Like bees around a hive

LIKE BEES around a hive, people swarm when a workshop in beekeeping is offered.
That was the scene on a Wednesday in early winter when a total of 19 people gathered in Randwick Community Centre’s new classroom on the village green to join Doug Purdie and native bee specialist, Elke Haege for a workshop about our striped friends. Doug operates a small business, The Urban Beehive, producing Sydney urban honey sold by the suburb where his hives are located. There’s something unique about eating Surry Hills honey, The Rocks honey, Lane Cove Honey, Parramatta honey, Marrickville honey and the rest.

Why bees?

Why bees? What is it about these small, buzzing, flying creatures that attracts people?
I can’t account for the recent upsurge in interest in beekeeping. Doug says that the collapse of beekeeping overseas has a lot to do with it, with only the Isle of Man and Australia free of the disease that has decimated the US and other country’s beekeeping industries. My guess is that beekeeping is seen as something more that home and community gardeners can do to increase the food productivity of their gardens. And, as Doug emphasised, a hive of bees in the garden improves the pollination of your garden and that of others, too, for honeybees can travel kilometres to feed.
Those attending the workshop were a female dominated group. There were only three men. This can partly be put down to it being a work day, however the gender breakup is typical of other workshops and courses at the Sustainability Hub (as the community education component at Randwick Community Centre is known), including those offered on weekends. Ideas on why this is so have been offered, however there has been no really convincing explanation. It is not really a problem as I see it, believing that those who turn up are the right people. The age range at the workshop was late twenties to seventies, typical, again, of attendance at other workshops and courses.


Doug Purdie demonstrates honey extraction.

Doug Purdie demonstrates honey extraction.

Doug and Elke kept people intrigued with explanation, description, question and answers and demonstration through the workshop. One demonstration that proved popular was on separating honey from the timber frames the honeycomb occupies, the frames being slotting into the wooden beehive. The opportunity to taste this raw honey was a highlight. Doug also provided examples of beekeepers’ protective clothing, a smoker used to deter bees when extracting the honeycomb frames and a beehive, bee brush and hive tool.
He discussed the different types of hive including the warre and the new flowhive. People buying the flowhive, a type of self-draining hive that this year sought crowdfunding and was oversubscribed, might not understand they still have maintenance to do and need authoritative advice about situating and installing it.
The workshop was full of interesting information:

  • there is one species of honey bee in Australia, Apis Mellifera
  • bees take pollen from flowers and cross-pollinate other flowers when they land on them; they have structural adaptations to carry pollen from flower to flower and use pollen as protein and nectar as carbohydrate
  • apples, cherries and almonds are completely dependent on bee pollination
  • according to Elke, who breeds native bees and sells them and the hives they live in, not all of Australia’s 2000 species of native bees are stingless; the amount of honey they produce is minimal; in the wild they live in cavities in trees where they find good insulation to regulate temperature
  • native bees can be housed in a hive on an apartment balcony
  • the bumble bee introduced to pollinate greenhouse vegetables in Tasmania is not found on the mainland and would be an undesirable species here
  • honey bees were introduced to Australia in 1822 and did well in pollinating native plants although they did not co-evolve with them; honey bees won’t pollinate all native flowers just as native bees won’t pollinate all vegetable flowers, such as the cucurbit family; because native bees coevolved with native plants they have specialised structures for extracting food from those plants, such as their tongue, that are adapted to particular plant species
  • the belief that honey and native bees compete is common but erroneous; “Honeybees generally ignore natives”, said Doug; honey and native been can be kept in proximity; both types are housed in the apiary near the classroom at Randwick Community Centre and are managed by a bee association that will offer a number of free workshops during the year
  • the native, blue banded bee lives in the ground and the males sleep on the branches of small shrubs
  • a honey bee hive may have up to 8000 bees in residence
  • the African tulip tree, sometimes planted as an ornamental, is toxic to all bees.
Doug Purdie demonstrates honey extraction

Doug Purdie demonstrates honey extraction

Bee-friendly gardens

Wasps, which are carnivorous, are a predator of bees. Assassin bugs, the small hive beetle and the syrphid fly are pests of hives. Add to these threats the large areas of monocultural, flower and bee food-free lawn, council plantings of non-flowering ornamental plants, paving and the use by gardeners, councils and bushland regenerators of the herbicide, glyphosate, and you get an idea of the challenges facing beekind.
No need to get depressed about it, though. Doug says that we can bring bees of all kinds into our cities by avoiding excessive lawn and paving and by planting a diversity of flowering plants.

“You need both sorts of bees, honeybees and native bees”.
“Plant your gardens with stuff for all of them”.

Doug recommends tying together short lengths of bamboo to provide nesting opportunities not only for native bees but for a diversity of insects, what have become popularly known as ‘insect hotels’. These, said Elke, need to be around 15cm long.
It is important to obtain authoritative assistance in locating and installing hives, said Doug. A home would need only one hive assuming an average honey production of around 50kg a year.
“I got 70kg in one of my Centennial Park hives”, Doug said.

“We extracted 170kg of honey from our hives yesterday. Honey production is seasonal and is affected by the weather.
“Bees will travel five to eight kilometres from the hive to find food. A single hive can have up to a 50 square kilometre coverage”.

This foraging range brings into question the authenticity of honey certified as ‘organic’. Perhaps the certification refers only to the extraction and processing components of honey production, as there is no way of knowing that the flowers the bees feed on over their extensive range are organically grown. Perhaps ‘wild harvested’ would be a more honest marketing label, although there is no certification scheme covering this.


Elke with one of the native beehives she produces.

Functions, yields

A function is something that an organism does. When it comes to bees, that function is pollination. It is a by-product, an adaptation of the co-evolution of plants and animals that benefits both. It is what we call ‘mutualism’. Both benefit.
It’s something like enlightened self-interest, a win-win arrangement for bee and flower. Flowers attract bees, bees cross-pollinate flowers. Bees take back to the hive as food what plants offer in this mutualistic arrangement — nectar and pollen. And there’s that third party benefiting from nature’s mutualism — the people who provide accommodation for bees and who collect and eat the honey the bees so kindly provide.
A yield is something or direct use to people. When it comes to bees, we benefit through their yield of:

  • honey — which is food to bees, too, and has antibiotic as well as nutritional properties
  • pollen — a product of the flowers that bees visit and that they distribute
  • wax — excreted by bees as a liquid that hardens into a construction material for hive building; wax is a hydrocarbon that burns cleanly and is used to make candles
  • propolis — a derivative of tree resin and an antibiotic processed as a tincture in alcohol
  • royal jelly — a hive product that Doug says raises ethical issues in harvesting
  • bee venom — used in cosmetics to remove wrinkles in human skin; extraction of the product raises ethical issues around the use of electricfied floors, contact with which by the bee causes it to emit the venom that is harvested.

Bees, gardens and our new nature

This was an information-filled workshop with plenty of questions from participants. With their years of working with bees and managing them as a livelihood, Doug and Elke provided such demystifying and authoritative information that some participants wanted to go on to do Doug’s full-day intensive workshop for those serious about becoming beekeepers.
Sitting in the class making notes, it occurred to me that the way Doug and Elke spoke of integrating both honey and native bees, native and exotic plant species including food plants, was to describe not only the type of gardens we need but the integrative mentality we also need now that we are entering the age of the Anthropocene — the age of humankind when humanity’s influence on the Earth’s biogeophysical systems is so great that it becomes controlling.
It is by moving away from the old mentality that divided plants into native, exotic and food — and that treats animals the same way — that we can create recombinant urban ecosystems that better fit the emerging conditions, and make our already-biodiverse cities even more so by creating habitat, including that suitable to native and honey bees. This is a step towards a new gardening… towards gardening in the Anthropocene… gardening that combines all suitable plants and animals — both domestic and wildlife — into our new nature.
The Urban Beehive:
Courses and workshops at Randwick Community Centre are listed seasonally by City East Community College:
bee books

Hobart City Farm gets growing

Story by Hannah Moloney, from Good Life Permaculture, November 2014

For the past two years, myself and a few other fine folk have been busting our guts in our spare time to find (and secure) land to set up a city farm. A city farm is just that – a small farm in the city. It’s not a community or school garden, but a working farm which employs people to grow serious amounts of food. As this process has taken longer than we hoped, Anton and I got on with life, started Good Life Permaculture, bought a house with a 1/4 acre and since then have been setting it up as a demonstration city farm.But we’ve kept the flame burning as it’s something that just want leave us.
And yes, we are setting up our own small urban block and home as a demonstration city farm, but we want to see paddocks of productive landscapes in our cities, paddocks and paddocks. It’s a vision that’s been lodged in my head and heart my whole life and I can’t let it go, not until its real. Cause nothing beats realness.
And so, it is with enormous pleasure, and some relief, that we’ve finally been able to launch the Hobart City Farm project at our local Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. We are a not-for-profit organisation, run like a social enterprise and focused on establishing a vibrant, financially viable and environmentally regenerative small farm that grows a diverse range of food, builds community and provides meaningful employment. We are more than stoked.
So, who are we exactly? We are 5 people, independent of Good Life Permaculture, and go by the names of James Da Costa, Bridget Stewart, Louise Sales, Sam Beattie and yours truly – Hannah. Anton is playing support on this project as he’s concentrating on not spreading himself so thin, smart bloke that one. And where is the land? It’s in New Town, around 3kms north of Hobart city centre, we’ll release the actually address of the site once we’ve finalised formalities – which are almost there.
Currently the site is a patch of lawn, but not for long as we’re running a multifaceted fundraising campaign to get the whole sh-bang off the ground.

Part One

Part one is selling a huge amount of tomato seedlings we propagated ourselves at the Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. Pop on down today (Sunday 9th) to get your tom stash and meet some of the team, Good Life Permaculture’s stall is directly next door (we made sure of that) so you can say g’day to us too.


Sam hiding amongst the plethora of tomato plants – excuse the blurry photo


The team (minus Lousie Sales) getting excited at the Sustainable Living Festival yesterday

Part Two

Part two of the fundraising efforts is our crowd funding campaign, complete with a pretty darn impressive list of gifts in exchange for your contributions. We’ve got beehives, permaculture designs, garden blitzes, seeds, parties, t-shirts, compost workshops and even naming writes to a tractor!
[button_link url=”” target=”blank” style=”blue” title=”” class=”” id=”” onclick=””]Watch the crowd funding film.[/button_link]
Hobart City Farm

So why are we so gung-ho about this city farm thing?

Food: We’re passionate about investing in local and regional food systems to provide reliable access to a nutritious and diverse range of food. We see growing food in the heart of the community as an important way of rebuilding connections to where food comes from and the people who grow it. We’re committed to ensuring that the following generations have an understanding of the important role food plays in creating and maintaining resilient communities.


In addition to producing food, the farm will grow community through facilitating educational opportunities in permaculture, food production and composting (to name a few) – both on and off the farm. The Hobart City Farm will encourage community involvement in the practical operations of the farm and help foster a vibrant community in the immediate surroundings and beyond.


The Hobart City Farm will employ local Tasmanians, creating meaningful livelihoods for individuals. We are also looking and thinking beyond our farm gate and will explore the possibility of partnering with other organisations to provide training in small-hold farming. We hold a deep commitment to helping others gain the skills they need to become farmers.

We’d like to thank you in advance for helping to make our dreams of having a local, robust, ecologically based, kick-arse food system a reality. Cheers.

  • You can contribute to our crowd funding campaign here 
  • Read all about us on our website
  • Like us on facebook to stay in the loop

Hobart City Farm

Using the moon as a guide

Story by Richard Telford, December 2014

The cycles of the moon have influenced gardeners from diverse cultures over many centuries. While science may not fully understand why planting by the moon works, anecdotal evidence sugsgest that it does.
Permaculture co-originator David Holmgren’s writes “good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship to nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration, repertoire and patterns.”
Observing the cycles of the moon and the way that it affects both people and plants can help to determine when to plant in order to improve our health and yield from our garden activities.
Author of the Permaculture Home Garden ‘Linda Woodrow, a self confessed ‘extreme sceptic’, adopted moon planting as a way to manage her time more effectively and get more organised. In doing so she found that “it actually does increase the germination rate and vitality of plants”.
Moon cycle icons

How does it work?

There are a number of methods of moon planting, some are complex taking into account far off constellations – something that I find difficult to comprehend. There is an approach that I’ve found I can get my head around. Linking the ebb and flow of the sap in tune with the rhythms of the moon.
In a waxing moon, when light increases towards a full moon, sap flow is drawn up. This is the most suitable time for sowing and transplanting flowering annuals, biennials, grains and melons. Basically any short lived plant that we want to harvest its leaves, seed, flowers or fruits.
It’s also a good time for applying liquid fertilisers, pruning and grafting as increased sap flow produces new growth more quickly.
With an waning moon, when the light is decreasing as the moon changes from a full to a new moon, the sap flow is drawn down. This focusses the energy towards the roots, which is more suited to root crops and perennials, plants that live longer than two years.
t’s also a good time for applying solid fertilisers, pruning dormant plants and harvesting, as there is less likelihood of rotting.
This general pattern can be divided further into the quarterly moon cycles.
The new moon phase (from new moon to first quarter) is most suited to sowing or transplanting leafy annuals, where we value or eat the leaves or stem. Plants like lettuce, spinach, cabbage and celery.
The first quarter phase is most suited to fruiting annuals (not fruit trees) where we value or eat the fruit or seed bearing part of the plant. Like tomatoes, pumpkins, broccoli and beans.
The full moon phase (from full moon to the third quarter) is most suited to sowing or planting out root crops as well as decorative or fruiting perennials. Like apples, potatoes asparagus and rhubarb. It’s also a good time for taking cuttings and dividing plants.
The last quarter phase is a time to avoid planting and focus on improving the soil, by weeding, mulching, making compost and manure teas as well as digging or ploughing.
The one caveat for this method is that 12 hours before and after the transition time from one phase to the next is when sowing, planting and pruning is best avoided. Use this time instead to improve your soil.
This method of moon planting is illustrated with daily icons and moon phase times in the 2015 Permaculture Calendar, available from
What to plant when_6

Seed saving with Jane

janeIMAGINE THIS: we’re in downtown Randwick and we see a woman who crunches a handful of dried stems and pods taken from some vegetable plant, swirls the stuff around in a wide tray, gently blows on it and extracts a handful of small, black seeds. Not really an everyday ritual in this populous part of the city’s east, however it was one that attracted quite a number of people to learn how to do it.
Jane Mowbray is an articulate, tallish, ex-teacher who wears her dark hair cut short and neat and who was dressed this first Tuesday of winter in jeans, bright blue T-shirt over a burgundy-coloured long sleeve and a pair of dainty red shoes that matched the colour of her glasses frame. She explained to the participants in Randwick City Council’s seed saving workshop how she discovered the idea of saving seeds some decades ago when she heard about plant variety rights and how that could have affected the ability of home gardeners to collect seed for replanting. Having come across seed saving, she was enthused, she said.
Now, years later, she travels around Sydney teaching others how to collect, process and save their own seeds for replanting. Jane is not only a member of Glovers Community Garden, Sydney’s first, she is also coordinator of a local seed network, which is part of the national Seed Savers Network, and is active with Inner West Seedsavers and their seedbank.
Council sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, welcomed participants to the workshop and asked people what they hoped to learn. The response was varied: to learn where seeds come from; to improve their existing attempts to save seed; to start seed saving in their balcony and courtyard gardens; how to collect and store seed; for one participant, to rediscover the seed saving skills of her father; how to save tomato seed. “I don’t know what seeds are or how they operate”, said another.


We went into Barrett House’s small but edible cottage garden where Jane showed how seeds grow on plants and when they’re ready for collecting. Cuttings and seeds were passed around. Some of the participants had mentioned they were interested in collecting the seeds of tomato, so Jane demonstrated the wet extraction process for the seed, explaining that the fermentation process kills pathogens in the plant material.
The process actually started when some days ago when Jane had taken a tomato and squeezed out the seed. This she placed in a jar until the fuzz of fermentation was visible as a grey scum and it was this jar of fermenting seed that she brought to today’s workshop. Extracting the seeds from the jar, she spread them on a paper towel. Here they will dry and then be stored in small paper envelopes labeled with the species and date of bagging and stored in a cool, shady place until the next planting season. It’s how we make new plants from old.
Inside, Jane demonstrated how to separate seeds of dried Thai basil by removing them from the husks and collecting them in a wide tray with a rim, then got the workshop participants to do it for themselves. An aniseed-like smell permeated the room as people squeezed and pinched the dried stems and as the tiny, dark seeds filled the tray.
Now it was time for winnowing, a process that separates the seed from the husk, leaves and other plant material, so it was outside again. Jane took the tray and gently swished it back and forth, occasionally blowing gently to shift the lighter leaves and husks out the way. Eventually, there was a distinct pile of seeds and another of waste plant material, the latter destined for the compost.
Doing this, Jane explained, links us to an ancient human practice going back thousands of years. It’s mainly a process of women, she said, describing the winnowing process that has been a seasonal part of our grain and vegetable production cycle since the agricultural revolution around 10,000 years ago. It gave a sense of comforting continuity to those assembled here today in Randwick to reacquire this old human practice.
Inside again, it might have come as a surprise to some to learn that we eat immature vegetables, as Jane explained how we can’t get a cucumber from the shop, cut it open, extract and dry the seeds and hope they will produce new plants from old. The reason? The cucumbers we eat are immature plants. To collect the seed we leave the plant to mature in the garden until it gets very large and starts to dry out. Then it’s ready to open and extract the seed.
It was also a surprise to one of the participants that you don’t need a lab to test the viability of seed — what percentage will sprout to grow into plants. Doing that is a type of DIY-science-in-the-kitchen that we can all do to learn how good the seed is. It’s a simple process. A number of seeds are enclosed in a cotton wrap, moistened, left awhile then, with the aid of a calculator, the number that sprout are worked out giving us the percentage of seeds that sprouted and an indication of how viable the seed is.
The group went through good herbs and plants to collect seed from — florence fennel, rosella, tatsoi, globe artichoke, leaf amaranth and more — referring from time to time to the authoritative Seed Savers’ Handbook, a production of Jude and Michel Fanton of the Seed Savers’ Network. Small paper envelopes were supplied and people winnowed, enveloped, labelled and took some seeds for their own gardens.
It’s was interesting to see familiar faces among the new at the workshop, people from other courses and workshops offered by council — including a couple from the Food Forest Gardening course running concurrently — indicating that the community education program offered through council is attracting people to skill-up on long-lost as well as new life skills.
It looks like council’s sustainability educator will have to organise another seed saving workshop, seeing how popular today’s was. There is evidently enthusiasm in the Eastern Suburbs to relearn old skills and to revive them as a something of value in today’s world, as something that can improve our lives and that allows us to play a role in preserve, through use, our common heritage of agriculture biodiversity.

Turning dull Waterloo space into colourful and productive place

…by Russ Grayson, March 2012

IT COMBINED ELEMENTS of learning and doing, social benefit and placemaking. And it would go on the footpath in Waterloo.
Put to me in such convincing terms by Sophie from the City of Sydney’s SAVE program (Sustainable Action and Values for Everyone—quite a mouthful and an acronym-driven name if ever I heard one), how could I refuse.
First off, Sophie and I made the short journey out to Waterloo in a City Prius so that we could measure the footpath to see if it would be wide enough for the Salvation Army Waterloo Community Centre to build their footpath garden on. Plenty of room, it turned out, for the four proposed planters.

The planter construction crew with the finished product.

I asked Sophie to make sure the builders consulted Dial-Before-You-Dig to check whether there were water or gas pipes, electricity or other cables below the footpath. Had there been and had the gardeners built a footpath garden directly on the ground itself, it would have had to be rebuilt had the utility needed to dig up the underground service for maintenance. That was the thinking behind the model of raised garden planter the City was proposing in its draft policy—something with a base that could be moved out of the way and later returned, was access to underground service needed.
Next, I thought, why not try to prototype the type of planter the City was proposing in its draft Footpath Gardening Policy and locate it on the footpath to demonstrate the preferred offsets from the kerb?

The guys from Hobo-Gro, who mentored TAFE Outreach participants in the course that constructed the planters, assist to align the planters on the footpath.

The project got underway with TAFE Outreach teaching the participants, clients of the community centre, how to construct the raised planters made of marine ply reinforced with wood salvaged from freight pallets and with drainage holes in their base.
A few weeks passed and the planters were complete. I made an inspection to check them and found them strong and—in their bright orange paint—colourful… just the thing to brighten up a dull streetscape across the road from the Waterloo Estate, a large social housing conglomeration of 1960s tower blocks that, in the open space around them, features three well-used community gardens.

To make his talk more memorable, Costa brought along a feathered teaching assistant.

Lasagne gardening

Meanwhile Sophie and her colleague, Megan—who was with the City’s Sustainability crew—has arranged two workshops during which the planters would be installed, filled with growing medium, planted and mulched, two per session. That process would be led by none other than ex-SBS and now ABC Gardening Australia host, Costa Georgiadis. The workshops quickly filled.
Megan and I did our short talks, then Costa started with one of his food-focused dialogues, demonstrating how to make a wicking planter from a two litre plastic drink bottle by cutting it in half and rearranging the pieces, and discussing the value of non-hybrid seeds and other things. Then it was out to the footpath for the day’s garden construction.
Watching Costa describe how to fill the container gardens, as willing workshop attendees did the work, was like watching a garden chef make a vegetable lasagne.
A scatter of rocks was place in the base to aid drainage (drainage holes had already been drilled through the base), covered with a thick layer of sugar cane mulch, then cow manure spread over it. Next, in went a layer of lucerne, a leguminous straw that embodies in its fibre the nitrogen that plants need to grow. Following that, a powdering or rock dust to supply needed minerals to the growing plants then a layer of chook manure followed by a layer of cow manure followed by another layer of lucerne mulch, rock dust and yet more chook manure and, finally, a layer of lucerne mulch. Quite a lasagne garden indeed and one full of varied animal droppings—not the sort of lasagne that you might be tempted to eat for dinner.

Nothing like seedlings to create interest

The layers were watered as they were placed in the container garden then seedlings planted through the mulch layer after Costa demonstrated the technique.
That done, the gardens were finished. It was quite clear that participants had enjoyed themselves as they stood back to admire their good work.

Dimensions and offsets

The planters are 1.2m in length, 0.6m wide and high. There is a base in the planters positioned 0.43m down. The purpose of this is so that they can be moved out of the way if council or some other entity imagines that it needs to dig up the footpath. With no services located below the grassy verge here, this wasn’t strictly needed as it would be were there pipes or wires below the footpath.
The planters could have been made a little longer—the draft policy stipulates that there be no longer unbroken access to the street than three metres, though that would be too long for a single footpath planter. Their height lifted them well about that which could be a trip risk, as are many of the low roadside gardens that civic-minded people construct for themselves, many built around tree bases much to the annoyance of council tree managers who think that microorganisms could transmigrate from garden soil into tree trunk and weaker their trees.
The idea in the draft policy of creating a colour contrast with the surrounding footpath area so that passers-by can avoid colliding with the planters was more than adequately taken care of by their bright orange paint job and the reflectors stuck on the planters.
An offset from the kerb to the outer edge of the planter of 0.6m was maintained as per the draft policy to allow access to and from vehicles, specially important for our ageing population and for those with mobility aids. The planters were located 1.5m from transmission wire poles to allow access for their servicing and replacement. The same consideration is made for street furniture such as seats. Plenty of space was left between the garden planters and the nearby bus stop, which is used by a small community transport bus. When we measured the footpath before the project started we realised that the required minimum 1.5m footpath width, to allow unimpeded pedestrian passage, would be more than adequately accommodated.
When the adjacent seating area with its native plants is completed, along with a tiny community gardening area for community centre clients, a rather uninteresting and unremarkable strip of street will have been converted into a biodiverse and very interesting learning and local food source, just the sort of thing we need to spice up inner urban streetscapes in a way that offers food, environmental, social and learning opportunities.
With all of those benefits, a better example of tactical urbanism would be hard to find.

Planting out could get kind-of crowded.

The planters with 0.6m offset from kerb and clear of the footway. The height of the planters lifts them above trip hazard as does the colour, which contrasts with its surroundings.


Job nearly done—a workshop participant waters the completed and mulched planter garden.

The seedling give-away was a popular part of the event.

Sophie—SAVE program coordinator.


City of Sydney Waste Projects coordinator, Sarah van Erp, led workshops on compost making and wormfarm management at the event.

Organising crew—presenter, Costa Georgiadis (left), event organiser Megan and the author.


New garden trains home food growers

[styled_image w=”400″ h=”300″ lightbox=”yes” image=”×218.jpg” align=”right”]

…by Russ Grayson

An Eastern Suburbs council hires a local permaculture designer and commercial landscaper to set up a training garden for its home food gardening courses.
Sydney landscape architect, Steve Batley, has installed an organic training garden at Randwick Community Centre. Steve, who completed an urban permaculture design course in Sydney some years ago, operates his own landscape design and construction company, Sydney Organic Gardens (
The garden is used by participants in Randwick City Council’s Sustainable Gardening courses. The free courses consist of five Saturday meetings at which participants learn organic growing practices, site analysis, water conserving irrigation, garden design, soil improvement, plant characteristics, composting and mulching as well as pest and disease management. The most recent course attracted a total of 45 participants, some from outside the Randwick Council area.
The garden includes a keyhole bed sized to accommodate a large number of participants. Keyhole beds have been popularised by permaculture educators and the idea has spread beyond the permaculture milieu. Like the bed at the community centre, keyhole beds are sized so that gardeners can reach about half way across the garden from both sides, providing full access to crops and avoiding the need to trample the soil by stepping into the garden.

Native legumes an experiment

Elsewhere in the garden, indigenous legume shrubs are being trialled as interplants with herbs and vegetables to provide the plant macronutrient, nitrogen. These will later be coppiced and the foliage used for mulch.
Integrating native plants, including flowering species that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, forms part of the garden design to demonstrate integrated pest management. It also accommodates the wish of some course participants to learn about native plants, although Council offers workshops at its community nursery on this topic. The planting of perennial natives involved Council’s Bushcare Officer, Tina Digby, who is responsible for bushland regeneration.
The garden adjoins a large area of native vegetation that is to be rehabilitated, so care was taken in plant selection to avoid species that could become bushland weeds. Sometimes, kestrel can be seen hovering over the bushland near the garden and Steve uncovered a blue tongue lizard – a beneficial species because of its appetite for snails –  when he moved a plank.

Making use of waste

Mulch for the garden consists of sweepings from the NSW Police stables in Redfern, a source also used by the nearby Randwick Community Organic Garden.
The sweepings are heaped and left to mature to start the decomposition process and to allow any veterinary chemicals to break down.
Course participants contribute their own kitchen and garden wastes to the compost making lesson.

Qualifications and experience provide reliable information

As a qualified landscape architect, Steve teaches the garden design topic. He also advises householders on the concept designs they draw up during the course, and leads the irrigation and water harvesting topic. Emma Daniel, a TAFE qualified landscape designer and horticulturist, and a spokeswoman for the Randwick Community Organic Garden, assists in teaching. Fiona Campbell, as Council’s Sustainability Education Officer, organises the courses. The experience and qualifications of the trainers meets Council’s need to provide reliable information that participants can safely act on.
The small training garden is a temporary installation. Eventually, it will be replaced by a larger one in a different location an the community centre.