Category Archives: Grow

Building community in the garden

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 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.

Posted in Community Gardens, Edible Gardens, education, Enjoy, Grow, Oz Harvest, Razor & JOY, School Gardens | Comments Off on Building community in the garden

Never too old

This is the story of one of our first clients who I’d like to name (they have great names) but won’t because I’m not sure what the rules are on that.  This couple live in a small but well appointed apartment with a surrounding courtyard garden.  They are on the main road but when you’re inside you hardly notice.

We first came to their garden after it was newly built and planted.  There wasn’t a lot of thought put into the garden and as we dug and restructured it we found the soil was mostly made up of builder’s rubbish.  We put a lot of time and they put a fair bit of money, into that initial work but it’s paid off in a beautifully giving and changing garden.

While mostly planted with flowering natives we also included a number of edible plants and these have slowly increased over the years.  They pick from the garden every day and this is the reason for my story.  The gentleman of the couple, in all his years, had never picked and eaten from his own garden until we reshaped and planted this new garden for him.  For him (and for me), this was a great experience and one they, and I, continue to enjoy.

Posted in courtyard, Grow, Herbs | Comments Off on Never too old

Feeding the 5000 – the milk crate garden

So when Louise Tran from Oz Harvest rang me and asked for a pop up garden to go along with their Feeding the 5000 event it seemed only right that the garden should be built from what would otherwise have been thrown away just as the lunch is.

We decided on milk crates which are not exactly throw away items (though they do seem to be thrown onto a lot of street corners) but they are easy to transport and will return to their intended use once we’ve finished with them.  I then contacted a number of seed companies to see if they had any seed that was no longer saleable.  Yates and Green Patch came through with a lot of seeds, still viable but not saleable.

The kids at Randwick Public and Stanmore Public spent a lot of time sifting compost and planting seeds that were placed into their green houses and watered with harvested rainwater.  Once the seedlings were of a reasonable size they were transferred to larger containers and then to their current home in the milk crates.  The milk crates are lined with newspaper and old green bags and filled with compost from Randwick Public School who have a fantastic compost system mainly to compost the huge amount of leaves they sweep up daily from the playground.

If you’re in Martin Place on Monday come along and have a look at the garden.  What you’ll see is a garden grown from harvested plants, scraps and sourced seeds.  This garden’s life is short lived in Martin Place but will continue after the event.  The crates will return to be cared for in the two public schools and will hopefully find a permanent home in an Oz Harvest garden some time soon.

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Strawberry Shoes

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.

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The Humble Herb Spiral

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.


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Little Things

A lot of us don’t have space and a lot of us don’t have time and some of us don’t have space or time and this is where growing little things comes in handy.  Here’s ten of my current favourites.

  1. Herbs

Don’t buy those plastic wrapped packets you get at the supermarket and often only use half of.  Grow your own herbs (or find a nearby house that’s growing them for you – there really only needs to be one rosemary bush per block).  If your kitchen is too shady for window sill herbs, grow double pots.  Keep one in the kitchen, the other somewhere sunny and swap them around when the one in the kitchen starts to look peaky.

  1. Lebanese eggplant

So much easier and better tasting than the larger fruit, and generally prolific.  The rule here is that the longer you have to wait for a fruit or vegetable to develop the more chance there is of something going wrong (think here pest attack).

  1. Cherry tom

Usually resistant to fruit fly and they come in all sorts of colours and shapes now.

  1. Dwarf fruit

Happy in a pot, I find citrus the most productive and useful.

  1. Quails

When your space is too small for chickens these are a great alternative.  We love our quails for their prowess at catching pests, their protein packed eggs and their general good looks.

  1. Leaf lettuce

Hearting lettuce is susceptible to attack from slugs and snails before you get to the good part of eating it.  Leaf lettuces are so much quicker, you can be picking leaves in a matter of weeks and can continue to pick as the weeks go on.

  1. Midyim berry

These native plants are delicate, shade lovers.  Their speckled berries have a unique flavour, very fragrant.  A small plant can produce a lot of berries if it’s in the right place.

  1. Garlic shoots

Why wait for garlic bulbs when you can eat the leafy green shoots – fantastic flavour and a continual crop.

  1. Broccollini

Same story as the eggplant.  Trying to grow vegetables as big as the ones you buy in the supermarket can lead to disappointment.  Brocollini is fast, tasty and a little bit fancy.

  1. Kale

I love cabbage but growing it has the same issues as growing hearting lettuce.  Kale is a fantastic alternative, very attractive in the garden and one of those foods everyone says we should be eating more of.  You can grow it like you grow leaf lettuces, picking off leaves as you need them while continuing to let it grow.

So, small space?  No time?  No longer a good enough excuse!

What little things do you like to grow?

Posted in courtyard, dwarf fruit trees, Grow, pests, Quail | Tagged | Comments Off on Little Things

Growing Corporate

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.

Posted in courtyard, dwarf fruit trees, Enjoy, Grow, Perennial, pests, Razor & JOY, recycled wood, Vegetable | Comments Off on Growing Corporate

My Quail Story

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.

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I don’t like them.  Especially the ones growing between the brickwork on the council path that runs alongside my house.  When I moved here I rand the Council asking if I could remove the path as I wasn’t keen on spending my weekends weeding it.  They laughed and said no, and not to worry, I wouldn’t have to weed it.  So I haven’t.  For five years.  And neither have they.  Now I’ve had enough.

So I’ve taken a few main weeding tips to heart and I’m focusing on what’s right outside my front door.  I’ve sprayed them with vinegar.  It turns them brown but the continue to sprout up.  I’ve poured boiling water on them.  Again they turn brown and again they continue to pop up.  It seems pulling them out, roots and all is really the only permanent solution.  And vigilence.

So far I’ve managed to keep the area around the door clear for a few weeks and I’m gradually moving the front line forward.

Of course weeds can be useful, think about those deep roots of the dandelion reaching down to otherwise inaccessiable nutrients, and edible, think purslane which contains omega 3, the important thing is to be able to control them which usually means removing them before they seed.  Something I, and the Council, have failed to do.

Posted in Grow, Weeds | Comments Off on Weeds


What a fantastic, shade loving, perennial plant Rhubarb is.  It lasts for years and it produces offspring so you can divide it up and plant out more or give it to your friends.
Rhubarb doesn’t like growing in a pot as it has a large root system but that’s about it’s only fault.  Oh, and it’s posionous leaves.  Don’t eat them and don’t feed them to your rabbit, guinea pig, dog, children… they are fine in the compost.

Rhubarb has a crown which doesn’t like being soggy so keep them in well drained soil.  They go dormant in the cooler months which is the time to move or divide them and you need to be careful you don’t disturb their roots if you’re digging in the area.

Aside from this they are pretty hardy, pest resistant and giving plants.  Pull off the stems as you want to use them.  I cut them up and simmer them in orange juice.  Great for adding to yoghurt.  Or go the old classic and simmer them up with sugar and apple (and strawberry if you want something really special), then give it all a crunchy sugary top and throw it in the oven to brown.

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