Experimental Wicking Bed – Mel’s Mix vs Composted Manure

Note: I did this comparison in March 2014 but with illness(see below) and slackness along with the photos and video getting lost in the hard drive archive, it’s taken a while to get this posted.
If you just want to check out the grow medium comparison video jump to the bottom of the page where I compare two tomato plants, one in the Mels Mix recipe in my top wicking bed and the second in this experimental bed.

After building my first wicking beds at the front of the house and seeing how well they performed I realised that it was definitely the way to go for water  and nutrient containment. My raised garden beds in the back yard were doing okay but I wasn’t having much success in between the local fauna smashing my seedlings to the giant tree near the fenceline sending up roots into the bed trying to take advantage of all that lovely fertiliser and water that I was putting towards the vege patch. With a raised garden bed any water that gets fed into it simply seeps downwards. Now on a flat bit of land it would stay in the subsoil and seep back up via osmosis. My beds were on a steep slope so once the water got to the bottom it simply ran downhill  meaning I had to constantly add water to the grow medium as veges are fairly water intensive. If it were a wicking bed then I could completely negate all these problems.

So I spent a lovely, arduous day digging out the dirt I in the bed, hacking away at the dense thick invading tree roots that were growing fat in the bottom and set about preparing the bed for it’s conversion. Now I wanted to make this as cheap as possible ideally using only materials I had on hand. Also I have no access to getting soil conveniently delivered to my steep sloping back yard is impossibility which partly how my hybrid wicking/ lasagne bed came about.

Pond liner is extremely expensive here in Australia. An alternative is to use builders plastic but the best value on that is 200um Black Builders Film @ 2m x 50m which still runs around $85. I checked it out and it was fairly thick and would provide a lot of spare plastic for further beds but I opted instead to give banner vinyl a go. I help a friend out doing signage and we often remove large format advertising banners that get changed out on a regular basis. These are designed for outdoors so they’re fully laminated and UV stabilised and infinitely tougher than the builders plastic. They’re also destined for landfill because the world of advertising is super wasteful, hence the name junk mail, so if it got a second life, bonus! Plus FREE!

The bit I had lying around was filled with holes so wouldn’t be able to hold water which is what the wicking bed is supposed to do. But I figured it would be a nice layer of protection from any sharp/rough protrusions  of the raised garden bed which was made from pallets and offcuts.

No it’s not movie night! I hung the banner up to check for holes. There were many. Note the big pile of dirt was dug out and placed UPHILL so when filling time came it would be much easier.


Once cleared I need to ensure the roots and rocks under the bed would not push up and tear a hole in the banner vinyl I’d be using to create my reservoir. I placed 5mm thick acrylic board along the base so the sharp stones wouldn’t push up and several layers of thick upright cardboard to protect the sides.

The damaged banner would make a good base liner for added protection. It’s super fiddly trying to get any large material shaped to your garden bed especially if you’re doing this alone. You pull one end and the other drops. I highly recommend using quick release clamp like I have or something similar.

It’s best to leave a lot of loose liner in the cavity because once you start adding the heavy infill you want to allow for a lot of stretch. I had a heap of waste bits of round plastic the remnants of what you get from drilling plastic pipe out with a hole saw. Basically the holes of hole saw use. Instead of throwing these away they made perfect washers to hold down the top edge of the banner vinyl.

I miscalculated the end and trimmed a bit too much too early resulting in a very stretch endpiece but it was still workable. The main reservoir’s water holding capability was what mattered.

I can’t find my photos of the reservoirs but they’re the same as my original wicking beds. They’re just milk crates cable tied together and wrapped in geofabric. There’s a 40mm PVC vertical fill tube at one end and 40mm PVC horizontal overflow going sideways at the other end. The hole for the overflow pokes out the end of the garden bed frame.

I then covered the milk crate reservoirs with dirt. No fancy perlite or coir or woodchip or even sand in the base. Just dirt and clay chunks I’d dug out of the garden bed. At first I tried removing rocks but that got tedious real quick so there’s plenty in there. Once the dirt covered the milk crates I lay a sheet of geofabric down to act as a root separator. I didn’t want any plants to send down roots and clog up the reservoir. Then I put another thin layer of dirt on top of that. I decided to experiment and see if I could incorporate the ‘no-dig lasagne’ system of layering manure, sugar cane mulch and newspaper into my bed. In my case though there was a ludicrous amount of digging in this project!

A visiting friend wanted a gym work out, I told him I’d sort that out for him. by getting him to helped me lug  300+kg of bagged fresh horse manure from the up on the roadside down to the wicking bed. He lugged, I emptied. It sounds like I had the better deal until I got sick with Q-Fever two weeks later from the manure. It started with fevers and ended with six months of fatigue, all the way through the gardeners delightful season of Spring. Thankfully I’m good now and apparently now should have an inbuilt immunity.

Just before I got Q-fever I shoveled a heap of worm filled compost from my hugelkulture pile into the wicking bed so while I was sick they spent those months feasting away and converting that manure into an amazing growing medium. By the time I got around to planting in there it was a worm haven filled with fat poo eating wrigglers.

So was this basic no frills, dirt and manure filled wicking bed any good? Check out the comparison I did by planting two similar tomato plants at the same time. One in my fancypants wicking bed up top where I used something similar to Mel’s Mix from square foot gardening, the other in my poo filled experiment.

PS: Both plants are still alive today and producing two years on!
Have an awesome day!


Cheap Seed Sourcing Alternatives

Discussing where people buy seeds from in an urban farming group I’m a member of, reminded me to post about an often overlooked place.
I really dislike paying $5 and being sent 10 seeds from a seed saver. Sometime it’s so they can maximise sharing, others it’s about profit (It’s not a dirty word and I still buy from some seed savers). However if there’s a low germination rate it’s not a very economical way of getting seed.

So I often go to organic/health food stores and buy seeds from the bulk bins. People often forget that those bins are filled with seeds! For a couple of bucks you can get hundreds if not thousands of seeds to plant in the garden. Also look in the snacking aisle. There’s a reason people joke that those health snacks are bird seed. Because they literally are! I recently bought some cow pea in the lentils section of my spice store. It worked out to be ~$3.50/kg, my last purchase of cow pea was ~$2/kg but that was in a 25kg sack! So while throwing a 1kg lentil packet onto your shoulder and walking to the car isn’t going to make you look or feel anywhere as awesome as carrying a sack of farm grade cover crop seed, it’s a great purchase for a suburban block. And yes it sprouted extremely well.

It’s bizarre how price is based on perspective. A friend mentioned you can grab a 2kg bag of sunflower seeds from the birdseed section of the supermarket for $3- So I grabbed some and soon had a lovely patch of yellow. A gardening store would charge over $30/kg for or in those tiny packets $3 for 25 seeds! So look around and you’ll be surprised at the many places seed opportunities are hiding.

Don’t forget your grocer / fruit market has plenty of seed hiding inside all that fruit and vegetable. For instance, I bought some spaghetti squash seeds a while back at $4/10seeds. I’ve had zero germination from them. I recently saw one in the local grocer. $6- gives me a whole squash worth of seeds plus a delicious feed thrown in! It’s a perfect try before you buy because after all how many times have you looked at a new fruit or vegetable and thought “Will I even like eating it?”, let alone buying seed and spending all those resources to grow it.

So if you see that unusual fruit/veg in the markets buy it and try and grow from it’s seeds. Worst case is you get a meal out of it.

Oh and before you ask, read the first sentence of this article :o)
That’s not to say we don’t have hybridised/specially bred seeds but for the most part our fruit and veg is pretty good (except for the spraying part) here in Australia. Imported foods however not so much which is why labeling laws are so important. Of course joining a local seed swap group is even better. It’s free and shares the load of being responsible for keeping heirloom varieties alive.

Happy seed sourcing.

Fruit Tree and Gardening Suppliers

Fruit Trees

Daleys Fruit Trees  is probably the most well known retail fruit tree supplier in S.E. Qld. They’re located just below the border in NSW at Kyogle. Daleys have an extensive range and deliver to most parts of Australia. They’ve got one of the most comprehensive websites and videos/ youtube channel as well, regarding information and care for your tree.
Personally I haven’t purchased off them because usually  when I look to buy it’s not worth the delivery for a single tree. If you were doing a lot of trees for your food forest it’d be worth it. Maybe even driving down there for a day trip. Also a lot of times they just don’t have the plant I want in stock and you have to click ‘notify me’ but that’s probably because I’m always after something a bit on the rare and unusual side.


Fairchilds Nursery

Bob McGuffin doesn’t have a nursery you can visit per se. He does his own propagation and also has contacts for plants he doesn’t have in stock. He sells from the Chandler Markets now known as The College Markets out at Capalaba as well as the annual BOGI festival where I first met him and bought trees off him. I have to say the quality of his stock is probably the best of anyone I’ve purchased from.  If you’re looking for something in particular he can sort it out for you and you can pick it up from him at the markets.
Just email him mcguffin.bob@gmail.com  or call (07)3297 6974  (He may not answer straight away but will get back to you)


Templex Nursery   1895 Beaudesert Rd, Algester QLD 4115        (07) 3273 3035 (Closed Tuesdays)

I highly recommend you take a trip out to Templex. It’s a super compact, highly decorative, hidden gem filled with dragons, cranes and other works of art by the owner. They get some of their stock from Daleys so with their nursery discount it’s basically like getting a single tree from Daleys freight free. The lovely helpful owners are Asian so their taste in fruit tree stocks are exactly the type of uncommon varieties that I go for when looking to purchase diversity for my food forest plus they’re inexpensive. The pheasants they have (golden and silver) are like the supermodels of the poultry world! Here’s a taste of what to expect.



Annual BOGI Fair

This is my annual compulsive buying spree. Currently running on the last Sunday of August, it’s where I bought my very first lot of fruit trees back in 2012. Every year I end up taking home at least 6-12 fruit trees then wonder where the hell I’m going to put them. Not the wisest way of tree shopping and makes for a lot of digging of holes. It’s a relatively small area but there’s not much you can’t get from there. Parking can get a bit hard and I’d advise taking cash as not all vendors have mobile eftpos.


Forbidden Fruits

I’ve bought the majority of my plants from Forbidden Fruits at the BOGI Fair. For the most part they’re pretty good but some years I’ve had their staff members at the BOGI Fair give me incorrect information regarding trees, which I put down to perhaps them roping in help for the day. Things like being told something is a graft when it obviously isn’t and final size of tree type misinformation. Fortunately I interwebs a lot of stuff beforehand and also on the day with my phone, so I have an inkling about some of the available plants. Their more experienced staff are on the ball and more than 60% of my trees are from them and doing very well.



I use Farmcraft to buy my chicken feed and starpickets. They were also the only place I could get bulk bags of diatomaceous earth at a decent price. It’s a bit of a pain that there’s no prices online but the cost savings for the most part are worth the trip out to Acacia Ridge. They stock Barastoc Golden Yolk for $15/20kg bag where everywhere else near me it’s between $22-$25. YOu can get it cheap online but then postage kills whatever savings. If they put up their pricelist they’d get so much more business, I have not idea why they and so many other companies don’t. Their staff will gladly help you over the phone though.

Heritage Hatching And Hens

I got my chickens from an egg farm that were about to do a cull but a lot of friends bought their hens from Heritage. When I haven’t the time to get out to Farmcraft I will buy a bag of chicken feed from Heritage to tide me over and stop the chooks from squawking at their empty feed bucket. Heritage have an impressive range of chickens so if you want something along the lines of a showpony this is the place to go. It’s probably where I’d go if I didn’t have the opportunity to save more battery hens.



A lot of gardeners will rag on Bunnings and yes for the most part a lot of their smaller edible plant stock aren’t as good as buying from a dedicated nursery. Also pay attention to the fruit trees, they’ll often be seedlings not grafts and if they’re cuttings/ air layers they’re definitely not specified so it’s a gamble. Having said that I noticed that a lot of their larger fruit trees come from Birdwood Nursery who are a massive wholesale supplier up the Sunshine Coast who provide to a lot of the nurseries around Brisbane and the stock quality of these plants is usually excellent. They’ve also picked up their act over the years with labeling but there are still times the label has no varietal or propagation method information on the plant info card. I recently bought a feijoa on a whim as it was a stock clearance and there’s zero information about what variety of feijoa it is or how it was propagated, just a generic Sellowiana label saying ‘pineapple guava’. They stick with fairly common varieties but in the last year I’ve noticed a new additions to the lineup that pique my interest. Their pricing though is still a bit more than some of the options above. I noticed too that to match Masters they’re now also offering a 1yr guarantee on their plants! That’s pretty bold given how fickle plants are and bad gardeners can be too.



Yes Ebay! You can get some amazing deals and really hard to get plants from Ebay. I’ve bought a lot of organic heirloom seeds from various suppliers. Most will give free postage once you spend over $10 too. I’ve also had bought cuttings and small potted plants too that I couldn’t find anywhere else.


Geofabrics Australia

I bought my wicking bed geofabric from these guys. They sell predominantly industrial grade stuff which is why I chose them plus their pricing is great, the only catch is you do have to buy in bulk 25-50m rolls so it does push the overall price up but if you’re going to be using it it’s well worth it.

I also bought my root barrier from them. They sold it under their Tree Max brand but it looks like it’s been bought by another company Sure Gro as of 12th Feb 2016. If the product is the same
quality then there’s no reason not to get it from them.





Nova Gardens Nursery

Good customer service and nice selection of stock standard fruit trees. Much like Bunnings pricing (~$5-15/tree extra than other places) although I’d say plants are in slightly better condition. I haven’t bought any trees from them but only because they haven’t had anything unusual in their lines.