My Backyard Bathtub Garden
by Miles Trench
Backyard Bathtub Salad Garden
I was driving past a paddock one day and noticed an old bathtub sitting there that the farmer had once used for watering his stock. It was obviously a relic, complete with thistles growing out of the ground near one end. So I chased him up and asked if I could have it and like a true farmer he said: 'Sure, it's yours, it'll cost you $5.00...' So that's how I became the proud owner of my very own second-hand tub. Getting it home, of course was another matter. Luckily, my good neighbour came to my aid, and with the help of his trusty trailer we were soon able to transport it home so I could put it to good use.
I had an old steel rainwater tank stand that had been doing nothing for years, so I recycled that and positioned it near the back door by the kitchen. Then I placed my new (old) bathtub on it so it sat at a comfortable height off the ground. This serves to keep it safely out of reach of the rabbits that come nosing about looking for an easy feed ? and it is also at just the right height so that I don't need to bend too much.
Then I set about filling it up. Being a keen no-dig practitioner (thanks again to the inspiration of Mary Horsfall and Esther Deans), I used layers of organic material rather than just filling it up with soil. So, the first thing was to ensure it was going to have good drainage. Being a bathtub, it obviously still had the drain hole, but I put a patch of thick shade cloth material over this to prevent everything dropping out. Then I put a layer of old gravel, about 2cm's thick on the bottom to act as a base, then a thick layer of old newspapers, moistened well with a hose, and I added a sprinkle of organic fertilizer pellets over the top. Then came the first layer of organic material.
This consisted of a good thick layer of my home-made compost* then a layer of straw, wet down: then a layer of well-weathered manure. I have access to quite special blend actually, thanks to Dean and Jenny from Jade Farm(a home for abandoned and rescued animals they have set up just out of Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula) ? among the contributors to this special mix are (normal) horses, (miniature) horses, a donkey, ducks, chickens and even a camel!
Then came another layer of compost ? and finally, a good layer of potting mix and garden loam mixed together as the top layer of 'soil'. I use pea-straw and seaweed as a mulch ? the pea straw breaks down and adds nitrogen, and the seaweed deposits tiny particles of organic matter and adds vital trace elements like iodine to the soil mix as well.
I have now used my no-dig, bathtub garden for several seasons. After each planting I just scrape aside what remains of the mulch, ready to put it back when I have re-planted. Then I top up the bed with a fresh layer of compost and well-weathered manure and I never need to fork over the soil ? I just leave the stems and roots of the previous crop to break down and return their nutrients and minerals to the soil mix (even plants recycle), and I just plant new seeds or seedlings around these as I go. In this way the soil biota and micro-organisms aren't disturbed and they continue to do their job of keeping the soil mix rich and 'sweet'.
I find my bathtub garden excellent for growing herbs and spring onions (especially as it's so near the kitchen.). It also makes it easy to water as well. And it's also great for salad veggies like loose-leafed lettuce. If you cut the lettuce off at the base when mature, new leaves will regrow from the stem, so you can pick and pick again. My fabulous bathtub garden is also very handy for growing Asian greens like Bok/Pak Choy, and Chinese cabbage. In fact, because I always allow one or two plants to flower and set seed, I keep finding new seedlings popping up all over the place by themselves in a natural and sustainable cycle. Allowing your leafy vegetables to flower in this way is a great way to start seed-saving and it also encourages butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects to visit your garden. And in a small way it also helps lessen pest insect attack by the camouflage effect of the different coloured flowers and scents growing in amongst your edibles.
So next time you see an old bathtub at a garage sale, why not snap it up and take it home? Once you taste that first bite of cherry tomato or the scintillating aroma of fresh basil wafting up as you water, you'll wonder how you ever did without one. For information on healthy gardening tips, see milestrench.com - bye :)Easy-Peasy Compost
* We are lucky enough to have a little bit of space at the back of our block, so that's where I make my 'lazy compost'. This is done by just putting together a big heap of organic waste from the garden and leaving it for a few months to rot down. That's where all the prunings go: also grass-clippings, old tomato/pumpkin/squash/zucchini vines, vegetable scraps like old cabbage leaves and stalks; also things like leaves, bits of cardboard, eggshells, tea bags, and similar kitchen scraps and the occasional bit of soil or potting mix from pot plants that have reached their use-by date. I find that as long as the heap isn't allowed to dry out completely, after a few weeks you can scrape out a fair measure of useable, organic compost from the bottom of the pile. Then I just fork over what's left into a new pile alongside and start again. This is a bit of a lazy way to make compost, but it works ? as long as you mix up the components when you are making the heap so that there is hard and soft, green and dry, big pieces and smaller bits all mixed up together.