Well, it has been an interesting couple of days in the Malmsbury Kitchen Garden-to-be. The grass has been slashed and the soil turned.
It took two of us the whole day to mow and whipper snip the grass and weeds (now I know why all the locals love their ride on mowers so much). Hopefully with the weather warming up we won’t need to slash it again (or much) until autumn.
Notice the pile of mushroom compost in the foreground
While slashing, we also collected the grass and weed clippings from the areas that weren’t to be dug over. The clippings that were collected will be used for making compost or as mulch on the garden beds. The clippings that we left behind were dug into the soil the following day, adding valuable organic matter to help break up the somewhat compacted clay.
Digging the soil seemed like it would be quite a challenge, so I hired the biggest rotary hoe I could find. And just as well, because it turned out to be pretty difficult even with the machine!
A rotary hoe is not the ideal machine to dig soil, especially clay soil, which is more prone to compaction than other soil types. Rotary hoes work by rotating blades through the soil, the blades grab the soil and bring it up to the surface. The problem is that while the rotating blades loosen the soil above, the soil beneath the blades becomes compacted. Repeated use will lead to a ‘clay pan’, a layer of soil or subsoil that is so compacted it becomes impermeable to plant roots and water. To minimize damage to the soil rotary hoes can be used in conjunction with another machine or tool that breaks the compacted layer, some kind of ripper or deep fork for example.
I decided to use a rotary hoe because it was the only machine I could access to dig the soil, and it really did need a machine. It was extremely helpful to start the garden, but I will not use one again as I don’t want a clay pan. In the future, I could use a rotary hoe with a reciprocating spader attachment instead, which does not cause compaction. However, I’m going to aim for minimal digging, but more on that another time.
With the rotary hoe, almost half of the quarter acre block was turned over in one day. In some areas the soil was already quite compacted (perhaps there used to be a driveway there?) and the machine definitely struggled a little.
In some areas we spread mushroom compost before hoeing to incorporate organic matter into the soil. The soil is going to need
as much help as we can give it. It’s a heavy grey clay, and as the rotary hoe passed over we realized that it is full of rocks and rubble. This town was substantially larger during the gold rush and there must have been buildings on the block quite some time ago. There are bricks, ceramics, old bottles and old wire in the soil. I thought this kind of thing only happened in the city!
At the end of the day we optimistically broadcast some green manure seed (canola, millet and peas) even though we couldn’t water them in. It is forecast to rain over the next week, so hopefully they will germinate.
The next step is to get the water connected, I’ve been patiently propagating hundreds of little seedlings and they will need a home very soon. I just hope they don't shrivel up as soon as they meet the soil...