Easier Edible Growing

February 2019, Environment Centre, Hastings 
By Anna Soutar

Have you been to the Environment Centre? It’s on one of the busiest access streets in Hastings, Karamu Road. It doesn’t seem to be open for business often, and once inside the interior context is more office than shop, but Good Things Happen Here.

The seminar room that doubles as a teaching space is just the right size for the 30 or so of us who arrive for a series of gardening presentations over February, dubbed by tutor Rachel Knight as “bite-sized workshops”.

‘Bite’ is right because we are interested in the edible side of gardening, and these sessions with Rachel are eminently practical and proven. She has brought in many of the implements she uses, tidy but still with signs of her garden, tide marks, earthy smudges, and things she admits are a few of her errors. Things she cannot take out of her garden (because of the job they are doing) or are too big to transport she shows on a screen from pictures of the real devices she uses.

Her first words, and a theme she returns to, is to enjoy gardening. She does herself, and she transmits an enjoyment of the difficulties, then the process of solution, and at last her delight in the solution which works. At that point, she is inclined to frown and wonder what other problem she might solve while she is winning. I saw that at the second of her workshops, when she had harvested a crop of handsome carrots and her remark looking at them was quite modest.

In late-summer we are bent down under the weight of fruit harvest, prunings, end-of-life strawberries and potatoes. The timing is just right for this group. We have come to Rachel at the planning and start of the process. We are thinking ahead to the next round of the challenge.

The workshop on Portable Shade and Shelter started with questions: how many people ate something grown in their garden today?  All hands shot up (well, I had nipped some strawberries off my vines for breakfast) and there was definite interest from everybody when our tutor started showing us every-day found materials she had re-purposed to use in her garden. And no interest in flowers – this is a lady who eats what she grows. I wonder if she has the same interest in cooking? I wonder …

But it was in the closing moments that the room came alive, as people commented to each other about different gauges of netting, how to use concrete reinforcing steel bent to construct growing environments, what worked and what didn’t against pet rabbits – I liked the notion that if rabbits had no interest in the luscious lettuce they wouldn’t burrow  under the fence of a seedling patch. Not the determined pet ones I have known.

We learned about bottomless buckets, hydroponic arches, hose pipe hoops, heat pads from old dogs, or brewing – just right for seed boxes, and the umpteen ways to apply nets and shade cloths.

Obviously the right audience, the right topic, given the chatter that erupted the moment the finish was signalled.

The second workshop on Self-Watering Containers (the plants do their own watering? This I must see) attracted another good crowd on a muggy, hot, airless day—I should have brought my own water…

It was when someone used the Word We All Know Not to Mention: CHLORINATION, that the room really rumbled. But that is a subject for another time, despite everybody agreeing that chlorine represses bacteria, a synonym for living plants. Ehem.

Basically, self-watering is about ways to construct individual “water tables” for a few plants at a time, but big enough for small trees or a domestic crop of vegetables. The intention is to enclose the plants in a container to which you have attached another container, with a periscope for water down, together with wicks for water up.

Rachel bounced around with happy energy to share these ways and means. The carrots were most attractively straight and carroty – more than any I’ve ever grown. I was sold.

The Chinese have a ‘bent bed’. You can buy a store-bought version if you don’t already have the bits and pieces – it costs $100 at the Warehouse. She had emptied one of her set-ups to bring in and show us – what sacrifice! There it was, the old rubbish bin, the supporting pots filled with gravel or soil, the roof balancing on top, the wick sunk into the bin, the earth and mulch on top, and the icing on the top: the vege seedlings.

But it’s February. Just the right time to sow carrot and silver beet seed for October harvesting. Or you could use a polystyrene fish tray for strawberries with a false bottom…

The Environment Centre is all about sharing ideas and generating new ones. It’s worth popping in, to browse among useful things and find new purpose for the useless, to discover terrific innovations like the ‘wicking bed’ (described above), or to find out about their upcoming workshops.


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