Designing an edible garden surrounded by bushland on sloping land
Like a lot of gardeners, at our Forestville (urban) Farm, before we had Steve’s landscape design, we had several failed attempts at designing and building vegetable beds to grow nutritious food. Our first attempt came after our neighbours demolished their original 1950s house, including the hard wood timber studs, and then (very generously, thanks Jansons!) gave us a whole lot of hard wood timber beams, which we recycled into three vegetable beds.
Our suburban property is on sloping land, so the three beds had to be dug into the ground on one side. This meant our beds (which even though we had lined with plastic) still eventually became overwhelmed with grass runners on all sides (a mix of exotic grasses Kikuyu, Queensland Blue Couch and Buffalo grass), and the hardwood timber started to rot in the ground. It was a mess. Big fail.
We also have a lot of local wildlife (which we love), as our home is surrounded to the north by bushland of the Garigal National Park and to the south by Middle Harbour. We have two resident possums, one a Brushtail and the other a Ringtail, large flocks of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, two pet rabbits, Lulu and Thumper and four chickens, The Kransky Sisters, as well as the expected caterpillars, slugs and many more, so we have a lot of creatures competing with us for our vegetables.
Choosing the right raised wicking bed system
Fast forward a few years to 2020 during the Coronavirus pandemic, Steve’s landscape design had been constructed and part of our land was now level. We needed an affordable and low maintenance vegetable bed (I had been put on the government Job Keeper wage subsidy by my employer and we have two primary school-aged kids, so are a wee bit time-poor) plus we needed a system that could be protected from local wildlife.
Steve chose the Vegepod system. The landscape design needed a system that could coexist with our chickens within a chicken run, to save space.
In Steve’s design, the three Vegepods provide shade and shelter for our chickens as Steve chose to install them on stands, to create space for our chickens beneath the beds. Win win! The only veggies The Kransky Sisters can reach are those that we occasionally let slip out of the lid (and they get devoured!)
How to construct a Vegepod raised wicking bed system in your garden
Our back garden faces west, so another part of Steve’s design (and one other thing we had learnt from our failed first attempt at veggie beds), was to construct the three beds at different heights, facing north, so the bed closest to the northern boundary had the shortest legs and the bed closest to the southern boundary had the tallest legs. This meant the beds didn’t shade each other out, maximising sunlight to our veggies.
The first step during construction was to measure the Vegepod legs to the correct heights and cut them using an angle grinder.
Then Steve constructed the Vegepod bed frame, attaching the cut legs to the frame using bolts.
After cutting the legs, the raw steel was exposed (without the powder coating).
To make sure the legs didn’t rust over time, Steve painted the exposed edge with rust-proof paint.
Little leg feet are part of the Vegepod system, so they were put on the legs and then the beds could be constructed and put on top of the frame.
The last step in construction was to place the drain trays inside the beds, which keeps the growing medium or soil away from the water reservoir.
And voila! We had three raised wicking veggie beds ready to be planted.
Now for the soil, the most important part to grow really nutritious vegetables fast
Make sure you use the best quality potting mix you can afford, as well as one quarter perlite (Steve followed the Vegepod instructions), but also added a compost bin full of rich homemade compost, to really kick start the biology of our veggie beds.
What seeds did we plant?
Every household is different of course, but in our household, we have our resident food nerd, Steve Willis, who devised a planting plan with a mixture of Brassicas (Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts and three different varieties of Cabbage), Endive, Celery, Lettuce varieties (Cos and Coral), Swiss Chard, Rainbow Chard, two varieties of Carrots, Leeks, two varieties of Beetroot and Garlic.
Nom, nom, nom!
Once the seeds and seedlings were planted, Steve covered each bed with sugar cane mulch.
How long did the veggies take to grow?
Steve finished constructing and planting the veggies by May 30 2020 (yes, a bit late, we know, we had only just finished the landscape construction). After about three or four weeks, we started harvesting (gently) from the lettuces. After about eight weeks, we started harvesting from the Swiss Chard. The photo below was taken on August 2 2020, after nine weeks and you can see the beds are now in full flight.
Having made many attempts at growing veggies in many different community gardens as well as our Forestville Farm, the Vegepod system is the bomb. The veggie bed covers stop pests, extreme weather events (like the high winds and heavy rains we had recently in Sydney), which accelerates the growing season and plant growth.
Because there’s a wicking reservoir at the base of the beds, it’s self-watering and really low maintenance. Our veggies look like superhero veggies with abs of steel and they taste amazing. Our five year old daughter never eats greens but when Steve served up a salad of our home grown Cos lettuce, she devoured it saying “come on Henry, you’ve got to eat your greens” as if she was a seasoned eater of veggies!