A few weeks ago I attended another Sustainable Illawarra workshop – “Starting a Backyard Veggie Patch” at Jamberoo Primary School. Megan then attended the repeat of the workshop a week later. It was great that we were both able to do effectively the same workshop without need to organise child care!
The workshop was delivered by people from The Garden at North Wollongong, led by Aaron Sorensen. Aaron was a great teacher, very knowledgeable, and involved everyone (including the kids that came) really well.
I had a dual motivation in attending the workshop. Of course I wanted to learn more about starting vegetable gardens (we’re doing a lot of that here at the moment!). But I also have one child at Jamberoo Primary School and another starting next year, and I feel that outdoor learning and food growing are an important part of their education. This was a great opportunity to kill two birds with the one stone.
First, some basic theory behind permaculture was explained. We went quickly through the permaculture ethics and design principles, concepts like stacking (getting multiple yields/functions from the one area), utilising waste from one system as an input into another (e.g. vegie trimmings become chicken food, chicken manure goes into the compost, compost goes onto the garden beds to grow more vegies), thinking about problems as opportunities (you don’t have a snail plague, you have a deficiency of ducks!), etc.
Aaron then led us though a site analysis, where we looked at where the prevailing winds come from, the direction of the sun and shadows, the expected water flows, the resources already present on the site (water tanks, compost bays, plants, chook house, shed, etc), the traffic paths through the site, and the surrounding buildings (providing shade, reflected sunlight, radiated warmth, and wind protection).
We also thought about what the site was going to be used for. Since primary school kids would be out in the garden as part of their lesson plans, it would be necessary to have an area for the class to sit down and have discussions. The teacher would need to be able to see the students in various areas of the garden from a central vantage point, and have good access to get to each area quickly and easily.
A neat and simple way to work out how wide to make the garden beds for proper access was to get two kids to kneel on the ground opposite each other and creep forwards until they could only just lean out and reach each other to shake hands. The distance between the knees of the two kids is the optimum width for the garden beds so that they would be able to reach anything in the garden without stepping or kneeling on the soil.
We then finished off the day by revamping the existing raised garden beds, using a no-dig or lasagne gardening method. On top of the existing soil we layered manure, dolomite lime, compost, leaves, lucerne hay and then straw. Each layer was thoroughly hosed as the bed was built up, and then the whole bed was watered with a molasses/water mixture to give the microbes and soil organisms a quick boost. We then parted holes or pockets in the layers, filled them with a compost/sand mix, and planted seedlings.