Monday, 23 April 2012

Michael Ableman

I heard Michael Ableman speak on Radio National the other morning and he had some really interesting and insightful ideas into modern farming practices and the environment. He is a farmer himself and has been involved in some incredibly projects in America, including starting an 11 acre farm at the Midland school. Please, read more about him:

Seed saving and other permaculture principals

The beautiful Madagascar Bean
On the weekend, I attended a seed saving workshop organised and run by some amazingly fervent inner west Sydneysiders, passionate about seed saving, permaculture, composting, bees and growing their own food in their backyards. The workshop was held in Michele Margolis' award winning backyard in Enmore and her sidekick Jane Mowbray, chronic seed saver. I had been thinking about saving my own seed for a while but have always been worried about not doing it properly and that my seeds would never come to fruition. However, after watching so many of the plants in my own garden pop up from seed that had been dropped - I thought, well, really, surely it cannot be that hard. And it really is not at all and I am going to be doing a lot more of it from now on. 

Jane collecting seed from a brassica
Saving seeds varies slightly between plants, mostly with plants that will fruit and then flower (e.g. broccoli, kale, spinach, carrot etc) as opposed to plants that flower and then fruit (e.g. tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant). 

Saving seed from vegies such as spinach, kale, mustard, lettuce etc let a couple of plants go to seed, let them dry out for a couple of weeks in the ground, pull them out and store them in a dry position and then collect your seed. 

Collecting seed from pumpkin and zucchini

Saving seed is not only a way to save money but it is important to maintain our heritage seeds so that we don't lose varieties in the future; "So?" you may have asked? "Why does it matter if we lose a couple of varieties of tomatoes or eggplant...Why does it matter?" Genetic diversity is important for the continuation of a species, and it's what drives change and adaptation in the living world. In the case of growing food and gardening, diversity insures that we'll be able to continue eating the plants we now eat. Many of the large chain supermarkets only sell a few (if that) varieties of fruit and vegetables. These vegetables are often picked too early and stored for long periods of time, often leaving them bland, tasteless and less nutritious. 

The advantage of picking from your own garden is that you know exactly where your food comes from, you know there will be no chemicals or pesticides used in the process and how easy is it to just head out the back to grab some lettuce or spinach leaves! Now, unless I had more time than I could probably grow more than I am able to but even if you are able to only grow a few things - it is definitely worth it. 

Chickens free-ranging!

Michele uses styro foam boxes to sow seed. These boxes can be picked up for free from fruit shops and supermarkets - they are a great way to start growing your own food, especially salad greens and herbs. I have some in my garden which are painted...a great activity to do with kids.

Turmeric - I don't have any growing in my garden but I have been inspired to plant some. Michele made a delicious  pumpkin and turmeric soup. YUM.

A good way to test your seeds reliability  - place them in a damp paper towel for a few days and  open  it up to see what the germination rate is. I will definitely be trying this technique. I think it will save a lot of frustration and heartache!

There are more workshops coming up so feel free to contact me if you are interested and I can lend you the details. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The world is a garden...especially for kids

After studying primary school teaching for only 6 weeks I have learnt so much I think my head might explode. It's a great course and there are some fantastic lecturers who are offering really inspiring and knowledgeable advice. One main theme which has been coming through our English course is the importance of imaginative play and its relation to building children's language skills, as well as a range of other important areas. There have been numerous studies which have verified the importance of imaginative play for children and how that supports their language skills, emotional wellbeing and growth, as well as their understanding of the world around them and how it works. Free play also allows children to develop problem-solving skills, cooperation and responsibility. 

Children use their own world experiences to make meaning from books, as well as use books to create games, expand their imagination and to discover new worlds. Research states that imaginative play engages many areas of the brain because it involves emotion, cognition, language and sensorimotor actions, and may promote the development of dense synaptic connections. Structured games, as well as electronic games and devices can and will not be a replacement for what is learnt through unstructured and free play. This is children's work and this is what helps them to develop their mind, their emotion, as well as their personalities. Young toddlers, right up to late stage primary school children need and should be allowed to develop their imagination by engaging in free and imaginative play and I find it so sad when I see children who are unable to engage in such an activity. Their mind has often been stifled and even corrupted by watching too much television or playing too many electronic games; it is as though their imagination ceases to exist. 

I felt so heartened on a recent observation day to Cabramatta Public School, a low SES school, with over 95% of the student population coming from ESL backgrounds, actively engaging in the school kitchen program. It was inspiring and uplifting to see this class of year 2 students, so eager to answer questions about compost, worms, and how to plant lettuces. This school had a fantastic program which allowed the students an hour of meditation and imaginative thinking, following by an hour of gardening and cooking. How could this not be unequivocally and obviously beneficial for the students; especially for many of those who had experienced trauma on their journey to Australia. 

Children seem to have a natural affinity with gardening and it is a priceless lesson to teach children how to plant seeds and to watch the growth of those plants, into beautiful flowers, productive produce and/or homes for bees, butterflies and other tiny creatures. Gardens are a great catalyst for the creation of many stories and imaginative games. It is important to nurture these spaces, whether one has a garden or not. Remember, the world is a garden! 

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Thrifty Gardening

I have been working in an Italian restaurant and I find it really difficult to just throw away these big cans that the parmesan cheese comes in, so I have been taking them home and storing them away until I could come up with a good use for them. Firstly, I thought of making lanterns but I decided to grow plants in them instead and save the lantern project until later. 


Weekend project: Turning old, unused tins into productive plant tins!
Time: approximately 15-30 mins
You will need:
- old tins
- hammer or screwdriver (to make drainage holes at the bottom)
- soil/potting mix
- plants 

So, what I did was to make some drainage holes in the bottom (this is important). Filled the tins with some soil and planted some cuttings from other plants in the garden. In this case, I just used the old trusty succulent because these will withstand anything, and if you have not got a green thumb or too lazy to water. these can look effective. I also took a cutting from a coleus plant I had in another pot. So super easy, all you do is cut a stem off, stick it in the soil, keep it moist and roots will grow and there you have a whole new plant. Now who can't do that?  GET TO IT. 

p.s. Another great use for old olive oil tins is to turn them into planter pots and they look really good in the garden. The tins will start to rust up a little but this just adds  to their charm. 

To sow this month (temperate):
If you have not already I have got seeds of broccoli, leek, spinach, parsley, garlic, lettuce, beets, cornflowers growing for my winter staples. Not sure if I will have enough room for carrots this year. Will see how it goes. Check out my propogation station made from an old ironing board I found in a council clean-up...great use!

Propagation Station - where I like to propagate a variety of plants and grow a variety of seeds. 

Parsley is SUPER easy to grow from seed. Why would you not grow it yourself. It is such a great herb, there is really no excuse. 
I cannot believe for some time that I was buying punnets of spinach seedlings. It is SO SO easy to grow from seed. I will never go back. This is the silverbeet spinach and gets so much use in our kitchen. It is a definite staple in ANY garden and can be very easily grown in a pot.