Organic Gardening at the Permaforest Trust in Barkers Vale
The trust maintains two main gardens; the commercial garden and the kitchen garden. These are both located on northerly slopes in the top ten “certified organic acres”. The soil is a heavy clay. They are both well fenced to keep out kangaroos and the bandicoots.
There are extensive systems in place for their management.
We worked on the top bed of the commercial garden; a green manure crop of lab lab had begun to flower and now was the time to turn it into the soils to prepare them for garlic which is to be planted in shortly. It was raining very heavily, but after just hearing the importance of sticking to a crop schedule we weren’t going to let that stop us.
We worked three pitchforks until the clay got too much for one of them and slowed our pace to just two.
While someone was turning it in, others with hoes pulled the beds back together. They have a tendency to want to slide down the slope. Terraces have been built in the kitchen garden to stop this and allow the topsoil to build without being washed away.
Once this was done, some dynamic lifter was added in the form of chook poo.
This raised an interesting point of disconnection for me. In the theory classroom we were told that the true store of enduring wealth is in the soil. To then actually go in the field and spread the cheapest, battery hen sourced, uncertified manure around felt a little out of touch.
As with all the things I hear, I pick out the gems, the bits that I know are special and apply them. We faced a similar issue on my own share when we had the opportunity to buy very cheap, high quality compost from the Lismore tip to build up some beds the caveat was that it had plastic through it.
I made the choice then to stick to my gut and not jump at the cheap fixes and lures along the way. We have been building our soils at home slowly, from natural organic, happy and healthy inputs. We know that the food that grows has its foundation that, which to us is priceless.
After the beds were prepared we were shown the irrigation technique used. Three cut dripper pipes are run along the bed and mulched over. The cut faces up so the water spills over the sides. This is attached to a tap so each bed can be watered independently along the main line based on its needs. The new plants need shallow, regular watering. As they reach maturity, less frequent but deeper soaks are needed.
There are several other growth experiments going on at the trust. One that seems very successful is the banana guilds. They are a working model of sustainable companion polycultures. A large hole is dug in the ground.
Around it an arrowroot boarder is planted and banana plants and papayas. The bananas only do one season before suckering off a new baby.
These are all big biomass producers and their output is thrown into the middle where it breaks down into premium, soft, fertile soil. Here you can plant watermelons, pumpkins, warrigal greens or other similar ground crops. After 10 years when the hole is full a fruit tree is planted and thrives.
They form a beautiful protected and lush microclimate.