Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to meet new (soil) friends and grow your own food

I admit it. I have been horribly slack with the blog posts for the last 5 months. All for the name of soil science! I promise!

My passion for soil science has been reignited, with my new work full of rad-new-soil-stuff! We (@projectgus and I) have relocated to Melbourne. I've spent the last couple of months beginning some large field and glasshouse trials as part of my Post Doc at Monash Uni. It has been a very busy, and exciting time. I have met some amazing new people! All keen on soil, farming, soil biology, greenhouse gases, sustainable ecosystems and more.

Field Trials: hiding from sun and flies. 

Another fun thing I have been doing since we moved to Melbourne is community gardening! I joined a community garden (Poets in Elwood) just before Christmas and I am sharing a plot with Lou.

Community Gardens (CG) are booming in Australia. A GC is a plot of land that councils set aside for local residents to grow their own food. It is great for people with small yards, who live on 'dubious' soils that might be contaminated*, or in apartments. We are in an apartment, so was super keen to join a local CG to get my hands dirty, grow things and meet people that are also keen on soil.

Poet's Garden in Elwood, Victoria

CGs are part of becoming more sustainable cities, reconnecting with food, wellness (mental and physical), community engagement and social interaction. Our CG has rainwater for watering our plots, three stage compost bins (I can't wait to empty my bokashi into it!), 40 garden boxes (from 1x1m to 3x1m), communal fruit and native bush foods, herb garden, and chickens soon to come!

The membership is diverse. From novice gardeners, to pros. From newborn babies, to retirees. Everyone is excited about growing their own food, learning about soil, compost and healthy sustainable eating.

Lou and my plot with compost application

As a soil scientist, it is interesting walking around the garden and seeing what everyone is doing with their patch of soil. Some people swear by Seasol. Others just use compost. Some people have mulched their gardens to retain moisture, and others have not. Some people are rotating their plants; legumes one year for nitrogen, and greens or veggies in the same spot next.

Me? Well, it is 100% organic. Melbourne soil, is very different to that in Canberra. Where Canberra has heavy clays that you can hardly get a shovel into (!!), the soil in Elwood is sandy! Very, very sandy. It just can't hold onto water! With a dry summer, Lou and I started with a very dry bed. So, Lou and I have added layer of mature compost into the top of our soil. There were so many worms and other biology, so hopefully we have added some good bugs to our soil as well. Over the top we added a layer of pea straw to protect the soil from drying in the 37*C days! So far, it seems to have worked. After a couple of weeks, our moisture-layer was down to 10cm. With the rain last week, it seems to be moist much deeper in our box.

My plot with compost, pea straw and after the first planting 
(tomatoes, basil, rhubarb and strawberries)

I am also itching to get out my pH kit and work out what the soil needs; after this lot of veggies has finished. If I have time, I might run some samples in the lab for nitrate-nitrogen and water soluble phosphorus; both essential for plant growth. :)

For now, I am happy to dig and watch things grow.

My plot today. Tomatoes, capsicum, jalepeno chilies, rhubarb, strawberries, spinach (two types), 
beets, carrots, basil, broccolini, and rocket

With so much happening I haven't had much time to post. But, I do promise there is lots to come this year! As I learn about greenhouse gas emissions from soil, soil biology, compost and biochar with my research, I will hopefully add some posts. Also, with popular demand and suggestion, I am also hoping to write posts on micronutrients, new conferences and meetings, soil science and PhDs, the outcomes of my PhD, common garden troubles, and backyard contaminated soil.

If you would like to contribute, or see anything in particular, please do not hesitate in asking!

*A blog post to come on the issue of contaminated backyard soils. I get a lot of emails about it, and thought I would share collective wisdom on the blog instead.