I started ‘work’ with the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) on Thursday 2nd May in the community Food Garden. This is the area well known by ABC’s Gardening Australia program enthusiasts as Pete’s Patch in the days when Peter Cundall headed that television program. These days it is the territory of Tino Carnivale for Gardening Australia. This was the one and only space I wanted to work. I wanted to learn more about fruit and vegetable plants and their growing patterns, pruning needs, and general management – in order to improve the way I look after those in my own garden.
The extent of my engagement was up to me but generally it was hoped I would be happy to work on Thursdays from 10 am to 3 pm along with a team of other volunteers.
I arrived a little before 10 and it was obvious others had arrived earlier and many were already deep into the soil undertaking a number of different tasks.
The first job and one which took up most of the day, albeit in different vegetable plots, was that of weeding. The Co-ordinator staff member referred to these unwanted plants as ‘Easter weeds’. With the Easter break and the public holiday (when volunteers do not work) of Anzac Day, a sea of unplanted green shoots and fleshy leaves had grown everywhere. I found this work interesting because of the conversations I had and learnings I received from some of the other volunteers. It was a useful way to orient myself into the Food Garden and the processes which may, in time, lose their allure of exoticness for me. Through weeding I was also able to appreciate the different soil qualities and the degrees of dryness that certain plants survived in. At all times we were on the lookout for the impossible-to-get-rid-of weed, oxalis. These we dug out hoping to gather all their poddy bulbs and went into a bin for destruction rather than for composting.
One of the weeders was also a volunteer for the Glenorchy based Loaves and Fishes organisation. They gather food from all sources (including loads from the RTBG plots) then divvy it out to other organisations who feed people in need. Talking about this and other food banks was fascinating. I made a note to myself that when my next fruit hauls are impossible to give away and use myself, I will contact this organisation and donate the excess. I would like to think other local blog readers might think about doing something similar if they grow excess food in their garden.
We moved around for our weeding because Tino and the ABC film crew were preparing stories around the garden for future Gardening Australia episodes, and we didn’t want to be caught on screen. I was pleasantly surprised by how casually and comfortably friendly he was.
I think you can appreciate that for various reasons the whole process of weeding proved to be a very educational job.
Interspersed with weeding I removed dying mini eggplant plants. This included collecting the tiny, often barely formed, purple striped fruits. Later I was able to bring a few home. These made tasty additions to a sauce I made for a pasta dish that evening.
After lunch I helped with planting a large patch garlic. It was difficult for others to believe that I had never been able to grow garlic. I realised that, in the past I had possibly planted the bulbs too deep whereas they simply needed to be pressed down into a cavity in the soil with the tips still showing, about six inches apart, then have some soil loosely and thinly raked over. In addition, I suspect I watered mine too much too soon. Now I know 10 minutes watering about every three days will be adequate. I have since planted some garlic at home following what I learnt and I am hopeful that a successful crop will arise.
I was introduced to a new tool when I moved to weeding in the brassica patch. It functioned similarly to a hoe but is not a solid plate that is dragged through the soil. I have found a photo of a tool similar to that used at the RTBG and you can see it here. The value of this for weeding s that the end moves flexibly and you can push it forwards and backwards across the soil. In this way you drag the weeds with roots from the ground. Of course, later you can either laboriously pick out the weeds manually to add to the compost bin, or leave them on and in the soil to rot.
The Coordinator was passing by and, in watching our efforts, he felt we might enjoy another method of weeding. He walked off and returned with a BBQ sized gas tank and appendage. The end furthest from the gas tank looked a little like the one in the photo on this website. He demonstrated by burning the weeds in the brassica patch where produce had already been removed. We were all a goggle. ‘Would you like to have a go?’ Yes please. What I am about to say will make me appear as if my screws have come loose; as I burnt those weeds it seemed a barbaric treatment. Of course, I reflected that letting them die a long and lonely death when pulled or scraped from the ground and let dehydrate to death, was hardly kind.
To be successful with using this equipment it was essential not to wave the wand too close to plants that need to survive. The radiant heat was quite strong so clearly this tool would not be suitable in a garden where plants are close together. Initially I held the flaming end close to the plants but, with further instruction, I achieved much better results when I held the wand about 10 or 12 cm above the ground.
Five hours passed seemingly in the blink of an eye. I had experienced an enjoyable day in the fresh air, with congenial company, undertaking purposeful work, and in one of the most beautiful locations in the Greater Hobart area.
As we left the Food Garden for the day, we were offered feijoa fruit (also known as pineapple guava) to take home. I had never seen nor tasted these and brought home half a dozen to try. Refreshing and not too sweet. Very tasty. You can see photos of and read more about these delicious fruits here.