Category Archives: Seedlings

Our Soil Blocking Recipe

Soil blocks ready to seed

Just a quick post on our soil blocking recipe. I always get asked about this and usually point people to the All Sun farm recipe, but I have refined this recipe over the last few years.

Here’s my mix:

  • 2.5 part coco peat (aka coir)

I don’t like the small bricks that you can get in Bunnies etc. as you need to soak them. It is very hard to mix all the other ingredients together well after that. I would say that the bricks are detrimental to the mix unless you soak them and then dry them again and that takes a long time (like a week). I buy it by the bale from Elders in Windsor in a dry form. It is compressed but not like the bricks.

Worm castings also work great but unfortunately nothing you can buy  (like potting mix) seems to work

  • 0.5 part fine basalt dust

That can be hard to find for some people so you can use river sand or horticultural sand. DO NOT USE ANY OTHER SAND. Other types of sand (like sand pit or Sydney sand do not work. It’s not that they don’t work as well but they actually make the seedlings fail catastrophically. Sandpit sand, Sydney sand, brickies sand etc. hold too much water. Your seedlings will turn in to a fungal mess. Try it at your peril.

And some nutrients…

I don’t have a specific measure for these but I use a double hand scoop of each for a full wheel barrow as a guide.

  • Kelp meal

You can get this from rural supplies and horse type places. It should cost about $100 for a 25kg bag.

Be aware of what you are getting. The “meal” part is important. If you try and get the finely ground water soluble kelp, it will cost around $800 per bag.

  • Soft rock phosphate

It is a really vital part of the recipe while your soil is poor.Unfortunately this is hard to get in the ‘burbs by the bag (as opposed to the tonne- you can get it from YLAD in  Young by the tonne). If you find somewhere please let me know.

I get it from a rural supplier in Queensland when I visit relatives. I bought 100kg 3 years ago and still have 20kg left.

  • Blood and bone

I only use this is the recipe during the warmer months, ie. Sept – March. Plants don’t feed as much during the winter and I find using it then promotes fungal growth. I would say it’s essential for summer.

*Note: the phosphate and blood and bone should be provided by your compost mix through the use of dynamic accumulators

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New series of short workshops

We would like to announce that we are now running a whole heap of short workshops focussing on the essential skills of food gardening. Topics include making compost, caring for chooks and a whole heap of other fun things!

Dates and details are in the link below. We hope to see more of you here soon!
https://healthyharvestnsw.wordpress.com/permaculturecourses/food-garden-favourites/

What’s up, Doc? Grow great carrots with these easy steps!

Many people struggle growing carrots for a variety of reasons, but it doesn’t need to be so. Follow these  simple rules and it’s easy!

Common carrot problems

1) Growing tiny or stunted  carrots: Firstly, it is virtually impossible to grow carrots from seedlings. It has been tried over the years by the best and everyone fails. “But you can buy carrot seedlings from nurseries!” I hear you say! Yes, you can buy a lot of cons from nurseries, such as “compost activator” if you want. It doesn’t mean it will work! Basically, any vegetable with a tap root (or that the tap root is the edible part you are after) should be avoided as seedlings: parsnip, carrot and beetroot just to name a few. (If you are a soil block user, beetroot can be successfully grown but it is the only exception).

You have to thin carrots quite early on. If you disturb the tap root of a carrot (or any other tap rooted plant for that matter) they simply stop growing downwards. Just use 2 fingers width as a distance measure between the keepers, and pull the smaller seedlings out in between the ones you want to keep. If you only ever want to eat baby carrots, do the same thing but only use one finger width as a guide.

2) Forked carrots (they often look like little people with their bits in the right places).  Forking can be attributed to either stones in the ground, or over-feeding. Carrots love growing in sandy soil and don’t require to be fertilised very much.

3) Germination of the seeds. Carrot seeds (being so small) cannot be covered very deeply with soil. This means they sit virtually on the surface and once they are wet, they need to be continuously damp to germinate well.

How to fix your carrot problems?

There are a few tricks you can find on the net but I can only tell you what works for me. I don’t like being a slave to the garden so watering carrot seeds up to three times a day doesn’t suit me very well. This technique below may seem a bit time consuming but it is part of establishing a new garden bed (I’m doing a lot of this at the moment). In 6 months it will be a lot simpler once the soil is more fertile and stone-free.

My recipe for carrot success

1. Wait for a period of weather that is forecast to be wet for several days in a row.

Weather forecast

Weather forecast

2. Find an appropriate place to plant your carrot seeds

Mulched bed

Mulched bed

3. In the case of a newly made garden with stones etc., dig a carrot sized hole (to the size the carrot will be at maturity).

Carrot depth hole dug

Carrot depth hole dug

4. Remove any stones from the planting hole, even little ones. If required (my garden is new and the soil is poor) add a bit of extra compost to the planting hole.

Stones removed from planting hole

Stones removed from planting hole

5.  I like to put the carrot seeds that I will be using in a dry container. Why? Well, as you can see, this it a pretty dirty job. If I have dirt on my hands, I won’t put them in a seed packet (unless I intend on using all the seeds) because I don’t want the risk of wetting or getting a soil-borne disease into the packet. This hard container also makes it easy to hold on an angle and tap the seeds out.

Seeds in dry container

Seeds in dry container

6. Sprinkle the seeds in the planting hole. I will expect to be able to grow 4 carrots in this area after thinning. Lightly cover afterwards with a very fine soil up to a depth of 2mm. Unfortunately carrot seeds won’t germinate easily through mulch. Walk away and allow the rain to do its thing

Seeds planted

Seeds planted

Companion plants for carrots include onions, leeks, lettuce and beans.  In warmer months, carrots will happily grow in the shade of taller plants like tomato and celery. Spring-Summer carrots takes about 12 weeks from seed to harvest. In cooler months, it’s more like 18 weeks.

 

Seven days later, the seeds are emerging.

Seeds germinating

Seeds germinating

 

Its now the end of January and we have been harvesting small amounts of carrots for about two weeks. I have been planting new seeds at every wet opportunity (and otherwise fortnightly to keep up with the household carrot demand). Now the garden beds are starting to build lovely new top soil (through the decomposition of the heavy mulch) I am not needing to add compost to the planting holes (instead I cover the surrounding area with mulch to create future soil). I am also finding I can cover the seeds with a layer of very loose, thinly spread mulch. The compost I was initially using was a bought product that I used to get the garden started. Although its pretty good for bought compost it’s a bit dry and dusty so doesn’t retain water very well. Bought compost doesn’t compare to real soil or home made compost for that matter. Germination rates are much higher now in the newly amended soil.

 

Carrots ready to harvest from their planting pocket. I originally thought I would get four carrots per hole but this one comfortably has seven good sized carrots after thinning out the little ones.

Carrots ready

 

Some carrots sitting comfortably among the lettuce, silverbeet and radish.

Carrot leaves

 

This picture is for scale. The carrot is about 10cm (the main part of the flesh and not the long taproot).

I have chosen to grow a variety called Scarlet Nantes  as it is a smaller carrot and suitable for growing in poor or heavy soils. The bend in the carrot is due to it hitting another carrot whilst growing or a perhaps a stone. It’s not a big deal.

As my soil improves I will move on to other carrots like All Season. It’s a better tasting carrot (and larger) but if I had tried this variety initially, I think my success rate would have been much worse. I have tried that variety before in poor unimproved soil with limited success.

Carrot to scale

Early Garlic Harvesting

If you live in warmer parts of SE Australia, you still have just enough time to plant out a winter crop of garlic.

Although I prefer to plant around April, you can plant on the shortest day of the year and harvest on the longest day of the year.

Last year, after harvesting in December, I immediately replanted all of my damaged and tiny cloves, not really expecting much until the following spring/ summer. Just last week, I was surprised to already be pulling up small, but incredibly strong flavoured garlic bulbs!

At this time of year, and right through to early spring, the individual cloves aren’t fully formed so you can use them sliced like an onion. You can also just slice the green tops off and use them as an alternative to shallots or spring onions. This “green garlic” as it’s sometimes called, is one of farmer John’s best sellers at his Glenbrook monthly market fruit and veg stall.

You can plant any garlic cloves but organic ones are better as garlic is often sprayed with a chemical to stop it from sending up shoots whilst in the supermarket. If you have time today, just grab any old garlic and give it a try!

June harvested garlic

June harvested garlic

Open now: weekend intensive “Practical Permaculture” course Saturday 30th June – Sunday 1st July

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

Saturday 30th June & Sunday 1st July 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in Railway Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: $150 early bird (until 25th June) or $180 after 25th June

The number of participants is limited to 15 people to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

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Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What people are saying

The presenters, Daniel and Gordon, were knowledgeable and friendly. The course was a good mix of practical workshops and theory. The group size worked well and made for a cosy and enjoyable learning experience.

I had read a lot of books but discussing the theories, asking questions and hearing practical examples just helped cement it all. It seems to have stuck better..

Good interactions with the participants, lots of helpful diagrams, reference books and clear and lively delivery from both presenters.

The workshops were tailored really well. The right length, plenty of opportunity to get our hands dirty and a consistent but not overwhelming stream of information to accompany the practical skills.

Lots of fun and really informative. Great to get outside and practice some of the theory. AAA+++

Very good would recommend it to any one interested in growing food

Overall the course was fantastic. Daniel and Gordon were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and willing to share both knowledge and resources. I learnt so much more than I thought possible.

A BIG THANK YOU for the wonderful course, the beautiful venue(s) and the nourishing company. I would highly recommend the course.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776 by 25th June 2012 for early-bird discount ($150) or by 29th June 2012 for regular payment ($180).

Payment available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

Weekend Intensive Course: Practical Permaculture for Home and Garden

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

1st and 2nd of September 2012

ALSO

3rd and 4th of November 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in the lower Blue Mountains
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: September course $150 early bird by 18th of August or $180 thereafter.

November course $150 early bird by 19th of October or $180 thereafter.


The number of participants is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

Booking

The number of places is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee by May 3rd to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776.

Payment available via bank transfer (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until April 20th. After April 20th you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

Double your growing space with a trellis!

So you want to grow a pumpkin or melon vine, but you’re worried about the room they take up? Or maybe you just want to get the most out of your growing space?

Here’s the perfect solution! Did you know that a trellis can literally double your garden space?

Not only can you can train plants like peas and beans up them- they’re also great for growing tomatoes, eggplant, melons, pumpkins and cucumbers!

Snowpeas thriving on a home-made tomato tower

Growing tomatoes, eggplant , cucumbers and capsicum vertically has been done in greenhouses across the world for a long time, but I first came across this technique in Eliot Coleman’s books. He (and many others) grow these plants vertically using a frame and a single vertical string. You manually attach the plant to the string, or twist it around the string as it grows. I knocked together a quick trellis for my front garden last week ready for spring and summer harvests.

Easy 1 hour trellis solution using Coleman’s string method

Another valuable resource is Mel Bartholomew’s  “Square Foot Gardening“. Mel recommends growing all the above (as well as melons and pumpkins) vertically using special nylon mesh (capable of holding 60+ kilos of produce). While I have so far been unable to source the nylon mesh in Australia, I’ve found that standard 100mm x 100mm square mesh from fencing suppliers works just as well.

Now you can grow that dream pumpkin only using 50cm of ground (or just 12cm for cucumbers!) In fact, one 2.4 metre long trellis could grow 2 cucumbers, 1 pumpkin, 1 melon, 4 tomato vines and 9 beans. That’s HEAPS of food!

Fruit trees are also great to grow on trellises. This technique is called espaliering and can be used for great decorative effect as well as saving space. Here are some pictures of a fruit tree trellis I’ve recently built for a client. The trellis can accommodate 8 trees in a space that could normally only handle 2-3!

Espaliered fruit tree on trellis wire

Just add your favourite fruit trees, veggies, and climbing flowers!

The start of a fruit orchard avenue

For more information about vertical gardening, you won’t go wrong if you grab a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s  “All New Square Foot Gardening“.  And for some instant inspiration, here’s a video showing techniques of square foot gardening and vertical growing in action. You can also buy my trellis kit or get one custom built for you- call me for a chat. Happy growing!

Multiblock seedlings: growing more in small areas (with less effort)

Some of you have been to my market stall and purchased seedling blocks that contain more than one plant. These are called multiblocks, and I first learned about them from reading Eliot Coleman. I get heaps of questions about these so thought I’d tell you a bit more about them. When making seedlings, you can put more than one seed per cell/block with no intention of thinning out later. While it doesn’t work for every type of plant, I’d recommend it as a technique worth trying due to the time and space savings it gives.

Which plants like multiblocks (and which ones don’t)

According to Coleman, some of the plants that can be multi-blocked and grown out to maturity include:

Leeks, onions, spring onions, shallots,  sweetcorn, cabbage, broccoli, peas and beans, just to name a few.

I have not tried all of these yet, but I here’s what I’ve found so far…

Successes

  • Spring onions/shallots
multiblock spring onions
Multiblock spring onions

Great. Works every time. I plant 10-12 seeds per block and plant each block 15cm (6″) apart. You harvest by pulling the entire bunch or by cutting the tops when needed.

  • Onions

I was sceptical when I first tried onions but I was blown away by the results. I plant 4 seeds per block and plant each block 25cm (10″) apart (the normal spacing is 8cm or 3″). You don’t actually get any more onions over the area but you reduce seedling making, storing and planting out by 3/4. The onions simply push each other apart and grow to full size.

  • Beetroot
Multiblock beetroot

Sow a maximum of 4 seeds per block and plant each block 15cm (6″) apart. Harvest by pulling the whole bunch when they are golf-ball sized (they wont grow much larger than that in close proximity). Alternatively you can carefully pull one from the bunch as needed, allowing the others to keep growing.

The not-so-successful

  • Broccoli and cabbage

This was hit and miss. A few broccoli plants have worked out well with 2 plants coming from one hole without any lack of growth. Others (including cabbage seedlings) have seen one grow well and the other not. This is due to been shaded out by the first plant. In this case, I have grown the first plant to maturity and then cut it down allowing the second to continue growing.

A word of warning: watch your nutrient levels

While I have had some very good success with the multiblock method, I have also had some less than perfect results. This is down to nutrient requirements. If you are planting more than one seed per cell/block, the food requirements also need to be increased for the seedlings by 2 to 10 times (depending on the number of seeds sharing a block). This means that the seedling needs to be planted out much earlier than usual.

As the food requirements are higher with multiblocks, success often comes down to the size of the cell. I use 50mm (2″) soil blocks using home made mix which contains a lot of food for the seedling. Since my blocks are so large I can plant them out much later when they are much stronger and more likely to survive.

The smaller cell you use, the smaller the seedlings will need to be when they are planted out. This means they are more likely to be destroyed by birds, slugs, snails etc.

The moral of the story is, if you’re multiblocking make sure you use large cells. Even better, buy a soilblocker and make your own blocks. It should last you a lifetime!

Want to learn more? Eliot Coleman’s book “The New Organic Grower” has a comprehensive section on multiblocking and some of the seeds that work with it. See my resource list for more information about this wonderful reference text.

Stock up on spring seedlings at Glenbrook Markets this weekend

Spring is in the air here in the Blue Mountains! The king parrots and rosellas are back in town showing off their partners. Our almond and nectarine trees are blossoming and the daffodils are standing proudly. Even the beneficial bugs are dropping by for a snack!

What a fantastic time to start thinking about spring and summer food from the garden! Come down to the Glenbrook markets this Saturday morning and we’ll help you get ready for spring planting with quality products and advice.

Come down, have a chat and tell us what’s growing in your garden at the moment and what your plans are for the warmer seasons ahead.

Our greenhouse is bursting with a great supply of  chemical free seedlings to get you growing, including

lettuce,  chinese cabbage, snow peas, beetroot, spring onions, cabbage, silverbeet

Browse through our new stock of heirloom seeds ready to sow now! We’ve also got kelp meal available for sale at a great price so you can treat your plants with nutrients they’ll love.

(Remember, you can hire our gardening service or arrange a personal consultation and food garden plan if you’re after a bit of extra help or advice).

Have you got any extra produce from your garden? Why not bring it down to the ‘Swap or Sell’ Community Corner? We can sell your goodies for you for free or you can trade with other backyard gardeners!

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday at the Glenbrook Infants School Rotary Markets.

P.S. have you checked out our new workshop yet? Our “Build Raised Beds like the Professionals” workshop on Saturday 3rd September is a great opportunity to learn invaluable new skills in how to build and set up your own raised bed. This is so necessary for many of us living with sloping blocks. You’ll learn side-by-side with me and my guest expert, permaculture consultant and former carpenter Gordon Williams. Fantastic skills and a light lunch all for $5!  Make sure you register your place to avoid missing out.

How to protect your seedlings from frost and birds with simple, effective row covers

Easy row covers

Easy row covers

Last time I visited my SPIN farming block, I was very concerned to meet a family of wood-ducks who liked the look of my beds. I knew I had to get some row covers up over my onion seedlings as soon as possible! Had they been lettuce they would have been gone already.

I took some pictures while we worked to show you how you can also set up row covers to protect your plants from frosts and birds. I am using a lightweight fleece material to cover each row as it protects the plants while letting water through and they can also breathe.

The fleece is so light that more established seedlings will lift it up as they grow taller, eliminating the need for hoops. Personally, I prefer to use the hoops because the fleece will crush small seedlings. Also, birds are less likely to walk along the top of it (also crushing the seedlings) since many animals are deterred by wobbly structures (and perching on the hoops is not so much of a problem).

What I used:

  • bright orange builder’s string to mark out the rows (I had already marked them out when I planted them)
  • tape measure
  • thin stakes (approx 60 for this large bed) made from various recycled materials including tent poles
  • 20mm blue stripe irrigation pipe (cut into 1.7 m sections for hoops)
  • 25mm blue stripe irrigation pipe for clips (cut into 8-10 cm sections for clips)
  • Sanding block to smooth the clip edges (so they didn’t tear the cover fleece)
  • light fleece material for the covers (available from farming suppliers or contact me if you are interested in buying some)
  • a helpful wife (it’s much easier and faster to do this job with another set of hands)

How to do it

Beds marked out

Beds marked out

Here is a picture of 4 beds planted out with onion seedlings. They are marked out with high visibility builder’s string so I don’t step on any young seedlings. I adopted this technique after crushing too many young plants and it works exceptionally well. Once the plants are relatively mature (15-20cm) I will remove the string and undersow the entire area with a living mulch of white and red clover. If you want to learn more about living mulches and undersowing, read my previous article on the subject here.

Each bed is 75cm wide and there is a 30cm path between each row. This size makes the beds easy to straddle and move between when watering, feeding, and harvesting.

Beds with stakes

Beds with stakes

I placed stakes (made from various materials including recycled tent poles and 12mm metal bars) at even intervals (every 1.7 metres here) down each side of the row.

I used 20mm blue stripe irrigation pipe to make the hoops. I think this is the best pipe to use as it is the strongest and does not kink very easily. It costs approximately $50 for 50 metres. We cut 1.7 m sections of pipe so we had some good height on the rows. To make the hoops, you just fit each end of the pipe onto the stakes you’ve placed along the rows.

Fitting the hoops

Fitting the hoops

Measure out enough fleece cover so that you have a 1-2 m at each end to make sure it is easily closed off and tight.

Clever home-made clips

I wanted to clip the row cover neatly on to hoops using something that would be quick and easy to remove. Some people use rocks to hold down the covers but I didn’t want to have to carry rocks in and out from between 30cm wide paths. I also did not want to trip on the rocks on such a narrow pathway and risk falling on the hoops.

I saw somebody selling clips exactly for this purpose for $1.80 each but we needed 54 of them and I really wanted to avoid spending $100 just on clips!

I decided that I could make them myself. I had some leftover 25 mm irrigation pipe from another job.  I cut 8-10 cm sections of pipe and cut a groove in the side so it was opened up. It could then clip snugly over the 20mm pipe hoops .

I cut out a 30mm groove from the 25mm pipe and it clipped the row cover perfectly however it tore the material. I decided to lightly sand the clip edges and this worked perfectly which saved me $100 on  pre-made clips.

Cutting clips

Cutting clips

Sanding clips

Sanding clips

Once the clips are smoothed off and ready to use, start clipping the material working from one end of the row to the other. Gather the material at the hoop so there isn’t any slack along the ground between hoops. It’s virtually impossible to get the top of the rows taut without compromising the structure so don’t worry about trying. The important thing is that the fleece is taut along the ground so that it is hard for birds to get underneath.

Attaching cover

Attaching cover

The clips will fit nicely over the 20mm hoops and material, leaving neatly covered, adjustable row covers. Gather up the material at each end of the row and weigh it down with something heavy  so it doesn’t blow off (or tie it and stake it if you prefer).

Finished covers

Finished covers

This cover will keep most birds out and will also trap some heat, making the seedlings grow much faster. When the warmer weather arrives the cover can be removed and replaced with a green 30% shadecloth. This will make growing leafy greens much easier in hot weather.

I have the fleece for sale for $2/metre, so if you are interested please contact me.

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