Author Archives: groweatenjoy

Time for Tea

If you are in Sydney then you’ll know it’s not gardening weather today, and while a lot of us would think every day is a tea drinking day, today is definitely a day when you want a warm up of tea in your hands.  So how about growing your own?

I’ve purposely let the bought teas in my cupboard run low so that I’ll be forced to start drinking from my garden.  It’s so easy when you are in the kitchen to just pull out a tea bag but it’s not that much harder to pick your own fresh.  I just needed a little push and maybe you do too.

So what to grow?  I grow mint and lemon verbena.  These are great combined or separate.  They can be picked fresh and used straight away or dried for later use but because they are so easy to grow I don’t bother drying.  Mint likes plenty of water, can handle shade and runs away so grow it in a container where you’ll remember to water it or a spot where either you’ll remember to control it or don’t mind it taking over.  Lemon verbena likes a drier sunnier spot and a good regular prune.  I cut mine back regularly and if I don’t drink the leaves I pop the stems into vases.

Other good, easy choices for tea are lemon grass, mexican marigold (pictured above, another one that will take over if you don’t keep it under control), lemon balm, chamomile, fennel and roses.  Other suggestions I’ve heard of but haven’t tried include rosemary, basil flowers and lavender.

If you really like your tea you can try growing camellia sinensis.  This is the plant grown for black or green tea.  You need to be a little patient as the plant needs to be a few years old before it’s ready to harvest but after that time you can pick off the young leaves and prepare them for the tea of your choice.

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Just Eat it – Movie review

Look the first thing to say is this is not a feel good movie. It’s kind of fun to watch but you don’t come away feeling particularly good about yourself or your fellow humans. Well I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a film worth watching.

Just Eat It is an easy to watch film that follows a couple, Jen and Grant, for six months as they quit supermarket shopping and instead choose only to eat what would otherwise be thrown away. The statistics are frightening and don’t feel comforted that this is a film made on the other side of the world. We are just as bad.

Just Eat It and our own Oz Harvest say we are throwing away between 30-40% of our food. When you look at the social, environmental and economical costs of this you realise what a sad sad mess we’ve got ourselves into.

Just Eat It points the finger at us, the consumers. We need to change our buying habits and our eating habits. We need to plan before we shop, we need to use our freezers and our left overs more, we need to make less and not feel the need to over cater. We need to learn what those dates on the products we buy really mean so that we are not throwing away perfectly good food based on a best before date. And we need to get involved in our food system. We need to know where our food is coming from, how it’s produced and what the wastage involved is. And if we don’t like that wastage or we feel it could be put to better use then we need to tell those companies how we feel, or get out there and do a bit of gleaning. Don’t know what gleaning is? Better watch the film.

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Here we are in 2015. It’s a year of change in our house. My littlest starts school, my biggest starts high school and I head back to university. I also finish my time at Stanmore Public School.

Stanmore was one of the first large spaces that I had the pleasure to design, build and maintain with the help of the Stephanie Alexander Foundation, the fantastic teachers, parents and students at Stanmore Public School and a few very lovely community volunteers. We turned a neglected area of the school that the children were not allowed to play in, into a thriving, productive garden. We dug a pond, hatched chickens, planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. We moved mulch and turned compost. It’s a little sad to be leaving just as the fruit trees are coming into their own but I know I’m leaving it in good hands.  Above are pictures of the garden just after it was built, plus the beautiful corn we grew this year and the garden as it looks now.

Grow.Eat.Enjoy. is still operating as normal with a little more time and flexibility to help you with your edible garden dreams big or small. If you have an edible project you’d like to discuss please get in touch. We are always happy to help!

Posted in Edible Gardens, education, School Gardens, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation | Comments Off on Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

October special – raised beds built from recycled hardwood

Feel like growing your own this spring?

Having just built another of these recycled hardwood raised beds I’m in the mood for building more.

So this month I’m offering anyone in the Sydney metro area one of these beds for $650. This price includes lining and filling the beds plus planting with a selection of leafy greens and herbs.

The beds are four palings high (about 40cms) and can be made to measure providing they are not longer than 3.6m. They are free draining and open to the ground but can be made into wicking beds (like big self watering pots) for an extra $100. They can also be made higher but this will fall outside of our current special and will require individual pricing.

Feel free to give me a call with any questions or if you’d like to book a bed in. Cheers, Sarah (0418 464 323)

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Run ins with Sydney’s Urban Wildlife

As the Randwick Public School chicks spend their first night outside I’ll spend another night worrying about foxes. I’ve only seen the shadow of one once as it returned to terrorise our quails after reducing the flock size from 8 to four but I know they are there in numbers enough to warrant fox proofing. Our quails are now fully fox proofed which unfortunately means they have less roaming space. The Randwick Public School chicken house is not proofed to my liking as I prefer a full wire base on the run rather than just sides hence the coming sleepless night. Hopefully they will be fine.

At Gardeners Road Public school as we continue to install their new edible garden we hear stories of the rabbits that inhabit the grounds. We’ve yet to see any damage to the garden but it’s going to be a tough problem to solve if the rabbits decide to get involved.

At Tranby House in Glebe the garden we installed was promptly eaten by a possum. Possums aren’t so bad as all they do is eat, they don’t dig and remove the plants. To combat the possum issue I put up a loose netting around the garden, this is something the possum doesn’t like to climb and the plants are recovering well. I didn’t think I needed to net the citrus trees as well but it turns out the possum has a taste for these leaves too. More loose netting required. Another thing possums don’t like is walking on a thin wire so if you have a fence without over hanging trees and a possum problem you can consider running a taut wire on top of the fence to stop the possum invading your patch.

At the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation training last week I had a discussion with a couple of teachers who were battling cockatoos and crows. These birds were happily ripping out whole tomato plants as soon as they were planted. We discussed a couple of options they thought could work including simple netting using bamboo and polypipe as well as providing an alternate food and water source away from the vegetable gardens.

I love watching flying foxes out in search of food at dusk but I don’t have any trees they enjoy. Different story for people with a laden fruit tree that gets stripped by flying foxes. It can be dangerous to net trees as they can easily get tangled in the nets, so if you are thinking about doing this then please choose your nets carefully (smaller holes = safer nets).

At Stanmore Public School we have a rat problem. We’ve tried four different baits and traps without any success at this stage. Though they don’t disturb the vegetable growing it would be nice not to have them.

Posted in animal intergration, Edible Gardens, Grow, pests, School Gardens, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation | Comments Off on Run ins with Sydney’s Urban Wildlife

Vegesafe – what I learnt and what you need to know about lead in your soil

The good people of Vegesafe have recently released a report on their findings re regards to heavy metals in Sydney soils and how that may affect veg growing. They will also be at the Australian Garden Show in Centennial Park so if you’re planning to go, you can bring in a sample of your soil for free testing.

We had Mark Taylor from Vegesafe come to Stanmore Public School to conduct tests on the soil in a number of different parts of the garden. Our soil in this garden was all pretty good (still elevated but not dangerously so). It was a really interesting process and Mark and his colleagues were full of helpful information. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Lead in soil will usually be the result of a building having been there and old lead paint flaking off and getting into the soil; or
  • Left over from the days of leaded petrol if you’re on a busy street;
  • Plants don’t tend to take up lead from the soil so eating plants grown in lead contaminated soil isn’t the problem (though probably still not recommended);
  • The problem comes if you don’t wash your veg properly or if you are playing in the dirt or tracking it through the house or in some other way coming into contact with it and possibly ingesting it. This, particularly for young children, is the problem.
  • Mulching and generally making sure there are high levels of organic matter in the soil reduces the levels of lead contamination in your soil.

Mulching! Is there nothing it can’t do?! But seriously I think this illustrates again the importance of good soil. Vital to our health, our food’s health and our children’s health, it’s worth the time to get it right.

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Here comes spring

Are you ready to say goodbye to winter? As much as I like growing broccoli and peas I’m always pretty excited when it comes time to get out the spring seeds. Now is a great time to start thinking about what you’ll be growing this spring. If you have a protected spot (windowsills work great) you can start planting your seeds inside.

I like to use old strawberry or cherry tomato containers for seed raising. I sit these next to the sink which means I remember to water them. When the seeds break through the soil and produce their first leaves you’ll need to find them a sunny spot but until that point any spot will do.

So what can you plant? In no particular order consider:

Chilli, watermelon, eggplant, capsicum, tomato, zucchini, cucumber, rockmelon, asian greens, bitter melon, fennel and of course my current favourite, potato. Look for an online seed seller or swap with a keen gardener. And don’t forget, more than anything else, soil is the key. Make sure when your seeds are ready to plant out you’re putting them into soil that’s going to feed them.

If that seems a little daunting or doesn’t quite make sense but you’re really keen to get growing this spring, give us a call, we are always happy to help!

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Win one of our new potato boxes!

Traditionally potatoes in Sydney are planted in August. This is to ensure that all possible frosts have been and gone which means the tubers won’t be damaged by any extreme chills. I’m not sure we had a winter. Maybe it’s coming late? Maybe it was those few cold days we had? Maybe it’s never coming again? Whatever it is, it’s time to plant potatoes.

I love growing potatoes. I love growing them because they taste so much better than if you buy them (unless you buy them straight from the source). And I love growing them because it’s a lot of fun to harvest them. A dirty treasure hunt. I’ll never get tired of those excited squeals from children and adults as a potato is spotted.

So how do you grow them? Potatoes need lots of food and free draining soil. You can grow them straight in the ground by digging in compost and/or cow manure and then planting your seed potatoes in a trench. When the potatoes start growing you back fill the trench around the plants.

You can also grow them vertically. At Randwick Public School we grow them in old bins with drainage holes cut into the base. At Stanmore Public School we grow them straight in the ground and in hessian sacks. As the plants grow you keep covering them (leaving the top 2-3 leaves showing) with compost or straw. I don’t use sugar cane mulch as I find this holds water too well and potatoes don’t like being soggy.

The longer the potato plants grow the bigger your potatoes will be. Traditionally you harvest potatoes when the plant has died back however you can also sneak your hand in and carefully pick a few new potatoes if you want them early. You need to be careful not to disturb the roots if you want to do this. It’s call ‘bandicooting’.

So because I love growing potatoes so much I came up with a design made from recycled hard wood that allows anyone to grow potatoes pretty much anywhere there’s a bit of sun. The bins are okay but they don’t let enough light in in the early stages. The hessian bags are ok but they are hard to fill and roll. The boxes are better. The boxes also have extenders. This means you can vertically grow by extending the box upwards allowing you to fill it with more compost or straw.

I have one of our potato boxes planted and ready to go. I’ll include an extender and deliver to the eastern or inner west suburbs of Sydney. If you live outside of these areas you will need to be prepared to pick up from either the eastern or inner west suburbs.

To go into the draw all you need to do is like and share my facebook page, add a comment that you’ve shared to me and I’ll put you in the draw. My four year old will choose a winner at the end of next week.

If you want to skip the competition and get right into planting and growing, you can order a box on our website!

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It’s less than a week until this year’s Think.Eat.Save. event will be held in Martin Place, Sydney (and many other locations around Australia). A UN initiative and run in Australia by OzHarvest Think.Eat.Save. asks us to think about food waste by making lunch for 5000 people from food that would otherwise have been thrown out.

Last year we created a milk crate garden for the event from plants raised by seed that would have otherwise been thrown out. This year it’s pots & pallets.

So what about food waste and the garden?

Well the first point has to be compost. Food scraps should not be going in your general waste bin. The best way to convert food waste into a valuable commodity is via the compost bin. Composting doesn’t have to be hard. There can be a lot of rules about composting but basically you need to put your food scapes in and then cover it with a good layer of torn newspaper or grass clippings or dry leaves or even spent potting mix, anything that’s going to keep the flies down. You make sure it’s not too wet or too dry, give it a stir if you wish or just let it be.

If you don’t want a compost or don’t have room for one there are a lot of other options. Community gardens and school gardens will often take organic waste from local community members. You could get a worm farm (keep in mind they only consume about a handful of food scraps a day) or bokashi bin. You can even dig a big hole and bury it in the back yard.

Other ideas to reduce food waste with your garden:

Grow your own herbs so you’re only picking what you need when you need it instead of buying a bunch and only using half.

Grow leaf lettuces and other leafy greens. Only pick the leaves of these as you need them rather than picking the whole plant. The plant keeps growing and you keep getting more when you need them. Ditto for spring onions – leave the roots in the ground and you can be cutting these for years.

Plant sprouting potatoes, onions (for the tops), garlic and pineapple tops (patience required if you’re hoping for a pineapple).

Share. If you grow too much for your own use, share it around. I’ve never had anyone refuse the offer of something home grown and freshly picked!

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Plastic Free July

Did you know it’s plastic free July? Nice idea and while I love thinking about ridding my life of plastic and try to avoid it as much as I can, the idea of giving up single use plastic is pretty tough. Plastic free July offers you an out. They give you a top four to aim for. Plastic water bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic takeaway coffee cups. Pretty easy given there are easy available alternatives for three of them and plastic straws are never a necessity. I’d also add those little fish full of soy. Do we really need those?

I have a little stumbling point with plastic bags. Easy to avoid with all those reuseable bags we have now but I always wondered what I’d line the bin with. It seems to defeat the point if we buy bin bags. Permaculture (and plastic free July) have taught me to line the bin with newspaper. You can make origami bowls out of newspaper for all your messy bits (I can’t but you may be better at following those instructions than me), or just wrap it up like you’re in the fish shop. Easy. Unless of course you read your news online. Then you’re going to have to source your newspaper from a cafe or neighbour. Still, worth it I think if it means you’ve not got all those plastic bags around the place. And think of the message you are sending to commercial outlets who throw your purchases into them without much thought.

I admit I feel a little rude taking my bread out of bags and handing it back (the only place I shop where they don’t ask if you’d like a bag, but they always say thank you so I persist. Also Randwick Council is now recycling soft plastics. You have to drive it into their recycling centre in Matraville but gee it reduces your hard waste.

Less to wrap up in newspaper.

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