Guerrilla Garden Bounty

The best part of growing a garden is harvesting more than you can eat in a single sitting. It’s easy to see how harvest festivals started with a seemingly endless bounty of food in a few scant weeks of ripeness.

Guerilla Garden Tomatoes, Melbourne

The bucket of “Tommy Toe” heirloom tomatoes is hardly endless but the tomatoes have completely subsumed the entire garden. Originally there were four varieties of tomato in there, but I’ve only managed to harvest two.

Guerilla Garden, Melbourne

Somewhere beneath are some suffering cucumbers, an eggplant that has borne a single fruit and a capsicum that has done nothing. I should have planned for this to happen. Just for comparison, below is how the garden looked in winter, detailed in the earlier guerrilla garden post. Neat rows, nothing untoward.

the garden

Guerilla Gardening: How to compost a whole cow

the garden

The guerilla garden continues apace with one rude surprise. The bamboo has been chopped down and left aside to mulch as much material as possible before I call in the council to remove the woodier stalks.

The rude shock is that beneath the thin ground cover of rotting bamboo leaf and years of accumulated trash, the bluestone and tarmac alleyway is intact. There is no soil beneath, apart from a few spots where the road surface is collapsing. So I scraped up as much of the ground cover as possible, built a raised bed and put in a compost bin to mulch kitchen scraps (and bamboo); added a good thirty kilos of cow manure and have planted the first crop of winter greens.


Nothing fancy, just broccoli (above), onions, leeks, spinach. I don’t expect it to be the best of crops and my plan is to plant some climbing beans after the leeks come up at the back to take advantage of the fence.

As for how to compost whole cows, I’ve been researching feedlots in Australia for another unrelated project. According to the South Australian EPA’s Guidelines for Establishment and Operation of Cattle Feedlots in South Australia, 2nd Edition, 12.5.1 Composting

Adult cattle should be composted using the following method:-

1.In the manure stockpile area, or approved composting site, place a layer of dry organic matter 30 – 45 centimetres deep on the ground over an area slightly larger than the carcase. Straw, sawdust or hay are all suitable.

2.Place the dead animal on the bed and cover with another layer of the dry organic material to a depth of 30 centimetres.

3. Cover the whole lot with 60 centimetres depth of semi-dry organic material such as feedlot pen manure, stockpiled manure, or silage. This layer needs to be at least 60 centimetres deep to contain odours and exclude scavengers.

4. Allow the pile to “work” for 20 days undisturbed. Internal temperatures should reach between 65 – 75oC.

5. After 20 days, or when the internal temperature falls below 60oC, turn the pile and expose the carcase. Cover the carcase again with 30 centimetres of dry organic material and 60 centimetres of semi-dry material.

6. Allow the pile to “work” for another 20 days undisturbed. Internal temperatures should reach 70oC and then slowly decrease. After the 40 days only large bones and some hair will remain.

The composted carcase can then be incorporated with manure or solid wastes for spreading on land.

The possibility of a guerrilla garden

In the modern city, horticulture is a transgressive sport. Modern urban developments tend to preclude growing fruit and vegetables as a possibility by offering only dark, windy balconies or paving over backyards, only conceding the mere edges to decorative, inedible shrubbery. The walls of suburban McMansions creep closer to the boundaries of their allotments offering scant room for plants.

After having spent the last month touring rental properties in Melbourne, the trend in renovating homes is to eradicate as much greenery as possible and replace it with pavers and a box hedge that looks indistinguishable from a plastic version of itself. The heartening trend towards adding grey water and rainwater tanks hasn’t filtered down to rental properties and most likely won’t while there is the trend for investors to buy houses and flip them onto the rental market as soon as Ikea drops in their cheap stainless-on-softwood kitchens.

These are spaces not meant to grow food.

Urban life in Australia (and much of the Western world) is designed to be separate from farming. There is the occasional community garden and the hardcore few who raze their lawns to plant vegetables anew (and add an obligatory chook shed) but these number amongst the minority. Subsisting in a city, while possible, is not preferable nor socially acceptable.

The possibility of a garden

Behind my new apartment a typical Melburnian bluestone laneway has been curbed off by the local council, creating a semiprivate patch that is now overgrown. A bamboo plant battles for supremacy with an English climbing rose which offers a strange parallel to my eating habits. If I can weed out the overgrowth then there is a small chance to grow my own food and possibly some for the neighbours as well.

The real question is how much food?

And how soon?