We have just passed the Equinox, the tipping point in our seasonal calendar when day and night are of equal length. For now, each new day is longer until we reach the longest day of the year at Summer Solistice on December 21st, 2016.
In the weeks leading up to the Equinox, there was a sudden change for the APPS teachers, students and the avian community who were all trying to adapt to a new school rule. All food to be consumed in the classroom under supervision before children go outside to play. The rule change had an immediate effect.
Virtually overnight litter disappeared. The seagulls and pigeons were left wondering just what did happen just now. Their territory, the school grounds were devoid of food day after day while hundreds of children played in the grounds. The avians know about the regular holidays throughout the year when there are no children and pickings are slim but students always return and there is food aplenty yet again. The current state of affairs was extraordinary. The children were there but where was the food? Gone were the opportunities for swooping seagulls to bicker over unattended lunches and no tasty leftover morsels either for the tribe of pigeons who scoped the grounds from the rooftop gutters. As a consequence, it seems some avians were very grumpy.
I realised it must be so one day in paradise when I offered the newly friendly currawong juvenile a small meal of grubs just as three pigeons walked around the corner and down the main pathway. Nothing unusual about that except this time one of the pigeons completely lost its cool when it saw Currawong receiving grubs and even though pigeons don't eat grubs it was determined to not allow Currawong anywhere near the grubs. I gave the pigeon a shoo shoo but it ignored the message. What a bully bird! I chased it waving my arms. It stubbornly flew in tignt circles just out of reach but would not fly away. Stalemate.
Its companions and Currawong were in suspended animation staring at us, no doubt wondering what would happen next. With a flash I picked up and threw a pebble stone at pigeon and lo and behold much to my surprise hit poor pigeon bird on its butt. There was a squeal and a little jump. Oooo! Owwwch! I could see it dropped some tail feathers. Whoa! That was a game changer.
Currawong sauntered back to his grubs and the pigeons turned their backs and studiously got on with their business looking here and there for things to eat. Pigeons do take liberties. Have you ever seen a group of them walking into the hall for a look around when they think there is no one about? Even so, I did feel sorry that pigeon would be growing a new batch of tail feathers for quite some time.
My apologies for not having a really great pic of currawong - still a rather shy bird when it comes to cameras.
From your edible gardener,
"Springtime is almost here. Daylight hours are lengthening and some days, thankfully are warmer."
So we have pigeons kissing and doves canoodling. Adolescent magpie males fighting each other, eager to impress female peers with their prowess. Feisty magpie larks giving lip. (aka mudlarks - they make their nests with mud)
I have to say I am astounded by the change in magpie lark behaviour. Twenty years ago, city mudlarks were quick to spot a human taking an interest in their person and they would get very nervous, stop what they were doing and instantly make themselves scarce. They were painfully shy but nowadays, they are in Swanson Street competing with the pigeons, mighty quick to take offence and not at all shy in making their displeasures known. The mudlark has adapted to nearly all environments across our great Australian continent. How very clever and enterprising.
Our own paradise mudlark pair are really very shrill at present and clearly not in the mood to tolerate transgressions from pigeons, noisy miners and the recently arrived currawong family.
Very soon the feathered ones will be collecting materials for nests. Can you imagine what they might prize? Would you believe bubble wrap is much sought after by some? Can you guess why?
All the APPS fruit trees pruned. Early August is the right time to prune fruit trees. Before they wake from their winter slumber, take note of bare branches and gather their energies to array themselves with abundant bright green leaves to process light into energy for their master plan of producing fruit.
You might remember when the apple trees were moved out of the paradise garden in April last year and relocated to what is now the paradise orchard corridor. The apple trees had a hard time adapting and only made a few apples during the summer of 2015 for the 2016 autumn.
However, what a surprise to discover baby apple trees sprouting in the paradise garden from apple tree roots left behind. Of course, they could not stay in the veggie garden space so it was wonderful that art teacher Chris was happy to dig them out in the early winter and take them home and plant them in his garden. Thank you lifesaver Chris.
Similarly, if anyone is willing to provide a good home for one or two orange trees, please let me know.
Finally, a big question mark - does anyone know why some Pop Up Park planters have been disturbed?
There is a lot of digging that is needed in the APPS garden at the moment but the recently dug planters in PUP did not need to be disturbed and they look unsightly as a result of the activity. If anyone is eager to dig in the garden please ask where and how it would be most helpful and appreciated. Gardens have many secrets. It is very easy to disrupt important cyclic processes in the garden without realising you are doing so.
On behalf of the APPS edible garden,
THE CURRAWONG TALE
A Tale of Tree Roots, Grubs and Currawongs.
September 2013: There were two, without a base planter boxes growing edibles, herbs and flowers in paradise when I volunteer at APPS. Pathways of brick and stone are fashioned and in between are places for even more edibles to grow.
June 2016: By the pineapple sage plant, nestled in the lee of an original planter box, a multitude of fine white roots are exposed. Further excavation and thickish roots appear from the box corner. The box needs digging. For months now, those boxed edibles always needed watering and still struggled.
Beneath the fine top soil layer, at a depth of 5 cms is a mat of fine white roots. Deeper down are many larger roots and lo and behold grubs at all different stages of development. Tiny ones, medium sized ones and the odd, truly massive individual. The grubs, they eat roots.
I showed my collection of grubs to Andrea who became excited. She wanted to deliver them to Grade 1 students for examination. They went with my blessing.
I kept digging and removing dry, grey soil. The grubs are on an upturned rubbish bin lid when a spectator arrives. The juvenile grey currawong is patient and watches me dig. I suspect he likes grubs. When the grubs land on the concrete path, powerul wings beat as the juvenile swoops down to eat them all. Bright yellow eyes look at me. Up and away on wings but only to return as soon as can be with an adult. Grubs are good. A human who knows.
Deep in the box, the scent of eucalyptus when the strongest and thickest roots are pulled out. I look at the surrounding eucalypts by the hall and on the verge. The trees were savvy, sensing nutrient and water, they invaded to secure the resource for themselves.
In gardens, there are many such secretive, interactive webs havng a life.
Your APPS edible gardener,
WINTER IN THE GARDEN
The APPS gardens look empty and stark but contain secrets.
In five tall, skinny planter boxes, beneath a rubble of stalks and a straw doona, the Jerusalem artichokes are being stored for this term's cooking sessions.
The choko has baby sprouts with tendrils. The chopped up vine, with a dusting of manure is gathering worms in paradise. Chokos are harvested.
The sprawling tomatillo patch in paradise is gone. The harvest was bountiful. Gardening club sessions denuded sticky tomatillos of their papery casings. The fruit was cooked and frozen. Coriander, the perfect accompanient is growing in two spots. The patch has been manured and is now hosting a donation of baby cos lettuce.
Composting activity is gaining momentum. I am collecting the Vincent's cafe compostables once again for the worm farms nestled throughout the paradise garden. The responsibility for collecting the cafe compostables will be handed over to six graders this term. Some locals are supporting the garden with donations for our compost bins and the children are collecting compostables from classrooms. Two compost bins full of degrading coffee grounds from last year are sporting populations of fat worms and both Areobins are now fully functional. We are always processing mature compost in garden club. Removing the worms and relocating them to the newly started compost piles.
Winter set in early this year, well before the June solistice and with regular intervals of rain.
The PUP volunteer tomatillo was pollinated by the paradise bees late in the autumn season. It's little green fruits look as tart as can be. The fading, shrinking plant is racing the cold to endow its seed, the next generation with viability. It harks from Mexico and Melbourne now wet and cold, is currently inhospitable. It is a hardy specimen who didn't receive any extra nutrient. If one of its seeds germinates for the next summer it will be interesting to follow the prowess of the next generation.
Best wishes for Term 3,
Next week: Tree Roots and Grubs.
Your edible gardener,
AUTUMN IN THE GARDEN
I have faith that you all had a great time away from school over the past two weeks.
The equinox, when day and night are equal has passed us by and we are now on our way to the winter solstice when our days are at their shortest.
Autumn is harvest time for many crops. The tomatillos in their rather wild patch in paradise are ripening daily. There are so many this year I have decided to partially cook and freeze them for later use. A few were being munched but luckily on a fossick around the patch this past Sunday I discovered a small colony of very fat slugs hiding in the lee of a worm farm. Those critters will no longer be helping themselves to tomatillos. In the Pop Up Park, a solitary tomatillo plant appeared and grew over the summer. All tomatillo plants are both male and female but need cross pollination to set fruit. I was curious and wondered if the same bees who visit paradise do a tour of the Pop Up Park. It does not appear to be the case because our lone tomatillo has no fruit.
The choko vine on Victoria Ave was under fabric covers during the hottest days of summer but it still became dehydrated leaving many of its leaves and tendrils crisped. The Dejong family and I plied it with water. We never gave up on it but I must admit I was concerned and did fret for it when the hot, desert winds from the north blew across Melbourne. The vine recovered (more than once) and is now showing its gratitude. Chokos are appearing. Yea! I want to plant a new vine along the boundary wall in paradise for next year. In rich, deep soils, it grows to a truly magnificent size. It will appreciate being located near a pile of compost.
The Jerusalem artichoke plants in the FLS had similiar hydration issues during the summer but I am happy to report that they have made it through the flowering stage and will be dying back soon. It is important to maintain hydration over the next six weeks so the plants can consolidate all their energy into plumping up their tubers that are so delicious to eat.
In the Pop Up, the strawberry guava is producing maroon, cherry sized fruit. The darker the colour, the sweeter the fruit. The pepino produced fruit throughout the late spring and summer and it is again looking vigorous, flowering profusely and has set more fruit. The lime and lemon trees were given a new lease on life when composted coffee grounds were recently added to the soil around their roots. They are looking good.
In paradise, the cherry tomatoes are nearly at an end but the Mexican cucumber vines are again flowering and producing their delightful miniature fruit. The strawberry patch was refurbished. The passionfruit vine and all the other plants that have finished producing are being processed into compost. Many varieties of seed are being planted - collards and other winter greens, beetroot, purple podded dutch peas, broad beans, lettuce and the herbs, chervil, chives, coriander and parsley. I see many seedlings popping up of their volition and I watch and wait in anticipation for them to reveal their identities.
The spectacular bishop's hat chilli is adorned with festoons of red chillis. From a distance they look like flowers and are being admired by many of the folk who pass our paradise garden. I have heard some students have presented for first aid with sore, burning mouth and lips but deny helping themselves to the chillis. Attached: chilli image. ( a very difficult subject to photograph but with this view through the fence you can see how pretty the chillis are)
There is more but I will leave it for the next garden news.From your edible gardener,
The very best to you all for this term,
If I can help you in any way, please do call on me.Zlatka
SUMMER IN THE GARDEN
I would like it known that some wonderful people from our community helped to nurture our edible garden over the school holidays and are still doing so.
Thank you Anthony and Sunny Dejong for watering the Victoria Ave crates and the FLS Jerusalem artichokes. When it was very hot at the beginning of January the 'chokes and the choko had to be monitored closely to ensure they didn't dry out. Without the support of Anthony and Sunny, it is very likely I would have been completely frazzled making sure their needs were met.
The choko which was set back by the extreme heat is booming once again. The skinny, tall FLS planters remain susceptible because they do not capture rain very well. The shade mesh around the boxes does help but the days are still long, the sun is strong and they are big, thirsty plants. As they draw close to full maturity, like the choko, their water needs increase. If you see them drooping or their leaves curling please be kind and give them some water so that they can reward us with a bountiful harvest. Every little bit helps.
A big thank you to the Westerbeek-Veld family and in particular to Loes' father Antony Veld for taking on the major task of watering the Pop Up Park. During high summer, it needs a thorough twice a week watering. Not only do the tops of the planters have to be soaked, the internal reservoir must also be filled. Although there is a tap nearby, it is still a major logistical exercise involving multiple hoses.
In the evening, on Monday, February 7th, Loes watered the PUP. Our most spectacular sunflower of the season was there happily being pollinated by bees. Just a few days before, I photographed it because I was so impressed by it’s towering presence. When I came in on Tuesday morning to harvest more seed from it’s parsley neighbour, I discovered our beautiful sunflower had been decapitated and was not anywhere to be seen. What an odd feeling! It is not like you could put it in a vase - it's stem was too short. The seeds wereimmature and it would not have been easy to pry it loose. I am still wondering why....
In addition, also in the PUP, the planter with our lime and lemon trees has been home to some dandelions that just popped up. For the second time this season, someone has denuded the biggest plant of it's leaves and left them sitting in a pile on top of the planter. Very likely, they are unaware that the slightly bitter leaves are more nutritious than silverbeet, good for our livers and make a fine salad in combination with other greens and herbs.
Please do note that not all dandelions are good to eat on a regular basis. If you want these greens for eating, cultivate the ones that have a single flower per stalk just like the ones in our garden. When it was identified as the correct variety, the seeds of the PUP dandelion were collected and planted in paradise. There is now a very healthy specimen in the orchard corridor by the scarlet runner beans and a little sister patch in the main garden.
Throughout these summer holidays, due to the work being done on the oval, I was unable to cross the schoolgrounds with my wheelbarrow. I had to instead go around the perimeter and I learnt pretty quickly that forgetting something was not an option. However, I am sure everyone will agree with me that the new fake grass is wonderful and in paradise it really does look so good. Well worth any inconvenience. Just in case you are wondering what happened to the mulch in the paradise area - the work crew raked it all up into one big pile and I then moved it onto the garden path so that it would not be wasted. I think theskinks in our garden appreciate it.
Finally, a very special thank you indeed to Aziza and Monaim, two generous souls in our community. Just when I need it most, there they are, ready to lend a hand.
If you enjoyed last week's capsicum pilaf - the ingredients were green onions, green peppers and parsley from our garden plus brown rice and sunflower seedswhich had been soaked for 24 hours and celtic salt for seasoning.
Best wishes from your edible gardener,
Best Wishes for 2016,
Have you seen the beautiful passion flowers in paradise?
The passionfruit vine, an old resident lives by the wall, on the town house boundary. It took a liking to the holiday weather this year and grew with abandon, lightly shading the perennial 'bishop's hat' chilli. It was taking nutritional advantage of soil which had been boosted with compost and manure and it remained undaunted when high winds collapsed it somewhat. It continued to happily flower and send off new shoots throughout the cloud garden. It seemed a bit too wild to me and I thought it had reached that tipping point where it's energy needs would be stressing that of it's neighbours - the flowering hyssop, the recently imported mint and the fennel under trial. I removed some of the new shoots. Three weeks later, it is still flowering beautifully but fruit is not forming. It may be that this passionfruit vine is unable to produce fruit as is. Soon, it will become clear if this is the case but in the meantime we do have the opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous flowers.
In the fenced area, the baby amaranths and tomatillos of December are nowflowering and are taller than some of the students. I have increased the size of their patch by digging up some pathways and adding nutrient to the soil. Previously, a beautiful, super large borage was in residence and bees galore were visiting it. You may have noticed it. It turned unsightly after one veryhot spring day last term which compromised its structural integrity. Bees are drawn to borage, they love it and their prescence certainly ensures thepollination of other plants like our scarlet runners which you may recall were also flowering at that time. The borage which does not like it too hot, struggled on and the bees continued to collect its pollen for one more month. Simultaneously, pods appeared on the scarlet runners and they were developing well until a series of scorching days in January stalled the process. Only a small crop of beans reached full maturity and were harvested. However, right now, the three colonies of scarlet runner beans in paradise have recovered from their ordeal and are once again flowering in profusion.
Our strawberries in their patch are enjoying their soil mixture composted from coffee grounds and native leaf litter and are producing strawberries. Also, there are productive strawberry plants located around the base of the apple trees in soil covered with pine bark mulch. Strawberries are natives of the pine forest and thrive in the pine needle mulch that collects on the forest floor. I thought they might like the pine bark mulch.
There is a female blackbird that onsistently forages for worms in our garden and I have been finding the mulch around our fruit trees disturbed and sometimes the roots of those strawberries exposed. I do lay net to protect many of our plants but not all areas are protected. I am mindful that our resident birds are feeding young ones at this time of the year and they need food. So I decided if the strawberries in the patch were left alone, mother blackbird could search for worms around the trees in the orchard corridor. It was a surprise to see some of these plants develop beautifully and produce multiple fruits supporting the common adage that plants under stress will increase their efforts to produce a new generation.
At the fete, seeds from the school garden will be for sale.I do hope you have found this of interest.
Zlatka's reflection - March 27 2015
In the here and now, by the shore of Port Phillip Bay, surrounded by one of Australia’s largest cities an organic, edible garden is growing at Albert Park Primary School.
Passerbys and local residents praise our garden and offer to help.
Nearly everyone here at this, our final assembly for Term 1 appreciates the school garden.
We may be impressed by the beauty of the most beautiful sunflower of the season, the Mexican tomatillos encased in lanterns, the vivid colours of scarlet runner beans and their flowers, the ferociousness of stinging nettle, the miniature world of garden animals or so much more.
Our garden has a lot to offer but not everyone here today knows that this is so. Often, when the holidays arrive, the garden breathes a sigh of relief. Finally, some me time to recover from big balls bouncing into the garden, odd bods running over plant beds, produce inappropriately harvested or even taken for a game. Not only are these destructive behaviours unsustainable, they are also a disappointment for the children and adults who support and want to learn and share in the secret life of our beautiful garden resource.
Food sustains us and like each of us here today, it needs respect. So, everyone, please get on board, choose to learn about the secret life of our school garden and help it to be even better.
If you want to know how, when or why something is done, or why it happens, or how it is used or just what it is – ask me. The garden wants me to share my knowledge.
In turn, I hope you will share that knowledge with others.
Isn’t that how we all grow and sustain ourselves?