Archive for ‘November, 2014’

Real Skills for Growing Food

We’ve just wrapped up a very full and incredibly inspiring weekend with some fine folk at our inaugural Real Skills for Growing Food workshop. We’ve been dreaming up this workshop for quite a while, as we wanted to offer a consolidated learning experience to take people through the foundations of how to grow good food in their own homes. We also wanted to make sure it was free of any powerpoint presentations and full of hands on learning through doing – which we definitely succeeded in – so much doing! We’ve come away feeling invigorated and with full hearts…. And dirty hands, of course.

Here’s a glorious photo journey of the weekend, everything from propagation, crop planing, bioinstensive gardening, no-dig gardens, composting, soil health and so much more….

IMG_1562Learning beneath a giant walnut tree -one of the best classrooms ever

IMG_1564Making seed raising mix

IMG_1571Sewing seeds

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IMG_1578Making rooting hormone from fresh tips off a willow tree

IMG_1596Which looks like this when finished – simply dip in your cuttings to give them a significant boost in the growth department

IMG_1587Toby, one of the loveliest dogs ever, graced us with her presence

IMG_1589“Pricking out” seedlings  IMG_1608  Crop planning – aka stretching our brains

IMG_1610Making no-dig gardens

_DSF4995Enjoying each other’s company. Day2: Getting ready for another 6 hours of greatness with Suzi (second from right) in her market garden (below). Photo credit, Rob Walls

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IMG_1615Sheet mulching/composting grassy areas, reclaiming them for garden beds

_DSF4994-2Making hot compost: Photo credit, Rob Walls 

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Here’s to getting your hands dirty, learning heaps of USEFUL skills which will stay with you for the rest of your life and engaging with where our food comes from. We’ll be having another Real Skills for Growing Food workshop next year which you can read about and register for here.

A big thanks to all the wonderful students who came along to this workshop – you are all SO full of life and passion – we loved meeting and working with you. Till next time!

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Making Steep Banks Stable, Productive & Beautiful (Cheaply)

On the weekend just gone, we had a mini working bee with some good mates, i.e 3 hours of power followed by lunch and beers. The mission for the morning was to convert our very bedraggled looking front, steep bank into the startings of a bee paradise garden.  This is our second attempt at this bank – the first one was going really well, until we accidentally set it on fire from a spark from the angle grinder – woops. That was a few months ago and as you can see below it was more than ready for some loving.

IMG_1488The vision for this bank is to be a perennial bee fodder and beneficial insect garden. The idea is that we never have to try and access this bank as it’s actually capping off a significant pile of rubbish which the previous owners buried there when they gutted the house.  Parts of the bank are full of old couches, bed springs, lino and lots of random wire and sharp things. Basically we don’t want to touch it as it’s a world of pain and ugly surprises. So we’re converting it into a bee paradise instead.

As a weed mat we’ve used old bike boxes from the local bike shop which will eventually break down – but not before they’ve helped suppress the grass while more desirable plants establish themselves. We pinned them down with landscaping pins we bought from the local hardware – but if you’re patient, you could also make your own out of high tensile wire.

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Next up we used heat treated pallets (chemical free) to create rows of shelves roughly on contour to ‘lock in’ the cardboard even more and to provide a “pocket” to place some compost which we’ll plant directly into. Again, the pallets are free – salvaged from the side of the road around town. We’re a big fan of free, cheap and DIY, especially when you’re capturing a ‘waste product’ and converting it into a highly functional resource. True, it doesn’t look super flash, but it’s semi-temporary in that it’ll be visible for 2-3 years and then will be swamped by beautiful and productive plants. The plants will effectively replace the pallet shelves and hold the bank together with their roots.

IMG_1521 We then made sure the cardboard received a solid soaking. This helps ‘bed’ it down and prevents it from repelling water, we want it to integrate with the existing soil as quickly as possible to ensure the seeds and plants we pop in thrive. You can also see we’ve started filling the shelves with compost in the photo below. This is where we’ll plant directly into, ensuring that we can get plants established all over the bank, and not just at the very bottom.

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IMG_1529Looking down on the bank you can now see we have 4 mini terraces to plant into, where as before there was none – yay!

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So, what do we plant the bank out with straight away? Tough stuff, that’s what – enter white clover! For the record, clover will get weedy, hence we NEVER put it near our annual beds or in areas where we don’t want to have to be constantly controlling it. The only places we’ve put it on our place is the steep banks which need quick growing, soil improving (it’s a nitrogen fixer) and flowering plants – clover does it all. We also put in stacks of sunflower and calendula seeds. In coming weeks we’ll also plant out the bank with perennial herbs and hardy native shrubs and ground covers.

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IMG_1549One of our almond trees with a happy cluster of fat hen, amaranth and stinging nettle (all desirable ‘weeds’) growing around it

We didn’t bother mulching the bottom section of the bank due to it being so steep, instead have simply covered it with a combination of cardboard and jute mate to suppress the vigorous grass from taking over. At the bottom of the bank you can see our young orchard which we planted this past Winter which is settling in nicely.

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The finished product (above), planted out with white clover, calendula and sunflower seeds. We’ll be planting strategically into the shelves in coming weeks with hardy flowering natives and perennial herbs to create a low shrub and ground creeper layer. It’s going to be beautiful.

And of course, all good working bees end on a high and tasty note – a hearty and colourful lunch topped off with cake and beer to express our enormous gratitude to some of our mates for making it happen. Thank you, thank you, thank you – we look forward to returning the favour!

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Our Imperfections, Stuff Ups & Incomplete Jobs

Every now and then we get people writing to us saying things like “wow! How do you get your garden to be so perfect and beautiful??”

To us, we get really concerned by this, as our place is far (so far) from perfect, beautiful yes (in our eyes at least), perfect? No, no no. We have more than our fair share of ‘ratty’ piles of stuff in every possible corner, incomplete fencing, annual vegies ravished by slugs and what we call ‘hodge-podge’ solutions left, right and centre.

You see, at the moment, we’re not full time gardeners, rather we have maybe one full day between us in the garden each week. Right now, gardening is something that fits around our teaching commitments, running a small business (think admin and organising), Anton working 4 days at Sustainable Living Tasmania, us needing to prioritise building infrastructure like retaining walls instead of making compost tea (which I’ve been meaning to do for around 3 months, and still haven’t) and me being increasingly pregnant and physically restricted which sees me simply looking at gardening jobs instead of actually doing any of them.

So, to bring those of you who think we’re our own little botanical gardens paradise back down to earth, we give you a grand tour of our imperfections, stuff ups and incomplete jobs. Enjoy!

IMG_1510Sections of our garden look like this – just happily going to seed. And while I’m all for seed saving and allowing some plants to go to flower to attract beneficial insects, we really don’t need as much as we’ve currently got. I don’t bother pulling things out until I’ve got something to replace them with, which I don’t at the moment as I haven’t been amazing at staggering our propagation.

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Most of our annual garden beds look like this – left over Winter crops and a whole lotta of unimpressive young Summer crops coming on….

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Like these uncomfortably yellow baby cucumbers. They’ll come good soon with a bit of warmth and soil care, but they’re definitely not winning any awards in impressing people right now.

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We love our new rain tank…. And would love if even more if it was actually connected to our roof. To be fair, we’ve been researching the right type of pump to get which is quite complicated for our context. The pump determines the types of fittings we get etc, so we’ve had to nut these details out first, which I think we’ve almost done.

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Then there was that time that Anton accidentally set the front bank on fire with a spark from the angle grinder. Turns out jute mat (the hessian looking material you can see above) is insanely fire prone, as in ‘we almost burned our house down’ fire prone. That was a stressful moment. As you can see we haven’t quite got around to replacing the plants or weed mat situation. However, tomorrow we’re having a working bee to rectify that, so it’s about to be transformed.

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And this unexciting photo is of our young hazelnuts which we’ve just planted out, and which are about to be swamped with grass if we don’t sheet mulch them right now. Again, this is on the cards to do in the next week, but we’ll see – priorities change from moment to moment around here as things creep up and down on the urgency list.

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Oh yes, and then we have our incomplete floppy fence, which is actually working just fine in keeping out the wallabies (the main culprits), but the possums and rabbits will find us in the near future so we really do need to get on top of that this season to make sure they don’t.

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Our front stairs are beautiful, yet incomplete – you’re starting to get the picture, yeah? We’re running all over the place getting jobs started to the point where things are functional and then we move on to the next thing which needs our attention. We’re aiming for next year to be one of CONSOLIDATION, that’s such a sexy word to us at the moment.

And then there are our glorious and numerous piles of STUFF around the place – all useful I might add, but not necessarily beautiful.

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What was meant to be the goat shed (please don’t ask), is now being converted into a propagation and garden tool shed. Which is actually a great re-purposing of it – but not finished as you can see.

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And to wrap it up (I could keep going), we’ve got this “stunning” earthship retaining wall we built from old car tyres. Once it was structurally sound and had the base render on, we pretty much walked away from it before putting the ‘beautifying’ render on. The one which makes people go – oh I love it! Instead of – hmmm, interesting finish you’ve chosen there. Eventually it’ll be a nice earthy ochre colour and the grassy bank above it will be landscaped and have grape vines growing along it. Eventually.

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So there you go folks, that’s us – warts and all. But we’re ok with that, because amongst all this ‘messy and unsuccessful’ stuff there are a million lessons being learned, new ideas being stumbled upon, laughter, and a home full of love being established. Right now just happens to be a particularly crazy time for us – but I have no doubt (none at all) that even when gardening is more of a full time role for us that we’ll always have piles of useful, ‘ugly’ stuff lying around and that there’ll be an impressive list of half done jobs needing finishing and that we’ll still stuff up every now and then.

As one of our good market gardening mates, Suzi says – gardening is never finished, never perfect and always in flux. As Suzi’s one of the best annual growers I know, I take comfort in these wise words and love the fact that when ever I visit her, there’s always something being changed, dug up, moved etc – it’s never perfect, but she gets pretty darn close to it I reckon.

So here’s to aiming to being ‘almost perfect’. May we be kind on ourselves and one another in this ongoing, ever-changing journey.

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Hobart City Farm

For the past two years, myself and a few other fine folk have been busting our guts in our spare time to find (and secure) land to set up a city farm. A city farm is just that – a small farm in the city. It’s not a community or school garden, but a working farm which employs people to grow serious amounts of food. As this process has taken longer than we hoped, Anton and I got on with life, started Good Life Permaculture, bought a house with a 1/4 acre and since then have been setting it up as a demonstration city farm.

But we’ve kept the flame burning as it’s something that just want leave us. And yes, we are setting up our own small urban block and home as a demonstration city farm, but we want to see paddocks of productive landscapes in our cities, paddocks and paddocks. It’s a vision that’s been lodged in my head and heart my whole life and I can’t let it go, not until its real. Cause nothing beats realness.

And so, it is with enormous pleasure, and some relief, that we’ve finally been able to launch the Hobart City Farm project at our local Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. We are a not-for-profit organisation, run like a social enterprise and focused on establishing a vibrant, financially viable and environmentally regenerative small farm that grows a diverse range of food, builds community and provides meaningful employment. We are more than stoked.

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So, who are we exactly? We are 5 people, independent of Good Life Permaculture, and go by the names of James Da Costa, Bridget Stewart, Louise Sales, Sam Beattie and yours truly – Hannah. Anton is playing support on this project as he’s concentrating on not spreading himself so thin, smart bloke that one. And where is the land? It’s in New Town, around 3kms north of Hobart city centre, we’ll release the actually address of the site once we’ve finalised formalities – which are almost there.

Currently the site is a patch of lawn, but not for long as we’re running a multifaceted fundraising campaign to get the whole sh-bang off the ground. Part one is selling a huge amount of tomato seedlings we propagated ourselves at the Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. Pop on down today (Sunday 9th) to get your tom stash and meet some of the team, Good Life Permaculture’s stall is directly next door (we made sure of that) so you can say g’day to us too.

1656290_663245367107772_7241551968203277548_nSam hiding amongst the plethora of tomato plants – excuse the blurry photo

1236160_663243723774603_3622198941132883815_nThe team (minus Lousie Sales) getting excited at the Sustainable Living Festival yesterday

Part two of the fundraising efforts is our crowd funding campaign, complete with a pretty darn impressive list of gifts in exchange for your contributions. We’ve got beehives, permaculture designs, garden blitzes, seeds, parties, t-shirts, compost workshops and even naming writes to a tractor!

Watch the crowd funding film HERE

So why are we so gung-ho about this city farm thing?

Food: We’re passionate about investing in local and regional food systems to provide reliable access to a nutritious and diverse range of food. We see growing food in the heart of the community as an important way of rebuilding connections to where food comes from and the people who grow it. We’re committed to ensuring that the following generations have an understanding of the important role food plays in creating and maintaining resilient communities.

Community: In addition to producing food, the farm will grow community through facilitating educational opportunities in permaculture, food production and composting (to name a few) – both on and off the farm. The Hobart City Farm will encourage community involvement in the practical operations of the farm and help foster a vibrant community in the immediate surroundings and beyond.

Livelihoods: The Hobart City Farm will employ local Tasmanians, creating meaningful livelihoods for individuals. We are also looking and thinking beyond our farm gate and will explore the possibility of partnering with other organisations to provide training in small-hold farming. We hold a deep commitment to helping others gain the skills they need to become farmers.

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We’d like to thank you in advance for helping to make our dreams of having a local, robust, ecologically based, kick-arse food system a reality. Cheers.

  • You can contribute to our crowd funding campaign here
  • Read all about us on our website
  • Like us on facebook to stay in the loop
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Mullumbimby Community Garden

This past week we’ve been visiting family and the sunshine in northern NSW, trying to take a break from work (and almost succeeding) and catching up on some slow time. As I grew up in Brisbane and lived around these traps for a couple of years there are a plethora of fine fine fine folk I know in this region – but this time round we laid low and skipped the socialising bit and went straight for the rest. Which also includes dropping into local community gardens and peering over farm fences to see what’s going on since I last pocked my head in… Which has been a while.

For example, when I last visited the Mullumbimby community garden it consisted of a large paddock and a big herb spiral, it was literally JUST starting and had big dreams. So I was completely disorientated when I popped in this week and found this… I couldn’t even find the original herb spiral which I think has since evolved into a different food scape.

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Having been around community gardens for well over a decade I know what I like in one… and I REALLY love the Mullumbimby community garden for several reasons, including…

It has the traditional private community plots where people can come and do their thing independently, no surprises there – as this is what most community gardens consist of in Australia. There’s also a Food for All section, space for anyone to harvest from – an offering to the community if you like. Again this is a common addition to lots of gardens around Aus which I love seeing.

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And of course, like any good community garden, there are multiple gathering spaces for people to gather in, hold workshops, celebrations and to simply hang out in.

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But there are a few things which set apart this garden from others. For example they have a large seed saving shed dedicated to preserving seeds and selling them on to folk who are looking for endemic, resilient goodness.

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They also have a bug hotel, which is pretty darn cute and an effective method to attract the good guys (insects) into the garden. Providing basic habitat systems like this is a fantastic way to increase diversity into your garden.

IMG_1422And a bug hotel – I mean – how fantastic is that??

There’s also a patch of garden used by the Byron Bay College who use it to help teach their Permaculture courses, taking students through the practicalities of growing food, permaculture style. In the next patch over is a large section allocated to a very funky group called the Future Feeders. Their whole aim is to “establish a network of young farmers empowered by an ecological framework to build healthy soil, food security, ethical land management and resilient communities”. How awesome that they can do this directly from a community garden!

But you know what seriously tickles me pink?? The ultimate of the ultimate? They also make land available for private market gardeners to run their small businesses out of, growing food to sell at local markets. Now THIS is where it’s at. In so many ways this simple gesture is THE most powerful thing I can hope for our community gardens. That they move beyond a weekend hobby and towards fostering and supporting meaningful livelihoods and growing significant amounts of food.

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I also loved visiting this garden as we ran into a very dear old friend of mine – Joey Venables, who I’ve know for almost half my life (yay for being in the right place at the right time). Joey’s one seriously great grower who just happens to have his own market garden within the community garden, he also works in bush regeneration and numerous other earth related projects – bascially, he’s a total legend.

IMG_1431Joey showing us around his garden, here’s to randomly running into good mates from a lifetime ago!

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Over the past 10 years or so, I have watched and participated in community gardens (and other types of urban/rural agriculture) and have been overjoyed at how they’ve embedded themselves into Australian communities everywhere. They’re no longer a ‘fringe’ activity, but are recognised as relevant, effective, fun and beautiful in addressing serious food issues. And I get extra excited when I see gardens taking it deeper into what it means to foster local food systems by allowing ethical private enterprise to develop on their land. This is where seriously good things can happen. So thanks Mullumbimby community gardens and all the fantastic folk who make it happen – you were the cherry on top of our holiday!

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