Last year we tore up a part of our ornamental garden, laid down pea straw and compost and created a large vege patch as part of our main garden. We ate well over summer, lettuce and tomatoes every night, as well as silver beet, mizuna, beetroot and pak choi, from this garden and a patch of recovered driveway. Other veges we tried to grow around fruit trees failed and we soon realised that a set of raised beds would be needed to produce enough food to allow us to grow all our veges.

Iris guarding the leaves

Macrocarpa Beds

Kiwi Backyards in Waipukurau has 2.7m x 1.2m macrocarpa raised beds which are ideal for our purpose, Macrocarpa is very hardy and doesn’t need to be treated to stop it from rotting away next to soil. The beds are reasonably expensive at almost $200 each, but when I factor in the time I don’t have to make them myself it seems like a pretty good deal, especially when they are delivered to the backyard. We bought three and had one round the side of the house, which we’ll be moving.

Laying them out

We decided to position the beds in a row of four, with enough space to let the wheelbarrow fit between them. The row is along the back fence where the chickens live, the final plan will involve some contraption to fence the chickens into individual beds to give them some variety, fertilise the bed with their nitrogen rich poo and clear out the scraps at the end of a season.

Laying out garden beds

The hardest work is actually here, preparing the ground means paving areas which aren’t already concreted driveway. A couple of years ago a builder gave us a pile of bricks which he had after pulling down an old lime-mortared chimney. The bricks add a bit of red in the garden which we like the look of and make for free paving.

The spot near the back fence also catches full sun in summer and is just far away enough from the house to get plenty of winter sun too. Positioning the beds for sunlight means a better harvest and being closer to the kitchen makes for an easy reminder of what to cook.

Filling them up

A bit of searching on the web and reading some books has taught us that we need to layer our beds with brown and green, or carbon and nitrogen materials. Autumn is a great time to do this at our place as our weeping elm drops loads of leaves for a good first layer of brown. Green can be manure, lucerne hay, or grass clippings. We don’t have any lucerne, but Precious and Buster the miniature horses from round the corner were happy to donate some of their hard work. It’s amazing how much poo a little horse can make.

Precious and Buster's Bounty

Brown Materials (Carbon Rich)

  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Paper

Green Materials (Nitrogen Rich)

  • Horse Manure
  • Grass Clippings
  • Comfrey leaves
  • Lucerne
  • Worm Castings

After placing down the first brown layer of leaves (and raking up some leaves from the parents house round the corner) and sprinkling the horse poo, we mowed the lawn to bulk out the green layer with some grass clippings. Next, a layer of our home made compost, some comfrey and another layer of leaves.

Filled bed with comfrey on top

The first two beds are now almost there we’ll need to finish it off with a top layer of good soil, but first we need to wait for Buster and Precious to do their thing before we can empty the trailer of the rest of the leaves and fill up the last two.