Wednesday, February 15, 2012

:: crop circles ::

Today has been a rather exciting day (you probably WILL get sick of me saying this as I have a propensity to find LOTS of things exciting, everyday!!) - we have our first circular garden bed ready in our Permaculture Mandala Garden.  
Previously, we'd gardened Linda Woodrow's system almost to the letter and had enjoyed a stunning range and volume of homegrown, organic vegetables, herbs and fruit from just a small area less than 15 metres from our house and covering an area of 15m x 22m. The system is a fantastic example of working smarter, not harder and integrating as many elements as possible for the potential of a synergistic gain.  It did work wonderfully.
Returning to our property after two years of being overseas, we found the garden now grassed over and saw it as a blank canvas to reconsider. We had a few concerns with the system in relation to our own needs - quite frankly I'd managed to put my hip and lower back 'out', terribly, clambering in and out to collect eggs, for one! And, being a smaller family of three and yet wanting to have the hens fully utilised for the whole year, having smaller-sized garden beds and less hens was something we began to ponder..., we've taken a bit of time to think this all through and have come up with a new design, which is simply a scaled-down version of Linda Woodrow's Chook Dome with a few changes/improvements, as we'd like to think of them as being.
the new, 3/4 chook dome and freshly-created bed in the foreground
Firstly, we chose to make the overall size only 3/4 as big - it is now 2.8m diameter and in constructing this new version, all the measurements could easily be made 3/4.  Instead of that path, we decided to see if we could make a very strong structure AND lower the second ring of piping (it is 20mm high pressure PVC pipe - quite an investment - so we recycled ours very readily from the larger version) so that we could make a much more 'hip-friendly' door.  As much as one does not really want or intend to step on a garden bed in the making, there are certain activities requiring at least one foot in - such as making sure the lawn-mower-catcher-nesting box is in far enough to not get soaked when it rains, collecting the eggs, changing the water, moving the structure on to the next bed-site and on occasion, to make inspections of hens (to oil legs and feet, etc) - which I often do at night with a head-torch, once they are very docile and perched for the night.

The result is amazing - the tall, slim, rectangular door works very ergonomically; two light, yet hard and solid tea-tree branches for a perch either side of the entrance (so one can enter without banging into them) and three diagonal cross-braces have created a very sturdy and compact new dome.  We are feeling pleased.  As well, I found that today I was able to extremely-easily move the whole thing across to the next site - alone - by stepping inside and using the perches (with garden gloves on!!!) to lift it up just enough without allowing escapees out - to move it. Wonderful.

freshly-'chooked' soil vs grass
Into our chook dome we have been putting all the lawn clippings, chipped-down plant trimmings, our hen-friendly food scraps, normally-compostable weeds we have pulled and lots of encouragement.  In return, after just over two weeks of heavy scratching and, well...fertilising...the 'girls' have created a beautifully "chooked" garden bed for us to begin planting in. In essence, they have turned all these (waste) ingredients into a nicely mixed, highly fertile mulch/soil covering.
'crop circles' with the rainbow fence in the background
Before moving the dome to the next site we had to work out just where all our beds would go - as we ideally need 13 growing beds at a time to allow enough time to grow the crops before the hens come back for weeding and fertilising again.  We decided 13 x 2 weeks' duration of hens x 2 rotations = 52 weeks and that this maths would work well, especially thinking about the moon cycles, too. [Such a lot to think about!]  I'm certain that using the upside-down spray-paint is not organic, but we couldn't think of a better way to mark them all out visually, easily. Another consideration is to make paths wide enough for access but not to have too much/many pathway/s.
Given we have down-sized, I intend using the extra space for more perennial herbs and vegetables and to add more companion flower plants into the garden.  As well, we have a terrifying version of our wonder-plant/herb: comfrey - it just grows so fast so big and we think we are probably able to harvest it over and over each season - it sprawls in a matter of a few short weeks - we love it and yet...! [The comfrey is what we are gradually planting as a grass-barrier to the garden as it grows way faster than grass and shades it out, whilst remaining in place (so long as you don't accidentally plant it in an unintended spot!) as a clumping plant. It is useful as a mulch, to make compost teas, compost, to feed to the hens in small-ish amounts and we also eat it ourselves in green smoothies and along with other dark, leafy greens.]
So, over the next six months, we shall see this garden evolve and form into [hopefully] a beautiful and highly functional, productive space...fingers crossed! I shall bring you updates...soon!


  1. I've drooled over Linda Woodrow's book, so it's lovely to see you guys doing it! I look forward to the follow up pics after a few months.

  2. Very nice work....! Gotta love those productive crop circles and whom could ever tire of the joys of comfrey.....x

  3. thank you James - yes, will do...when will you come to stay? then you could satisfy some of that drool... And..."cultivator" - thanks, too - and - um - are you also identified as a fly on the wall?

  4. Can we have some more snaps of the hens in action and your garden which i bet is looking beautiful at the moment !