Exciting things are afoot in the Ashwood College Permaculture Food Garden. New volunteer gardeners keep coming back to make a difference. They help weed, mulch, fertilise, water, sow and plant in our unique community garden. The Ashwood College Permaculture Food Garden (ACPFG) is a communal garden where we all pitch in with what needs doing on the day, and at the end of the session we harvest and take home the bounty. Sometimes the bounty doesn’t make it home, as was the case with the mulberries… They were delicious!

Ashwood is a suburb 14 kilometres south east of Melbourne’s CBD. Ashwood College is a state secondary school with very large grounds, some of which have been dedicated to a permaculture food garden run by local community members. The land belongs to the school, but we garden to our heart’s content with support and encouragement from the Ashwood College Council and Principal, Kerrie Croft.

Bathtub wicking beds
Bathtub wicking beds

Our garden is thriving. There are over 2,000 square metres of land, 200 metres of cyclone mesh fence, 55 fruit trees, two 75,000 litre rainwater tanks, a shade house, a pergola, a pizza oven, bath tub wicking beds, culinary and medicinal herbs, and bee hives.

What kind of fruit trees, I hear you ask? Many! Nine different types of apples, including Granny Smith, Early McIntosh, Sturmer Pippin, Gala, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Orange Blenheim. Three varieties of pear trees, including Josephine, Red d’Anjou, Doyenne du Comice, and a nashi pear. A peach, a nectarine, an apricot, two matching avocados, macadamias, a mulberry (finished for the season…) a lemon tree, a feijoa, and an olive tree. And don’t forget the figs! There are three different types of figs!

What particularly exciting thing is afoot this March? In the next couple of weeks the chickens are returning after a three year absence. Foxes took our hard-working ladies and we’ve been looking for a solution to keep our chooks safe ever since. We think we have found the solution in the form of electric poultry fencing. This mobile type of fence gives us the flexibility we need and also provides safety for the chickens. By the time this article is published we hope that the chickens will be back in action in our garden and you’ll be able to see photos of the installation on Facebook!  Make sure you check out our page.  Better still, if you live in or near Melbourne, come and check out the chooks for yourself. The ACPFG is open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

Our Reason for Being – sustainable gardening is complex

The ACPFG has been going for 6 years now. When we started in 2007 we thought the main purpose of the garden was to grow food. Over the years we have learnt not only that it takes time to build soil and soil fertility, but that gardening sustainably is complex. To our surprise and delight, the garden’s main product over the last number of years has been gardeners. In the process of turning a large grassy field into a productive garden, many people have come to the garden, helped out enormously, learnt what they needed to learn, and have moved on to develop their own gardens. These gardeners often go on to have  chickens, worm farms and compost bins they might not have used so confidently before.

Growing your own food is like printing your own money

Access to fresh whole food is fundamental to good health. Research conducted in our local area shows that food security is a real issue. In particular, people living in boarding houses and international students in the region were groups specifically affected. Ashwood College is located in what’s technically known as a ‘food desert’: there is no fresh whole food within walking distance. Take-away food shops yes, fruit & veg no. A weekly community market has been established where you can purchase fruit & veg at wholesale prices. Once the chickens come back to the Ashwood College Permaculture Food Garden, we’ll be ramping up veggie production, and with the fruit trees beginning to come of a productive age we look forward to regularly contributing fresh food to this community market. Meanwhile all local residents are invited to come and help out.

Story and photos copyright to Mariëtte Tuohey, business owner of Sense & Sustainability
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Ashwood-College-Permaculture-Food-Garden-124928647615437/.