By Michael Brahier, practical student at PRI Sunshine Coast
One of the projects that we have been working on the first couple weeks of the Permaculture Life Skills course is making raised beds to plant ginger polycultures. Ginger grows very well in this part of Queensland and is a commodity crop processed by a nearby factory. The other farms in the area tend to grow it as a monoculture which has created an environment that encouraged the spread of disease in the ginger fields that has led to a shortage. This shortage is an opportunity to meet unrealized demand and raise funds for improvements on the farm.
We started out by surveying the area and marking out the area for the beds on contour to reduce the need for irrigation and harmonize with shape of the land. This was done with a dumpy level and stakes. Each of the students took a turn at the level sighting in on the Philadelphia rod and also in moving the rod about to get a feel for finding contour in landscape.
Next, we broke up the sod with a small excavator and began separating out the sod from the topsoil. Top soil is such a precious resource. It has taken eons for life to turn mineral rocks into a biologically vibrant stratus for plants to grown on, it is not to be tossed away or wasted. We did this with hand tools and our hands, shaking lose the soil from the grass roots and moving earthworms to the areas already worked over. After that we began forming up the soil into shaped raised beds, raking, shoveling and hoeing the earth up into a nice, long mound.
Then Tom showed us a neat trick to keep spacing uniform in planting. He made a measuring stick with a two meter piece of bamboo, marked with tape at a regular distance. We used this as our planting template and guide to help us ensure an equitable spreading of compost and sawdust later. We then began planting the ginger, working our way down the beds. After the ginger was planted we added wheel barrows of beautiful compost to the tops of the beds to give the ginger a nutritious boost to set it to thriving. We followed by a heavy mulching of sawdust to hold in moisture and suppress weed growth.
Finally, we added the companion plants for the polyculture that Tom selected; Pigeon Pea to fix nitrogen and shade the beds from the hot summer sun, French Marigold to attract beneficial insects, and Sacred Basil because others have reported good results planting it with ginger. Ginger polycultures aren’t something that has commonly been done and there is little information about what is effective, so this will be an interesting, and hopefully successful trial.