Let’s Rewild: Backyard Edition

Been thinking a lot about my garden, how I garden, and why I garden. You see, I read this article:

The world must rewild!

This article talks about how we need to plant more – like, the size of China more – in the coming decade.

I’m hoping people start to see the small part they can play. It all adds up. Can you, personally rewild a Chinese province worth of plant life? No, but that’s not the point. It’ll be used as a weapon against you, it’ll erode your mind’s resolve, but it’s bullshit.

Everyone should plant something. We should all learn how to tend to things that live in the ground. I certainly want to get better at it. 2020 helped many people discover the joy of gardening, and gave some new skills, and we gotta see the mental health benefits now, right? I know a decade ago I did not care for gardening, not at all. My grass would become a skyscraper horizon for snakes and gnomes, and any proper plants that required care would bellow to the stars when I signed a rental agreement because they knew it was their death knell. I hated gardening – let’s speak the truth. Which is why I find it so fascinating that I dig it now. I’m happy to have pulled a mental 180 on it, and hopefully more people can be inspired to do the same.

I want to do more for this through schools, but for now I’ll take my added brain massage and show my kids, and enjoy what I can. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

THE COMPOST

I love my compost, a stupid amount. I tend to it nearly every day. I don’t always know if I’m doing it right, but I do know I’ve got 2 massive bins absolutely chock-a-block with worms. There’s something stupidly satisfying about turning all the dirt and trash in there and finding it teeming with little worms just going about their regularly scheduled lunch.

We generate a lot of fruit/veg byproduct in the house – feeding two kids their daily vitamins through kiwi fruits and apples, and cooking meals with carrots and capsicums, and making pizza with as many mushrooms will allow it to still be structurally safe, plus my daily smoothie has a banana in it. I put stuff into the compost nearly daily, and it’s taken a solid decade of practice, but I’m finally figuring out how to keep it going. I, personally, manually turn the compost so the new stuff gets covered [which helps keep mice/rats out of it] and autumn has given me an ongoing supply of leaves to dump in when it gets too wet so I balance it out for the slimy critters – you gotta get some brown in with the green, as they say [I don’t know who *they* are].

I’m happy to not send all that fresh stuff into landfill to rot, I’m happy to feed some worms, and I’m happy to let one of the bins settle enough for me to be able to use the compost to fill a vegetable planter, or even just on the bottom of some pots when I plant some seeds.

THE COVERED LEAF PILE

This is a new one. I’d read about how you can collect autumn leaves into plastic bin bags and set them aside for a year and then tear them open to find good leaf mulch, or compost, or soil, or something. We have a lot of leaves, and I didn’t want a pile of ugly plastic bags loitering about, so I tried something I thought was close enough.

I placed all of the leaves, and some grass clippings, into the corner of our property where we’d built a leaf composting structure out of some bits of wood and metal from a decommissioned bed and swing set [separate things, not a bed *&* swing set, that would just be crazy].

The pile was a solid foot tall/thick. I watered the pile a little and then placed a big black tarp over it all and held it down with 4 bricks. That was in April. I plan to crack it open like the Arc of the Covenant in July, but I have taken 2 peeks under the hood so far. One was in May, where I could see it all compacting and starting to turn a little, some signs of worms, it was looking like a fun project, and then once was this month where I unveiled a thriving worm metropolis, the leaves mostly turned to soil, the whole crust of the affair thick and crumbly and delicious to the turn of my pitchfork.

It’s covered again and my hope is to use some of it in the vegetable gardens, and some into the compost bins to give them a little worm infusion and hit of inspiration.

The best part of this is, it required so little effort from me. Just pile it, cover it, and then wait a term – yes, my brain still measures time in school terms.

THE FRESH PRODUCE GARDEN

My wife is amazing, so when we bought this house 5 years ago, she saw the 1 vegetable garden bed this place had and decided we could do better. So, behold, we now have 8 different garden beds in which we can grow fresh produce. Most of them built, by hand, by the wife. A visionary and a hard worker.

When the spring/summer months treat us well, we grow: raspberries at a punnet or two a day, cherry tomatoes at a similar rate, strawberries have had some good years, and eggplants have definitely become a new quality addition to the turnover. We’ve done watermelon with success, and pumpkins quite well. I’ve yet to yield success with capsicum; the one time it grew well it tasted like plastic. Oh, zucchinis usually take hold, both green and yellow, at a rate that’s faster than any human family could consume, so I’ll take spares into work. Or just google random zucchini recipes, like the time I made zucchini nacho floats – my name, not theirs [whoever *they* might be].

In winter, we’ve seen beets and potatoes go well. I really want to try mushrooms, in a separate location. The herbs do well, and I need to get better at working out what fun single season floral stuff I could plant that might help the garden/insects/soil in general.

This garden serves to feed the family, primarily, and ensure we aren’t spending $50 a week on things like raspberries, but instead just invest a dollar a week into their watering – a task I find mindful to do, and really mindful when it comes time to harvest the ripe output at morning or night. And I did do the maths on it, and the watering of a garden really doesn’t cost all that much in the grand scheme of things. Compared to a 5 minute shower, or a family of 4 showering, watering the garden is quite cost effective, and makes you want to cut down your shower times, and you actually get stuff that’ll save you money from the garden. I never once sold anything out of my shower.

I still openly admit there’s way more still to learn than I’ve ever mastered, but I love doing it all with my wife, and hope our kids watch and enjoy and taste and learn from it all.

THE NEW GREENHOUSE

We built a new greenhouse recently, well, I got my son to build it. It’s 2 metres tall, and a metre wide, and it’s an experiment for us to see how we can use it functionally [we’ve never used a good sized one, usually we just slap them over stuff we don’t want the 9 months of frost to kill down here]. We set about filling the greenhouse with stuff we thought would work well.

The first thing, and the inspiration for the possible need of such a contraption/structure, was two kiwi fruit plants, a young lad and lass. Now, they might have died anyway when the temp got down to -6 one time, and I might just be soaking their corpses in the water, but I honestly don’t think we’ll know until Spring arrives and the plant looks alive or starts to rot in the oncoming heat.

Whereas the second thing we put in, a tomato plant that just sprung up out of some composted soil, is definitely dead. It’s still in the greenhouse, I definitely need to take it out and compost it, but that hasn’t happened yet. Because of reasons [laziness].

But the thing that excites me is the success I’ve had planting some seedlings in there. I took some small pots and grew all-season carrots, phlox, and something else. They started as dry seeds, they started to poke up out of the soil, and right now I’ve taken their little soft cardboard pot and put it into a larger proper plastic pot and continued to water them, and take them out for daily sun, and protect them inside the greenhouse every night, and now they’re showing more growth.

I like to believe I’ll later be able to repot them again into something larger, and maybe I’ll be able to make them flower, or something. I don’t *exactly* know what’s going to happen, but for now I’m keeping them alive, they’re green, and there’s the promise of…something…in the future.

MY OFFICE MATES

I have a few little green friends in my office.

I have a beautiful pot plant whose proper name I’ve lost to time, but it has striking red leaves, and they just keep growing up and out. I’m sure I read once that plants indoors create more oxygen, and considering my office is 50% paper, 40% dust, 9% other materials, and I worry 1% farts and carbon dioxide, then I think this plant might be keeping me alive.

I also like to wipe the leaves,and water it daily,and just enjoy the colours. I’m a simple, simple man.

The sidekick plant is a small aloe vera plant that I just nearly killed. I was watering it like a cactus, which it is not, and so it got very frail and almost felt “empty” to the touch. Some water immersion and direct sunlight brought it back to life and it’s looking good now. It’s also apparently a good oxygen producer.

I grew some red basil from seed recently, so that got its own little pot and is going strong. It’s a personal favourite because I like basil, and it’s red – it’s really just that simple.

And this month I planted 4 new seeds I hope to get to a state where I can repot into the greenhouse, like I did the 3 above. These are swan river daisy, which is doing alright. Zinnia, which is going well, as is the salvia. Then the cornflower is going gangbusters, which is the one I have my strongest hopes attached to.

Apparently all 4 of these seed well enough through winter, and should be good to really unleash into the spring sun and climate, which is more likely the time I’ll consider the pot transfer.

These are the trivialities that take up my mind, but they keep me sane, and bring me joy, and hopefully they do just a tiny little thing for the environment. Not much, but even if it just shows my kids how to engage with greenery, then I’m totally fine with that.

All steps in the right direction are, by definition, in the right direction.