Urban Pop Up Patch

Published in Eumundi Green Issue 183

Urban Pop Up Patch

Last week in Melbourne, I stumbled upon a gorgeous community garden, smack bang in the middle of the city. Now when I say smack bang, I really mean smack bang, right in the centre – on the rooftop of the Federation Square car park.

Although the gardens weren’t open to the public at the time I was there I was lucky enough to be having a sticky beak through the fence when a lovely couple came along to water their patch and invited me in.

Not only did I delight in the plethora of photographic subjects but enjoyed learning how the city folk bring the outdoors, gardening and fresh produce into their lives.

All of the raised garden beds had quaint stencilled signs on them, indicating their owners, and I was thrilled to recognise the name of the restaurant I had just eaten in – no wonder their food had tasted so fresh! It sure limited the food miles I contributed to that day.

My hosts, Roy and Lisa (pictured) were retired school teachers living in the city centre; however, like many city dwellers, their high-rise balcony-less lifestyle didn’t allow for much more than a pot of herbs on a windowsill.

Although we hinterland folk would just about choke at the price, residents of the CBD pay $25 a week to use the facilities and become a part of the community gardens.

This cost raised quite a bit of discussion amongst us but was put neatly into perspective when the price differences between apartments with balconies or gardens were compared to those without, and the cost of buying fresh herbs and greens at the supermarket each week was factored in.

There were other benefits too, like getting an extra raised bed if you were prepared to water the communal gardens and other people’s plots, the sense of community that grows out of meeting those who share similar interests and ideals, not to mention the perfect positioning of the patch, practically on the banks of the Yarra, making it an ideal party location for fireworks and cultural celebrations.

You can find out more about the Pop Up Patch (run by the Little Veggie Co), on their website littleveggiepatchco.com.au, and also on Facebook, and see the other magnificent ways they are bringing like-minded members of the community together with healthy and life-affirming pastimes.

 

Why Community Garden?

Community Garden Plot

Plots at the local Community Gardens

Although I’ve always had an interest in my local community garden, it was not until recently that I realized the benefits of becoming a member and renting my own plot there. ‘Why Claudette…’ I hear you ask ‘…when you live on an acreage property and have all that space, would you need to join the gardens? I thought they were just for people on tiny blocks of land or in rented apartments.’

Well, the reasons are many and varied. The first is evident in the name. It’s the “community” in community gardens that says the most for me. As someone who works from home it is easy to become a little insular and visitors can be rare when there are garden beds to dig over, compost to turn or buildings to erect. A monthly meeting, or better still a working bee at the gardens can be just what the doctor ordered. Some hearty physical activity doing what’s needed that month, a dose of good humour and gardening knowledge shared with others, some fresh herbs and greens to take home and a meal and a cuppa with like minded souls can well keep you going through the quiet days at home.

When life gets hectic (as it has been lately) it can be easy to fall behind in some of the necessities of life on The Ridge. For instance, we like to ‘make’ our own soil for small garden beds and pots using dirt from the property or the bottom of the dam and adding things like cow, goat, alpaca and/or chicken manures, fire ash, vermiculite, blood and bone, dynamic lifter, worm castings, compost or whatever other organic goodies happen to be on hand at the time. This system not only takes time to collect and put together, but if it happens to be a ‘no dig’ style garden we’re making, layering these types of materials with old newspapers, cardboard and garden clippings, there can be a bit of a waiting period while the contents breaks down enough to plant into. Add to this situation the spoils of previous enthusiasm, where every seed I lovingly soaked and planted has sprouted and is fast outgrowing its seedling tray, desperately needing to spread its roots, and you have just the recipe for a ready made, previously dug and manured garden bed in town.

Community gardens in our area can be found in Pomona, Cooroy, Tewantin, Perigian, Yandina and Nambour.

Sustainable Summer

Umbrella shading plants

Shading plants from the hot summer sun

Although we often think of spring as a great time of growth in our gardens, summer is where things really race ahead. Given the right nourishment and protection, your garden should reward you with bountiful produce. Failure to put in place a few basic essentials however and you’ll be left with hard dry soil and crops that bolt to seed. Of course, there’s always plenty of things you can do to keep your garden flourishing over summer but the three most important factors for success are hydration, protection and competition. When acted on, these three simple concepts will ensure that your garden is well prepared to survive the harshest days.

  1. Hydration: If your soil has become hydrophobic (water repellant) or is very sandy you could add a wetting agent or water crystals, which will increase the soil’s water holding capacity and help keep the soil moist for longer. Water crystals are especially helpful in pot plants, which often dry out quickly in the sun or with hot winds. If you don’t have a dedicated irrigation system it is best to push your hose slightly into the garden, around 50-75mm deep, so the water is much closer to the roots of the plants and less is lost to wind and evaporation. Watering this way also eliminates sunburn on the foliage caused when droplets of water act somewhat like a magnifying glass in the harsh sunlight. Water early in the morning or late in the afternoon to mimimise water loss through evaporation, dig through as much compost and organic matter you can get your hands on and mulch well and you’ll have a healthy, robust garden that will bounce back after even the hottest days.

 

  1. Protection: Protecting your garden over summer takes many forms. The most obvious being the provision of shade. Our baking sun can wreak all sorts of damage on our plants, especially on the young seedlings you hope will provide you with sustenance for the next few months. If you have the option of raising seeds in a green house during the hottest months then this is certainly optimal, just remember to harden them off in the sun for a few hours a day before planting them out into full sun. Planting seeds directly into the ground however can be just as successful (and will reduce the amount of time you have to spend tending to the seedlings) as long as you provide shelter from the sun and also the wind. Branches stuck into the ground, with their leaves still attached, are a quick and easy way to ensure dappled sunlight gets to the plants, an umbrella will provide light shade but not much beats good old shade cloth for strong protection. If you are caught short or a heatwave looms, draping an old sheet over plants will afford some protection and may just save next weeks salads. If your garden beds are particularly exposed you could consider planting essential herbs and greens in pots that you can position in a shady location, ideally near the kitchen for easy harvesting and watering. Or if you are in the exciting phase of planning your garden, make sure to group plants according to their water requirements. This will not only ensure they flourish but will limit the amount of time you need to spend tending to them.

 

  1. Competition: There is one job you can do at all times of the year that will benefit what you are trying to grow, which is especially important during summer, that is weeding. Weeds are plants too and they are very good at seeking out water. Generally, weeds are much hardier than the food species we plant. Their roots are often deeper in the soil, their leaves more robust and more resistant to pests. This gives the weeds a definite head start, so removing them altogether will ensure that competition for resources is limited. Competition can also come from overloading your vege patch. Planting crops too closely or not thinning out direct-sown seedlings as they get bigger can result in spindly growth from overcrowding and not enough sunlight.

 

As always, gardens grown in healthy, organic-rich soil will fare the best whatever the weather, so before it gets too hot it’s a great idea to give your garden a bit of a nutrient boost. These vital minerals, along with the pointers mentioned above should help to keep you in firm, fresh fruit, veg and flowers all summer long.

 

The Most Soothing Succulent

Flowering Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera in Flower

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) is one of the most valuable plants we have on the Ridge and is one of the simplest to grow and look after. A succulent, it will grow equally well in pots, rockeries or garden beds and as long as it has sufficient light and water, will serve you well with very little ongoing maintenance.  It’s not just its simplicity of care that endears the saw-toothed aloe plant but also the multiplicity of health-giving properties it possesses that really make it a great all-rounder.

While now commonly used in commercial beauty products, cosmetics and nutritional supplements, aloe has always been one of Grandma’s standby remedies. With a recorded medicinal history of at least 6,000 years, the ancient Egyptians knew Aloe Vera as the “plant of immortality.” If I do live forever, I’ll be sure to let you know whether this herbal succulent was responsible, but for now I’m just grateful for it’s extremely effective first aid properties.

Applied quickly to burns, cuts and stings, the thick gel inside the plump leaves immediately lessens irritation. And if applied continuously it will reduce (if not altogether eliminate) any scarring that would have otherwise have resulted from minor injuries.

It is best to use an outer leaf of the plant as these are the oldest and will have the most potent amount of beneficial properties. Cut the leaf off with a sharp knife and then make a thin slice along each side to remove the small spines. Although you don’t need to do this to use the leaf, it does make it a little easier to handle. Once the spines are removed, slice one side of the green skin off and discard. Holding the remaining green side will give you more purchase on the slippery gel and you can then lay the whole piece (gel side down) over the area to be treated.

This is an easy way to apply aloe, especially if using for sunburn or treating a larger area of the body (i.e.: a rash). If you can get a handle on it, you can also cut away a small amount of the gel and place it on a small cut or sting and hold it in place with a sticking plaster. If left undisturbed (e.g.: overnight), the body will absorb the moisture (along with it’s constituent nutrients) and on removal, all you will find is a thin, dried piece of aloe flesh.

Not only are Aloe Vera’s rapid-healing and pain-reducing properties extremely effective, the plant produces at least six natural antiseptics; which have been shown to kill mold, bacteria, funguses and viruses. Aloe is quite a handy plant to have dotted around the property for easy access and provides a very gentle way to administer first aid to children. The cool, soothing gooeyness of the gel inside the leaves can be an interesting distraction from their pain. While I would administer first aid with aloe in a blink, it is still necessary to seek medical advice for serious or ongoing issues.

Herb Haven

Published in The Green Issue 207

Life on a Better Ridge Herb Haven

Since the reign and subsequent demise of the sunflowers on our herb spiral, we’ve experienced a great flush of growth. The chickens received the sunflower heads, and the stalks were chopped in as mulch. The legumes we grew as green manure have also mulched down nicely, and the soil on the spiral has become rich and friable.

The longer, warmer days and a few showers of rain have produced some impressive early growth with flourishing herbs making it to our plates daily.

If you haven’t already discovered the health and taste benefits of herbs, now is a great time to start experimenting. Cooked, raw, in drinks, salads or stews; there’s rarely a wrong place to add herbs.

Whether you have a dedicated herb spiral, a simple garden bed or a few pots on a windowsill, all produce the same results; beautiful, healthy herbs. Regardless of the preferred growing method (from seed, seeding or runner), this time of year is excellent for planting basil, oregano, dill, coriander, chives, thyme, sage and parsley and it’s always a good time for mint and nasturtiums.

The stronger smelling herbs are great as companion plants and can protect more delicate species from pest attack. With their own scent, they mask or altogether hide the other plants, ultimately making them invisible to otherwise invasive species. Garlic chives do a great job of keeping pests, such as aphids and thrips, off roses. They also look pretty when they flower. A lush bunch of garlic chives can hide a rose bush’s gnarled and prickly stem, and also, are a great addition to a stew, risotto or frittata.

Nasturtiums are a great all-rounder and are one plant I can never imagine being without. Not only are all parts of the plant edible, but they are also great as cut flowers and will equally brighten up a salad or a table in an instant. Luckily they grow easily, as they make the perfect decoy species. Their sweet, peppery scent is rather irresistible to pests, and many will feast on their showy blooms rather than your tasty vegetables. With nothing more than a bit of regular watering, they will play defence in the garden on your behalf. To be honest, that kind of ‘not gardening’ brings me as much joy as the successful harvest of any crop to date.

Growing Season

Published in The Green Issue 203

Life on a Better Ridge Growing Season

We’ve rounded out August with a few cool, windy days (just to remind us what winter is all about) and we’re heading into the new growing season with a suitable drenching and topping up of the liquid supplies that our plants and we require.

Given the relatively warm winter, we’ve been given somewhat of a head start in the garden, but how do we best capitalise on this? Well, the soil has been nicely softened by the rain, which has made it easy to pull out sneaky weeds, old tomatoes, the peas and beans that have finished fruiting and any other spent or neglected reminders of those cooler days. You remember the ones, where you stayed inside in bed, waiting until it got nicer, rather than going outside tiling the beds to make them nicer!

Well, now it’s time to make amends with your veggie patch. Feed it up with some Blood and Bone, chook manure or seaweed-based fertiliser and a few shovelfuls of compost and dig it over, so it’s nice and friable. The next thing to consider is what you put in these beautiful beds that are suitable for our region and the time of year?

While there are good times of the year to plant all types of veges, now is when we get the most success with the largest variety. We have the chance to establish many of the plants that would never make it as tender seedlings in the punishing heat of summer.

To extend your harvest, you could pop in some new tomatoes and beans, get the kids involved in creating a quick-growing radish patch and if eggplants and pumpkin get started now, they should end up robust enough to cope with any mildew that attacks these plants as the weather becomes more humid. It’s always a good time for lettuce, and other salad greens and root crops like beetroot and carrot will have a good head start if planted now.

As flowering annuals finish with their last blooms, it’s a good time to cut them back so they are ready for their new foliage and it’s a good time for pruning larger bushes and shrubs, especially natives like Callistemon and Grevilleas, to keep them from becoming straggly.

Not only is spring a great time for our gardens, but it’s a wonderful time to renew our connection with Mother Nature, get our hands dirty and enjoy the glorious outdoor lifestyle that our beautiful hinterland location offers us.