Garden Layout Software

Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp) is a free software tool, which is great for garden planning. I have some things on my kitchen garden plot, that cannot easily be moved, like old fruit trees, a large concrete bed and a concrete composting tube. If it hadn’t been for these locked objects it would be really simple to create a layout, but with SketchUp you can quickly try out different ideas on how to work around the objects to get the most room for garden beds. For each object you put onto the screen you input the actual 1:1 dimensions, like for instance the base size of your plot and the actual size of each bed. Then you can start filling in beds until you run out of space.

This is how my layout is going to be in 2013:

There are 12 beds, preferably raised beds, a concrete bed, and different fruit trees and bushes. Each bed is 1.00 m wide (3.3 ft).

SketchUp has a cool feature where you can read out every length you need, for example the length of each bed:

I want each bed to be as long as possible to get the largest area for growing as possible but here I’m limited by trees. You can use the Dimensions tool on every length in your layout that you could have an interest in knowing.

I have measured the lengths of all the 12 beds and now I’m ready to create a sowing and crop rotation plan.

The software program is available here: Trimble SketchUp

Composting Scraps From Scratch

I’ve been busy emptying the old composting tube in the corner of the garden. It had been filled up with all sorts of garden waste throughout the years, and the resulting product actually looked like good quality humus. I wouldn’t use it in my vegetable beds though, since I’m rather picky about what goes into my soil and thereby into the vegetables and fruit, and finally into my body. Therefore I just spread the contents of the old concrete composting tube on spaces I plan on using for walking aisles.

I found lots of eggshells in there, and even plastic bags, so I just want to be sure that it’s only healthy stuff that ends up in the compost. Nothing wrong with eggshells though, but generally the challenge with composting is that you have to get a high enough temperature to burn down all the bad stuff, and this takes some knowledge and practice. Looking at the condition of the kitchen garden I do not assume that the previous renters were into gardening and composting, therefore I’m starting a new pile from scratch. Not to say that I know enough about composting to make it work perfectly, but I’m very keen on getting the loads of kitchen scraps out of the expensive household garbage can out front. Besides it should be very healthy to know what goes into your vegetables – that’s one of the big reasons why we wrestle with this gardening thing, right? 😉 (besides getting a good workout and save some sweet moolah $ 😀 )

The trick to composting is to mix three components, namely greens, browns, and manure. If done correctly you can make the worlds best compost in a short amount of time, but it’s hard to do for the average kitchen gardener, since you need large areas and access to all three components all at once in relatively large quantities. If you have that then yes, you can work wonders. If not, you might want to consider getting a compost tumbler.

Photo by James Emery.

When the composting process is working it happens because all three components are in contact with each other. The activity in the pile is at maximum, the materials are broken down, and the temperature is high. Out comes the best compost.

The smart thing about a compost tumbler is that it allows the different materials to come into contact when you turn it, compared to a static pile where you add materials on top, like for instance three layers of grass clippings but no brown leaves in between.

The tumbler has a size limitation though, which makes it difficult to cover an entire self-sufficient kitchen garden with enough compost, or at least very expensive, if you need to go and buy a large number of tumblers to take advantage of all the waste your garden is producing. That’s why I’m building several composting ‘boxes’ and turning them over every now and then in order to mix the materials. Just make sure to cut everything into small pieces before throwing it on the pile, with a maximum length of for example 5 cm (2 inch) so that the turning can be done easily later on.

New 2012 Kitchen Garden Clean Up

Here’s a couple of videos from my 2012 garden makeover. It’s just great to have a patch of soil again, but there’s work to it. These are before-and-after videos – I removed a lot of random bushes and plants to make room for vegetable beds:

Actually, the before-video don’t show the tall grass and snakes which was the original starting point, but compared to this next video you can see that I have been busy:

Now it’s easier to see the new possibilities and get a feel for the best layout. I spent an hour during one of the last summer days to make a sketch of the kitchen garden patch and take measurements of all the settled things, like old tall fruit trees, shed and concrete bed, and where they where located relative to each other. With all these distance measurements on paper I can make a precise layout drawing on my computer and start drawing each future bed.

Easy on the Cherries Blackbird

Photo by Chris. P.

The blackbirds tricked me this year. I had been watching the cherries grow more juicier each day, and after several weeks they looked like something taken right out of a Disney movie. Big, fat, dark red juicy perfect shaped wonders of nature.

Well, I wasn’t the only one who had been watching.

What do blackbirds actually do all day? If they’re not feeding their offspring, what do they do? I’m sure they sit and stare at the fruits in my fruit trees, waiting, perhaps taking a nap for five minutes, stare some more, wait, zzz… I can’t compete with that, I also have to save the world and all that.

It took the blackbirds 1.5 days at most to strip a 3 m (10 feet) high cherry tree completely of all its berries, which is totally ridiculous. The only positive thing about it that I can think of is that the stones are spread to a large area through the birds droppings, but then again, I think that fruit trees are usually grafted onto a robust root that has adapted to local conditions. It means that the small trees that will come from the seeds will not always survive and produce fruit themselves.

The solution to this, if you want to eat your own fruit yourself? Nets. Large nets with small masks, covering the whole tree or shrub. Or cages, with chicken wire mesh mounted on a wooden frame. That will keep the birds out – just remove the cages or nets whenever you are ready to get a healthy shot of vitamins and save money for the next trip to the nursery, by growing your own fruit.

Photo by quisnovus.

Feeding Those in Need – How Do Charities Store And Deliver Food?

In areas of the world which have been affected by natural disasters, extreme poverty, droughts, wars and other circumstances, people are at risk of starvation due to lack of food and water. There are many international charities who strive to bring medical aid, water and food delivery to these struggling communities. With their help, people are able to survive and recover from the disaster.

Photo by isafmedia.

Transporting such an enormous amount of food thousands of miles at merely a moment’s notice, usually into some of the most inhospitable places in the world, is no easy feat. How in the world do these charities do it?

Case Study – The World Food Programme

Photo by IK’s World Trip.

In order to understand how charities get food delivery to people in need, we will look at one particular organisation as an example. Any other food charity will work in a very similar way so this is a helpful way of understanding how the process works.

An example of a charity which gives food to the needy all over the world is the World Food Programme. This is a United Nations frontline agency which has been created to help with the problem of world hunger. One in every seven people on the planet is affected by global hunger and the WFP delivers food to save the victims of natural disasters, war and civil conflict. After the emergency, this organisation comes in to help the community rebuild and recover.

There are many charities similar to this one that also offers food delivery to needy regions of the world in the wake of any catastrophe which threatens the local food supply.

How is the Food Delivered?

So how does the WFP get all of the food to the hungry poor?

The main form of food delivery which WFP uses is ocean transport with 90% of its food is moved by ships.  However this simply gets it to the nearest coastline. Often the communities that need food are thousands of miles inland, so the next step is to develop a line of delivery which makes the most logical route through the deserts, mountains, rivers and other obstacles around the way.

Often charities will have to transport food through areas where there are no roads or bridges and sometimes they build these roads and bridges along the way. They can also bring food delivery by aircraft, arranging air drops in the affected location.

Once there is a clear path to the affected area which the supplies can be carried along, the charity will use any means available to transport the goods. In the past this can included trucks, trains, canoes, planes, helicopters and even more primate forms of transport such as yaks, donkeys and elephants.

The food delivery which is transported into these impoverished regions destroyed by war or natural disaster has to be non-perishable because it will not be refrigerated if it is being carried on the back of a donkey. The typical types of foods that charities send to these locations include grains such as rice, wheat and maize as well as beans, peas, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, cereal, biscuits and bread. These are all carbohydrates which will give people lots of energy and last a long time without refrigeration.

After making it over mountains, rivers, deserts and jungles, the food delivery finally reaches its recipients, saving their lives and giving them the nutrients that they need so that they can recover their community.

This is not the only charity which provides food to people in need. There are many similar relief organisations which deliver food, clothing, medical care and shelter to suffering communities, such as Operation Blessing, the Red Cross and World Vision.

Photo by Dan.

Food delivery is very important in times of crisis and it can make the difference between life and death. The logistics of providing food to remote and poor locations is sometimes an incredible challenge, but these charities make it their job to find a way.

Author Bio

Charlotte Rivington loves blogging about lovely Foods and Drink covering topics from delicious recipes to milk&more grocery. She also loves to shop, keep fit and eating healthily.


Concrete in the Kitchen Garden

I think the use of concrete in the kitchen garden is something that should be considered more often. Concrete is not pretty but since the main purpose of the kitchen garden is to produce edibles the benefits of concrete as a building material should be kept in mind.

The guy who started this garden I have now, back in the 1950s, was certainly very fond of concrete. In my post about soil improvement I mentioned the large 3 x 3 m (10 x 10 ft) concrete bed I found, I’ve talked about the concrete compost tube too, that I think he built too.

I also found an old concrete roller, that was probably used as a lawn-roller, but left behind in an old shed in the back of the garden.

What’s interesting is the age of the concrete roller – it says “1957” on the side of it! Written with a finger in the wet concrete. Now imagine a normal raised bed, perhaps waist high, made from this stuff, lasting 50 years! No need to worry about what type of wood to use, or count your money to make sure you have enough to buy the lasting type.

Concrete can also be used for aisles, as the perfect weed stopper between beds. A more flexible solution would be to pour your own concrete slabs that can be moved around, to be able to modify size and shape of each bed.

Lynn Mentgen-Gillespie talks about using store-bought concrete blocks, namely cinder blocks, in her ebook Cinder Block Gardens.

Be prepared to do some heavy work if you choose to use concrete in your kitchen garden, but at the same time enjoy the benefits of custom made tools and structures, that will last a lifetime.

Soil Improvement

I have really got my hands full with this new garden. It is both awesome and scary at the same time, because I get so many great ideas I want to try out, but the plot is still a wilderness after two months mid-season. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to handle this beast and make it into a neat, food-producing kitchen garden. It’s the perfect way to exercise patience and faith – the carrot seeds took an awful long time to grow into seedlings, and the soil needs nutrients really bad. I’m not sure if soil is the right word. It looks like something you’ll find at the seashore, so I’ll have to have faith in the yearlong composting process, and that I’ll be able to turn my kitchen waste and ornamental garden waste into humus for the vegetable beds.

I’m figuring out a plan for the placement of each bed, and digging away. I discovered what I thought was a discarded concrete building block, but it turned out to be a large 3 x 3 m concrete bed that had been buried in garden waste for many, many years, judging by the height of the pile on top of it (about 1.5 m). Now I just need to find out if it’s some kind of pool (i.e. call in the ducks), or an ordinary bed without a concrete floor in it (i.e. reread the Food4Wealth ebook and use it as a Food4Wealth bed).

No matter what – the potatoes I did manage to plant in the ridiculously sandy soil will soon be ready for harvest, and I’ll appreciate every small bite.

Kitchen Garden Plot Tour 2012

Maybe I put a bit too much energy into this – I wanted more space for my kitchen garden (in fact, I had almost no space at all) and now I have a park on my hands! Well, most of the garden is ornamental, but it still takes time for me to mow the lawn and trim the bushes and hedges. But it’s awesome, I love it!

It took some time to get used to the snakes crawling around in the tall grass, but they’re pretty harmless. These videos below were shot a couple of months ago and now that the grass has been mowed several times I think the snakes left.

The ornamental garden and the kitchen garden are connected through a beautiful old wooden trellis, but the kitchen garden was still a complete wilderness when the videos were shot. It’s okay, I like the challenge!

Half of trees in the far back of the garden are cherry trees, and they’re very tall, maybe 8 meters or so. It’s actually raining cherries down there if you get the timing right.
A couple of big piles of sticks have been left to rot, with God knows what kind of creepy critters living in there (among snakes, yes).

I’m looking forward to harvesting Victoria plums and apples from tall trees planted long time ago in the kitchen garden.

And oh, check out the custom made concrete composting tube, and the concrete drum (whatever that has been used for?) It looks like the garden and the tools and stuff were left behind in a hurry and haven’t been touched since – just like an old town from the gold rush…

The far end has been fenced off against deer, with a tall fence, with a view to the golf course next door; “Clock!” And duck. 😉

New Kitchen Garden in 2012

I moved into another house a couple of months ago, and with that came a new garden for me to build. It was a complete unattended wilderness when I moved in but after much sweating it’s beginning to look like a kitchen garden.

This picture was taken about 6 weeks ago when I prepared a bed for potatoes:

It’s not good to start from scratch in the middle of the season with a wilderness, but at least a fun challenge. I’ll probably end up with a lot of garlic this season, as they’ll go in late, as far as I remember. It’s pretty chaotic down there in the kitchen garden at the moment as the race to get at least something growing is on before the season ends. Of course there are always crops like lettuce, spinach and radish that will produce something fast, but it’s not until next year I’ll get a normal yield from the garden.

The potatoes are growing well and will soon be ready for harvest. As I realized how late I was in the season I started digging like a madman, even in the pouring rain, but with an unexpected positive outcome: The soil is much easier to work with when it’s wet!

That is probably only true right here where the soil is very sandy, in fact too sandy, but for me it has always been the other way around: When the sun was shining, I was out there digging, which meant that the soil was dry, sometimes as hard as rock. If you have to go through a layer of grass or lawn it is worth to make a comparison of the soil consistency after a period of rain versus a period of sunny weather. I’m impressed with the speed at which I could go through a complete bed like the above one, but the soil might also be heavier to lift, especially if you have clay soil I guess.

In order to improve the sandy, lifeless soil here I’ve setup a primitive composting box made from wire mesh and round poles. There’s already a very cool looking compositing concrete tube installed in one corner of the garden, that I’ll be using as part of a 3 year system, where I’ll be moving the material from the Year 1 box to the Year 2 box, until the composted material ends up in the final Year 3 box, or tube, before it’s completely composted and ready to be spread out on the beds. (Thanks to Peder for this idea!) In the process of moving the material from box to box the material will be turned and mixed, so that green parts will meet with new brown parts and the composting process will be optimized. If the missus gets her rabbits installed at the other end of the property I’ll have access to manure that will speed up the composting process tremendously and I might be able to cut of a few year of the process. We are already collecting kitchen waste and throwing it into the compost to speed up the process so the lifeless sandy soil is soon a thing of the past.

Raised Bed Designs – Part 2

It’s time for another round of raised bed designs here in 2012, where raised bed gardening seems to be as popular as ever. The benefits of using raised beds are (according to Wikipedia):

  • Higher yield
  • Creates a micro-climate in which weed growth is suppressed
  • Moisture is conserved
  • Extends the growing season
  • Plants grow easier due to loose soil
  • Easy on your back due to tall building height

Below you’ll find examples of raised bed designs:

A circular raised bed made from round pressure-treated wooden poles:

Circular Bed
Photo by Karen Blakeman. (Barracks Lane Community Garden, Oxford, England, GB).

I think rounds beds are definitely the most beautiful, but also least efficient when it comes to yield, because you waste grow space in the ‘corners that are not there’, compared to rectangular beds.

There may be a health issue when using pressure-treated wood – take a look at this post for more info: Raised Garden Bed Plans

If the poles have the same length below ground as above ground they are be able to support themselves, held in place by the weight and pressure from the soil.

The next two photos show lots of ordinary raised beds but they are special because they are built on the property of an elementary school:

Classroom Plots
Photo by Billie Greenwood. (Casa Alegre, Santa Fe, NM, US).

Elementary Classroom Raised Beds
Photo by Billie Greenwood. (Casa Alegre, Santa Fe, NM, US).

I haven’t seen anything like that in my country, and certainly not a kitchen garden of this size (although I’m wondering what the grass like plants are, but I’m pretty sure I see lettuce in one of the beds).

Working with raised beds in school is a great way to teach kids about food and energy, and certainly an improvement from my time in school, where the teaching was limited to cress growing in a windowsill 😉

I’m not sure if the next one qualifies as a raised bed:

Finished Garden
Photo by R Berteig. (Monrovista, Monrovia, CA, US).

I guess it depends on whether you took the few steps down into the middle or you’re standing on the normal ground level.

I’ve seen this type of bed used beneath a greenhouse, where the greenhouse is placed on top of the outer wall, although this was in a smaller scale. It probably has to do with the building height of a greenhouse, to be able to get more headroom when working inside, so you lower the “floor”.

Raised beds made out of concrete and stone will last a lifetime, so make sure you get the design right the first time, or be prepared to bring in the heavy machines to clean up any mistakes.

This is the basic raised bed as mentioned by John Seymour in his book about self-sufficiency:

Cameroon Nursery Shade, Raised Bed
Photo by Trees For The Future. (Cameroon).

On average your soil should be warmer since it’s raised above ground (although cold soil shouldn’t be a problem in Cameroon…)

While taking care not to walk on the raised bed soil the members of the Njimacob farming group are building a support to create shade against the burning sun (about 1,000 km / 620 miles from the equator).

The planks in these raised beds look like they are made out of expensive, long lasting wood, because of the dark color:

Raised Bed Designs
Photo by Poppet with a Camera.

A more dark type of wood is probably going to last longer that a light colored type. If it has been treated with oil for preservation it will also be darker, and last longer.

If you want low maintenance aisles between your raised beds you can lay out sheets of plastic for weed suppression between the beds as show in the picture above. I find an aisle width of 50 cm / 20 inches to be sufficient.

I like how tall this next one is:

Raised Bed Designs
Photo by Mike McCune.

This is actually the minimum height every raised bed should have in order to be easy accessible. The challenge is to find enough extra soil to be able to fill it up, but you’ll get fantastic root crops with this height. You can also place a raised bed with this much soil in it on a hard surface like concrete tiles, since the plants already got the room they need and don’t need to dig further into the ground.

The above one looks like it has been painted which will make it last longer. Just make sure the paint is environmentally friendly.

You don’t even need mortar to build a raised bed from stones, if you use strip stones that fit together very well:

Browning Residence, Raised Bed
Photo by Jay@MorphoLA.

This is one of the most robust raised beds I’ve seen – made of bricks and mortar which means it will last a lifetime – or four:

Backyard Raised Bed Designs
Photo by Choking Sun.

It has a good height too, but the only problem is the width, at least for kitchen gardening – it’s impossible to reach the weeds popping up in the middle of the bed without crawling into it and compressing the soil and getting dirty knees, feet and palms. I prefer a raised bed with a maximum width of 1 meter ~ 3.3 ft.

This particular raised bed was most likely built as an ornamental bed for flowers etc., and it matches the house well.

Backyard Raised Bed Designs
Photo by Choking Sun.

A nice looking right-angled raised bed made out of planed timber:

Farm Soil Amendments, Raised Bed
Photo by Milton Taam.

Ordinary raised beds, but with a tall fence around them to keep out animals – or kids 😉 Toddlers don’t know the difference between weeds and vegetables, so if you’re serious about kitchen gardening you might want to consider setting up a fence around the “other babies” (= precious homegrown vegetables 😉 ). This will save you a lot of stress.

Notice the border between the raised bed in the middle and the lawn – the grass grows taller here because the lawnmower is not able to cut that close to the planks:

Fenced Raised Bed
Photo by Amanda B.

You’ll need either a grass trimmer to remove this last line of grass, a pair of scissors and a lot of patience, or perhaps a line of paving stones around the beds, if you don’t want this perfect habitat for slugs right next to your lettuce.

A beautiful garden with a mixture brick and mortar and wooden raised beds:

Bricks, Raised Bed Designs
Photo by PermaCultured. (Newtown Community Garden, corner of Longdown & Stephen St, Newtown Sydney)

A collection of different types of raised bed designs to get ideas from, and perhaps you already know how you want to build yours? Project photos with comments are welcome – please send them in and we’ll do a showcase post here on Contact details are here: Contact