Last week I installed a window garden/orchard for (f)routeland travel bureau in the Docklands in Melbourne with financial support from the City of Melbourne through Green Renters. The city is keen to see alternative uses for the underused spaces at Docklands, and encourage city residents and businesses to garden in whatever space is available. Perhaps they still remember when we were the Garden State?
So I looked at the space that (f)route are occupying, a former coffee franchise, which happens to have huge east and north facing windows, which means lots of morning sun. The theme for their travel bureau, a community endeavour to encourage tourism to east Gippsland, is based around a retro style travel agent, and the decor heavily uses recycled tea chests to give a sense of the exotic. On seeing the tea chests I was inspired to use them to build a row of wicking beds to use the available vertical space to grow some fruit trees, herbs, climbing vines and vegies.
First I lined the tea chests with heavy duty plastic, and filled them 5-10 cm deep with screening (bluestone chips). Then i coiled a length of sisal rope around in the base to form the wick, and put a 19mm poly pipe section from the base to the top of the chest in one corner to allow for watering later.
One end of the wick was fed through a hole in the bottom of a second layer of plastic, which was then filled using Australian Standard regular grade potting mix, with a couple of layers of pelletised chook manure as it was filled. I put a handful in when the chest was half full, and another handful at 3/4 full, then covered it up with more potting mix. The rope acts as a wick, drawing water up through the potting mix by capillary action, and water can be aded to the reservoir directly, via the poly pipe in the corner, or just by watering the plants directly so it filters through the potting mix.
Then I planted a range of evergreen fruit trees: Avocado, Mandarin and Tahitian LIme, and some deciduous fruit trees: Cherry, Peacharine, Apricot and Plum. And then Red Currant and Gooseberry in some chests, and Grape vines in others. Then a mixture of vegies and herbs, including Peas, Cucumber, Zucchini, Coriander, Vietnamese Mint, Peppermint, Warragul Greens, Thyme and Oregano and others. Due to the climbing nature of the Grapes, Peas and Cucumbers, I installed ropes suspended from the ceiling to allow them support to fill in the vertical space. I will go back and attach some weft to my warps (or is it the other way around?) because they are all tendril climbers, which means they like horizontal “branches” to hold on to.
Now, to be honest, this is an experiment. I don’t know for sure how well the plants will cope indoors. I suspect they will grow very well in the Spring while the weather is mild, and will put on some growth. With no insects to pollinate, it remains to be seen if the flowers that are already appearing will bear any fruit. In summer, the glass may heat things up a little too much, but the plants will in turn shade the inhabitants of the (f)routeland travel agency. I think the herbs and vegies I put in will do well, though the Cukes and Zukes may need hand pollinating too.
I will definitely keep updating this project as it develops, because even I don’t really know what will happen. But encouraging people to think outside (or inside) the box is the whole purpose of the exercise. You don’t know what works until you try!