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)
I spend half of my working week helping children to grow food in school gardens and the most of my non (paid) working life trying to think of healthy meals my children will eat. Most of my work with school children is via the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. This is a fantastic program with flexible models to suit all schools. Teachers are given training and curriculum support and kids are exposed to the joys of gardening and cooking while trying new foods they’ve had a hand in growing. I joined the program for environmental reasons not convinced it would really change eating habits. After a few years of being involved I have become convinced that getting your kids involved in the growing and cooking of food is a great way to ensure they remain interested and engaged with their nutritional health not to mention that ever increasing importance of knowing where your food comes from.
But what about at home? And what if you have fussy eaters in the house who aren’t old enough for school or not at a school with a kitchen garden program? I, like lots of others, have one (or two) of those children who aren’t particularly interested in eating vegetables or trying new things. I did the growing thing. We grew peas. He planted the peas, watched them grow, then watched me eat them. Legumes aren’t his thing I discovered.
But we persisted and found other things to grow that he will eat (he still grows legumes just doesn’t eat them). But the growing alone wasn’t enough to change his eating habits. What really made a difference was group eating. And by that I don’t mean eating with the family. I mean sitting down with a big group of children and watching everyone else enjoying food. This, I find, to be the best place to introduce new foods to my children. Around a camp fire with a few other families or at friend’s houses seem to be the places my difficult eater finds trying new things easier.
So for your fussy eater at home, what can you do?
- Grow – start small, a few herbs and a strawberry plant
- Cook – get your kids involved in planning, shopping and preparing
- Share – make eating a social event
On a side note, taking the pictures for this blog post and checking on our seedlings at the same time my 4 year old saw me taste a new radish leaf and asked for a try. He then asked for another while proclaiming how much he liked it! (He’s not my fussy eater but still, it was a radish leaf?!)
So the other night I was reading a book titled ‘the perfect pet’ to my four year old where the little boy wants a dog but ends up with a duck and finds that the duck is the perfect pet after all.
We talk a lot about pets at the moment. My children are keen for dogs, cats, horses, parrots… you name it, they want it. They carry the quails around like kittens and the quails cope and try to look dignified in the process (not an easy job). I grew up with cats, and I love them still, but owning a cat just doesn’t seem like the right move anymore. So what is the perfect pet?
If you have the space then I think the answer is a chicken. Natural born composters and protein producers, chickens can be friendly and highly amusing. We don’t have the space for chickens who need about a metre square of space per chicken plus a bit of room to run. We don’t even have space for bantams. We do have space for quails who only require 30cm2 per bird but they aren’t the composters chickens are. They are excellent pest eaters and like nothing more than a cockroach but they are also fragile and need protection from cats, dogs and larger birds.
The quails aren’t enough though for my pet loving children so we are moving on to guinea pigs. My hope is that these creatures may look a little more comfortable when being cuddled than the quails do. The guinea pigs will not be ours. They will be borrowed from time to time from our friends who live nearby to help keep the grass under control in their specially built seat come guinea pig tractor.
My hope is that this will hold off the cries for a puppy for a few months at least but if nothing else it will at least keep the grass neat.
Today, a couple of my children and I spent a very pleasant 3 hours in their school garden with two other families and their children. The kids gathered caterpillars and seeds and ate tomatoes before moving on to running through sprinklers and climbing trees. The adults dug and picked, sorted and trellised and everyone had a lovely time.
2014, for me, is the year of building community. When Thea and I started grow.eat.enjoy. we wanted to put edible gardens into homes (we still do). But as the years go on we move more and more into education and community gardening and I’m finding this a good place to be. When I’m at Razor&JOY, tending to their office garden, and staff come to sit amongst the plants while they eat their lunch; when I put a call out to the OzHarvest volunteers and people come from all walks of life to work in the garden with me; and when I make a connection with a parent from a non English speaking background who in turn brings others to our school garden and everyone feels happy and connected, I know, like Thea and I always thought, that gardening brings so much more than just good food.
So here’s to 2014, my year of growing good food and building community. If you’re in Sydney and need a little help doing either, let me know.
It wasn’t my idea. Jackie French talks about growing watermelons in boots (haven’t tried that yet), she may also talk about growing strawberries in shoes. I can’t remember. But that’s where the idea came from and ever since I first designed the Stanmore school garden I’ve been keen to put strawberry shoes on the fence.
Fortunately I have a child whose feet grow pretty quick and who manages to destroy his school shoes pretty easily so I’ve got a never ending supply of shoes.
Strawberries propagate by producing runners. Once these mini plants have a root system they can be removed from the ‘mother’ plant and planted elsewhere. In this case, in shoes. I put in the new plants along with a good amount of compost and let them settle in, in the school green house for a few weeks until I felt they were strong enough to be screwed to the fence.
Strawberries can tolerate shade but you may not get the best out of the fruit wise. They also like rich soil and don’t mind a bit of acid in it. Strawberries are prone to virus attack. To avoid this they need to be regularly replanted. Linda Woodrow in her excellent book ‘The Permaculture Home Garden’ outlines her strategy to avoid the virus. She keeps one plant as a stock plant. This plant is not allowed to produce fruit (any flowers are removed) and is used to produce the runners. This then provides her with a constant virus free source of strawberry plants.
This week we built a herb spiral at CECAL (Canterbury Earlwood Caring Community Centre) as the start of turning their front area into a community garden. The herb spiral is a small example of a lot of good permaculture ideas in one place. It uses space and water efficiently and creates micro climates for your different herbs. Traditionally the herb spiral is placed close to your kitchen door so that you can nip out and grab your favourite herbs. In Earlwood we placed it as close as we practically could to the kitchen but when you’re working in limited and confined spaces these decisions also become limited.
This is how we did it:
The area is first measured out with a couple of sticks joined by a bit of string. One stick stays firm in the ground, the other moves around the circle. We played with a few different sizes thinking about access (both to the herb spiral and past it) and the number of bricks we had. We then leveled the soil a little and laid a thick layer of newspaper to inhibit any weeds.
On top of the newspaper we threw on wood chip. A lot of websites suggest gravel for drainage but I wasn’t keen to add stones to the soil, a hard thing to reverse, so we used woodchip. The bricks are then laid around in a spiral pattern with the soil added in to help with stability. We used a mixture of soils and manure.
It probably would have been wise to water in each layer as we went but this was a step we missed. On top of the soil we put in mulch and there you have it. A herb spiral ready for planting.
In terms of planting the idea is to plant sun loving plants on the northern side and shade tolerant plants on the southern. Water loving plants go toward the bottom and plants that can take drier conditions are planted towards the top.
All your herbs in one spot. The magic of permaculture design.
Late last year we were contacted by Razor & JOY to come and have a look at their courtyard space with a view to installing an edible garden. I’d been very keen install an office garden so was excited by the prospect. It was also a beautiful looking site (once the pot plants here removed).
We built the beds (2 four metre long and 1 two metres long) out of recycled hard wood timber palings, sanded and oiled. Lined them with geotextile fabric and filled them with a rich organic mixture of compost, manure, straw and lucerne.
Staff assisted in the final stage and the beds were planted with salad greens, tea herbs, herbs, tomatoes and beans, chilli’s and capsicum. There’s a strawberry box, micro green box and seed raising box.
Pots of dwarf citrus, midyim berry, blueberry and bay were added.
The garden is lovingly cared for and picked by the staff. Unfortunately the pests have been pretty happy with the garden addition as well but hopefully with a little tweaking the pests will have less to eat and the staff will have more. Reports are that this has been a really worthwhile addition to office life and has definitely been a very satisfying project for me to work on.
I suppose my quail story started when my father started keeping them in an aviary he built in our backyard. They lived happily underneath the zebra finches and their babies were so small they used to escape through the wire. I don’t remember how long they were there or what happened to them. The next time I met a quail was at a friend’s wedding where their eggs were on a plate, I ate a lot of them and haven’t eaten them since.
The story ends, or perhaps it really starts, when I stood with the principal of one of the schools I work in and suggested quails as an alternative to chickens (it’s a small garden). I don’t know if it was the wedding food or the childhood memory but whatever it was, I mentioned quails, the principal thought it was a great idea and now here I am sifting through the compost for worms, slaters and maggots to feed the ever hungry quails.
I missed a bit of the story, it goes like this:
We bought the eggs over the phone and they were sent via Australia Post who were not careful, but some were incubatable so we incubated them, turned them lovingly three times a day, sent them off with friends when we were away and waited. On the designated day I checked the incubator to find one hatched and another hatching. We spent the rest of the day watching them hatch and have been watching them ever since.
Quails are great insect eaters. My father harbours a not so secret idea to release them in great numbers to cure any grasshopper issues farmers might have. Ours get particularly excited about cockroaches. They also don’t require much space, eat leafy greens (like the outer leaves of iceberg lettuce), are independent from birth and produce beautiful speckled eggs from 6-8 weeks of age. Ours are about 8 weeks old now and ready to move into their school environment. The plan is to let them rotate on the raised beds where they can dig up the soil, eat any insects, add in some fertiliser AND provide a few little eggs to be included in the kids kitchen cooking experience.
All in all, a fun and useful addition to small gardens.