By Sue Mahon, Kergunyah South
We have recently relocated from Ultima, 32 km west of Swan Hill. We sadly left our five acres of red dust, where the grass never grew and saltbush provided a staple diet for our horses and chooks. Our large permaculture garden of six years finally started to produce bumper crops of tomatoes, strawberries, pumpkins and beans. It was a challenging journey of survival.
As avid gardeners we had set about planting a foundation vegetable garden. The soil was easy to move, sandy and free flowing. The plants shrivelled and died in the 45+ temperatures, our vegetable crops were dismal, the hungry soil was unable to provide nutrients to the plants and we soon experienced firsthand examples of nutrient deficiencies and their impacts on growth and production. We had to revaluate our position. It became evident there was a need to feed and restore the balance to our 9.5 pH soils. With a passion for organics, permaculture principles provided the pathway to very slow success.
It took over five years and tons of mulch, manure, rice hulls and straw to transform the red dust into friable nutrient rich loam. The soil became sweet and the layers of organic matter encouraged abundant worms per meter. In the Mallee, the impact of drought cannot be believed unless experienced firsthand. Evaporation and very low rainfall (around 100mm) created many challenges. The landscape was parched, soil moisture was well below a meter in depth and irrigation water was sucked away before the plants could use it.
We reused all our grey water on the garden, installed microtube subsurface irrigation systems. This system provides water directly to the plants, and creates a salt barrier for the root zones improving water efficiency. Ultima is lucky enough to have town water supply although you could not drink it. These non potable water supplies remain the lifeblood of the Mallee.
By the end of our seven years our lovely garden was filled with drought tolerant garden species. The most successful were emu bushes, grasses and native groundcovers. This Mallee experience reinforced the power of organic matter to reduce water use while dramatically improving soil fertility and productivity.
Now our new journey at Beneagles farm in Kergunyah with truly beautiful gardens, including many old variety fruit trees, will provide a new sustainable living adventure which we look forward to sharing with you all over the changing seasons.