A highly productive small-scale urban garden

A highly productive small-scale urban garden

Millie meets Kat Lavers, a permaculture designer and educator, and visits her small-scale but very productive kitchen garden designed to maximise yield with minimal effort and sustainable resources.

If you want a productive garden and only have a small space, thoughtful design and planning is key. This small city garden produces an abundance of edible crops every year. Like Kat, Millie has her own small yard and wants to make the most of it. The bulk of the produce grown on this block is in the rear garden – a mere 96m2.

Kat moved into her house ‘The Plummery’ in 2008. Apart from an old Blood Plum (Prunus cv.), the garden was a mass of weeds with contaminated soil and marauding possums. With above acceptable levels of lead in the soil originating from peeling house paint, Kat built three raised vegetable beds.

Kat: “I am going to live here for a long time, and eat many kilos of produce from my garden, so it’s important I know what is in my soil, both in terms of contamination and nutrients.”

Kat rotates her edible crops across the 3 raised garden beds. For ease of use, they are all the same size – the trellis system she uses can be moved from one bed to another. The beds are easy to net, water, work on and harvest. “I can easily reach into the middle of the bed from either side, and even though the garden is small, I leave one metre wide paths for my wheelbarrow to get through.”

The fruit trees, including a persimmon, plum and pear are kept small and pruned regularly to promote continuous cropping throughout the year, and to make the most of the smaller site. The fruiting grapevine shades the back of house and seating area, and provides shade for the vegie beds too. “The garden is designed so the vegies get some shade and wind protection during hot summer days.”

Kat is methodical. She keeps a diary tracking her plantings and recording all produce picked. In 2016 the garden produced 350 kg of herbs, fruit and vegetables. In 2018 this was well over 400kg. “The diary is my most important tool for increasing productivity!” Kat explained. From record keeping, she now has a preferred list of what is best to plant in her small garden.

Kat favours vegies that are easy to grow such as silverbeet, and give back more than she puts in. Perennial vegetables are high on the list – perennial leeks, chokos and wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) – as they keep on giving. It should be noted that Diplotaxis tenuifolia can be invasive in many parts of Australia, and local invasive species listings should be checked prior to planting this variety.

A small-scale garden doesn’t mean you can’t have poultry to lay eggs and provide fertiliser. You just need to think small – quails! “Quails a fantastic alternative in urban areas where soil contamination, space and noise constraints may limit a flock of chickens” says Kat.

Kat’s Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) are kept in a semi indoor coop on a concrete base with “deep litter”. You can use wood shavings, wood chips, autumn leaves, shredded paper and cardboard, which is eventually used as compost.

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