your thoughts...btw, it's toxic to stock/poultry. Free-range chooks ignore it, but. I'd be careful about a tractor though, since they're more likely to eat everything.
I stopped trying to kill the oxalis ages ago and it was a relief to stop caring! Hawkbit's great for insects, you can eat onionweed...


The slope runs down towards the West - I can see the Kaipara river in the valley.

About buttercups I see http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicweeds/weed_information/weed.php?id=70 says:
"Pigs eat the corms with relish and do not appear to be harmed. They will graze on the corms after ploughing. Geese pull up and eat the plants. Other birds eat bulbous buttercup plants and seeds, and there is predation too by voles and mice."

Erm, but I should probably not be thinking about keeping pigs Not that I care too much, they are probably superior to grass which just wastes energy being mowed!


Going on a tangent here, one thing I have often wondered is how much wood goes into a litre of petrol. Wouldn't it be funny if it cost a full 20 year old pine tree to mow a back yard? Wouldn't it be interesting to measure your car's petrol in trees instead of litres or gallons?
 
Jed Meadows
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Location: Helensville, Auckland, New Zealand
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Hi Leslie,

I'm currently renting in Helensville too, and have been a local in the area before that for about 20 odd years.

Which bit of HLV are you in? Rautawhiri looking down to the road, Garfield looking down townwards, or somewhere else?

Buttercup is a complete arse to get rid of, particularly in heavy clay.

I would suggest raised beds *with beams underneath to raise them clear of the soil* this way they are theoretically transportable, at least in summer when the soil is relatively dry. 1.2mx.6m is a good size (you can buy 1.2m fence palings at Mitre 10) and make them 2 boards high.

There is a guy out past Parakai on the LHS of the long flat just past were Nestlebrae exotics used to be who sells 2nd hand 44Gal plastic drums - i cut those in half and drill holes for drainage, and some at the top to tie on rope handles, and use them as oversize plant pots to grow fruit trees (plus some herb/flower understory) in until i can buy my own place.

If you have good boggy acidic soil, consider digging in some pine needles and coarse sand, and then planting blueberries.
 
Leslie Viljoen
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Jed Meadows wrote:Hi Leslie,

I'm currently renting in Helensville too, and have been a local in the area before that for about 20 odd years.

Which bit of HLV are you in? Rautawhiri looking down to the road, Garfield looking down townwards, or somewhere else?

Buttercup is a complete arse to get rid of, particularly in heavy clay.

I would suggest raised beds *with beams underneath to raise them clear of the soil* this way they are theoretically transportable, at least in summer when the soil is relatively dry. 1.2mx.6m is a good size (you can buy 1.2m fence palings at Mitre 10) and make them 2 boards high.

There is a guy out past Parakai on the LHS of the long flat just past were Nestlebrae exotics used to be who sells 2nd hand 44Gal plastic drums - i cut those in half and drill holes for drainage, and some at the top to tie on rope handles, and use them as oversize plant pots to grow fruit trees (plus some herb/flower understory) in until i can buy my own place.

If you have good boggy acidic soil, consider digging in some pine needles and coarse sand, and then planting blueberries.


It's been a while since we were discussing this - since then I've harvested a good crop of corn and have some huge Silverbeets in that bed now. The buttercups I got rid of by putting down a few layers of newspaper and then heavy wood chip mulch on top. The few that tried to grow through the newspaper I pulled out.

I am in Makiri road, south of Puriri.

The raised be idea sounds interesting - do you mean the entire bed would be on top of sheets of wood? So in effect, a large wooden tray?
Do you have contact details for the guy past Parakai? I'm new to the area so I don't know where Nestlebrae was. You can mail me directly at leslieviljoen at gmail.com.

Sand I was told was a bad idea for clay soil because it makes it into cement but pine needles might be a good plan. I could try some blueberries, I saw some in Mitre10 last week - though I already have my neighbour's rambling blackberries running wild down there. I started by pulling them out but now I'm encouraging them because they seem so happy. I've yet to see fruit on them though!
 
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