Brunswick West Food Forest permabee
Sunday saw us tackle a Permablitz with a difference. Instead of transforming a private yard, we returned once more to the West Brunswick Food Forest to help bolster the efforts of the local community. This charming public space has been well established by local community members over the last eight years, and is situated next to the West Brunswick Community Garden.
Despite the chilly start to the morning almost forty volunteers soon materialised, eager to learn about the workings of a food forest – a great mid-winter turn-out! A good thing too, as between the intermittent nature of food forest labour and the inspiring development plan for the space, we had plenty to do.
After being introduced to the space we were divided into teams. Each team was led by members of the regular community garden volunteers, and was responsible for a different zone of the garden.
In zone one, Libby and Liz led a team into the sensory garden: weeding and planting wonderful fragrant species. This great little area has been a main focus of development lately and all the hard work is really beginning to show as the understorey begins to flourish.
Mark lead another team over in zone two,where they set about weeding around the central trees and planting some new baby Plum trees. I got to see firsthand the struggle they have had establishing a garden on this site, where in places the clay heavy soil is quite compacted. We found that when we dug holes for the fruit trees, once we filled these with water, they took an eternity to drain before we could plant. Soil prep is a big focus on this site and they assured me that though slow going, life was slowly coming back to the soil under their patient ministrations.
In zone three, Richard’s team was doing some serious weeding, as well as planting three new Almond trees. The soil in this area was much more forgiving but we created large moats of mulch around the delicate new saplings. This visible border helps keeps the council mowers from breaking the branches of the growing trees and is part of the delicate balance of growing in a public space.
In zone four, Kelly and Susan were harvesting Jerusalem Artichokes and mint, as well as trimming grape vines and moving some plants from their tropical zone into the kitchen section of the garden, which was conveniently placed directly next door.
Zone five (led by Jules and Bridget) and zone six (led by Bret and John) were both focusing on weeding and mulching parts of the orchard, as in some areas was beginning to be taken over by Kikuyu and Nut grass.
Before lunch Liz led a planting workshop, explaining how they prepped the soil with gypsum, manure pellets, Ezy wet and fertiliser tea to help keep the moisture in and the soil productive. She also explained the specifics of planting using water crystals and pre-soaking plants to help minimise their shock at their new harsh environment.
Lunch was a welcome respite from the chill, with a range of delicious lentil soups, bread and salad a plenty, and cake. Did I mention cake? There was a seeming unending array of yummy cakes for every taste and dietary requirement!
After lunch Richard ran a hot compost workshop using the community garden’s awesome system. The public can drop off their scraps and see them transform in a progression of bins into beautiful rich compost which is then used in the gardens. This was a perfect demonstration and a range of samples from different points of the process helped us understand the process and how to replicate it at home.
At the same time Mark and Tzaddi took a pruning workshop: explaining the best tools to use, and where and when to prune both saplings and older trees to get the growth you want. Mark showed us how they pruned the trees to have wide low branches. This way, when the trees produce fruit the public will not break branches by trying to harvest things out of reach. We also attacked a gall-wasp infested lime tree and learnt how to slice, drown or burn the galls to stop the spread of this common backyard pest.
Towards the end of the day there was a big mulch push – a flurry of activity with all hands-on-deck to cover up all that beautifully weeded soil. Everyone chipped in (pun intended!) with barrows and buckets to get the mulch out before the end of the day. In no time, the huge mulch pile had disappeared and the food forest was truly transformed.
The concept of a food forest with its theoretically low maintenance production has an exciting potential and I was absolutely fascinated. I spoke to Mark about the struggles of establishing this forest that straddles public space about the challenges of educating the public to harvest any fruit or produce in a considerate, sustainable way. We also spoke about the compromises with council procedures and trying to get irrigation in so that volunteer energy can be focused on more productive tasks. Mark discussed his pride in establishing a producing garden such harsh soil, as well as the fact that the council was starting to really get behind the project and working at establishing food forests in other public spaces, and how this changes the way we think about food and public space. Not to mention future plans for the West Brunswick space!
At the end of the day the Permablitz volunteers had worked hard to transform the space. We learned about planting, composting and pruning, made new friends and even grew a greater understanding in what is involved in establishing a food forest. I want to say a big thank you to all the volunteers as well as to Mark and the West Brunswick Community Garden team for their work and guidance.