bed preparation hacks in urban permaculture

vegetable beds laid quickly and effectively without tillagebed preparation hacks enable quick vegetable beds without tillage

Can't wait to apply the hacks I learned doing a Permablitz

Here are some bed preparation hacks used in urban permaculture that I learned working as a volunteer under Imraan Samuels. I watched with admiration as he turned whatever materials he could find into the foundation of a green paradise. Adding a few hacks of my own, I used what I had available free of charge to prep a bed roughly fifteen metres square for my husband's seedlings.

After attending a wonderfully rich two week PDC course offered by Alex Kruger and Tahir Cooper, I knew that I had to contour the bed a little, because it sloped towards the wall, and I constructed the paths to contour roughly and prevent too much run off from the beds.

Below you can see the broad path pattern, as well as one of our worm-bins in the corner, housed in an old bath. Its perfect for worms, drains slowly from the plug hole, and is covered with a board and old carpeting, to prevent drying out. Worms dislike or die from heat, dryness and smelly gases. We feed this bin mainly with kitchen scraps. Cultivation of worms is highly recommended for the vegetable grower. Vermicast improves germination and soil quality and fertility.

compost mulch on beds, olive branches on pathscompost mulch on beds, olive branches on paths


First I pulled up or chopped off the waist high nettles and threw them on the ground, then I forked up and ripped out the Fynkweek, a fine leaved short indigenous grass that has underground runners. I put this grass in a bucket and will later turn it into green manure to utterly destroy its amazing ability to propagate from dried up fragments. Then I applied the first of the bed preparation hacks I had learned from Imraan and Saudiq. I covered the whole area with cardboard. Apparently it contains minerals that sandy soils need and also keeps weeds and evaporation down. Next I applied my own bed preparation hacks. I covered the cardboard with fork-fulls of compost I had made from sweepings under the Acacia and Olive trees, soaked in urine and rotted for a few months. The rotting urine soaked sweepings I had of course started preparing months before, during winter. This rough compost layer was patchy and about 5cm deep on average. I laid out paths marked with old lumber from the garage that had wood beetle or dry rot. The paths were covered with giant Kalanchoe leaves and sprinkled with dry Acacia sweepings, and the beds topped with another 5cm of vermi-compost, and then watered in. 

Bed preparation hacks get the grind over quicklyBed preparation hacks get the grind over quickly

the corner of the bed against the vibracrete wall. you can see the bean and cucurbit companions planted by each pole of the trellis constructed a few weeks ago.

I've compiled a list of the seedlings and established plants in this area to try and group them into companion plantings:

Companion plants

Sorrel                                      Strawberries, blueberries, onions, lettuce, spinach

Mint                                        Chard

Chard                                     Coriander

Okra                                        Cucumbers, chilli

Pelargonium                          chillis, cabbage, most plants

Basil                                        Tomatoes, chillis

Tomatoes                               Garlic 

Tomatoes                               Mint   

Chillis                                      Onion, chard, lettuce, okra, leeks, radishes, beets, beans tomatoes, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, cucumbers, eggplant, geraniums, petunias nasturtiums

Bulbine                                   lavender, drought tolerant plants

Pumpkin                                Beans, Mint

Beans, Okra                            Cucumbers

Beans, Okra                            Eggplant

Cabbage family, Mustard     Thyme

Lettuce                                   Cucumber

A water wise update on bed-preparation hacks

At a recent Guerilla house - Langa Rastafarian Community workshop in Langa I saw sunken beds. I asked about them and Josh told me they are water sparing. So I decided to sink the beds I'm building for the summer of 2017-2018, due to the threat of a very bad drought. The previous setup had sunken paths and slightly raised beds, which tend to drain better and get dry. I used the bed preparation hacks I've learned, lining the beds with cardboard to suppress weeds, conserve water and add nutrients to the soil.

Time and water saving bed preparation hacks mean that three hours after starting we are ready for planting ! See the bed preparation hacks album for water saving sunken beds prepared in this way.



home page for links to gardening tips, and useful tips for the eco conscious home-owner


vegetable gardening the natural low cost way


gardening with links to lots of information on water saving 


one of the best worm keeping websites in the world


simple bed preparation for flower beds

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