The pistachio bed

An arch-shaped garden bed with a round depression at top left containing a young tree and various small herbs. Thick logs make a border around the arch. The rectangle portion of the arch is full of big-leaved green plants.

Overview of the pistachio bed. The female pistachio tree is in the round depression to the left. In front on the slopes are (mostly) borage and garlic on the left, and (mostly) potatoes on the right.

The female pistachio bed has been developing slowly over a couple of years. The pistachio itself is in a depression. I dug the soil/sand out to about eight inches, then mixed a bag of cow manure into the sand that remained. The pistachio went into the middle of that. My original plan had been to use my own compost, but the tree nursery guy highly recommended cow manure instead for the Bassendean sands I’m on and I decided to take his suggestion. I am still waiting to be sure the tree thrives though as it was a bit rootbound when I got it and I’m not convinced it’s going to do more than just limp along (the male I got at the same time from the same nursery was so badly rootbound it didn’t survive to break dormancy after the first winter). Pistachios are tough old things and quite drought tolerant, they don’t like water logging, so I thought carefully about having it in a depression. But I decided that the soil here is so free-draining, and so easily and frequently hydrophobic, that in an area with even slight slopes I wanted my infrastructure tree where it could catch the slope water. Basically I’m using the old Nabatean idea of defining and increasing the area of catchment that funnels water to the tree. Seems to have been a good call – I struggle to keep plants alive on some of the slopier bits. For now, at least, I’m hoping that over time the continual soil improvements and increasing sun protection from the pistachio will have more of an effect.

The pistachio was underplanted with fenugreek and alexanders in its first year, and they’ve continued to grow this year. The rest of the bed though has been a lot less as-planned and more spontaneous. It’s part of zone 4, so doesn’t really get summer water, and is intended for self-seeding / self-propagating clumps of autumn-winter-spring-growing edibles. Because of that I’m trying different things and really just seeing what takes, and slowly attempting to build up a system of plants that complement each other as far as the soil and system goes.

I dug in some of my home-made compost last year on the right hand side, and planted potatoes, sunflowers and carrots in it. What I got was potatoes and tomatoes. I have tried again with a different variety of sunflower – one that is naturalised around Geraldton (sandplains north of here) and which is good for oil seeds – but it hasn’t taken (I will try again with seedlings, when I get seedlings that survive). The tomatoes didn’t end up giving me really anything in the way of fruit as they grew too late in the year, and this area (part of zone 4) doesn’t really get summer water so the plants died before fruiting. But they did give me more evidence that growing Solanaceae discourages couch grass from re-invading. This area had been invaded by couch, I’d removed a lot of it but not all and there was a source for new invasions right next to it – an old shed pad, with couch growing through the concrete so basically unremoveable by hand. However I got almost no reinfestation. I did get a lot of potatoes 🙂

On the left hand side during last year’s autumn/winter I planted out one of my garlics from Diggers. I’d hoped to get an early variety, so harvest could be over by Midsummer’s Day, but ended up with a middle variety. I didn’t harvest any of it last year, just left it to establish itself and it seems to have done so. I also planted fenugreek seed (my choice of legume for the area) and borage seed. I did get some fenugreek but not much – it did best in the pistachio’s depression. Nothing came of the borage particularly – I got some autumn seedlings, one or two of which survived and made flowers. Then in firstspring a whole lot of it came up – but died back with the lack of water once firstsummer began, before flowering. The ones that grew over winter did set massive amounts of seed though, so this year I have borage coming up all over that bed thick as anything.

During autumn this year I gave the bed a recondition – worked in the straw that had been mulching it for the summer, added some manure/compost and worked that in too, gave it a basic watering to get the soil less hydrophobic and starting to function. I found several potato plants beginning to restart for the season, and rearranged some of the garlic cloves as I came across them. I also planted chickpeas. That was a happy accident – work had a tray of chickpea seedlings returned mostly unused, so I took it home and tried planting them out. They’ve been grown for microgreens so at far too high a density for normal seedlings, and that can influence strength a lot. But there were at least a hundred of them so I gave it a go, and quite a few did survive in the end. I will see if I get much in the way of seeds from them, it would be nice to have them self-propagating. My second choice of legume after the fenugreek was actually asparagus pea, but the chickpeas were there so I used them. I have managed to get two asparagus pea plants growing which I’m hoping to collect seed from this spring and grow more of next year.

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