Blitz #11 – Catherine

This blitz was a really great demonstration of what you can do on pretty much zero budget, in a rental property. Luckily Catherine has a supportive landlord so making a few changes wasn’t a problem, but it did mean we needed to plan for short term rather than long term production. We focused on no-dig kitchen gardens, weed control and making the garden space more liveable and enjoyable for the household. There was no point planting long term fruiting trees like avocadoes, but seasonal fruits like banana and tamarillo were fine to add in to the mix. Add to this an area for a chicken run and a viewing platform for the house full of keen surfers to check out the waves on the daily, and we had a winning recipe.

Catherine shares her reflections below, along with some recent pictures. Check out the Facebook album of before and after pictures from the day

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Catherine: My blitz was on a rental property that I share with a few others. The real-estate had been hassling me for years about keeping the overgrown back-yard under control and when the landlady finally agreed to pay for it to be cleared, I had to capitalise on that by getting the Permablitzers in to put some things in place, so that it didn’t immediately get out of hand again! Luckily there was a slot coming up in 3 weeks’ time, so I said ‘Yes, please!’ and then started panicking about organising everything (mostly, about the food!)

We had a good turn-out considering the short notice, but it was less than some other Blitzes and those that were there will attest to the fact that the whole back-yard basically consists of one horrible hill! Because of all this, the design team did the best thing possible and decided to focus on 2 or 3 key areas, to make the back-yard useable and to give me a good head-start to build on in future.

So that’s exactly what we did – built steps and a pathway to the top where we made a flat surf viewing area, made 2 no-dig garden beds, and planted native plants, banana trees, and comfrey, amongst other things, to try and challenge the rampant weeds for supremacy! There is also a flat area at the side of the house where we put in a pond and an herb/salad garden and mulched the pathway.

The day went well, I think, I mostly remember flitting around and answering questions, not being in any one place for long and constantly realising that I still hadn’t done that thing I was going to do half an hour ago. At the end, we had a well-deserved beer overlooking the surf and then an even more welcome swim (it was a HOT day!).

I needn’t have worried about the food, especially with the capable hands of Josh, Marilyn and Michelle looking after the kitchen. That’s one thing I’d say to future blitz hosts…you probably don’t need as much food as you think, and if it seems daunting (it did to me), then a couple of simple things will do fine. We were eating left-overs for weeks (no complaints there, mind you). It’s definitely a good idea to have dedicated kitchen people, so you don’t have to get too distracted by that side of things.

Roughly one year on, the blitz has made a huge difference to how the back-yard is now and with how we all interact with it. I remember saying that I wanted to build the beds within hose-spraying distance of the back deck, in case I was too lazy/busy to go out there with it. These days I am out there all the time, slowly expanding the growing area up the hill, sitting at the top table with a beer/guitar/both, checking on the chickens that I’ve recently installed at the top or just pulling out a few weeds on my way through.

Some areas got wild again pretty quickly and unfortunately, I did lose track of some of the plants we dotted around, and some may have subsequently succumbed to the whipper snipper, but most of it survived, and the great thing is that it’s not un-manageable now, the basic structure is there and I’m so much more motivated to expand on it and I don’t feel like the bits I can’t get to are overwhelming.

I’ve taken a few pictures, they’re not great quality, but hopefully it will give you some idea of how it looks today.

1

Veggie beds from the side. I had a great harvest last year from all seedlings we put in, although I had to put a fence around it this year against the rabbits. I built 2 more beds up the hill from the lower 2 from the blitz, based on the retaining wall of newspaper bundles, which I am allowing the grass to cover up.

2

Wish I could show a photo of a frog on the tile! One did move in, but then we tried to make it nice for it by decorating the edges and I think it scared him/her off. It is FULL of tadpoles though, so hopefully soon!

3

Veggie beds from below with ramshackle fence and milk bottles for use in rabbit proofing seedlings. It didn’t really work, but it helped a bit. What you can see there is mostly tomato plants.

4

You can’t see all the comfrey that was planted here because I pulled all the leaves off the other day for the compost, but there was tons of it and all the other plants we put in alongside the path are going well, although the weeds are a little out of hand too. I like it though, it reminds me of Tom’s Midnight Garden or some secret pathway like that.

5

Chicken run/house in the background. Even though we planted avocados and other things there on the bank, it had got so wild when I came back from a few weeks away that I had to sacrifice it all to the chickens, who are having a great time keeping that bit under control for me!

6
Some of the native grasses that we planted, holding their own. Viewing platform / wire storage area. The shade cloth is intended for a hammock that I want to put in up there, for even more relaxed surf checking!
View from the top having just whipper-snippered the bank. It’s mostly grass now though, so is much easier to keep on top of.

7

Althea and Donna, who I adopted from Alasdair. It was hard to get a picture of their whole run, but it basically goes up from where the banana pit is and runs right the way across the back bank, behind the table area.

8

I ended up moving the compost pile to inside their run, with this simple arrangement, so they can just pick through what they want from the scraps.

So those are my blitz reflections, it was a great fun day, it didn’t cost that much, as most of the materials were sourced for free and I was kindly donated a lot of plants. It has made a massive difference to the usefulness and accessibility of the back-yard and continues to give me plenty of home grown produce to enjoy. I also think that while some of my flatmates were a bit sceptical/confused by the whole thing and they still are not extremely involved, they do use the space a bit more and they can also see/taste the benefits, so I feel like it has had an effect on spreading the sustainability message too, which is great.

Thanks so much to Bec and Jacqui and Kristy and Shez for all the time they put in, and to everyone that came along and tackled the hill on that killer hot day and at all the other blitzes, I hope to attend another one soon!

Eating the suburbs, one backyard at a time!

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