After three and a half years of seriously collecting mulch materials I suspect that I now have the beginnings of a garden.
This change has kicked in because I now have dirt where once sand ruled.
At some time over the past 6-8 months this qualitative metamorphosis kicked in. Now, at the end of a very dry Summer -- when we are still officially in drought -- I can dig my fingers into the dirt and grasp a rich loam.
And I got critters ++++ in my dirt. Worms especially -- when once upon a time there were none known to roam.
I think worm activity rules the quality of the underfoot establishment and I guess I can now call myself a vermiculturist.
Feeding my soil takes a lot of effort. How many times have I carted lawn clippings from my front nature strip to the outback patches? Layer upon layer -- a recipe enriched by collected newspapers and manures, a bit of blood and bone, twigs and sweat.
Constantly spreading the green stuff, hunting down any more carbon materials I could get my hands on, fretting over soil quality and irrigation options.
So I guess it took me 3 years to graduate.
The disconcerting thing is that having spent so much of my energy focusing on creating soil from sand I only now begin to address the question of growing plants better in it. Maybe now I can begin to look at pH issues and some of the other horticultural parameters that make for good cropping.
But what a great adventure it has been. (Read about it here.) If you can garden in beach sand you can garden anywhere.
En route I have to say that the gardening literature was not all that helpful. So much of what I've done has been trial and error. Most of it presumes that you start with dirt and not sterile granules devoid of an active biology. And the irrigation handbooks simply have no concept of how porous my untreated sand is...still is.
Now my garden is 'perched' atop of sand like a Fraser Island lake. The difference is that my 'garden' isn't impermeable. It just slows down the water as it diffuses through the soil long enough to foster the makings of a garden. I suspect that without the addition of clay it will remain very permeable. So my interest is in seeing how much I can do in way of soil improvement with organic matter alone. My working hypothesis is that big bits of organic matter -- my favorite being rolled up newspapers -- act like sponges, holding onto more moisture than the surrounding soil.
This is my number one principle -- a principle that underlies my use of clay pot irrigation. Indeed, I guess I have added clay to my soil -- but in the form of buried flower pots.
Sometime this year I'll write up my experience in as a sort of DIY manual for those who may be interested in a few hints for gardening on sand.
But outside of all that I gotta say that my main inspiration--aside from local Wallum ecology -- has been the rain harvesting work of Brad Lancaster and the literature on vermiculture, especially David Murphy's wonderful book , Organic Growing With Worms. As the irrepressible Peter Cundall writes in regard to it:
"This is an amazing, inspiring book..it should be on the bookshelf of every farmer, gardener, conservationist, scientist or anyone who comprehends the environmental dangers now threatening all life forms on earth."