Chaos Garden

Chaos Garden

Chaos Garden 1280 960 Cornelia Holten

In this article I am using a lot of images to show the process of site transformation from bare ground to food production. I will explain how we improve the heavy clay soil bit by bit by using compost, a cover crop and a chaos garden.

New Growing Terraces

In 2020 we created two large growing terraces at KoruKai Herb Farm on Banks Peninsula in New Zealand. One (about 200m2) we used straight away to grow medicinal herbs to keep up with the growing demand for KoruKai products and the second one we had in a multi-species cover crop for a bit over one year to improve the soil and increase the soil biology.

Seeds were sown straight after construction of the terraces. A thin layer of sheep pellets and seaweed went on the heavy clay followed by bio-complete compost extract.

It was great to first sow a cover crop to get the soil life engaged and to produce a big amount of organic matter. It’s pretty astounding how well it is growing when looking at the poor soil.
After one year we chopped and dropped the cover crop and shaped the garden beds. 100 m2 were used for yams, pumpkins, bush tomatoes, corn, cabbages, cauliflowers and beans and the other half we used as an experiment for a Chaos Garden.

Biodiversity

We came across the concept through Green Cover Seeds, an American seed company providing seeds for home gardeners and regenerative farmers. In a Chaos Garden you say goodbye to neat rows and crops of one type of plants and go a bit wild with interplanting pretty much everything with anything. The focus on the food production makes it different to a cover crop, which does not necessarily provide food for humans. What both concepts have in common is the great mix of species of plants that gets the soil biology very active and produces plants that are healthy and have minimal pest and disease pressure.

A lot is research in this area has been done by The Jena Experiment. It was set up in 2002 to study the interactions between plant diversity and ecosystem processes. Soil microbiologist Dr Christine Jones has long recognized that The Power of Diversity is the single most important thing to get an ecosystem functioning properly. To regenerate the land we need a shift from monocultures and the dependency of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to diversity, which will clean up our rivers and provide a more resilient agriculture to overcome climatic challenges.

Chaos Garden Seed Mix

In our Chaos Garden seed mix we used plants that we can grow over the summer period. We also added some flowers and herbs to the mix.

This is the seed mix that we used. 25 of them are seeds from our own collection and 10 are from King Seeds.

Soaking The Seeds

We soaked the seeds in a compost slurry for 24 hours. This inoculates them with beneficial microbes and kick-starts soil diversity.

Getting the Site Ready

To get the site ready for sowing, we chopped and dropped the cover crop. We buried the plant material under a thin layer of clay, which was dug out from shaping the tracks. The plant material will break down over time releasing its nutrient to the plants grown on top of it. The channel that the roots created will now be welcome pathways for water and microbes.

The tracks were filled with wood chips and the garden bed got a decent layer of compost and vermicast over the top. We watered the area well to get the heavy and dry clay softer and wash in the compost a bit.

Sowing The Chaos Garden Seeds

In early November we broadcasted the soaked seeds and slightly raked them in so that they are covered and do not dry out.

We topped it with a scatter of straw to keep the moisture in and and provide some extra organic matter. The straw will be broken down over time by the microbes in the soil.

A bird netting protects the seeds and young seedlings from birds and our free-ranging ducks.

Watching Them Grow

We removed the cover after 4 weeks and were impressed by the amount of plants that had already come up and were growing well.

We thinned some areas as the plants were growing very close together. This gave us our first feed of radishes, daikon, lettuce and arugula.

Two Months Later

Only 8 weeks later we find the area transformed and thriving. The lettuces are fully grown and we harvest daikon radishes and lots of wild rocket every second day.

The beans, corn and sunflowers are now making an appearance. There is kale, silverbeet and spinach to harvest as well.

Broadbeans are flowering and phacelia from the cover crop has also germinated and provides even more diversity and food for our honey bees.

It’s fabulous exploring and harvesting a Chaos garden with a child in tow as they always seem to see the things that we adults miss like admiring the beauty of this stunning rocket flower.

I will continue to take photos and document the Chaos Garden and how it progresses through summer. I will also document the harvest that we get from it.

So keep coming back here for updates or visit our farm next month and see the Chaos Garden for yourself.

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