Permablitz #218 – Belgrave
It’s a crisp spring Sunday morning in the lush Dandenongs as I arrive at hosts Jessica and her young son Mali’s home in Belgrave. Piles of stones, mulch and compost greet me as I wander down their driveway situated on a large slope that’s a challenge to walk down in normal circumstances and I ponder… how are the volunteers going to move all of that down to the backyard for today’s blitz, given that steep incline?
By 10.30 am, the smiley faces of over forty volunteers from as far-flung as Northcote, Wollert and Broadford line up along the slope between the top of the driveway and the backyard, gardening gloves in hand, proving that with teamwork, anything can be achieved. They pass down planks of wood for one of the first projects of the blitz, a series of retaining walls that will harness Belgrave’s large rainfall (1040mm annually on average) for Jessica’s fruit trees. The family had moved into their home only a year ago after previously having lived on a permaculture farm. As before, Jessica is keen to transform her back garden into a food forest.
There are two other projects for the day – the first priority, to dismantle an old greenhouse covered by bird netting and convert it into an all-season polytunnel greenhouse. And the second project, if there was time, to transform a garden bed along the back of the house into a food-producing bed, complete with irrigation. Given the north-facing aspect, the brick would provide a suitable microclimate for the vegies Jessica planned on planting there.
During the morning, permaculture designer, Rachel, measures out the large sloping bed for the retaining walls. As volunteers begin digging the holes for the wooden pylons and ripping out weeds and plants, a challenge emerges. Rocks. But the volunteers are eager, using their tools and muscles to break up the underlying rock.
For the polytunnel greenhouse project, many hands are on deck to remove the old red brick paths and soil in preparation for the new garden beds. The existing herbs; mint, sage and rosemary remain. One volunteer, Sally, upon ripping out an old climbing rose, finds several old bottles buried deep in the ground, perhaps dumped there as rubbish before the days of garbage trucks and organised waste removal. By lunchtime, the greenhouse is starting to transform.
After a nourishing lunch of healthy soups and warms cups of tea prepared by host Jessica, the volunteers head outside for the home stretch of the blitz. With sweat and smiles, they dump wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of compost over cardboard sheets laid out over the new garden beds, reformed from the excavated red brick and wooden planks. The cardboard acts as sheet mulch, blocking weeds as well as keeping the beds moist and cool throughout the year.
There is a whirring of drills as a handful of volunteers with carpentry experience (and those who want to learn carpentry) assembles the wooden planks for the retaining walls. By late afternoon, three sections of wall are installed.
There is a hive of activity as the backup third project begins. Wheelbarrows crisscross as volunteers rip out the large flowering azalea and several large bushes, their roots thick and deeply rooted along the north-facing wall at the back of the house for the new vegetable patch. With the sun warming the wall during the day, and the heat dissipating at night, this makes it a perfect microclimate for a food-producing bed.
A peep of the late afternoon sun through a blanket of grey signals the end of the blitz as exhausted volunteers covered in dirt and satisfaction make their way home after a day transforming a stranger’s backyard. Well past their finish time, permaculture designer, Nat K, with the help of some remaining volunteers, manages to squeeze in one more task: the installation of a basic irrigation line for the microclimate bed. Unrolling the 50-metre roll, they cut and join the irrigation pipe into place, assembling four lines of irrigation before heading home.
Although not all of the projects were completed in the one day, the Belgrave blitz shows that despite the challenge of the slope and the complexity of the projects undertaken, there is nothing more satisfying than a group of strangers with a love for gardening coming together to transform a patch of land into a food forest.
To see more photos of the day, check out our gallery here.