I first met Hugo and Maria Korps in 1981, when they joined the Soil Association of South Australia. Maria was soon known to everyone who attended meetings or read The Living Soil (the SASA newsletter). Maria's qualities of boundless energy, enthusiasm and enormous capacity for work were only matched by her own humility, good humour and friendliness. She was soon on the committee, doing the least popular jobs such as typing the newsletter of the Association. Maria also made and served the tea at monthly meetings, and brought home made biscuits and cakes for supper. And she always greeted everyone, welcoming old friends, new members and guests.
While Maria was carrying the teapot or cake tray around, or washing the cups, Hugo would be minding the produce stall, selling home grown dried apricots and tomatoes from the back yard, or Maria's passionfruit butter and excess fresh vegetables from the garden. Hugo has a quiet manner, and is shyer than Maria. His obvious strength and love is working with tools. The back yard at Seaton is very well organised, with practical paths, raised beds, sheds for different storage and workshop uses, and impressive tool-board and a place for everything.
The organisation of the garden is more than a personal fad or whim. It facilitates a most productive urban quarter acre. Maria and Hugo produce most of their vegetables, year round, so space saving and organisation is important. They also produce excess for home processing and barter. The vegetables are integrated with herbs, flowers, fruit trees, ornamental shrubs, and ferns, and hanging baskets and pots, so some parts of the garden are always looking good, even when the vegetable beds are being renovated.
Space is even more at a premium because Maria and Hugo stick strictly to organic practices - every bit of waste is reused and green manure crops are planted between crops. Kitchen waste is used in Gedeye bins. Garden waste, comfrey leaves and manures (which they collect) are used in the compost heaps. In the back corner is a highly organised compost area, with leaf mould, storage for prunings, and a series of brick and corrugated iron bins for turning and eventually maturing the heap. There is also a worm farm, which produces a wonderful black, sweet humus product.
Maria grew up in the country in Austria. Her father was a blacksmith, but they had a few acres for gardening and keeping goats. They grew potatoes and beans and corn for the chickens and pigs. Hugo was born in Latvia. Maria always gardened, but became interested in organic growing after reading Michael Roads in the 70's. She then did Peter Bennett's famous gardening classes, and joined the Soil Association.
The garden was built from the native heavy clay soil with imports of lucerne, pea straw and other organic ingredients. It now produces lots of apples, apricots, and passionfruit, lemons all year round, and some, oranges, plums, figs and feijoa. The wonderful feijoa is an excellent plant for a productive home garden, it has a decorative shape and leaves, attractive, colourful flowers (which are edible) and hundreds of fruit. Another good thing about feijoa is that few people recognise it as a fruit - so it disappears into the shrubbery, and even hangs over the fence, and nobody steals the fruit!
The garden also boasts a banana which yields fruit every year, sometimes two bunches, and up to 55 fruit in a bunch - pretty good for an Adelaide garden.
The Korps garden also grows many tomatoes and cucumbers, button squash, zucchini, beans, capsicums, lettuce, rocket mizuna, spinach, garlic, potato, cauliflowers, broccoli, cabbage, sugar snap peas, radish and Dikon, asparagus, and some Jap pumpkins. There are also herbs, including parsley, basil, horse radish, oregano and many others.
Maria says that she can not grow very good carrots or parsnips, because she has some nematode, but there were carrots in the garden on my recent visit.
Very little digging is permitted in the garden - Maria says "we only do shallow digging, with a fork or three pronged hoe, - we don't like to dig deeply". The oak leaves in the leaf mould are collected from a friends yard, and used in the heavier clay areas. Maria says "they do wonders in the clay patches, and the worms love them, even if they are dry - you can see the worms coming up under the leafs and feeding soon after they are applied". Maria says the oak leaves also supply boron. Some neighbours deliver garden prunings for the Korps compost heap. They don't accept lawn clippings, in case they accidentally import kikuyu.
Almost all the vegetables are planted from seed, especially the high volume vegies such as beans and cucumbers. If seeds are purchased, they come from Phoenix or Eden Seeds.
Maria and Hugo also make their own bread, grinding the flour on a small hand-powered stone mill from certified organic grain. They use a little ground magnesite in the flour, to stop weevils, and make a variety of loaves, mainly preferring a sour dough rye bread, or sometimes wholemeal, with occasional caraway or linseed loaves too.
Apricots and tomatoes are dried on racks on the shed roof. The tomatoes are halved and individually dribbled with balsamic vinegar. When they are dried they are placed in olive oil with garlic and basil. Plums are dried in a 'Harvestmaid' drier, as they get attacked by fruit moth if left outside.
The Korps household has a very productive garden, which integrates colour, shade, and beauty with production for use. The garden, which has featured several times on 'Gardening Australia' is grown on strict organic principles, which are also thoroughly integrated into the diet and lifestyle of the household. Perhaps their energy and good humour have more than a little to do with healthy diets and attitudes. Certainly Maria and Hugo are inspiration to many other keen gardeners.
Using plastic compost bins
Plastic compost bins produce anaerobic compost. Generally an aerobic compost is preferred for most uses, but handling kitchen wastes in a domestic back yard is be difficult to do in an aerobic heap. Therefore kitchen wastes are sometimes segregated, and managed another way. In very small yards, there may not be room for aerobic composting.
Kitchen wastes may attract domestic animals and vermin. It is generally used in a worm farm or a plastic compost bin. The bins require some management, and there are different schools of thought about how they should be worked. For instance some people will try to utilise the rodent-proof sides, but leave the lid off, use a slotted pipe down the centre and try to get the compost working anaerobically. Others use the bins as they were intended, adding a handful of soil and a sprinkling of lime to each bucket of kitchen waste. They usually need two or three bins - one to fill with current compost, and another maturing. While the bin is maturing, you cannot really add new material to it, otherwise, when you lift the bin, partly-decomposed waste is exposed.
Hugo and Maria Korps have three or four bins. One can be receiving current waste, and another couple maturing. Garden refuse is composted in aerobic heaps, but kitchen scraps are composted in the Gedeye. Soil and fine dolomite are sprinkled over the compost, and Hugo and Maria use lawn cuttings sprinkled thinly in the bins too, but they caution against using it thickly, which causes matted, slimy, smelly layers. The compost is left to mature once the bins are full - the load will shrink, but new material should not be added - that goes into a fresh bin, with more soil, dolomite and thin layers of lawn clippings. When the load has stopped shrinking, the bin can be removed and the heap, moulded to the shape of the bin, but now reduced to about one-third of the height, is left to mature further before being used back onto the garden beds. Maria never digs the compost in deeply, she leaves worms to do that - she uses it only on the surface or lightly scratched in with a pronged hoe.
Maria's system is pretty much what the manufacturer intended, and is ideal for small, space conscious gardens.
Ivor Patch is an 85 year old gardener from Melbourne, who has developed a system for managing with only one Gedeye bin. Ivor is also space conscious, but is also keen on economy. Ivor tells me that a tight Welshman can rival a good Scotsman for not spending more than necessary. He has a productive and attractive garden too, which benefits from ample compost. Ivor digs the bin deeply into the soil, a good idea for rodent control (they will tunnel under the bin if buried too shallow). He then fills the bin up, and when it is full, he removes the bin from the heap, burying it again close by. The top of the old bin goes into the bottom of the new bin, leaving the rest to mature. All this happens in the same location, next to the aerobic compost and leaf mould, so the soil is easy to dig, and is continuously benefiting from the new organic matter.
I have seen the plastic compost bins used as worm farms too, with the lid off, and covered with hessian. I suspect that Ivor Patch's system enhances worm involvement too, they come up from underneath, and contribute to the normal functioning of the bins anyway.
My own use of the plastic compost bins is completely heretical for the dedicated Gedeye enthusiast. I just use the bins as an accumulating area for kitchen waste, until I build a new aerobic heap, or turn a large, recently constructed heap. I permit anaerobic composting to occur while the raw material is being stored, but then convert it to aerobic by mixing with other materials. I can do this because I make large heaps, where the food wastes can be hygienically buried deep inside.
Hints for use of compost bins:
Always use the bins directly on the soil
Use one cup full of lime and several cups full of soil on top of each 10 - 15 centimetre layer of vegetable waste
Use green matter such as fresh lawn clippings - but use them sparsely. Distribute a thin layer of clippings only, so they do not form a matted barrier
After the bin os full, allow the material to finish composting for at least three weeks before removing the bin - and several weeks to cure after that
Use the compost any where it is needed - but you do not have to dig it in - place compost on the soil surface and allow the worms to do that for you