Last year the cover of our shade house blew off quite spectacularly. It left me with a very ugly conundrum. I ended up tearing off the old cover and replacing it with bird net and shade cloth.
Over summer, the passionfruit vines grew up and over the bird net, increasing the shade for the plants below (and giving us our first passionfruit).
While it’s an absolute mess of pots and various plants most of the time, it’s turned out to be kind of awesome.
The berry collection
Last summer, I picked up a couple of blueberry plants and started them growing in half a barrel in the corner.
As well as the blueberries, I’ve also had boysenberry (‘Dream’) and blackberry (‘Karaka’) growing in pots for a couple of years. Then, earlier this week, I collected a yellow raspberry from Koanga Institute at the post office.
I’ve been half-thinking about putting them into the ground for a while. But I guess the yellow raspberry created the motivation we needed to build a permanent bed for the cane-berries.
In the past, they’ve produced pretty well in their pots. But I’d like an actual harvest rather than a semi-regular snack.
Given we have a frame that is already 90% covered in bird net, it would make the ideal place to grow them. It just needs a ‘door’ and then the entire thing is protected from birds (and dogs).
Building the bed
As well as berries and all the other plants awaiting a permanent home, the ex-shadehouse also holds all our spare pots, soil etc.
Getting started meant clearing away pots, junk, weeds, and grass. It would be fair to say this bit of the job has caused most of the procrastination. Every time I get started, I get distracted or overwhelmed.
So after I explained the idea to Richard, we kind of tag-teamed over a few days. I pulled out the grass, he moved the pots and cleared the junk. Soon enough, we’d cleared a space.
I had a rummage through our timber collection and found enough pieces that we could build a rudimentary raised bed with. We could do 3m x 0.5m, spaced around 0.5m from the edge of the house so they have room to grow ‘up’.
Richard knocked the bed together in the late afternoon while I cooked dinner.
Filling the bed
This project wasn’t really planned in any way. I hadn’t organised anything to fill the bed with when I decided to make a raised bed, so it was a case of making do with what we had.
I knew I wanted something very high in organic matter, but there was only really one option to hand – the ‘humanure’ from our composting toilet. This stuff has been sitting there for 2 years now – long enough that any nasties are long-since dead. After that much time, it’s just absolutely beautiful black soil.
Yep, that’s our (fully composted) poo from 2020.
I’ve never used it on edible plants before, but I found a few references to it being OK for woody berries, and it’s what we had. I decided if it didn’t gross Richard out, we’d try it. When I suggested it, he only asked if I wanted any help.
There was also a collection of Taiwan cherry branches that had been cut before we even purchased the property. We’ve been using them as ‘weights’ on the black plastic smothering grass around our garden, but at this point they’re really rotten. This seemed like a good time to put them to use, Hügelkultur style.
Planting the bed
The truth is, I’m not 100% sure which plants are blackberries and which plants are boysenberries. I’ve propagated them a few times and lost track. So they may or may not be planted together.
I did group them by how many spikes were on the cane. One or the other is definitely pricklier. They fruit at slightly different times though, so I guess I’ll find out then.
I placed out the plants I had, then dug them down into the existing soil. The pots were higher than our new bed, but this means they have a slight head-start on the moisture that collects under this spot.
Then I filled in the gaps with the rotting cherry branches, followed by a couple of wheelbarrows of fully composted humanure.
And finally, I used the bedding from the chookhouse on top as mulch.
The chip comes from a local sawmill and is pine. It’s probably too fresh to want to mix into the soils much, but it makes a fairly clean topping to the mixture, and hopefully provides a bit of acidity to the soil.
There are a couple of jobs to go, but they’re not pressing. We’d like to run some wire horizontally across the bed to offer some support. Like a mini-fence to hold the canes as they grow up. But even if we don’t get around to that, we can hang some strings from the frame for cane support.
An artist’s impression of what the supports might look like (if it were built very poorly and with a bit of magic).
I also need to put a ‘door’ on the open end of the house and make sure the edges are properly pinned down to keep the critters out.
But the berries are still quite dormant right now, so we’ve got a bit of time up our sleeve to achieve that.
For now, I’ve got rid of some rotting wood; emptied a humanure bin; mucked out the chicken coop; and found a permanent position for my berries to produce a proper harvest. I’m happy enough with that level of achievement for the week.