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Dan from VEG is excited to be running this workshop with David Holmgren. More more details and to register visit the Holmgren Design Services website here.

Carey failed to pull last years trick of not telling us about his birthday this year. So, during a lovely farm consult last Friday, we had a little stop for his birthday cake - wholemeal citrus rosemary walnut olive oil cake - which was made with his own honey (no other sweetener), roadside rosemary, freshly milled wheat, and ingredients sourced locally as possible. Lucky boy! Pictured here with David Holmgren, Adam, himself, and Cassie. Yum!

So yes we're rather excited to be launching our new subproject www.wickingbeds.com.au this week! Given that the interest in our wicking beds offerings has been rising steadily ever since we started experimenting with them we decided to build a whole focused site where folk can find about our approach to them and if required get some help whether in parts, installation, or repairs. Check it out and do tell us what you think!

 

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Many friends of Very Edible Gardens know that something called holistic management decision making floats our boat just as much as permaculture design.

Dan even wrote a series of articles about how we use holistic management decision making as VEG’s operating system.

Here we don’t want to focus on holistic management (which you can read about in the articles) so much as one of the best holistic management educators we are aware of – a fellow who goes by the name of Brian Wehlburg.

Alongside Helen Lewis, Brian co-directs Inside Out Management and was recommended to us and as a result a couple of us VEGetables have attended some of his workshops. Sometimes you happen across a teacher of such quality that you want to let others know. Especially when they are just quietly doing their thing without a great deal of fuss or promotion.

Brian is one of these. Sure, his expertise is on a topic that itself is valuable to anyone interested in permaculture, decision making, or land management. But his teaching style is about as good as we’ve seen. Brian goes the full hack in terms of preparation, props, interactive games and exercises, and is a master of leading you to reach the key insights for yourselves rather than just telling you about them.

We picked up a lot from Brian that we now use in our permaculture design courses and other places, and we continue to be inspired by his commitment to excellence in workshop facilitation. He sets a high bar and one that we’ll continue to strive for in our own educational offerings.

So, thumbs up Brian Wehlburg. Thanks for existing, and let it be known that VEG thinks you’re all right.

For any Victorians interested in a bit of holistic management action with Brian, check out his website and contact him (02 6587 4353 / 0408 704 431) for details or a chat about an 8-day, spread-out workshop starting in Seymour in September (yup – quite soon). Note this workshop covers not only holistic management decision making, but a holistic management approach to understanding ecosystems and livestock & business management. Here's the course dates and content:

 

Session 1

 

 

1/2 September

Introduction

History of Holistic Management                     

Paradigms and how we think

Ecosystem function – how nature functions holistically

Tools for making positive change to the environment

Holistic Diagnosis of environmental problems

Root cause

Biodiversity loss

The change process

Personal profiling

Conventional decision making

 

 

 

 

Session 2

 

14/15 October

 

Review ecosystem and tools

Holistic Context formation and goal setting

Time management

Testing questions

Testing decisions using a testing matrix

Testing decisions – personal examples

Improving communication

Generic non-growing grazing planning

Feed budgets and plant monitoring

Paddock walk and practical feed budgeting

Biological monitoring theory

Paddock walk - set up a bio-monitoring site

 

 

 

 

Session 3

 

11/12 November

Review and photos

Introduction to Holistic Financial planning

Generic small business financial plan example

Review Individual non-growing grazing plan

Generic growing season grazing planning

Individual grazing planning for growing season

Bruce Ward’s computer aid for grazing planning

Review individual bio monitoring results

 

 

 

 

Session 4

 

15/16 December

Review and photos

Financial planning actual individual plans

Review grazing plans and growth monitoring

Holistic Land planning process group exercise

Management groups, continued learning, learning contracts

Review, assessment, evaluation

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday Dan got something important off his chest whilst visiting Darren Doherty ;-)

 

 

Note: due to how much interest this article generated, we have since ended up building a whole new website just about wicking beds you can check out here: www.WickingBeds.com.au

We’ve created a sequence with all the info you need to get started building your own wicking bed – i.e., a veggie bed that waters itself from below. It’s based on our years of experience installing wicking beds in Melbourne, Australia. We sincerely hope your water wicks well and your garden grows green and lustrous. Let’s start with the basics—and wonders—of wicking beds:

On this page:

Elsewhere, on our wickingbeds.com.au site:

Adrian's apple crate wicking bed
Our web-guru Adrian’s wicking bed

When we first started Very Edible Gardens (VEG) back in early 2009, we had no idea what a wicking bed was. Then, after a year or so of installing raised vegetable garden beds all over Melbourne, someone whispered the words into our ears. “Wicking beds,” they said. “We want some wicking beds.”

“Wicking beds” we thought, smiling and nodding, then scratching our heads. “What on earth is a wicking bed?” So we did some research and, equal parts intrigued and skeptical, we started to experiment. Up till then, all our raised veggie beds had been either hand-watered or set up with ‘dripline’ irrigation. But now we started setting up wicking beds in old bathtubs:

bathtub wicking bed
A bathtub wicking bed
example

…and then, using plastic liner, in our raised VEG beds which are assembled from sleepers of locally harvested golden cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) timber:

Rowville wicking beds just finished…
And a few months later

So, What the Heck are Wicking Beds?

Invented by an Australian named Colin Austin, the idea with a wicking bed is that you prevent water from leaving the bottom of the bed with a waterproof liner or layer. This creates a water reservoir underneath the soil. Then, rather than having to irrigate by watering from above (via drip irrigation, a hose, watering can etc), the water literally wicks up into the soil from below, keeping it nice and moist.

Now, with all that water, this could easily get messy and even stinky. But, you prevent the weight of the soil from squashing all the water out – and making a muddy mess – by having the water sit within a layer of small stones, which is able to accommodate the water whilst bearing the weight of the soil (and your prize pumpkins!) without collapsing. You prevent the soil from washing down into gaps between the stones with a sheet of something that lets water wick up, but stops soil moving down.

The VEG Wicking Bed concept sketch

Photo of the Wicking Bed Reservoir
A little helper adds stones to the wicking
bed reservoir
water wicking up through stones
The wicking process in action: water moves
up the stones!
Cassie with geotextile fabric
Cassie from VEG explains the geotextile
fabric layer which separates the soil (coming
next) from the water reservoir

Then you have your happy soil and plants on top of this.

Jeremy and friends plant out wicking bed
Jeremy and friends plant out VEG Wicking Bed

The last essential piece of the wicking bed puzzle is that you need an overflow point (usually a pipe) so that the soil layer doesn’t get flooded, which would kill the soil life and plants by rotting their roots. (With the VEG Wicking Bed style ones you install them before you add the soil or stones.)

wicking bed overflow pipe
Our overflow system (now industry standard)
lets you also observe water levels
and periodically drain & flush your bed

As you’ll know if you’ve researched wicking beds online, the available information is scattered about the web in dribs and drabs and often with advice that contradicts what the other site said. So, taking it all with a grain of salt, we set out to learn by doing, our initial intention to prove to ourselves that wicking beds didn’t work. We gave it a pretty good shot, and in the process we learned a lot, and refined how we go about them enormously.

We’ve condensed all this knowledge into our How to Make a Wicking Bed sequence. But before you rush out and build one, take a moment to consider the pros and cons…

Pros and Cons

Q. “How do I know if wicking beds are right for me?”

Let us level with you here. Yeah, we sell these things. And we love them. But, we’re not interested in selling them to anyone where it’s not the right solution. Jeremy (our sterling Wicking Beds Manager) needs some days off to practice his drumming anyway. So this is our truest, honestest, bestest list of the formidable pros, and some realistic cons of wicking beds. So read on, to help decide whether or not wicking beds are the right choice for you.

Pros

  • Easier gardening. In the garden, overwatering can be just as big an issue as underwatering. With wicking beds, the observation pipe eliminates the guesswork of knowing when and how much to water!
  • Happier, healthier, more productive veggies. Veggies love wicking beds because they a provide low-stress environment of constant, optimal moisture, good for soil life, and good for your plants. You’ll get more food, from less space! Here’s an easy visual to help:

     

    The Wicking Bed H2O sine wave

  • Less weeds. In wicking beds, the surface of the soil is relatively dry, making it more difficult for weeds to germinate.
  • Use less water. Oh, we haven’t mentioned this yet? Wicking beds flourish with a lot less water than normal raised beds. Think something in the ballpark of one third to one half less water for each kilogram of produce.
  • Water less often. Wicking beds need watering much less often, meaning plants will survive and thrive for days, or even a couple of weeks, even if you go away during in a heatwave.
  • Grow on any surface. Wicking beds are a great solution for spots where eucalypt or other vigorous tree roots might invade the bed. As water and nutrients are prevented from soaking through the bed base, the trees won’t even realise the veggie bed and its rich soil is there! Wicking beds can be built on top of concrete, paving or contaminated soils, while keeping the soil in the bed separate from what’s underneath.

Cons

  • Trickier to install. Wicking beds require some technical understanding and skill to be built properly; they can leak, or over-saturate the soil, either due to poor design or being installed incorrectly. (Our kits are designed to make it easier and come with clear instructions though, so you get it right the first time!)
  • More expensive. Wicking beds typically cost a bit more to set up than non-wicking beds.
  • More materials. Wicking beds generally require some non-renewable materials, i.e. poly pipes and liner, as well as screened crushed rock which is probably fairly energy intensive to produce. (We minimise this by using food-grade poly liner, and poly components, rather than PVC, for human health and environmental reasons.)
  • You can break them (if you try hard enough). Wicking beds are not quite idiot-proof once installed. For example, it is possible to pierce the liner if you drive a tomato stake into a wicking bed too deep and enthusiastically. Trust us, we’ve repaired damaged beds, and it’s not fun to dig everything out to replace the liner!
  • Some training required. Wicking beds do require a little bit of knowledge or training to be used properly – what we mostly mean here is keeping the water level topped up through the inflow pipe rather than surface watering, draining the reservoir occasionally, and not hammering in tomato stakes… It’s actually very easy! But they may not be appropriate if a wide variety of untrained people manage the beds.

If you think they are for you, you can jump straight to checking out our kits, or contacting us about installation services.

They just work!

Ok, so you do want to consider your options, but here’s what one client, Rosalie, said about her beds:

The original two wicking beds were so successful that I had the other three converted. One of the original two was planted with silver beet when I went away in Sept 2014 and another non wicking bed also planted. I was away for four weeks. When I came back the difference between the two beds was amazing. One was lush, the other just OK. This was what convinced me to convert the other three.

As for water usage, they are a miracle. I have only a 3000L tank and it would regularly run out in the first month of summer. Since the wicking bed installs I have had two summers and the tank hasn’t run out for either. I know this has a lot of other variables like temperatures and rainfall, but anecdotally they save water. I fill them once a week, or twice if we have baking heat in the high 30s+. It takes far less time to fill them than if I had the dripper system running – i.e., minutes as opposed to hours.

@ VEG Wicking Bed
headquarters

The reason we recommend and install so many wicking beds is that they work. In Melbourne’s hot dry summers the veggies continue to thrive with a fraction of the water otherwise required. On the two occasions we have installed or converted one or two of a larger number of raised beds as wicking, the customers have both in short order got us back to convert the rest. The difference in plant health and growth is just so stunning.

Getting a Wicking Bed

Righteo then! If you’d like a hand getting your wick on in your backyard, then there are three main ways we can help:

  • Go it alone option. First, if you are anywhere in the world, you can read and apply for yourself our unique process of installing wicking beds: How to Make a Wicking Bed (free – yay!)
  • VEG Wicking Kits option. Second, for anyone in Australia, we can post you one of our wicking bed kits (including detailed instructions) so you can convert or build your first wicking bed knowing you have the right components.
  • Fully installed option. Third, for anyone in Melbourne, we can come and fully install raised wicking beds at your place where we supply everything (if you want we can even supply and plant the veggies). Alternatively, we can come and convert your existing raised veggie beds to wicking in most cases. Just drop us a line!

 

Note: due to how much interest this article generated, we have since ended up building a whole new website just about wicking beds you can check out here: www.WickingBeds.com.au

Authored by VEG director Dan Palmer with much-appreciated help from VEG team members Cassie Carter and Carey Priest.

Thanks so much to Hannah and Anton from Good Life Permaculture for hosting Dan's Advanced Permaculture Design course in Tasmania over the weekend and also for this lovely write up and photos - here's to taking professional-quality permaculture design to the next level by working together and sharing our respective approaches - yay! Oh yes, and we're running another in late May 2015 just out of Melbourne if you're interested in more of the same - see details here.

 

_MG_0472 

"Before I came to the workshop, there's no way you could have convinced me that vegetables packed into a jar and covered with liquid could be safe, let alone taste delicious and be good for your health... so I've been pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise and open up a world of new possibilities." Or so the comments went on the day, as layer by layer, Cassie & Carey delivered a nutritious, delicious and informative session demystifying the ancient arts of not only preserving, but improving food by partnering with the beneficial microbes that we depend on.

Covering the essentials of making sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt, and kefir, the day highlighted how much there is to be gained on both a personal and societal level by coming together over good wholesome food - it's where many other conversations, connections and actions can spring from. 

_MG_0498
Luke & Mary made a great sauerkraut packing team

 

 _MG_0507   _MG_0503

Yoghurt- and cheese-making proved to be popular

 

_MG_0514

And what would a food-based workshop be without the delicious tasters? Here we have our all star lunch cast of sourdough pancakes, spanish omelette, spanikopita, homegrown rocket & capsicum salad, cultured ginger carrots, assorted sauerkrauts, yoghurt cheese (labneh) and kefir cheese. Served with your choice of delicious milk kefir or refreshing lemon, mint, and whey nectar. YUM!

 

Stay tuned for more VEGucational action from the team, over at the VEGucation page, and may your acidophilus flourish for many years to come :) 

There’s only one Will Pullin, only one Will Power, and only one acronym to describe him: OMG.

 1000 Watt Smile

In case you’ve never crossed paths with this exceptional human being, you’d better get down to the VEG community garden install at Balaclava on December 16, or get yourself a ticket to Newcastle, because to our great despair, and their greatest delight, Will is a headin’ home! A true novocastrian:)

 IMG_1109

After five full power years in Melbourne, Will is taking the next big step in his life, to branch out on his own turf, with the full support of VEG behind him, so look out!

VEG likes getting feedback about things we’ve done well, or not so well. This way we can continually improve or at least enjoy a job well done. If we happen to forget that Will’s on the job for us, we usually find out pretty quickly afterward with beaming emails from customers that are a glowing testament to this incredible person. If you don’t believe us, try this on for size all from jobs Will has been a big part of:

“Thanks Dan, what a lovely day today with Will and Josh. I love it when people working in our yard share a passion”

“Dan, hi. We had another successful couple of days with Will and Josh. The garden looks loved and lovely. Please forward an invoice. If there is ever a need for a comment or recommendation please let me know.  We have been impressed and have been learning alongside.”

…”Thanks to your team for all their hard work. Not only have they worked so hard and skilfully, but they also manage to bring a good vibe with them every day”

“Hi Dan - the  work  is  going great....the guys are truly amazing.”

“We are really happy with the work done yesterday, as the new beds are even better than the old one... The guys did some great work”

 

And whilst Will has been the force of nature, engine room of the VEG Implementation Division for many years, covering all sorts of jobs from near cliff-face chook system installs, to slightly more level chook systems, to large scale school kitchen gardens, to tiny backyard edible gardens (this clip with over 6000 views - it’s that laugh at the end!), to captivating kids with his compost magic at the Royal Melbourne Show, he’s had more than one hat on. Enter the Port Phillip Ecocentre, where Will is the garden coordinator, and his boundless energy and irrepressible positivity have seen his name etched into Ecocentre legend. Or you can read how much they love him here too (scroll down to find Will).

 IMAG0388

  • If you feel like a cycling trip around Australia, then talk to Will first; been there, done that.

  • If you need to get in shape to compete in top level triathlons, take a run, swim & cycle with Will.

  • If you want some industrial engineering contracts completed, drop him a line.

  • Or maybe you just want to fossick and stroll among the foreshores of Port Phillip Bay, where Will’s love for the natural environment and his attunement to home have connected him to this lovely country.  

Whichever way you cut it, the upshot is that we really, really love Will Pullin. Thanks Will, total legend.

Last Wednesday November 12, VEG's Adam, Cassie & Carey headed out to Sunbury for a wonderful two hour introduction to Permaculture, hosted by Hume City Council, at the ornate and impressive Ruperstwood Mansion - a bit more luxurious than your average neighbourhood house, but we managed to blend in, or at least not stand out too much... Way to go Hume City for putting on this cracker of an event, and be sure to check out the Hume Enviro Champions project, featuring none other than VEG PDC graduate Phil, who's undertaking the co-design of his (and possibly Sunbury's) first ever Permablitz.

The old mansion neighbours the Ruperstwood Selesian College VCAL farming project, which is going gangbusters supporting the next generation, and saw the event furnished with boxes of uber locally grown fresh produce (how's 50m away?), bottles of worm wee, and bags of chook manure... just the kinds of things we needed to feel at home :)

But while you're at it, prepare to be impressed by the force of nature that is Bruno who runs the college's Twilight School. With a focus on social justice, inter-generational community engagement, health & well-being via the arts and learning programs, the project is one well worth connecting to. From addressing domestic violence to cooking classes, singing, and mental health initiatives, Bruno and his team are making a serious contribution to a better society, so get along to one of their events soon!

Equally impressive was the catering by Norman of Just Planet who knocked our socks off with a fine spread of raw, vegan, organic, gluten free but crazily tasty treats. Norman also humbled us with the real difference his establishment is making toward promoting equity both locally, and globally; enter the fair-trade gift shop, cafe & educational hub that is Just Planet. With a good whack of the food grown onsite in the food forest or sourced locally, other foods, the fair-trade coffee and gifts from abroad make all the difference when we put our buying power directly into the hands of those who need it most - the growers & makers, not the middle men. "We really can make a difference on a local & global scale through the choices that we make," Norman implores, with Just Planet's wares providing a fair deal and support for small growers' cooperatives, village artisans, and craftspeople on the street fashioning incredible works of art from the debris of consumerist society. All this whilst putting real food in people's bellies locally. More power to your elbows Norman!

Prepare to salivate (for the food, not for Norman...)

Norman1

Cop a load of that! 

Food1

And so Adam had his way with the 40 strong crowd, introducing the somewhat nebulous and oft misunderstood concept of Permaculture. Weaving theory, discussion, humour and hands-on practice, he brought together the central concepts necessary to help people design and establish their own edible oasis. After focussing on the importance of people analysis (what the people at a given site actually want, and what is realistic for them to achieve), we all bundled outside to tune into site analysis to assess the strengths and limitations of our surrounds.

AdamSmiles 

As it happened the mansion with its large bluestone blocks had soaked up midday & afternoon sun to create lush subtropical microclimates around the north of the building, whilst deciduous vines - by design or accident we don't know - shaded the western lower half of the building, taking the sting out the hot sun late in the day. These seemingly small features can greatly influence the range of plants (eg bananas) that one can grow in a cool temperate climate such as Melbourne, or simply make the difference between a comfortable summer afternoon, and a scorcher.

Here Adam is demonstrating how to fly on the thermal updraft, created by solar energy stored in the solid mass of a building, to harvest bananas - people weren't buying it but they'll come around.

AdamFlying 

Getting participants to put themselves directly in the picture by tracing the sun path through each season, Adam helped folks understand how drastically winter shade and summer sun exposure change throughout the year, and like the previous example, how these influences can make or break the viability of a garden, or the comfortability of a house or building, whether that's warmth in winter or staying cool in summer - simple effective tools that people can walk away with to help locate, orient, or retrofit gardens and buildings to work better with less or even no expense.

Dance1 

Showing folks how relative proximity (or 'oftenest nearest') works, Adam may well have saved everyone years of their life from walking unnecessarily to and fro in an ad-hoc garden layout. By simple virtue of locating high maintenance elements like a seed-raising area or kitchen herb & greens garden close to one's house (or better, kitchen) or frequently travelled paths, much of the maintenance & access can be done visually - just knowing from a glance when to water, weed or harvest can make the difference between catching these things at the right time and staying on the growth curve to happy harvests. Or, making one sweet loop out to hang the washing, feed the chooks, collect some eggs, harvest some veg and have a cranking breakfast in ten minutes flat - things can become less chore and more enjoyment if they flow seamlessly together :)