The Council has just published its draft Recreational and Open Space Strategy for public consultation. The document is 190 pages long and verges on the impenetrable. There may be a strategy for recreational and open space somewhere in the document but who can tell? It is a document that has been written entirely for the convenience of the writer. Our Council needs to sharpen up its expectations of the quality its consultants’ reports.
What can be discerned from a wearisome trawl through the 190 pages is a list of our favourite recreational pursuits. It turns out that gardening is number 3. That’s right; gardening is the third most popular recreation and, by the way, recreations include sport. It is odd, therefore, that within the document’s 79 recommended actions there is not a single reference to gardening.
SAGE exists in part, along with the community gardens at Tuross and Narooma, to encourage us to garden. The average family spends, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 16.6% of its weekly income on food. One way of reducing that is to grow your own veggies. Another way is to buy food that has been grown locally; this food is invariably better, fresher and often cheaper because there are fewer transport costs involved. SAGE’s Intern Program is designed to grow the community of local growers and market gardeners. And as you will know if you have read this column before, our current intern is Leanne. She’s busy tilling the soil, growing manure and cultivating her crops.
The last couple of weeks have seen a transformation in Leanne’s vegetables and none of that transformation is due to the miserable rainfall, hardly a measurable amount at the SAGE gardens. Two weeks ago Leanne was digging her patch over with a broadfork and now the fruits of her labours are pushing through. There’s something really satisfying about seeing plants grow, and especially plants that we expect to eat. Where once was a tarpaulin covered patch of ground are now rows of veggies. Leanne says they’re growing so fast that you can practically watch them.
She’s spending a lot of time weeding. Now is the time, she says, to make sure that the young plants can establish themselves. The younger plant doesn’t want to be competing with weeds. Weeding may be tedious but it’s an essential, almost daily, task. But like many tasks, keeping on top of it makes it easier. Kyle Levier (an earlier SAGE intern) of Fulcrum Farm is mentoring Leanne and he is clear about one other important thing: moisture. Plants need water and there has been little enough of that coming from the sky for several weeks now. Leanne says, “we don’t need 1 mm of rain – we need 100 mm”. And that’s because a healthy strong plant needs healthy strong roots. That means deep roots so the moisture in the soil needs to be deep. As Leanne says, “there’s no point just watering and you can’t assess moisture by looking at the ground.” You need to stick your finger well into the soil – or even get a hydrometer.
Growing food is hard work even if does have the benefit of being an outdoor life. It requires planning and continued commitment. So Leanne’s going be spending more time weeding and watering – and possibly doing rain dances. As a result we’re going be eating her beetroot, shallots, radish, coriander, iceberg lettuce, silverbeet and celery next month. That’s not long to go.