A farewell to gardeners At Randwick Sustainability Hub, it's farewell to another class as the autumn/winter 2015 Organic Gardening course comes to an end…

I WATCHED Kate cycle away as dusk came in, and realised that it was the end of another Organic Gardening course at Randwick Sustainability Hub, the name given to the community education component at Randwick Community Centre.

The class said their goodbyes. They had spent the past seven Saturday afternoons together and over that time had become friends, temporary friends, anyway. They had worked together making gardens, propagating plants and planting out, building composts, identifying insects — both garden friends and foes — and participating in discussion inside the new classroom on the green.

The Organic Gardening course prepares those new to gardening with enough knowledge and practice to get started…
In the classroom, assistant educator and horticuturist, Jon Kingston, demonstrates the components that make up soil with a jar test.
The course… forms part of Randwick Council's community education program that is designed to build community resilience…
The training garden provides the opportunity to do a complete garden construction — from clearing the site to mulching to planting and path construction.

The course…

The Organic Gardening course prepares those new to gardening with enough knowledge and practice to get started. It is aimed at home and community gardeners and, with its focus on herb and vegetable production (the accompanying Forest Gardening course introduces the cultivation of fruit and nut trees and shrubs), forms part of Randwick Council's community education program that is designed to build community resilience.

This demand stems from a growing interest in food and how it is produced and distributed, a demand that has turned issues like food security and food sovereignty into a social movement…

The course has been offered by council for close on a decade now, a time span attesting to the effectiveness of the course and the public demand for learning how to produce some of what people eat. This demand stems from a growing interest in food and how it is produced and distributed, a demand that has turned issues like food security and food sovereignty into a social movement.

In the session on garden irrigation, students gather around irrigation arrays demonstrating microspray, permeable hose and drip irrigation systems.

The course was brought to council by Fiona Campbell, an experienced permaculture design educator and gardener who has assisted community gardens get started and develop their social design as an important component of community gardening. Prior to bringing the course to council, Fiona taught it for the previous decade for the City East Community College, locating the course mainly in a community garden.

Fiona leading the container growing component of the Organic Gardening course.
Path construction. A weed-free edge reduces weed invasion of the garden beds. 

The basics — enough to get started

The Organic Gardening course covers the basics in a comprehensive way:

  • assessing and improving soils, with much focus on soil quality being the basis of organic gardening
  • making compost using both the common plastic compost bins best suited to urban areas, and worm farms
  • plants and their characteristics
  • integrated insect pest management
  • site analysis for gardens to determine where best to build them by taking account of sun and shade patterns, winds, soils and drainage
  • irrigation, with an introduction to irrigation technologies ranging from the watering can, hose and fittings, microspray, permeable hose and drip irrigation, and an introduction to rainwater harvesting and storage in tanks, using the range of rainwater tanks at the community centre
  • garden construction, using the no-dig method and introducing the biointensive approach with its double-dig and the adaptation of dig-and-loosen
  • plant propagation from seed and cuttings
  • planting patterns based on the biointensive method
  • gardening in containers and on balconies.
New uses for old boxes — a layer of cardboard and newspaper will deter weeds from the path. Woodchip mulch is layered thickly over the cardboard. 
There is a focus on the permaculture design approach during the course…
(right)… removing a compost bin reveals a profile of composted to freshly-added material. This is a cold compost, the most common type used by home gardeners in which materialis progressively added to the compost bin until it is full. The rapid, hot composting method is also taught in the course.

Focus

There is a focus on the permaculture design approach during the course because it includes the management of water and energy, house design and the sourcing of food, including producing it in the home or community garden, in meeting the needs of householders.

That permaculture is a lot more than gardening is the message. The course draws heavily from its design methodology and principles, as it does from long-established practices in organic gardening as well as scientific knowledge.

Rugged against the early winter cold, course participants learn in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden.
The aquaponic installation in the Permaculture Garden is a focus during the balcony gardening class.

Why organic?

Developing a course around the practice of organic gardening meets the public demand for learning that particular approach to food production. That is the reason people enrol in the three or so courses offered over the year at Randwick Sustainability Hub.

The organic method is taught for other reasons as well:

  • for personal and for public health in avoiding synthetic pesticides and herbicides
  • to avoid contamination of the urban environment that is a risk of overusing those inputs
  • because the organic method makes best use of materials through reuse, recycling and reprocessing, such as using garden and food wastes to produce compost as a fertiliser
  • to reduce expenditure on gardening inputs through gardeners acquiring the skills to make their own and to substitute knowledge, such as integrated pest management, for synthetic garden chemicals.
garden construction — A warming activity for a cool wi nter day. 

A practical, science-based course

The Randwick course's approach to organic gardening is science-based, making use of techniques and inputs for which evidence exists for their effectiveness.

Not just folklore…

The educators encourages participants not to simply accept folklore around organic gardening but to question it, such as that around companion planting. The 'companion planting' taught in the course is based on proven practices such as using leguminous (nitrogen-fixing plants, nitrogen being a plant nutrient), using suitable species for wind protection, others for accessing deeper-lying nutrients in the soil, mulch plants and flowering plants to attract pollinating insects such as bees).

There's nothing like hand irrigation with a watering can to get water directly to where it is needed.
Fiona demonstrates plant spacing and planting patterns of the biointensive gardening system.

Observation… deduction… action…

The course is knowledge-based, stressing the necessity of observation in the garden and applying know-how rather than chemicals — either synthetic or the botanical chemicals used in organic gardening (which are suggested as a last resort).

Assistant educator, Jon Kingston, assists a course participant in using a compost screw to turn the compost.
The course is knowledge-based, stressing the necessity of observation in the garden and applying know-how …
Fiona uses a model rainwater tank to demonstrate the components of tanks. The tank is a model of the adjacent 23,000 litre rainwater tank used to irrigate the Permaculture Interpretive Garden.
An outside classroom — the Permaculture Interpretive Garden.

Farewell to another class

As I watched those finishing Randwick's Organic gardening course say their goodbyes and walk away that late Saturday afternoon, I knew that some would go on to apply what they had learned in their own backyards while others would apply that knowledge and experience in their community garden.

That, I thought, would be a few more people doing what they can to make their lives a bit more resilient and self-directed for having taken the opportunity to participate in what is perhaps the city's longest-running course in DIY food production.

Story and photos by Russ Grayson

Created By
Russ Grayson
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Photos & text © Russ Grayson — http://pacific-edge.info

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