The rental property compromise system

Discussion in 'Members' Systems' started by Pragmatist, Sep 25, 2012.

  1. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    Given the crazy price of property in Australia right now, we're stuck with renting for the foreseeable future (we refuse to pay 2-3 times the rent simply to own the same place).

    Of course one of the downsides to renting is that it's harder to set up for the sort of timescales demanded by a proper permaculture arrangement. Therefore, we have to compromise in a few areas.

    What we had when we moved in mid-2011:

    • "standard" suburban house block of about 700-800sqm (guess) with a 3br house and 6x6m shed
    • Established (but neglected) fruit trees (fig, apricot, nectarine and manderin).
    • Overgrown lawn thick with runner grass (about 5-6 inches thick in places)
    • Sheets of black plastic under and within the runner grass where some genius appeared to have thought it would keep the weeds/grass away from the fruit trees.
    • Rainwater tank collecting from the shed (leaking at the base so unusable)
    • Permission to create a vege patch where there previously appeared to have been one (an area containing 3 of the 4 fruit trees)
    • Assurance that the owners had owned the place for years and had no intention of ever moving in or selling up (so we could rent it practically forever if we want).
    What we brought with us:

    • two worm farms (regular commercial ones for kitchen scraps)
    • a few basic garden tools
    • bad experiences trying to grow veges at the last place in almost continuous shadow
    • enthusiasm for growing what we eat :D
    When I first stuck a spade into the ground to turn over the sod (and kill the grass, I ran into fruit tree roots and realised that was not going to work for us so a raised bed was the only option.

    What we did first off:

    • Drop the worm farms around the back of the shed next to the rainwater tank where they are in shade almost all day.
    • Generously interpreted the bounds of the old vege patch to give an area of about 65sqm
    • Removed the concrete pavers and sleepers marking the old boundary (the sleepers found a new home and the pavers make great stepping stones in the current garden)
    • Buy old railway sleepers to border the garden (on edge)
    • Buy lengths of steel angle to hold the sleepers in place
    • Dig/rip out all the *$_#%* black plastic among the runner grass (not a fun job)
    • Collect cardboard boxes and newspapers to smother the existing grass in the garden area.
    • Collect trailer loads of (free) hay from the missus' work.
    • Layer about 2-3" of hay over the overlapping cardboard.
    • Layer a trailer load of old horse manure over the hay for about 1/3 the total area. Too many weed seeds in that lot so didn't go back for more.
    • Buy in 3 cubic metres of "garden soil" to start filling the volume. Big mistake - it was nothing more than dirty sand that killed everything we put in it.
    • Spread the "garden soil" over the full area and hope that it would be sufficiently diluted by the remaining soil to avoid damaging anything else.
    • Try to prune the fruit trees into some semblance of order without killing them.
    These initial actions took a few months around our day jobs so we pretty much missed the spring planting season. The missus had some success with herbs in pots but not much went into the ground. We tried garlic first but the rubbish "garden soil" killed the lot.

    Once I scored a few trailer loads of real soil (some from the building site next door, some from needdirt.com.au) things started moving along much more nicely. We got some tomatoes, capsicum, basil and eggplant into about 15sq.m (all that was usable at the time). We also planted strawberries into "planter tubes" where they hang out the side. Another waste of time and money as they need lots of water and fertiliser just to keep going just because there are so many plants feeding from such a small soil volume. I just got around to planting them in the ground last week.

    Turned out that I put too many plants into too small an area and they needed a lot of water over summer just to stay alive. Evaporation wasn't the problem (much mulch was being used), they just drank a lot. I've planted everything more sparsely this time around.

    The plan was always to gradually increase the usable area as I had the time to find and collect more soil then put it in the garden (using a wheelbarrow to take it up the slope from front year to back yard takes some serious time and energy). This slower pace also allowed me to mix is trays of worm farm castings as I went. It also allowed for some learning and application of lessons along the way. I have about 20-30% left to fill and will probably just use that space to run pumpkin and gem squash vines. It's currently full of pine needle/cone mulch (delivered by a friend looking to offload it) so some time for that to break down will be good.

    I know permaculture is more about the perennials than annuals but we started with what we know. So far the only perennials that we have put in are rhubarb and strawberries. We've also got a lime tree and lemon tree sitting in large pots waiting for me to get around to asking the landlord for permission to put them in the ground (outside the garden area). On the upside, we are making great use of self-seeding with pumpkins and tomatoes already coming around for a second time without us planting them :clap:

    The plan is also to ask the landlord to either fix/replace the rainwater tank or get rid of it so we can put in something of our own. They've ignored previous requests to fix it. Having all that water run away over winter before we water the garden from the mains system in summer is sheer lunacy. Swales look interesting but I don't know enough to build one and I suspect that they wouldn't work so well for such a small land area. Happy to be corrected on that one.

    As you can see, we're very much beginners at this so hoping to learn a lot as fast as possible through the forums.
     
  2. mischief

    mischief Senior Member

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    What a great start.
    With the water tank situation, would it be possible to put your own tank on even if the original is still in place? Would you be able to take it with you if you did have to move?
     
  3. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Great to see someone not falling for the "I need to buy acreage and then I can do permaculture' trap. You are very fortunate to find a place with existing fruit trees and a sympathetic land lord.
    Yes you can do 'microswales' that work at backyard proportions. One spade deep and wide is what I did at my place (HATE digging with a passion so they were never going to be bigger than that). The trick is to stay on contour. I use an A frame to mark it out (simple to make) and double check it by filling the swale with a hose when I'm done to make sure the water just sits and doesn't flow anywhere.
     
  4. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    Thanks for the support :)

    I wouldn't describe the landlord as "sympathetic" so much as "uninterested". The fruit trees predate them and they clearly didn't care that the previous tenant(s) left them in abysmal condition. Still, I'll take that in preference to a landlord who has strict requirements about making sure their place looks like a polished piece of modern landscaping. Friends of ours are only allowed to plant into pots and those pots must live on the minimal area of gravel in the backyard to avoid leaving marks on the grass or concrete.

    Putting another tank next to the current one is not really an option as the guttering from the shed is plumbed directly to the current tank. Redirecting the flow into another tank would require cutting/modification of their system. Possible, but only with permission.

    As for taking stuff with us when we leave, some might come but most of what we do will stay. Depending on where we move to, I might feel the need to take the sleepers + much of the (hopefully by then productive & fertile) soil. More likely we'll ask the landlord to reimburse us for the cost of the sleepers and leave it all behind. Any trees in the ground obviously stay. If we pay for a rainwater tank then it will come with us unless the landord wants to pay us to leave it behind.

    It seems a fair cost for living life the way we want to while there. The total monetary cost of "investment" left behind is unlikely to exceed $1,000 and moving house itself costs more than that. In any case, it's likely to be offset entirely by savings on food purchases.
     
  5. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Consider leaving it in situ when you go as a gift to the universe... A pay it forward scheme.
     
  6. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    No problem at all paying it forward (and much will be anyway) but it would be frustrating to do so and then have the next people not want it and spend much time/effort/money removing it all. Even more so if we then have to spend more time/money/effort buying in more sleepers at our next place. Similarly with a rainwater tank system.

    In reality, the sleepers were only to allow a raised garden bed to kill the runner grass. After a few years that will have all died and rotted down so a tapered edge with a less-raised bed will still be a very functional garden. Any trees in the ground obviously stay :)
     
  7. Adrian1976

    Adrian1976 Junior Member

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    I know how you feel about doing something on a rental. Just a little trick with your horse poo! Get some black plastic garbage bags, fill them until you can tie the top, leave them in full sun for a few weeks. this should kill most if not all the seeds. Fresh stuff works best. As with your garden beds use corrugated iron, easy to pack up if you need to move. Dwarf fruit trees in large pots may be in order. An IBC 1000lt water tank could be used instead of a new tank, you can also stack them if you need more capacity. A submersible pump in the first tank off the roof will get your water to where ever you need it. Hope some of the hints help!
     
  8. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    Rental compromise

    Dwarf fruit trees in a pot are too much like hard work :) I'm prepared to just put full-size trees in the ground and leave them behind.

    It's a bit late for the corrugated iron for the beds - they are already made from railway sleepers and I'm not redoing them now. I looked at a few options for surrounding the beds and decided on sleepers because they offer some degree of thermal insulation (less cooking of the soil behind them) and they look better (to the missus' eye) than corrugated iron. Hopefully by the time we leave there will be no longer a requirement for raised beds so taking the sleepers would still leave the garden in a usable state.

    Thanks for the advice on horse manure. The first load was old (6-12 months) from a friend who lives on a farm. We have a racecourse near our place so I'm keen to get some more of it. Some of the stables leave bags of it out for free (although they ask for the bags to be returned so I'd need to transfer it into our own bags to do as you suggest.

    Alternatively, I could just leave it in a heap with chopped hay over the top. Would that likely achieve the same effect? I can get the hay for free.
     
  9. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Hot composting it will reduce the seed germination issue substantially. Provided you can get it hot enough. There's a fine art to hot composting and it involves lots of turning of the pile.
     

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