At 9.30 am on a lovely sunny Sunday, 18 Altona Community Gardens members (and some non members) gathered at Kate's house in Altona. The task was to begin the transformation of her nature strip into a beautiful and productive vegetable garden and hopefully have some fun too!
Chatting and fuelling up on some warm coffee and tea, the attendees milled around and we were very happy to see some past attendees as well as some new faces. Dominique did a fantastic job of welcoming everyone, introducing the activities of the morning, discussing OH&S for the day and showing us some valuable, but quick, warm up exercises.
Then it was all on!!
We split up into two groups. The “Diggers and Sifters” and the “Soil Improvers”. “Diggers and Sifters” moved out to the nature strip, led by Shotaro and started digging the 3.6mx 1.6m hole. Early reports described the soil as “rock hard” or “like concrete” and the work was hard, but the team was undaunted. Digging this difficult soil was done with spades and with incredible enthusiasm and energy.
Once the soil removed, it was sieved to break it up and remove extraneous matter such as roots, before being wheelbarrowed to a large tarp on the driveway.
Here the “Soil Improvers” did their job. Attendees had donated some delicious goodies to add to, and enrich the soil. Newspaper strips and cardboard soaked overnight in water, coir (soaked in water on the day), lots of seaweed, a couple of bales of pea straw, a garbage bin of coffee grounds, Peter Weavers’ famously foul smelling “Worm Wee”, mushroom compost and some very special bags of compost with fat, juicy worms included.
This gorgeous stuff was added to the dry, hard and hydrophobic curb soil and mixed together with pitch forks - also hard work. The soil kept coming from the curb and the pile of improved soil was massive and seemed way too much, but we figured we would find a use for any extra improved soil, without too much problem.
As a break from the hard work, we encouraged people to stop after about an hour and enjoy some hot drinks and some home cooked goodies. Sitting on the front porch was a chance to have a rest, chat and sit in the sun. After this break, Adeline offered a little mini workshop for those interested on growing seeds and seedlings.
Although she had described it as pretty casual, Adeline had brought some great examples of seedlings she had raised with some little tips on what she has found to be successful. She provided a handout and answered our many questions and it was a great chance to chat and share experiences (Thank you Adeline!!).
Shotaro had designed the size of the Nature Strip Garden to suit Kate's individual needs.
Having back and balance issues she prefers to kneel on the ground rather then bend from a standing position. The bed is long and narrow and allows her to reach all the garden bed from a kneeling position, with knees cushioned on the surrounding grass.
Shotaro had kindly done some amazing homework for the day! He had built a deep wooden frame from salvaged wood, to be inserted around the sides of the garden bed. This would keep the grass from growing into the garden, with only the top edge visible, to comply with council regulations.
There is a large street tree about 50cm away from the edge of the new nature strip garden and Shotaro was concerned that the trees roots would get into the new garden bed and suck the moisture out of it. To protect the garden bed from this, a layer of builders’ plastic was tucked to the inside of the garden bed to seal the moisture in.
It was time to add the huge pile of improved soil back into the garden bed. Mysteriously, despite the large amount of added matter, the improved soil fitted back into the hole. (Perhaps some Scientist could explain this phenomenon). The bed was covered with some carpet and apart from a rather glamorous, newly sprayed ACG carrot stencil, no-one would have known the amazing scale of work and activity that had taken place.
It was a fantastic day and had some quirky moments such as Adelines’ daughter Alyssa documenting the day with little drawings showing complex soil layers and Snowy; the “sometimes annoying dog”. Another bonus was the advice I got as attendees wandered around my garden to look at my fish pond and picked up on some issues such as “citrus mitre” which I needed to get on top of. Thank you to everyone for sharing this lovely day and putting so much joy, enthusiasm and expertise into the day.
All systems go! Digging and sifting
Nearly ready to put the timber in
Mixing the good stuff in
Putting the final touches on after the soil has gone back in
ACG - the carrot strikes again!
(Photos: Adeline Barham)