At Richmond Vale Academy we have our organic garden about a minute walk form the kitchen. Here we use different organic gardening methods along with implementing permaculture techniques.
The garden already starts by the fence. Whenever it rains you cannot avoid having precious water and nutrients being flushed away from garden, so by growing plants all along the fence we make sure it is not going to waste. We grow gloricida, sugar cane and banana trees a meter away from the fence. They will provide some light protection form the harsh sun, and after they have given bananas we can cut them up to use in the compost nearby. The gloricida is a nitrogen fixating plants that takes nitrogen from the air and fixates it in the leaves, stem and roots. We pick the leaves and put them on our beds in order to add nitrogen to the soil, as well as creating a protecting layer from the sun, to keep moisture and hold down weeds. Crawling up along the fence we have passion fruit.
When you enter the garden the first thing you see will be a circle with papaya, banana, mooring, lemon grass and more things growing on it. In the middle of the circle is a big hole we fill up with organic matter like branches and leaves, tat will eventually decompose and add their nutrients to the surrounding plants.
Then you will see our nursery with different plants form nearly all plant families. We highly value diversity in terms of keeping different species and subspecies in out garden, since many plants have beneficial effects and compliment each other. Furthermore, when you keep a wide variety of plants in one bed, you are less vulnerable to pests and diseases. If you grow mono-crops, that is only one specific plant in your entire garden, one pest or one disease can wipe out all your yields. But by maintaining diversity you will be safe even though you lose one type of your plants. Also, biodiversity ensures that you will have enemies for the pests and make it harder for them to take over. In our beds you will be able to find different types of lettuce and cabbage, pak-choy, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet pepper, beet root, radishes, spring onion, parsley, basil, spinach, rosemary and a variety of flowers.
However, one place we use a technique called crop-rotation, where we fill a bed with only one kind of plants. As soon as the beds are harvested, we will plant a new set of seedlings in the bed. Different plants take different nutrients form the soil, so by changing plants we make sure never to deplete the soil.
We recently build our fourth raised bed. We build them by closely stacking logs of wood. After creating a firm base we add smaller branches, sticks, coconut shells, leaves and in some cases card board. We continuously cover it with manure to add the nitrogen necessary for it to decompose. On top we add a big layer of soil and compost, and here we simply start planting. Slowly, as the organic matter decomposes, it releases carbon and other nutrients to the soil that the plants need to grow. Additionally, the soil will constantly be aireated, which is good for the life and microorganisms in the soil. Keeping the bed above ground also makes it much easier to keep weeds under control, and it can be a more pleasant height to work in for your back.
Finally, we are taking the back part of a greenhouse that is currently not being used and making it ready. It will serve as a part of the garden where students can bring any ideas and experiments and try them out. Hopefully, we will learn something, as the garden is a very good teacher.
Markus - Climate Activist