Out and About July-August 2017

Mount Barker renovation

Our clients at Mount Barker had been growing veggies in some small raised beds on their property. But the time had come for a makeover.

Out with the old to make way for the new!

Incorporating chooks into the design

 Attracted to the idea of having chooks on top of raised beds they contacted us for a price for a food garden renovation with a chook house on one of the beds. Now this is a brilliant, space saving way to keep chooks in a small back yard that has a few raised beds as the chooks feast on the bugs and provide incredible fertiliser for the soil in the fallow bed.

However, as this Mount Barker property has plenty of space for chook roaming areas, we advised against the main chook house being on top of a bed and suggested a dedicated free standing chook house with an attached chook run instead. 

To get the full benefits of the chooks fossicking around and fertilising the veggie garden, we agreed to make a temporary chook structure that could sit on one of the unused beds. Our client was happy to put the chooks in here for periods and return them to their bigger home at night.

With lots of space to work with, we kept the veggie garden design simple: four large hardwood raised beds surrounded by sawdust paths. The sloping ground would be retained. The chook house would be situated as close to the house as possible and fenced off from the large veggie garden.


Delivery dilemmas

We started by clearing and levelling the area while materials and equipment were being delivered. Coming up a steep driveway and around a tight corner gave the delivery drivers just a few challenges!

Vital Veggies soil coming into the back yard around a very tight corner. On the left is our
driver Brett, just checking how close his wheel is to the drop!

Hardwood timber for the garden beds is being dropped down into the garden area by crane.

With the material delivered and the site cleared, we are ready to begin work.

Sloping ground

Where it’s difficult to make the entire surface area of a yard level, we have to assess whether to dig out ground, build the ground up, or adjust the garden beds to suit the sloping terrain. Many factors influence this decision including the client’s budget, time constraints, necessity, hardness of the ground etc… We do insist on garden beds being level on at least two sides and in consultation with the client, we decided these beds would sit horizontally at different levels.

Due to the sloping ground in both directions, we had to build in extra height to one side of each garden bed. Effectively the beds are two sleepers high on one side and three sleepers high on the opposite side. A great challenge for Roger and Nik to construct, but the final outcome would be stunning!

Irrigation and weed control mat is down. Roger and Nik now start making the garden beds.

Sequencing and Logistics

Logistics and how we sequence the building and filling of garden beds is crucial in some jobs. It is determined by the area we have to work in and where materials such as soil and timber are stored on site. In larger areas with good access we can use the digger to quickly fill garden beds with soil.  In smaller areas with limited access (gates etc.) we have to use wheelbarrows). Luckily we could get the digger down onto the work site here, which would make filling the beds much quicker and easier.

We began by digging channels, laying irrigation pipes and connecting them to the water source. Over the irrigation lines we then laid out weed control matting so that tree roots and weeds don’t invade the garden beds.

The first two garden beds were then constructed, put in place adjacent to the retaining wall and filled with soil. Some sawdust for the surrounding path was dumped behind the beds ready for raking out. If all four empty beds were constructed and put in place before filling, the digger wouldn’t have room to fill the first two beds with soil or dump sawdust behind them.

Overall we were quite lucky with the weather – hardly any rain during May up here. On the one day with intermittent showers, we abandoned building the beds and assembled the chook house instead!

The first two beds are in place. One bed has been filled with soil and some sawdust has
been raked out behind it. The chicken coop is assembled too.

Here you can see the different ground levels beneath the beds. Three beds are now
constructed, two are filled with soil and have drip irrigation lines in place.

Chicken coop and paddock

Biological floors are fantastic for chicken coops. They only have to be cleaned out once a year and the litter mixture of straw and chook poop is super nourishing for your compost heap.

We start with a ground frame of concrete sleepers on which the assembled coop is bolted. A minimum 20cm layer of straw is then laid down for the biological floor. At the back of the coop we cut out a hole and insert a doggy door for the chooks to get out into the paddock (but not into the veggie garden!!!).

These chooks have enough area and vegetation on the property to roam freely over one large paddock. No separate grazing areas needed to be made.

The back of the chook house on the right, and the gate dividing the chook paddock from the veggie garden on the left. Sorry chooks…the veggie garden is a NO –GO Zone for you!!!


Jenni was super excited to plant out her garden as soon as we’d finished putting drip irrigation lines on the beds. Being an experienced gardener from way back, she didn’t need any help with this.

We arrived on our last day to find that she had already planted out the entire 4 beds over the weekend: Lots of Lettuces, Rocket, Kale, Spinach, Asian Greens, Bok Choy, Peas, Red Sorrell, Sweet Alyssum and other veggie-loving companion herbs and flowers.

And…she had installed worm farms in the middle of two of the beds!!!

The newly planted out food garden, much larger and prettier than their original one.

This is a very beautiful and functional veggie garden for a small country property.   Along with Jenni’s front yard full of fruit trees, she will soon be producing most of her own food.


Marion side garden

Side gardens can often be dead spaces, especially when they are narrow and shaded. Mike had already cleared his side yard with the intention of growing his own veggies, and had then called us for some help with setting it up.

Luckily this side garden gets not only a bit of natural sunlight, but also some reflected light and warmth from the walls.

It didn’t take long to transform the space from this:   To this lovely little food garden:

It did take a little longer than expected due to restricted access to the back yard. The soil was delivered onto the front driveway and had to be taken around to the back in wheelbarrow loads, the long way round.
Even so, we finished it in one and a half days, from arrival to departure.

We are servicing Mike’s little food garden fortnightly for a few months with Mike alongside, until he feels confident enough to take over the reins himself.

Mike’s garden, growing well in the gentle winter sun.

Royston Park – Stage 1

After contacting us about a complete back yard renovation in November last year, we met up with our lovely new clients in Royston Park to measure and scope out their back yard space.

The L-shaped yard was delightfully overgrown and had a patchwork of garden beds. A curved path led from the side patio area down to the small back yard. Here, the rear bedroom overlooked another small patio area with an ‘outhouse’ hothouse built on at one end and two large rainwater tanks that dominated the entire back section.

They were happy for us to completely reinvent the space!

The side garden area and curved path              The back patio which looked directly onto
 leading to the back yard area before               overgrown vines covering two large rainwater clearing and preparing.                                    tanks.


 Our first impression.

Luckily in the months between our first visit and starting work, our clients were able to clear a lot the unwanted bushes and trees. We arrived, excited and ready to create a beautiful new food garden for them.

The preparation work had been done for us!

Rear garden and patio first

With work space so limited, we commenced from the back with the intention of working our way forward around the side.

Roger had great fun ripping down the little yellow ‘outhouse’ on the back patio with his sledgehammer.The old patio pavers were then pulled up, dolomite brought in and compacted, and posts erected.

With some help from Nik, we began the task of building a fence across the front of the rainwater tanks and a large deck from the rear bedroom door to the fence.

Roger and Nik laying foundation joists for the new decking. The first fencing panels that will hide the rainwater tanks are up and looking great already.

When the fence, the deck and the garden beds were completed we couldn’t believe the new sense of order and space that was created. What a transformation! 

Back patio before                                       Back patio after – Stage 1 completed

Stage 1 (back yard) is now completed and we are currently working on Stage 2 of the garden renovation (side yard).

This next stage involves building a trellis for passionfruit across the side wall of the house, some trellising along the side fence for grape vines and raspberries, three large ecowood raised garden beds, a couple of round galvanised beds to soften the square lines, and a sawdust pathway underfoot. Across the side patio area we’ve started to build a canopy structure with cypress pine timber and steel wires - climbing glory vines here will help shade this area from summer heat.

Building the patio trellis under grey skies…will it rain today?
July is turning out to be a month of unpredictable weather and we are working hard to get the next stage of the Royston Park garden renovation fully finished by the end of July, in between scud showers, wintery weather and our garden servicing schedule.
Check our Facebook page for progress updates and our next newsletter for images of the completed food garden.
Keeping in touch
Helmy Abouleish
As the current Chairperson for Biodynamic Agriculture Australia (BAA), Roger is always keen to share information and experiences with other experts in the field.
A chance to listen to visiting biodynamic expert Helmy Abouleish was an opportunity not to be missed.
Helmy, son of the founder of Sekem visited Adelaide during his April tour of Australia. On a Saturday, biodynamic dairy producer BD Paris Creek invited guests to meet and hear Helmy share the story of Sekem, one of the largest biodynamic producers globally. He shared the way in which his family established Sekem from the Egyptian desert into a thriving enterprise that it is today. He focussed on the way they collectively cared for the Earth, their people and the collective of their group.
Helmy appeared as a gentle, kind soul, enthused by the opportunities similar organisations offered to improve social welfare, economic outcomes and provide a happy workplace. We all left inspired on how we can implement such an organisation within our own situations.
Visit to Sunningvale Farm
We spent a lovely crisp Saturday morning wandering around organic/biodynamic Sunningvale Farm at Mount Jagged (near Mount Compass on your way to Victor Harbour) in early May. Their open weekend is promoted by Open Gardens SA and often occurs on the Mothers Day weekend (tag that for next year’s diary!).
You can read a bit about Sunningdale Farm here.
Some images from our morning wander are shared below:
Roger (centre) with Phillip and Anne Duguid, owners of Sunningdale Farm.
Welcoming directions placed next to one of the vegetable garden plots. The plots
are full of veggies and flowers, creating lush biodiversity.
Looking out over the rest of the property.

More vegetable garden beds, mulched with lucerne hay.

The chooks have free range through the rows of fruit trees.

Cow horns are used to make their own biodynamic preparations.
Phillip Duguid, generously sharing his knowledge to visitors at Sunningdale.

A home for native bees.

Copyright © 2018 Vital Veggies, All rights reserved.