Last year, I wrote a blog piece about verge gardens and whether it’s safe to have food growing so close to a road. My piece showed that if you take certain precautions, that it should be okay.
So after my research, I decided to strike out and make my own verge garden. I have a corner block and thankfully the long side is on a quiet street. Last year, I decided to move a few things around my backyard. Rather than get rid of my timber planter boxes, I decided to move them onto my nature strip.
I excitedly and busily moved all the soil with the help of some kiddies. I added some compost and planned to extend my vegetable garden.
I then had an idea to get the neighbours involved also. To start a ‘gardening club’ of sorts with my neighbours. There are many families with children around me, so I thought it would be a great chance to get to know neighbours and for my children to meet some children that live close to us.
So I planned two weekends of neighbourhood activity. One week to plant the seeds and the following week to paint the planter boxes. I put together a flyer and went door knocking.
The response: a bit underwhelming!
In the meantime my children were very excited about the ‘Gardening Club’ we were starting in our neighbourhood. On the agreed day, at the agreed time we all started to plant our new garden. Unfortunately with the exception of one of my immediate neighbours, no other neighbours came to help us plant our new vegetables. My children were a little disappointed, but we got together and planted some lovely things: carrots, flowers, chillies, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, lemongrass, parsley, sage and so on.
In the immediate time after the planting, I did get a few ‘looks’ from passers by. A verge garden is not a common sight in my part of Sydney, but I think most have gotten used to it. I’ve even managed to share some of the produce with a few neighbours, which they’ve loved.
So, some tips for a verge garden:
Dial before you dig http://www.1100.com.au/: you should call this free service to make sure there are no utilities or any issues where you decide to make your garden;
Have raised beds;
Talk to neigbbours before planting and see whether they’d like to be part of the planning. Even though I provided all free plants, seeds and compost, my neighbours weren’t engaged, but your might be;
Plant some flowers too to make it pretty and attractive and attract pollinators like bees; and
Okay, so my husband tells me I’ve gone on about this a little too much, but I have to say, I am super chuffed with my self-seeded tomatoes. They chose their spot next to the olive tree and I’ve let them go like a good mum with a little support and just look at the fruit they’ve borne me! this is just in one day
It’s that time of year again. Time has flown and it’s Christmas gift time. As usual, I am going with the theme of my children making gifts for family. This teaches them to look beyond the commercialisation of this time of year, and to express their love for family by transforming regular household items into items of beauty that I’m sure their family will treasure.
The last few years we’ve made edible goods. This year I decided to do something different. One day when I was looking at old jars, I decided to start collecting them to upcycle them by reusing them rather than recycling them. This started my plan many months ago to make terrariums for family members using old jars.
A terrarium is essentially a jar with a plant growing inside it. It can either have a lid and be sealed, or it could be open. Those with lids create a mini ecosystem in that evaporation forms condensation which ends up watering the plant. Many plants can be planted in a terrarium, from decorative plants, to succulents.
As I was using reused glass jars, I decided to have an open terrarium and use existing succulents I had around my garden.
So how to get started and what do you need?
Old jars, cleaned
Soil – preferably one for bonsai or cacti as they have good draining qualities
Horticultural / activated charcoal
Place the pebbles at the bottom of the jar to about 2 cm. This helps with drainage and to keep your plants healthy.
I added some extra coloured pebbles and going with the Christmas theme, I had green, red and silver.
I cut a small bit of cloth (I used an old reusable cloth bag) and put over the pebbles before adding the soil layer because I didn’t want the layers to mix much.
I added some activated charcoal then the soil. The activated charcoal acts to keep your terrarium fresh and stops any bad odours. Pat the soil down to prevent air bubbles.
I then added my plants. As my jars were small, I only used 1 to 2 plants per jar. I added some more decorative pebbles on top and viola – done!
The terrarium needs to be lightly watered through a sprayer about once a week, so it should be low maintenance.
My children were involved in all aspects of this activity, from choosing the colours and order of the layers, to selecting the plants to the actual plants. I know that they’re going to be so proud to give this to their family.
There are a lot of videos on how to make these and I share a few with you below:
I had this old wheelbarrow and its tyre became flat. I couldn’t figure out how to pump it and after taking it back to the store I bought it from to see how I could get a new wheel, I was told it was easier to get a new wheelbarrow. Rather than throw it out, I decided to upcycle it into a mobile garden with the help of my kids. The great thing about having a mobile garden is that you can move it to suit your needs. For example, there are places in my garden that are very shaded in winter and other areas that would be too hot in summer. I can use the wheelbarrow to move the garden to suit the season.
This became one of our projects during the school holidays. First we painted it – they chose all the colours and actively painted the wheelbarrow with little assistance from me.
We then visited a gardening store where each child got to choose a vegetable and a flower to plant in the wheelbarrow. They chose some interesting ones: cabbage and cauliflower and some regular ones like carrot and strawberries. I planted some Chinese greens too because they’re fast growing. It is only when you have your own garden that you realise the effort and time it takes to grow food. So I think one of the positives about growing food with children is to teach them patience. In spite of this, the fast growing and not likely to fail Chinese greens were also planted to keep the kids interested.
The beauty of this activity is that the kids were involved in the whole process. They were so excited to choose the colours and to paint it and then again to choose their own flowers and vegetables to plant. The flowers as well as attracting bees, were planted because they add colour and are pretty.
They’ve really loved this activity and have taken great pride in it. My daughter almost daily visits her strawberries and counts them. After we harvested the Chinese greens, I had my son help to cook it up and we had it for dinner. So another benefit is that they’re getting healthy eating habits too.
I understand that not everyone has a house or access to space to grow food. Many schools have gardening clubs, so kids can become involved there. At home, it’s possible to grow some herbs in the kitchen, or if you have a common area, you can help to start a verge garden or community garden of sorts. Many edible plants grow really well in pots on balconies. You can even make a mini greenhouse using an old plastic soft drink bottle. I think the important thing is to be creative. Look at what resources you have and start a project today!
One of the benefits of my house is that I have a corner block and thankfully the longer side of my block is in a quiet street. The bad thing obviously is how much mowing we have to do! Last year I took a cutting from my large frangipani tree and eventually this ended up on our nature strip (verge). This year I planted a Mulberry tree in my house, but unfortunately I didn’t choose the best location. Rather than remove the tree altogether, I’m going to try and move it to my nature strip.
I’m not sure if I’m really allowed to do all of this. My Council is not one of those Councils that encourages verge gardens. In fact, my Council strongly discourages this. Not all Councils are like mine however. Some like Marrickville and City of Sydney Council are actively encouraging residents to plant and maintain verge gardens.
A friend recently shared this video of the City of Vancouver and its verge garden revolution. However planting trees is one thing, planting vegetables quite another. When I first saw this video I liked the story behind it, but then thought ‘hey having vegetables grown so close to the road and encouraging their consumption – is that good?’ so I decided to find out.
My initial reaction really had to do with fumes from cars and run off from the road and houses entering the soil and thereby being taken in by the plant. Was this safe? Well after much searching, I may have found the answer.
Lead is one chemical that can have significant health impacts to humans, especially children. Exposure to lead can lead to brain damage and impaired intellectual development. In Australia lead was prevalent in houses (paints) and petrol. But its use in petrol was phased out from 1993 and in paints from the 1970s. Therefore, as most of the toxic issues related to verge gardens would be related to lead poisoning, that’s a good thing.
But that’s not the end of the lead story. Lead would not only be found in the soil on your verge, it would also be found in ordinary homes such as mine. Depending on the age of your house, if lead is likely to be found in paint work, it may be best to leave it alone. Similar to asbestos, if lead is left intact it is not likely to cause harm. It will cause harm if you damage it and disturb it so as to create dust. If this dust is inhaled, touched or let to settle on soil, that’s when problems may start to arise, particularly for areas where food may be grown.
A study by Macquarie University found that children were most at risk in that they absorbed more lead than adults. The study also found some plants absorb more of this toxin and then pass it onto people than others. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and silverbeet were the worst offenders (sources: 1, 2 & 3).
While all of this may seem scary, there are ways to address this. Firstly, it is very important to test your soil before growing any food. Another way to address this is to have raised garden beds which is what I’ve done.
Apart from the toxins issue, those opposed to verge gardens may cite safety issues which are perfectly valid. These really have to do with the maintenance of the plants planted to ensure they don’t impact people’s ability to use footpaths and to ensure they don’t obstruct visibility for motorists. These issues are easily addressed however by having a set of guidelines in place for those that want to plant on their nature strip.
Other management issues with verge gardens include the application of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers running off into the stormwater system and ending up in creeks and other water bodies. Again, this is where having a good set of guidelines that encourage organic gardening techniques would come in handy.
So with my health concerns related to verge gardens allayed, I hope to see more people participating in gardening. Participating in local urban farming whether through a verge garden or a community garden can only be good.
To find out whether you are allowed to plant a verge garden, contact your local Council and read the City of Sydney guidelines.
You can also contact your local Council to see if there are any local community gardens that you can participate in. You can also check out this website: http://communitygarden.org.au/
Also, the presenter of one of the shows that I really enjoy watching is a big advocate of verge gardens. You can also check out Gardening Australia’s take on this through this LINK. There are loads of videos in the 2012 archives.
Let me know
If you already participate in a verge garden or a community garden, let me know your thoughts and share your story and pictures. I’d love to hear from you!
When I returned from the UAE to live in Sydney my avocado trees were sticks. After three years finally – some avocados! Then, some just over a year ago, I planted a lone apple tree in my house not really expecting it to bare fruit because you’re supposed to plant at least two for cross fertilization. But yay a few apples, albeit small apples. Still it feels great to grow and eat my own fruit and vegetables in a suburb of Sydney! Enjoy.
I just wanted to share some pics from my garden. This year after several years, I’ve been able to plant and harvest summer vegetables. Also, my worm farm has been going gangbusters, so has been providing me with plenty of worm juice and worm castings which my plants seem to like.
Over the last year I have been growing vegetables. Last summer I enjoyed zucchinis, tomatoes, spinach and all sorts of other goodies. During winter I enjoyed Kale, carrots and snowpeas. So I’ve been looking forward all winter to spring when I can start to plant my summer vegetables. After preparing my vegetable beds and finally adding my compost (which I’ve had ‘brewing’ for many many months), I thought I would grow my seedlings to then plant into the garden beds.
This is when things started to take a downward turn. I feel that as well as sharing my successes, that I have to share my failures too.
I had seen something in my organic gardening magazine about using toilet rolls to plants seeds into. The idea is that once the seeds have grown into seedlings that you could plant the whole thing and that over time the toilet roll would break down.
This idea had me excited. This was a great reuse idea and an upcycling one at that. I could reduce waste to landfill and grow my vegetables organically!
For months I saved toilet rolls and the odd biodegradable takeaway coffee cups. When the time came, I cut each toilet roll in half and created bases for them. I happily planted my seeds into them. I placed them in a sunny spot and watered them regularly. I waited and waited….weeks went by….oooh a corn seedling …..ahh no more…..nothing……seedling died…..hmmmm, nothing grew!
I have thought about why this was such a dismal failure. There are a number of potential reasons:
• The rolls were in a very sunny spot – maybe it was too hot. Certainly the soil seemed to be quite dry a lot of the time;
• Spring seems to have skipped Sydney this year altogether and we are straight into very high summer temperatures. Maybe it was too hot for the seedlings to grow;
• My seeds are from last year – maybe they are not so ‘fertile’ as they have been in a cupboard for a year;
• Maybe there were chemicals in the toilet rolls that didn’t allow the seeds to grown.
Perhaps if you are willing to undertake this experiment, I would love to hear how you went.
For now, I decided to plant some seeds directly into the soil. Let’s see how I go….
Over the last few months, my vegetables have been like my children. They are my babies. Sometimes they bring me joy and sometimes frustrate me. I go out every day and check on them. How are they doing? do they have enough water? do they need more fertiliser? more garlic chili spray? I haven’t named them yet, but have been close! I doubt I am unique in this regard.
A few weeks ago some friends came over for ‘high tea’ at my place and where once these girlfriends and I may have talked about boys, men, sex, politics and philosophy, this time we talked about our children and our vegetable gardens. What we planted, what worked and what didn’t. How things have changed!
As the last post showed, I went bananas with my planting and have been going organic, hence no pesticides.
So what have been my successes?
Tomatoes – they are going really well – a little too well to be precise. I had planted the seeds and waited until they were seedlings before putting in the planter boxes. The problem is that the ballpoint pen I used rubbed off – so in the end I didn’t know exactly what I put in the planter box. All tomato seedlings looked the same to me, so I put them all in and now they are taking over the planter box, but they are doing really well. Lots and lots of cherry, Roma and normal tomatoes growing.
Squash – My little yellow squash are also growing fairly well.
Zucchini – My zucchini is going gangbusters – so much in fact that it is crowding out everything else. I didn’t know that Zucchini plants would grow so large.
Turnips – initially did okay, but now, not so much. Maybe it is too hot right now for them. I’ll try again soon.
The so so list:
Pumpkin, Okra, Cucumber, Lettuce, rocket – they are being eaten too rapidly by caterpillars…Chilies, and Capsicum.
The following crops have been an absolute failure!
Eggplant, Beetroot, carrots, shallots, onion, snow peas! I thought it would be really easy to grow snow peas, but they all shrivelled up and died 😦
Beans – I thoughts my beans would go great, but not so.
My herbs – total failure. No matter how many times I planted basil, they never took hold. Neither with the oregano, nor my parsley.
I have learnt a few lessons though which I will share:
Don’t plant everything under the sun. I tried to think in my head of all the vegetables that I eat and tried to plant those. It is too much and thus many of the seedlings never took hold.
Plant less quantities of seedlings. Because I lost track of what I did and did not have due to my bad disappearing pen incident, I planted too many seedlings. Now that I know how big some plants get, next year, I will only plant 2 zucchini plants and 2 tomato plants.
Cover my herbs with chicken wire. I am sure the culprits of my failure are the possums that frequent my house!
While I am disappointed with some of my crops, I am pretty excited to be eating from my garden and teaching my kids about where food comes from. Do you have any successes to share?
You can tell when my husband has gone grocery shopping – home brand things everywhere. When I shop, I try and include some organic vegetables and fruits and other produce in the mix. I’m not sure why my husband ignores the good example I try to set. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. That I should be happy that doing the grocery shopping is one of the only chores he does.
I always thought that when back in Sydney, I would try and buy more organic things and I have tried to do that to a degree. I generally find it okay when something is even double the price of non-organic, but when potatoes and onions cost more than twice as much as standard ones, I do baulk and go for the non-organic variety.
I suppose first I should really state why I am bothering at all. For me personally, I believe that there would be health benefits to eating organic. Whether they have been scientifically proven or not, I don’t care about. I can see how eating organic is going to be worse. Also, I went to a compsting workshop organised by my local Council where the presenter (Peter Rutherford) made a convincing argument about the acidification of our bodies, which can lead to many ailments including cancer and the fact that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were contributing towards this.
Then there are the many environmental benefits in reducing or eliminating pesticide and synthetic fertilizer application on a wide scale: to the air we breathe, to the water that we drink, to the soil that sustains us and the diversity of life (biodiversity). Having said that, I like many have budget constraints. I know many people that are very ‘pro’ organic will always argue that in the past people were used to spending more of our pay packet (as a proportion) on food compared to now. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that I have a lot of bills and if there are cheap ‘home brand’ alternatives, then it can be hard to resist saving money on food.
So what should I do? Maybe concentrate on foods that have been found to have a higher percentage of pesticide residues, so as to focus my ‘buy organic’ efforts. What are these foods?
Apples are the worst culprits – thankfully the Coles organic apples are not too expensive, so I buy those;
Celery – quite a lot more expensive, so I haven’t bought organic yet;
Strawberries – hard to find in local supermarkets or fruit shops;
A lot of the fruit and vegetables on the ‘bad’ list are hard for me to find, unless I go searching for an organic shop and there aren’t any in my local area.
So this summer, as I have been a working bee in my garden, I decided to establish my own organic vegetable haven! Firstly I observed over winter, where in my garden gets sun and one of the main areas was by the fence between my neighbor and I in my backyard. So I moved some plants I had recently planted and bought some planter beds from Bunnings (a local hardware store). They were not super cheap and are not so great in quality, but being hard pressed for time as I am, I bought them anyway. I bought six (two were from Aldi, which were much better in quality) 1.2m x 1.2 m wooden boxes.
I then bought some soil from Bexley Sand and Soil Company. It is supposed to have been accredited to Australian Standard 4419, but when I got the soil it was full of contaminants like plastic, glass and other organic waste. Obviously this soil is made from waste management companies and while theoretically I support this, the sight of plastic and other goodies did not fill my heart with joy. I had however bought too much soil, so had to use it all anyway and decided that I would add organic fertilizer like ‘Blood and Bone’, worm castings and worm juice from my worm farm to improve its productivity.
I also did my research about companion planting (where you plant vegetables and fruit that like to be near each other – like tomatoes and basil – to ward off insects and other nasties), so I had all my garden beds planned out! For more information on plants that like to be near each other – go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants
So with my garden beds filled, the fun part began. Rather than buy small vegetable plants from nurseries, I decided to grow my own from seed and not any seed – organic seeds. I went online to Eden Seeds http://www.edenseeds.com.au/content/default.asp and went shopping!
Shopping online is so easy and I have to admit I kind of went nuts – I bought so many seeds and in hindsight – too many. I bought different varieties of some vegetables, rather than one. I just couldn’t wait to get them in the ground.
Here is my list: marigolds, Nasturtium, okra, radish, Greek Oregano, Egyptian beetroot, little finger carrots, Carrots all seasons, cayenne peppers, Californian wanderer capsicum, white Lisbon shallots, Lebanese Zucchini, black zucchini, Waltham butternut pumpkin, sweet corn, button squash, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Swede turnips, silverbeet, Lebanese cucumber, snowpea Oregon, beans, eggplant, coriander, cilantro, dill, leek, English spinach, Onion Gladalan, Red onion, iceberg lettuce, rocket, Cos lettuce, asparagus, lettuce lollo rosso, parsley, basil….phew! I know! That was a few hundred dollars worth of seeds alone.
What is my planter box ‘map’? in each box I have planted some marigold and nasturtium and the following:
Box 1: tomatoes, basil, capsicum, chillies, squash and snow peas;
Box 2: corn, beans, cucumbers and Lebanese zucchini;
Box 3: Black zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant and okra;
In other pots I then planted seeds for my herbs. I also bought some strawberry plants and blueberries.
Now my house probably sounds like a garden of eden brimming with fruit…well I am having some successes and failures, which I’ll talk more about in my next post…until next time – happy gardening – hopefully organically!