Monday, December 30, 2013

Veggie Patch Upcycling

This year in the patch we are trying out some new ideas in the ongoing search for ways to improve our vegetable growing on the cheap, so in this post we want to share some simple methods that you can use in your patch on a low budget. we've been up-cycling, recycling and occasionally upside down cycling with things that we have found here at home to make the garden grow even better.

In ground Worm farm composters

the finished worm composter in action
prototype 1 - DIY in ground worm composter

We are rather excited about this little experiment to try and improve our soil by placing in ground worm farms made from PVC pipe throughout our patch. we made these from some left over pipe (20cm diameter) by drilling loads of holes into lengths of about 40cm, then burying them upright in the veggie beds. Add some wet paper to the bottom, a handful of red wrigglers (compost worms) and some vegetable scraps, some more paper and last of all a lid. (just make sure it is sealed off from fruit fly). Even after a couple of weeks it is surprising how quickly the scraps are being digested.

Worms are like the intestines of the soil. Compost worms tend only to inhabit the top soil layer, breaking down leaf matter and other dead vegetation. Earthworms (the big fat guys) burrow much deeper, and help to transport the nutrient rich humus of the compost worms deeper into the soil and around the root zones of our veggies. What a great team! They are jam packed with good microorganisms that enrich the soil into a bustling micro metropolis of healthy humus... at least that's the theory behind this idea, and I am busting to see if it works as planned.

Worm farm seedling tray in one.

a great way to reuse your water

I got this idea from a permaculture farm that used old bathtubs as worm farms in their nursery. their seedling trays rested on top of their worm farms. As they watered the seedlings, the water seeped through the wormy tubs and the worm juice siphoned into a storage tank which was later filtered and pumped through their irrigation system. We have adopted the same principle on a micro scale with our own worm farm. We simply removed the lid, laid down newspaper and a folded hessian mat which the seedling trays rest on. Its working a treat.

Drip irrigation with Venturi pump

This spring was very dry, which contributed to the terrible fires that we have had up here in the mountains. To conserve our water use in the garden this year we are trialling a drip irrigation system on our main vegetable patch. Its a fairly simple setup that we connect to a small secondary water tank near the patch. We purchased some cheap black irrigation pipe and punctured it with small holes every 10cm or so,  and arranging the lines to run across our grow beds.

 We have also added a simple venturi pump system that feeds into the main irrigation line which allows us to add liquid fertilisers to the water as needed. So far we have been pumping our plants with filtered weed tea,  and worm wee and the results are starting to show already. Its important to filter liquid fertilisers to make sure the lines don't get clogged up. We are using some wool insulation in a milk carton to filter the organic fertilisers.

The venturi pump works on simple suction. As the water runs through the main line, it creates suction, which draws the liquid fertiliser from the milk container into the irrigation line. The higher the water pressure, the higher the container of fertiliser needs to be, otherwise, you will get water going in the wrong direction and back into your liquid fertiliser container. A little trial and error and you'll have it down pat in no time. The pump is very easy to install to an existing irrigation set up. all you need it a t-join, a tap, and some extra hose. you can adjust the flow of fertiliser into the irrigation line by adjusting the tap.

For the areas in our garden that don't have drip irrigation installed yet, we are making use of our old milk bottles as slow release irrigation units. We are using them on our pumpkins at the moment to give them plenty of juice. Its a simple matter of filling the milk bottle with water, adding liquid fertiliser and whacking the bottle in upside down nearby the roots of the plant. Over the course of the day, the water and nutrients is slowly released into the soil. Its great for plants like pumpkins which are heavy feeders as you can pump nutrients directly to the plants root system. It also means no need for overhead watering, which reduces the likelihood of powdery mildew and weeds. by adding a tiny pin hole on the bottom of the milk bottle, it allows air into the bottle, aiding the water flow. the larger the bole, the faster the flow of water.

beer bottles for seedling holes
Being spring time, we have been planting out our new seedlings. We have found that a great way to speed up the process is to use an up turned beer bottle to make the holes for the seedling to go in. Its a perfect fit! Its also a great excuse to crack open a beer before planting out... or maybe 3 or 4, to get the job done even faster. hmmmmm...

Water the seedlings and the planting site with some worm wee or sea-sol before planting.

Chooks and weeds get the (hessian) sack

We are lucky to have a great local coffee roaster in our community, who has loads of spare coffee bags to dispose of regularly. We have been putting them to good use in the garden as covers for some of our veggie beds. They are excellent for stopping the chooks from digging up the dirt and plants, and also help to keep the soil moist and stop the weeds. Being made of natural fibres, they break down naturally as well. If you are after some sacks, look up local coffee roasters in your area. They will have loads of sacks and may even be happy to simply give them away.

Hessian mats a success

Our new and improved DIY Black-soldier-fly Composter

You may remember that last year we experimented with growing black soldier fly (BSF) as a way of composting and generating feed for our chooks. Our first prototype was successful in so far as it attracted plenty of black soldier fly, but when it came to harvesting them, many of the grubs didn't find the pipes to crawl up. this year we improved on our BSF composter by using a plastic 10 ltr watering can. Its cheaper, easier to build, more contained and hopefully works much better. With this design the grubs crawl up the spout of the watering can (there's no where else for them to go) down some hose and into a plastic bottle. We add food scraps by unscrewing the t-bar and put them down the shoot. I used some liquid nails to fix the t-bar in place. The chooks are already very happily eating black soldier fly larvae from our new system.
bsf fly in the t-bar pipe and lay their eggs. Larvae crawl up the spout and into the plastic bottle.

New plants in the Patch
Last summer, we planted some tamarillo seeds from some fruit given to us by our neighbour Grant. He has an amazing fruit orchard and edible garden! Our kids loved his tamarillos, so we decided to give them a go ourselves. Not only do they taste delicious, but they grow incredibly fast. We planted this one from a seed last summer (Not even a year ago) and it's setting fruit. Tamarillo's are a short lived subtropical fruit tree, but grow well in temperate climates too.

nearly one year old
ripening tamarillo's

We have also planted two feijoa trees (pineapple Guavas) on account of how fantastically delicious they taste, and also to make feijoa wine, which I hear is very easy to swill. If you haven't tasted one of these delicious fruit, do yourself a favour. Another new addition to the garden is a tropical guava tree which has taken the place of our mandarin (God rest its roots) after it was savagely mauled by a heartless and possibly drunk mob of cockatoos. We discovered (albeit too late) that they are terrified of red underpants hung on a pole. We are not sure if this is a universal rule or if it is uniquely my underpants that did the trick. If so, and you are in need of a pair, be warned, prices will be exorbitant.

Finally our apple trees have fruited this spring, with a bounty of promising small apples hanging on their branches. If they can duck and weave the possums and cockatoo's, rosellas and bush rats, maybe we might even get to eat one in the summer.

Happy gardening gang.


  1. I love it that you are trying out worm pipes. This is an idea I first wrote about in Gardening Australia's Organic Gardener magazine in winter 2000, and I see them all over the place now. The original design though only had the holes drilled in the bottom (underground) half of the pipe, so as to exclude flies and fruit flies. I just upended a pot over the top as a lid, loose fitting enough to allow gas to escape but keep insects out.

    1. Thanks Linda, yes you are right about not drilling holes al the way to the top, I realised this after putting them into the ground. An extra 10cm of pipe above the ground without holes also makes them easier to access, especially after adding mulch around them. thanks for the input.

  2. You two are out of this world ag gurus! Can't wait to hear how your feijoa trees go. x

  3. Hi Jo n Joe! Remember me???? we left the BM 2.5 years ago to live our sustainable dream on the far north coast! we are on 100 acres out on the western fringes of our area and i am dead keen to get a crop n swap going (have 'em in lismore .... but nothing out our neck of the woods!) ... any advice to offer??? we are doing well ... just brought home our house cow! she is about 3 weeks away from calving .... very excited! take care guys! Maggie Walters and the gang!

    1. hey Maggie, great to here from you, and very glad to hear about the cow... how fantastic.
      If you send us an email to we can send you our DIY Swap pack with loads of info. Our swap is going stronger than ever, with a great community vibe, and some incredible home grown produce. What are you growing on the farm at the moment?

  4. Hi, just curious if harvesting the BSF larvae from the watering can has been successful? I am hoping to set up something small here at Avoca Beach to spoil our chickens.
    Cheers, Justin

  5. Hi Justin,
    Sadly it has not maintained a colony of BSF. We had some in spring, but none since. This said, it has worked a treat with other various species of fly. the larvae do crawl up the spout as intended and do get trapped in the container. the chooks were just as happy to eat them. I have not given up on it yet. I intend to test insulating the watering can, which will also block out the light, which I think they prefer.

    1. Hi again, its now July, mid winter and surprisingly we are starting to get black soldierfly colonising our retrofitted watering can come DIY BSF composter... so it is working again after all.