Thursday, April 3, 2014

School Garden Sub-Committee: What to expect

So you're considering whether you should join a gardening committee? I am a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to gardening, but I find it completely infectious and a brilliant use of time that is worth encouraging others to also try. And this is what has led me into the crazy world of a school gardening sub-committee.

This is my first year on a both a sub-committee and the school governing council, so my learning curb has been a fast and furious one. For me, they have to go hand-in-hand in order to achieve my vision for our local primary school. I want my kids to enjoy gardening and the fun that goes with an outdoors class where they can really see results and then finally enjoy them in cooking class.

Our sub-committee is a combination of garden, kitchen (cooking class) and chickens. We found that was the best mix that works best together. We wanted to include the canteen, but canteen could not envisage how they could feed the children complete regular meals, so canteen decided to partner with fundraising instead. There are so many different combinations to suit every school community.

So here are a few things I have learnt that might help you to make that decision get involved with your local community. We need all the help, drive and vision we can get to make a great future:

How are committees arranged?
Every school or community group will have a different formula for their committees, such as bunching together similar activities that support one another.

Do you have to join the School Governing Council to be on a Sub-Committee?
No, not at all. The only requirement is that the leader or other elected member of the sub-committee must give a presentation to the school governing council at the AGM to explain the vision and achievements of the the sub-group - this includes asking for permission (the biggy - a job I do personally). All members of a sub-committee are not required to attend AGMs, but are expected at all sub-committee meetings.

How are Working Bee days organised?
The principal will call the date during the governing council AGM. The jobs you would like done during the working bee must be submitted to the principal a week before. You need an agreed list from your sub-committee. Every job needs to be assessed for Occupational Health & Safety (it is now a legal requirement).

How are members recruited?
The newsletter is the best place to start, but I also encourage a follow-up flyer to go out to all families/classes with a tear-off form to prompt action. Families that volunteer are the true driving force and we want to give them a voice in their community for a sense of ownership and belonging.

Approach teachers and volunteers that are already in that community, such as the cooking class teacher, the gardening teacher, and any teacher or front office member who is responsible for any animals on the school grounds that contribute to the garden in some form, such as cultivation and manures.

How often should a gardening Sub-Committee meet?
To start the year, there are very frequent meetings so that the garden gets a good start. Once a fortnight is a good guide. An hour is sufficient time for a meeting to last.

In Australia, when school restarts for the year we are in summer, but most of our garden is not planted until autumn. If you think that is a long time, then yes it is, because sub-committees need permission from governing council to achieve their intended goals. There is a lot of back and forth between committees which is the most frustrating part.

Does the Sub-Committee get their own budget?
Yes, there should always be a budget for every sub-committee. If you are unsure that one exists or how much is actually available, make an appointment with the school principal to get that information. The school is responsible for reimbursement of any expenditure that you incur that directly benefits the school physically such as the purchasing of seeds and punnets.

How do I get my money reimbursed from the school?
A school or community group will have the necessary paper work for you to fill out, but you must have receipts for everything you have purchased. Once both the paperwork and receipts have been submitted to front office its a matter of waiting for the cheque to arrive in the mail.

Does the Sub-Committee need to buy everything?
No, not everything. Of course every little bit helps in order to achieve goals that are time based, but many things like the ordering of soil and watering systems will be done by the school principal. They will take what they need from the budget direct to pay for those things. It is worthwhile enquiring regularly how much is left in your sub-committee's budget throughout the year so that you do not exceed it.

Do the members of the sub-committee have to pick-up orders?
Yes and no. Sometimes there are volunteers in the school community who are happy to do the fetch and carry, especially if their car has a tow bar. Many parents have contacts in the wider community that are happy to also donate things to the school like manure, so they would load that onto a trailer themselves and bring that to the school. Delivery trucks are usually costed into the final prices, so not all physical items need to be picked up by volunteers. Volunteers make light work and are such a blessing, though.

What if I don't get enough to do in my Sub-Committee?
Ask, suggest, volunteer. Please don't keep silent. You will often find that the leaders of the group are actually more stressed than what you think, so your presence in the group is warmly welcome. If you think you have the time or talent, please speak up. It will be very much appreciated.

Are minutes taken during Sub-Committee meetings?
Yes, another job you are most welcome to volunteer for.
The minutes taker will need to be quick on the typing up and distribution of the latest meeting minutes, ensuring that they have all the right email addresses. I strongly recommend that you also give a copy to front office reception and ask them to also distribute a hard copy as back up.

A copy MUST go the principal so that they are informed of progress and jobs that need doing.

Please tell reception of the date for the next meeting which should always be the last thing written at the bottom of the minutes. The date for the next meeting should go in the school newsletter.

Make sure that the leader of the sub-committee also books a meeting room on a regular basis.

Do the sub-committee members need to go work with the kids in the garden?
Its not necessary, but school volunteers help make light work and the gardening class so much easier. Work in small groups of only 3-5 children at a time. You also get to make sure that the planting is done correctly, which can be very handy to know. Feedback to the group can be incredibly valuable through your attendance with the children.

In South Australia, you must attend an Abuse and Incident Reporting course and obtain a Police Check (DECS) prior to beginning any volunteer work. Without this clearance you will not be permitted to work directly with children in a volunteer roll within school grounds. The school will pay for your Police Check.

Do we get paid to be on a committee?
Alas, no. But you can add it to your resume!

Its ME!!! At our March 2014 School Garden Working Bee
Well, I hope that has made it a little easier for you to know how your school or community group is likely to be run and just how valuable you can be to them. Volunteers in communities across Australia are really the back bone to driving changes and creating a better future for us all. I encourage you to take the plunge and donate your time. Your gardening passion can be so inspirational.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Date Palm JigSaw

Click on the image below to start the jigsaw.

preview98 pieceDate palm

My date palms have been incredibly fruitful this year. I suspect it may be due to the excessive heatwaves Adelaide endured this year. Aren't they magnificent?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January Garden in Pictures

January 2014 started with a heatwave (40ºC+) peppered with some stunning thunderstorms. We harvested our first dwarf peaches and discovered to our delight that there is a raspberry bush coming up in our yard from our neighbour's property. The rainbow lorikeet birds began to eat the apples from our apple trees so it became very necessary to net the entire two trees.

Adelaide, South Australia

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gardening in the UN's officially hottest city on the Earth

Well, we almost made it. If we had reached 46.1ºC (114.9ºF) on January 16th this year Adelaide (South Australia) would have been a record breaking city on planet Earth. We mercifully only reached 44ºC in the city center but Roseworthy, Freeling and Bethel (little farming communities sandwiched between the Barossa & Clare Valleys) made it over 46ºC. I grew up out there so when the city people and the media start jumping on the bandwagon about breaking records, I have a quiet giggle to myself knowing that us farmers throughout the state have experienced worse far closer 50ºC and we did it often without fancy air conditioning.

All this heat comes at the expense of our gardens and animal welfare. The balancing act is equal to those in the northern hemisphere that have to cope through snow and blizzard conditions. We learn how to cope in the place we are planted and amazingly the garden still exists and bounces back by the time we reach the next season.

Here are some of the ways gardeners throughout Adelaide cope during the hot weather.

Summer Garden Care (Over 32ºC/89ºF)

  • Water slow and deep with drippers or weeper hoses where possible.
  • Water daily but only once a day. (Morning is best. Evening can cause fungal problems.)
  • Only water at the base, never over the foliage to prevent sunburnt leaves.
  • Do not cut off any sunburnt leaves to protect the rest of the plant.
  • Leave the lawn mowing until cooler days come.
  • Hold off from feeding plants during the heat.
  • Ignore the lawn watering where ever possible. Prioritise which plants need watering.
  • Small little new shoots can be removed from trees but do not cut back any significant foliage.
  • Bring inside any potted plants especially large soft leaf plants such as Hydrangeas.
  • Tomatoes will not ripen properly during a heat wave. They will ripen when the temps return to the mid 20s again.
  • Do not write off plants that look badly sunburnt, they are very likely to bounce back to life if cared for with regular deep watering.
  • Use appropriate shade cloth for plants only. Ask your local hardware store for the right % shade cloth for your garden. Do not use decking/veranda shade cloth over plants.
  • Bring your worm farm indoors during a heatwave. (Beware of ants invading)
  • Test your tank water temperature. Do not give your plants or pets warm water.
  • Keep buckets of water in the laundry/bathroom to cool down if hot tanks are a problem.
  • Let the bath water cool down and then bucket out onto the lawn in the evening.

With the highest water rates and electricity rates in the world, Australian gardeners have to be truly resource savvy.

If you can add to this list, we would love to hear your summer gardening tips.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Fruit Salad Plant (Monstera Deliciosa)

Across many Australian, well established backyards there lurks a plant that many do not know is actually a fruit and it tastes amazing. Its commonly known as the Fruit Salad Plant, the botanical name is Monstera Deliciosa.

Not to be confused with the Philodendron. They are easy enough to tell apart as the Monstera Deliciosa has swiss cheese looking leaves. Philodendrons grow up right with a main central stem, whereas Monstera tend to go wide.

We grow so many strange things in our garden and this is one that even my kids like to take along to school as Show 'n' Tell (and a taste test). In many island communities they are sold at their markets as a regular fruit.

The fruit is highly acidic, and needs to ripen fully before eating. Sometimes if eaten a little too early it can feel like lots of pins and needles in your mouth. I'm not kidding. But the more riper the fruit the smoother and lovelier it becomes, and that sharp pin-like sensation mellows away.

The flavour is a strange cross between a pineapple and a banana; thus like fruit salad.

We usually harvest one or two at a time and pop them into a brown paper bag and leave them in the pantry or cupboard to ripen up. You will definitely know when they are ready to eat when your whole pantry has a sweet aroma and the outside pineapple-like scales just fall off. Start to eat where the scales fall away because that will be the sweetest and ripest part.

Usually considered a plant for Tropics, it can grow like crazy in South Australia which is a Mediterranean climate with really hot summers. Our Monstera grows between our house and neighbouring fence and faces morning sun. It seems to thrive on neglect which is great for water conservation.

Picking Tip: When they easily snap off from their base, they are ready to harvest.

So next time you go past a Fruit Salad plant, have a look if you can find any fruit. Look for fruit in Spring and Summer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pruning the Espalier: Next Level

It's that all important time in espalier maintenance when a fruit tree must be pruned to its next level on the frame. The first month of summer can see a real spurt of growth in many fruit trees, most especially in my plums.

When you see how many new branches appear the task can look pretty daunting, but once you get in there you will find the true leaders to brace and the ones to remove.

On the type of frame I have I require two side branches and one central leader to grow up towards the next level.

I have used t-shirt material that has stretch which allows the branches to grow in width without strangling.

The central stem needs to be straightened as much as possible, so a little creative tying may need to be done to ensure that.

Remember to always prune with a clean pair of garden snips.
So easy♥

It's looking good, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Trialling Yates Waterwise Drought Shield Spray

I finally have one...yes one...very healthy, bushy green and flowering hydrangea. It is a big achievement for me as every hydrangea I have ever grown has never survived the harsh summers in my Adelaide suburban garden.

Hydrangeas is my part of Adelaide need to potted and never directly planted straight into the garden, so that they can be moved on extreme weather days. The Adelaide Hills provides a completely different environment altogether, and can be easily planted out permanently in the garden.

I normally move delicate pot plants such as hydrangeas inside on very hot days, but there are times when I under estimate the suns intensity on slightly less hot days. And that's when plant sun burn can strike!

So this month I am trialling a product from Yates called Waterwise Drought Shield ($9.95 at Bunnings) to help me through this summer.

Drought Shield also helps to protect against light frosts. Yates recommends that plants be sprayed in early autumn for best protection against frost, and reapplied every 30 days until the risk of frost has passed.

Yates Waterwise Drought Shield claims to protect plants from heat, water loss, drying winds, frost and transplant shock.

Yates does warning that some plants such as bromeliads and ferns may be sensitive to the spray, so always do a test spot on a leaf first and inspect the next day to see if it is suitable for your plants.

I shall be keeping a keen eye on my plants this season to see how good Drought Shield performs.

UPDATE February 2014

Two and a half months later, did the Yates Waterwise Drought Shield work?

As you know I was trying this product out on two hydrangea plants at different ages.

The older one definitely responded well and coped through the hotter days although not unscathed. There were some leaves with burns, but it is now starting to bloom again and that is in a strong heat wave. I have moved it in doors on the days that are above 35ºC. I still take my precautions. But the bounce-back rate on those hotter days have really improved dramatically.

The younger hydrangea unfortunately did not like the Drought Shield and died. But the packaging instructions do warn that not all plants will tolerate the spray, the younger plants in particular.

Here's my survivor. She is ready to show her next blooms!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Amazing insect life in my garden

I challenged myself this Spring to see if my new planting arrangements and soil conditioning had changed what bug life was coming into my garden. I wanted to attract the beneficial bugs to eat up the other invaders that I suffer with every year.

The good news is that the aphids are fully under control thanks to the small wasps and hover flies. You know when they have been busy because they leave aphid mummies behind on the leaf.

The hover flies have been particularly active this year and in higher numbers. They seem to be particularly attracted to the German Camomile flowers which are a new addition this year.

I have been trying to restrain myself this year from squashing the aphids with my fingers just to see if the beneficial bugs are doing their job. Yes, they are!  My patience has paid off.

I did discover a good number of ladybugs especially in amongst the agapanthus, in the jasmin tree and on the clothes on the washing line. Never in heavy numbers, just regular sightings that seems to be up since last year.

There are good and bad ladybugs. So from my own observations I believe that they have all been excellent and most welcome in my garden. The colours have varied between the red and orange/yellow varieties. The more yellower variety of ladybug will feed on mildew fungus. That's a bonus!

Bees are especially welcome to my garden. The sunflowers and broad beans have been keeping the visiting bees very happy!

The blow flies have been particularly bad this year, but many people I know far and wide throughout South Australia are reporting the same thing at the moment.

Moths are also on the increase with the more spectacular larger moths with the 'eyes' on their wings coming into my garden for the first time ever. The moths and butterflies really seem attracted to the calendula flowers, which are also new to my garden this year.

There are also plenty more insects that I cannot identify as yet, but I know that they are really enjoying their home amongst the new flowers beneath the plum espalier.

What is the benefit of Beneficial Bugs?

Less sprays, less chemicals, let nature balance the garden. Whenever any bug or insect population gets out of of hand then there is a missing predator that should be there. A good mix of plants promotes a good relationship between the mini beasts, providing a habitat and food source. Overall, its money saving and environmentally sound.

Bugs are welcome...within moderation. :)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How To Pollinate Dragon Fruit

Our one and only Dragon Fruit is growing really well. But having never seen any flowers on it I was wondering how it would ever develop fruit.

I'm glad I came across this Dragon Fruit pollination video on YouTube, as it could also mean that I may need another 'tree' as a pollinator. Fingers-crossed that our 'tree' is a self-pollinator. I can't wait for the first flower.

Did you know that the best time to hand-pollinate a Dragon Fruit is between 10pm and 11pm?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The 3 Principles of Gardening

Glut and famine can be found in a most vegetable gardens; some things grow rather too well while others get eaten by cabbage moth caterpillars, go straight to seed or suffer disease and produce very little for the amount of water and fertilizer spent on it. Suddenly the time and money spent becomes a real weight as to whether its worthwhile continuing a garden. So a solution is needed.

My veggie garden is undergoing a very quiet time this season as I am reassessing what I should REALLY plant.

I found that I can grow some plants very easily so I need to reduce those plantings and stagger their plantings. But I also discovered that it was cheaper to buy some veggies rather than to attempt to plant them and fight their disease, water and fertilizer issues. Its a matter of balance.

Having looked at my soil in the planter boxes and ground level garden beds, I want to get the mix right. I brought in some organic loamy soil by the trailer full to refresh the ground level garden beds, followed by a planting of rocket to fight the nematodes in other parts of the garden.

I currently have test crops in to see how well the loamy soil performs, such as the Broad Beans, Curly Kale, Garlic, and heirloom Chard.

As comparison, I have planted some other crops in the older soil to see if they will perform equally. Then I can make a really informed soil choice. I'm sure it will all be worth the test and measure for the longevity of my garden and its productivity.

Here's the basic principle every gardener should use when planning a garden...

3 Principles of Gardening
  1. Shelf Life - Whatever stores well
  2. Availability - What you don't normally see in the shops
  3. Price - What is too expensive to buy

Shelf Life

Root vegetables, pumpkins and anything you like to jam, dry, preserve or freeze.
Note: Potatoes cannot be frozen

'How fast will you eat what you grow?' is a good guide, too.


Broad Beans and many other bean varieties are usually very rare amongst the shops in a fresh form, that is because they really need to be eaten at harvest time.

If it is hard to get your favourite fruit and vegetables in your area then they are the ones you should grow.

Stone fruit and tomatoes have much more flavour when picked from your own garden and allowed to ripen in a cool dark place in your house. They far exceed what you can buy from the shop when it comes to flavour and smell. So even though that are readily available, the smell and flavour may not be there, that is why they fall into the Availability category.


Avocado prices can be extraordinarily high at times, so growing your own may work out to be much more affordable.

Dollar to kilogram ratio ($/Kg), herbs are by far the most expensive. They store well when dried so they also fall into the Shelf Life category.

Follow these 3 principles of gardening and you will find you have a more balanced way of gardening that is sustainable and rewarding.