GARDEN SECRETS: Using hay bales to create a terraced orchard on the side of a hill

ABOVE: Rikki Coulston in her garden in Kyogle. Photo: Bernice Shepherd

Bernice Shepherd

On the side of a little hill in Kyogle, Rikki Coulston has created a beautiful and productive garden in only three years.
Barefoot on a rainy spring day, on well-worn pathways meandering between fruit trees, Rikki leads me through the 800sqm plot that is her garden.
There is a huge variety here — avocado, mango, banana, custard apple, banana mango, grapes, acerola cherry, fig, stone fruits, citrus and more. There is a blueberry and strawberry patch outside the back door “for grazing.”
The trees are a picture of health – no surprise as Rikki is a former organic orchardist. The stone fruits and citrus are pruned back to shrub size which means she can fit more in the garden and they are much easier to net and harvest. She also thins the fruit by half, reducing stress on trees and ensuring they have more energy for fewer fruit, resulting in bigger and juicier produce.
The steeply pitched block has been ‘terraced’ using straw bales. Instead of the labour-intensive hard work of digging out terraces, bales are placed along the contour lines of the land and planted into. Over time they compost down into ‘swales’ – ridges that prevent runoff of water and nutrients.

Natives are planted throughout to bring in the birds, bees and insects that keep the system in balance: birds and predatory insects control pests like aphids. A bunch of prickly finger limes create a safe haven for small birds, helping to protect them from local cats that frequent the area.
Rikki started gardening in her early twenties.
“We were broke and needed to grow our own food,” she said.
What started as necessity became a lifelong addiction and she has grown her own food ever since.
“I just love getting my hands dirty. There’s a real joy in working with the soil, improving it, seeing the worms”.
Soil is the key to the health and abundance of this food garden. Two under-house worm farms produce copious quantities of black gold to feed her plants, and she uses something called Whoflungdung – bio-activated compost which, according to Rikki, “smells like life.”
Passionate about regenerative practices, Rikki’s  focus is on feeding the soil and working with nature rather than against it.

She believes growing our own food is one way we can impact climate change.
“Growing your own means no freight. The more food that only has to travel from your backyard to your plate the less carbon emissions your diet will cause,” she said.
Her wonderful garden would inspire anyone to want to grow their own produce, and she reckons everyone can do it.
“Start small. You’ve got to be able to maintain what you plant. Then expand as you can.”


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