Come and Create Compost

learning the art of composting at Newstead Community GardenAnother autumn, another big compost build … this year our BD compost making day will be on Sunday April 27, 10am – 3pmcompost flyer 2014.

Building a large compost heap is not only critical for soil building but it is also a great community activity and we couldn’t do it without extra hands. Over the past three years, gardeners have come from Newstead, Castlemaine, Taradale, Maldon, Guildford and other areas to learn about the basics and help build our heap.

Compost is the most important tool in organic and biodynamic gardening, where the focus is on feeding the soil. It’s the bacteria, fungi and other microbes that do the work for us, turning ‘waste’ into a rich resource, improving the soil and providing plant nutrients.

Checking out the compostWe build our heap with successive layers of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) and include the
biodynamic herb-based preparations of valerian, chamomile, nettle, yarrow, oak bark and dandelion. Other materials like eggshells, lime, dolomite and rockdust add minerals. Aeration, heaps of water and then a covering ‘blanket’ of thick straw sets up the ideal conditions for composting. Then we wait, and let the organisms do the work over the next six – eight months – easy. Even the Governor General was impressed!

Biodynamics also works with the wider cosmos – the rhythms and cycles of the moon, stars and planets: ‘as above, so below’. We will make the most of a waning (synodal rhythm) and descending moon (tropical rhythm) and a “leaf” day when the moon is passing through the water constellation or sign of Pisces (sidereal rhythm). All perfect for compost making.

compost day - saide's picOur garden is really starting to show the benefit of incorporating the compost each year as well as the other BD preps. We are fortunate to have local biodynamic sheep and grain growers and access to certified organic straw and manure further afield.

We are off to collect sheep manure from under the BD farm shearing shed on Wednesday 16th April, leaving Newstead at 2pm – if you’d like to come or offer a trailer, please join us (contact Gen 54762 633 for more info) for some earthy work! The workshop will be free to attend for those who help contribute through collecting materials.

Want to learn more about composting and try some hands-on construction? Come along on April 27th. By the end of the day you’ll be able to make your own heap, small or large, at home. BYO fork, shovel, gloves, appropriate footware and clothing, wheelbarrow if you can. Gifts of green material, lawn clippings, leaves and manure are also very welcome (though not manure if animals have been drenched).

compost flyer 2014

Getting the Garlic In

I always love spontaneity and especially those rare times when ideas, organisation and activity all coincide. Such was the case last Sunday when we got our main crop of Flinders Island Purple garlic sown. We had been mulling over the lack of planting options at the garden because of crop rotation (garlic beds should be given 3 seasons of other crops, before planting back to garlic) and space. A query to Helen about her paddock, followed by a couple of phone calls and by Sunday evening Leon, Helen, Sarah, Gayle, Gen and I had loaded and carted compost, ploughed, levelled, planted and watered in the crop.

With many thanks to Helen for her generosity and response to our request, to Leon for providing tractor, plough and his time free of charge - and staying on to help us plant - and to all for making it so enjoyable and easy.

Hold your mouse over the images to find out more or enlarge pics:

We still have a bit more of the Dunnolly Purple Italian to plant, and a bit more space in the paddock. The field has a good history and organic produce has been grown in it previously, as well as oats and green manure crops, so there was not much soil prep needed. Hopefully we can complete the garlic on Thursday and maybe some broadies as well. The paddock isn’t rabbit or roo proofed, so fingers crossed! (we may have to set up some temporary protection) The compost supplies have been dropping and by the time we feed fruit trees and other growing areas, will be timely for our “big build” on 27th and to make some smaller, quicker  to transform (6 weeks) bays as well.

Cake, and meeting notes

zuchcake2Those who missed our planning meeting yesterday also missed the food – we always eat well at the garden!

Sarah’s gluten free rhubarb cake (using our rhubarb) can be found here and in the recipe and food section, along with the zuke and carrot cake (though I never can stick to the recipe!) we also had quiche, hommous and biscuits… oh, and our meeting: click here to download or view: Newstead Community Garden annual planning session notes .

Gardening on Thursday will involve more preparing ground for garlic and, perhaps, planting it. As well the shed does need a tidy up – an autumn clean?

April 5 – interested in car pooling to Little Hampton to help bury cow horns for BD500? Sarah is organising this. See the flyer: Fieldday 05 April.

On the subject of dates, here’s a draft calendar: Workshop calendar 2014 of local happenings amongst gardening groups in our Shire. We’re looking at ways to have a central calendar that can be updated and viewed easily.

What’s your take?

Bruce Plain from Sustainable Gardening Australia has asked for input into a scoping study on community gardens:

Between 2010 and 2013, Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMSTrust) joined together to build community gardens in bushfire-affected areas of Victoria.  In all we worked with eleven regional communities and, at the end of this very successful project, produced a Community Gardens Manual that is freely downloadable from SGA’s website. The HMSTrust recently announced a scoping study to determine whether they should expand this project to other regional Victorian communities and they have asked for our assistance in gathering information for the study.  HMSTrust needs to establish where current community gardens are and where they are possibly needed.  In addition, they want to know what challenges existing community gardens are facing in regional areas, as well as the opportunities that are presenting themselves. To complete the survey please click here http://form.jotform.co/form/40400598614856. You don’t need to belong to a community garden to participate in this survey and we encourage you to take part so that a complete picture can be formed. When you have completed the survey http://form.jotform.co/form/40400598614856, you will be provided with a link to the free downloadable Community Gardens Manual released in February 2014 and specifically targeted to regional Victorian community gardeners.

With thanks, Bruce Plain, Volunteers Coordinator & President, Sustainable Gardening Australia

The survey is easy to fill in and won’t take too long. Timely also in light of the AusVeg stance (this article caused quite a bit of discussion amongst our community gardeners!) and our own wish to look at where are garden is at currently, and where we’re heading …

March Meeting and Eating

We have our planning meeting on 23rd March as part of our monthly gardening get togethers.

Last month on Sunday we had about a dozen of us pruning – enjoyable, not to mention the harvest we hope for as a result. Everything apart from the autumn fruiting raspberries (yes they are) is now pruned, the pears are picked and we will share them and the unsold garlic at the meeting on Sunday 23rd March.

Newstead Twilight Dinner flyer (22Mar14)_1Please come to this gathering as it is our best opportunity to catch up and get mandates for spending funds and to plan seasonal activities for the whole garden, outside the regular gardening sessions.  If you haven’t been to the garden for a while, no problem, we welcome your input. And there will be cake!

See the suggested agenda (perhaps we should get together more often!) but we don’t anticipate a very long meeting, 10am – 12, plus it’s now the perfect time of year for planting garlic and broadies (and other crops) so if time allows we could do some scratching as well.

Please get in touch if you have other items for the agenda or issues, concerns, ideas, wishes. See you on Sunday 23rd. An RSVP to Gen, Mary or myself would be helpful.

And the Newstead Twilight Dinner  in the garden flyer is attached … sounds like a lovely way to get the pizza oven started for the year….

Newstead Community Garden Agenda 23 March
1. Welcome, Intros
2.New gardeners/plotholders/diggers and membership changes
- who’s new, who’s left, plot changes
3. How’s your Garden Growing?
- feedback on season; what’s worked, what hasn’t, how have you experienced the garden
- suggested facilitated planning session to revisit the garden aims and vision, discussion how it operates, succession and renewal – later in the year or early next year
4. Communication
- the calendar, blog – is it working, improvements, suggestions?
- other ways to communicate – see budget/funding
4. Budget/Spending/Funding
- current state of budget: funding grants spent/unspent/fundraising
- new grants – MAS Community Grants – improving communication in the garden ($850)
5. Upcoming Events
- BD500 Horn burial with BDVic at Little Hampton – 5 April (community bus trip?)
- BD compost build 27 April
- Biochar – June
- Childrens Literature Festival – September
- Garden Fundraising Dinner – October
- Festival of Gardens – November
- other events in the shire – The Hub, Growing Abundance, etc
6. Growing, Works, Wishes
- loddon seedlings, herbs
- this year’s garlic crop and other communal plantings
- pizza oven pergola, pond
7. Other items
- MASC Environmental Roundtable report back?
- sustainable gardening survey on community gardens 
8. Next gathering date

Biodynamics in the Garden in March

garlic harvest 2013/14With the passing of summer and the ‘post summer-pre autumn’ season here, thoughts turn to the soil and to biodynamics. There is quite a bit of activity across Victoria and perhaps a resurgent interest in biodynamics. Closer to home Bress winery are a regular venue for workshops run through Biodynamics Victoria and there’s our own annual BD compost building day – on Sunday April 27 this year. And Celia Cornick who has also helped with our composting days in the past, has sent info about three upcoming events at Warranwood – see the flyers below, or down load them for more info: Elements.pages; Astro Calendar.pages; 500 flier.pages.

Just starting out? Ute Mueller has produced a good starting point for gardeners interested in BD methods. She’s based in Tasmania and her booklet “Biodynamics in the Backyard and Beyond” might help inspire you to give it a go. We have a couple of copies in our ‘library’ for members, or email Ute. There’s also a brief explanation of BD for the the community garden here.

March is upon us. Time to busy yourself preparing beds for planting if you want to eat this autumn and winter! Find out what else to do, plant and sow in the March Notes - download them, or print and stick on your frig. Lets hope March is a long month of ripening and harvest because we are looking forward to finally seeing the fruits of our heirloom and heritage tomatoes, and hopefully a taste-off, and then to seed saving, from the best performers for both plot and palate. And a bit of rain would be lovely.

Don’t forget our Produce Exchange on Saturday 1st outside the Red Store (10.30 – 12) and importantly, our garden planning session on Sunday March 23rd (10 – 12) for all gardeners – plotholders and diggers alike.

Happy, Hopeful, Pruners

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We had a lovely morning doing some pruning of nectarines, peaches and pears, and looked at what needs to be done with the apples. And the scones & jam, hommous, and cake/slice were all good too.

More info on summer pruning here, but it’s best done by … doing.

Click on the pics to enlarge them.

We’ll find out the fruits of our labours next spring when the trees flower and then hopefully when they bear fruit. A couple of the trees need a few more drastic cuts which will be done in winter. Rule of thumb for summer pruning is it should only need secateurs and be up to finger thickness. Active sap flow at this time of the season means the trees can recover from an ‘attack by a thousand small cuts’ but that anything greater means too much sap loss and potential set-back for the trees.

We are currently giving them a deep water and a dose of diluted seaweed and worm-juice will also help them recover.  Let’s hope there’s not too much hot weather ahead; there may be a slight danger of sunburn, since we did take a bit of growth off – the stonefruits in particular.

Julia is STILL harvesting her zukes and trying to give them to anyone who’s about and unsuspecting!

Monthly Gardening Starts Sunday – Come and Prune!

It’s our first monthly gardening session for the year on Sunday 23rd Feb.

a good form with plenty of fruit, ready to be summer pruned

If you’ve eaten an Anzac or China Flat peach this season, or have eyes on the shapely Buerre Bosch pears,  then this will be an added incentive …

It’s time to prune/train our fruit trees and bramble berries (but not the autumn raspberries – hopefully they will still produce after the heat).

Come and learn while you help care for our garden. As a result we’ll have a decent crop next year, season and cosmos willing. Come for an hour or two or as long as you like. Pruning briefing starts at 10am. We’ll have refreshments – cuppas and cake – bring other food to share. Also BYO secateurs if you have them.

See you in the garden.

Tips for worm care … new community garden manual launched … events in our Shire

The worms haven’t enjoyed the heat much either. Our resident worm farmer joan, passed on these tips to fellow gardeners (thanks Joan!)….

I refreshed the 3 compost/worm bins … the mix seemed a bit boggy, not enough bulk/fibre, etc. I added grain hulls, straw, & some old pickings off silver beet plants (small pieces) & watered. Should be ok till weekend, check then. Tea bags or veg/fruit scraps are great for the worms … & old fruit/vegs from bottom of fridges …. and the fallen china flat peaches that have bugs and rot…. I will move the bottomless rubbish bin I have in the middle plot & put it next to worm bins. Any fruit,veg , tea bags etc can be initially be put in bin, covered with a bit of mulch, and fed to worms as needed, otherwise , their bins will get too full. … Whatever is added to the worm bins needs to be small bits & pieces.If larger, eg cabbage,kale leaves, break them up or cut up smaller. . a FEW lawn clippings are ok now & then. I don’t use potato peelings or leaves, stems, leaves of tomato plants, or any weeds. Cheers, Joan C.

HMST comm gdn manualOn another hot topic. After Black Saturday’s 2009 bushfires, the trustees of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMSTrust) established a $2 million Bushfires Grants Fund to assist in the restoration of community life in bushfire-affected areas. Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) was granted one million for the establishment of community gardens in Toolangi & Castella, Jindivick, Yinnar & District, Beechworth and Yackandandah. Besides stunning gardens, another project outcome is the development of a Community Gardens Manual covering the nuts and bolts of establishing and running a community garden.  Should be something in it for every garden to learn from, whatever stage they’re at.

Go to the SGA website and view the manual or download it here: HMST comm gdn manual or click on the image above right. The HMSTrust is also undertaking a study to gauge the need, interest and viability of establishing new regional Community Garden Hubs. This is something we would be interested in, judging by the number of visits to our garden from other areas and the potential for sharing info, expertise and practical resources (including funding) amongst community gardens.

And finally, much closer to home, the first of Mount Alexander Shire’s monthly workshops will be held on Saturday February 22 at 10.30 in the Car Park Garden behind Castlemaine Continuing Ed. Justin Calverley, an experienced landscape designer will give an overview of berry growing - popular berry varieties, site selection and preparation, watering, feeding, pruning and trellising. More info: February 2014 – Berry Growing Crash Course Flyer or contact Mount Alexander Shire.

February 2014 - Berry Growing Crash Course Flyer (2)

Hot as Hades?

Spring in the Newstead Community GardenWe are into yet another heatwave (yes, school has returned…) Though perhaps it’s better defined as an evolving summer weather pattern? Probably not the time to be pedantic about semantics, when watering and care is badly needed. Funny though, that as we are paying extra attention to the garden and making sure it gets a drink and shade/shelter in these hot spells, some plants seem to be doing extra well. It goes back to photosynthesis again – C4 plants (responsible for about 25 percent of all photosynthesis on land, even though overall numbers are very small) have a specialized leaf structure and can separate transpiration (breathing/sweating) from photosynthesis (growing). They can also carry out “normal” photosynthesis, but especially thrive in bright, hot conditions when normal (C3) plants close their stomata and shut down. Corn and amaranth are C4 examples.190111_0057

Enough of the science. Heat loving plants, once they’ve got past germination and seedling stage, also thrive in fairly extreme conditions. Notice how well the zukes and pumpkins and capsicums are doing, even though they are close to wilting point at the height of the day? By next morning (if they’ve been given a good drink) they are perky again. Spuds and strawbs are not so resilient. Thanks to all our gardeners who are striving morning and night to keep the garden watered.

Early mornings and late evenings in February provide a time for us to take a breath, notice what’s going on in the garden and welcome the changing season.  It’s also time for action, when conditions permit. The February Notes are now posted. Don’t forget the Produce Exchange on Saturday (rhubarb, anyone?) and Thursday gardening, weather permitting.

Now is the time to be pruning stonefruit (peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, cherries, etc) as well as apples and pears for fruit bearing next year. But if you have young pome trees (apple, pear, nashi), wait til winter – winter pruning is all about structure and developing a healthy, strong framework. Then start summer pruning after the third or fourth year and stick with it, unless you are making drastic changes to tree form or structure. We’ll be pruning ours on February 23 as part of the monthly garden session. I’m certainly no expert, but thanks to Simon Rickard and a Diggers Club workshop at St Erth, now have a bit more of an idea. If you have experience, please come along and share it!