Friday, 23 August 2013

Having a Swale of a Time in the Garden

The Good Earth

with permaculture experts, Lucinda Coates and Margaret Mossakowska

Photo by M. Mossakowska

Do you have a boggy patch in the garden?
What about watering you garden without turning on the hose?
Sounds impossible, but there are ways you can save water from disappearing down the stormwater drain but altering the landscape of your garden.
And no, it doesn’t have to look ugly at all.

Listen to this
Know you know that a swale is a slight depression that runs along the contour of the land.  It can be deep or shallow, or even hidden (a ditch filled with mulch, pebbles or any other material,  )The dirt from digging the swale is usually used to make a raised mound on the downhill side. You can make them any size you want.

Note: a swale is not a drain but stores water in the soil. By stopping the run-off, it prevents soil erosion as well.    How it works is this: Rain falls on your property, and instead of running straight down the slope, it runs to the swale and gathers. There it soaks in slowly, forming a lens of water underneath the swale. This provides a area of shallow sub-surface water downslope from it for an amazingly long time, so your grass will stay greener, and you won't need to water very often.

If you have a question about any building swales or anything about permaculture that hasn’t been covered in the show so far, why not drop us a line. to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675,  or post them on Real World Gardeners facebook page, we’d love to hear from you.

Vegetable Heroes:


What are microgreens?
Microgreens are very young edible greens from vegetables, herbs or other plants.
It has to be said, growing microgreens is the speediest way to growing leafy greens.

You’ll be cutting them in 1-2 weeks.
Plus, they add packets of flavour to salads of larger leaves and the best part, it couldn’t be any easier.

You can grow them indoors all year round, you don’t even need a sunny windowsill.

Micro greens grow to about two and a half to four cm long, including the stem and leaves.

A microgreen has a single central stem which has been cut just above the soil line during harvesting.

The first leaves that come out from any plant are called cotyledon leaves and usually one pair of very small, partially developed true leaves.

So, leaf and stem are never bigger than 4cm in height and 2 1/2cm across.

  • Microgreens even though they’re really small have intense flavours  but not as strong it would’ve been if the plant was left to grow to full size.
  • Usually I start talking about the history of the vegetable or fruit at this point.
  • There’s not much history at all about micro greens.
  • Maybe they started off as a fad in the 1990’s who knows?
  • They seem to be catching on more and more, because you can get seeds marketed as micro greens from major chain stores that have a gardening section.

How about greens, like all types of lettuce, Basil, Beets, Coriander and Kale that are harvested with scissors when they’re really, really, small?

Not at all like sprouts, but grown in a similar way and  picked or more correctly, cut at a later stage of growth.

Sprouts are only the germinated seed, root stem and underdeveloped leaves.
Microgreens are the mini-versions of the much larger green vegetable.
Sprouts are also grown entirely in water and not actually planted.
Microgreens are mostly planted in soil or a soil alternative like sphagnum moss, or coco peat.
Plus you grow microgreens in light conditions with plenty of air circulation and not in a jar.
You might be wondering why you’d want that?
What’s wrong with growing salad vegetables in the garden?
This might be more for the busy gardener who’s run out of space or time available to grow a full garden of vegetables.
So how do you grow Micro greens?
There are a couple of ways to grow Microgreens.
The first method is to grow your greens in soil like organic, potting mix, cocopeat, vermiculite, sieved compost or worm castings.
Use seedling trays or boxes and fill the tray with your selected soil mix 2 - 3 cm deep and moisten the mix.
Soak the seed overnight then sprinkle the seeds evenly on top of the mix and gently pat them down; then cover with 0.5 cm of mix.
Cover the tray with a lid or another inverted tray to help keep the seeds moist until they sprout.
Then water often using a sprayer.
Adding diluted organic nutrients e.g. kelp or compost tea to the sprayer will improve the nutrient levels in the microgreens.
Microgreens are usually harvested when there are four or more leaves. Cut the shoots just above ground level with scissors.
Many types of vegetable seeds as micro greens and will regrow and can be cut several times.
Afterwards the tray contents can be added to the compost heap.
The second way of growing your microgreens has come out this year, and it’s using something called a Growing Tray.
This tray holds a reservoir of water and has holes in it so the plants can grow their roots down into the water.
Growing your microgreens this way makes it superbly easy for all home chefs and gardeners to have a steady supply at their fingertips.
You don’t even need soil, just a spray bottle of water and the seeds.
But you do need to remember to spray the seed, 2-3 times a day until the roots develop, then keep water reservoir topped up with fresh water until harvest a couple weeks later!
You can buy them in stores or via mail order and online.
Microgreens seed packet range includes 5 mixed packets, each containing 3 varieties typical to a regional cuisine:
Flavours of the Mediterranean - Basil Italian Mix, Rocket and Sunflower
Flavours of France - Sorrel, Chervil and Sunflower
Flavours of Western Europe - Cress, Amaranth Red Garnet and Pea Morgan
Favours of Eastern Europe - Kale Pink, Cabbage Red and Pea Morgan
Flavours of the Orient - Mustard Ruby Streaks, Garland Chrysanthemum and Coriander
One thing to keep in mind, the seeds used to grow microgreens are the same seeds that are used for full sized herbs, vegetables and greens.
So, If you want to use up that packet of Cabbage, Celery, Chard, Chervil, Coriander, Cress, Fennel, Kale, Mustard, Parsley, Radish and Sorrel, rather than throwing it out. Grow the seeds as microgreens.
Never use parsnips for micro greens as seedlings they’re apparently poisonous!
Coriander seed takes longer to germinate than other micro greens – up to three weeks.
Partly due to the tough outer coating of the seeds, preventing water from penetrating.
You need to break the seed coat to give it a hurry up by crush the seeds lightly then soak overnight to speed up germination and improve success.
Why are they good for You?
Just because they’re mini greens doesn’t mean they have a high concentration of nutrients or even a miracle food. No such luck.
So they have proportionally smaller amounts of the same nutrients that the full sized vegetable that they would’ve been has.
They are eaten as thin, delicate plants - as miniature variations on salad greens and herbs. They provide texture and colour when used as garnish, or exciting flavours when used as part of salad mixes
If you have any questions about growing microgreens or where to buy the seeds for sowing, just drop us a line to
Or by post 2RRR, PO box 644 Gladesville NSW, 1675

Design Elements

with landscape designer Louise McDaid

Inspiration Series

Inspiration from the Pine Cottage garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show

Do you know someone who thinks a cottage garden is a row of Agapanthus, lawn and maybe a fountain?
Yes, I know someone who thinks just that.
What is a cottage garden then?
It started in England in the 1870’s and is an informal design but lots of plants.

Even mixing ornamental or decorative plants with edible plants, and a rose covered gateway.This year at Chelsea, there was a modern twist to the cottage garden.
Listen to this…

The earliest cottage gardens were more practical, you could even say, took a leaf out of modern day permaculture.
These gardens had  an emphasis on vegetables and herbs, along with some fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock!

If you have a cottage garden, send in a photo, and I’ll send you a copy of Jane Davenport’s the Garden Guardian.
Send it to our email address, or just post it.


  1. Marianne, what a great idea to do a story on building a swale! It's such a great way for gardeners to hold water on sloping land, instead of it rushing downhill and eroding all your soil. Even just digging mini-swales 10cm deep across a sloping garden bed will help water infiltrate.

    1. Swales are great , and any type of garden could have one.