After building all kind of planting beds at our farm (see previous article), we tried planting them in different ways: direct sowing, seedballs, seedlings. During plant growth we prepared many natural preparations to control the pests.
We experimented with direct sowing our new built gardening beds. We sowed many vegetables that did grow well, in autumn (e.g. chicoree, swiss beets, beets, parsley, till, celery, broccoli, and mustard, see below at the left), and in spring (e.g. spinach and celery, corn, bean, squash, see below at the left). In spring, we sowed late, drought came early and many of our plant didn’t reach maturity (e.g. beans) although others performed well (e.g. tomatoes, pepper).
We tried sowing directly everywhere in our farm without building beds, weeding or turning soil, but we had very little success even if we spent a great amount of seeds. Then we thought of seedballs
We reserved an area of the garden where we tried to plant with seedballs. We used a mix of clay of the garden, some compost and a variety of seeds: legumes, flowers and vegetables. Unfortunately our seedballs were dissolved with the first rain and only some beans germinated but later died from drought (in Tunisia, rain can stop for a month during winter). We are not very sure about the problem of seedballs. We tried many times but never with success. We believe that seedballs throwing must be carefully timed with a disturbance, at least with weeding or mowing, as they don’t seem to perform well on already colonised soil. Of course, they must be also timed with a season, and thrown every few weeks, as suggest fukuoka, to prevent the problem we had.
Greenhouse & seedlings
In 2012, we started growing seedlings in our land, in plastic bottles, that we suspend on trees or place them in a platform, to be safe from wild boars and slugs (see photos at the right, more details in our previous article). Unfortunately, it took us too much time to find the right seeds, at least not imported nor engineered, hoping for organic or local free seeds, which is not easy in Tunisia. Afterward, we transferred the seedling to mulched beds a bit too late, in december. Finally, the slugs that thrived in our mulch found something to eat, and in three weeks, almost no seedling survived.
In winter, we felt the need of building a greenhouse. First greenhouse we built was by suspending a transparent plastic tarp (below at the left). But few days later, a strong wind torn away the tarp, that was obviously not thick enough. We thought of reinforcing the tarp, but someone stolen it few days later. The second version survived longer (below at the right). To face the wind, it was shaped aerodynamically, like a dome, or more precisely a water drop. It was constructed with cypress flexible branches attached together with a wire in a grid pattern, and covered with plastic transparent tarp buried at the borders. This time even strongest winds (e.g. 100km/h) didn’t break the structure, although the attachment wires and irregular branches poked holes in the tarp.
The greenhouse allowed us to develop many seedlings, such as tomatoes (see the resulting plant below at the right). But in the greenhouse, we had many slugs that we tried repelling with Artemisia leaves, and ants that established there finding the place hot and shaded from the rain. When they were ready we added the seedlings to the planting bed, with a half plactic bottle to protect them from slugs and weather (see below at the right).
Barley mini-field experiments
We experimented with 4 methods of direct sowing barley in small scale with Amine, an agronome friend. We used direct sowing in lines and free sowing, mulching and intercropping with peas. Even though we planted late in december the fields were very successful and harvested in may by our friends Ev and Aurelien. The part intercropped with peas had notably developed a Medicago species, that has the same rhizobium with beans.
In our quest for biodiversity and natural fertilizers and pest control, we prepared many mixtures. We used a mix of endo-ecto mycorrhizal to inoculate existing trees and new trees when we planted them. Hence, our trees will develop more symbiotic relationships with fungi. As inoculant for decomposing soil food web and as liquid fertilizer, we used compost tea (diluted at 10%) from our compost worm bin with our vegetable beds. We also prepared fermented nettle tea (10% of nettle in 90% water, stirred every few days until no more bubbles). This preparation is supposed to be anti-fungal and repel insects when sprayed on leaves, as well as liquid fertilizer when used in irrigation (diluted at 10%). Even if we noticed that fertilized plants were growing faster, we didn’t succeed to repel aphids with this preparation. Aphids combined with ants are a big problem in our land. We later discovered on the that there is a large variety in nettle tea preparation, and that fermented nettle is probably only usable as fertilizer. For pest control, we also used soapy water, that works against aphid but has a tendency to burn the plant, and fermented garlic that didn’t work so well against ants and aphids. Finally, we tried many recipes for natural pest control (e.g. cinnamon & lemon peel to repel ants, mint to confuse them, ashes against slugs,etc) but from a permaculture perspective we try to foster biodiversity and plant companions to solve the problem for the long run rather that making preparations and spend often time spraying.