Butts binned in Littleton Gardens campaign – litter down 80%

Volunteer gardener, Geoffrey Grigg asking Bega locals to 'Bin Your Butt' Photo: Ian Campbell
Volunteer gardener, Geoffrey Grigg asking Bega locals to ‘Bin Your Butt’ Photo: Ian Campbell

A simple campaign to rid Bega’s Littleton Gardens of dirty cigarette butts is working, as spring takes hold and new growth claims its place.

Volunteer Gardener’s Geoffrey Grigg and Marshall Campbell erected handmade “Bin Your Butt” signs throughout the garden three weeks ago.

“We’ve seen an 80% reduction in the amount of cigarette butts littering the lawn and garden areas,”  Geoffrey says.

“The number of cigarette butts being dropped or left behind was starting to get people down and make it hard to use and love this space, and cleaning it all up was a big part of our work.”

The recent addition of the Aboriginal ‘Biggah Garden’ prompted the action.

“This is Yuin Country and we need to treat it with respect,” Geoffrey says.

“The response from smokers has been very positive, no one has raised a concern or issue, once you point it out to people you start to see a change.”

The volunteer green thumbs would love to see the same response spread across the town.

“Everywhere you go you find cigarette butts, we just need to be more mindful of our actions,” Geoffrey says.

New signs will be displayed in the Garden shortly to update the message and maintain the momentum, and Council will soon add designated ‘but out’ bins to existing garbage bins.

With one problem solved the next is being tackled – bindies!

“It’s a big job, but we’ve been pulling them out by hand and trying to avoid the use of chemicals, this is a food garden after all,” he says.

A big crop of various edible greens are thriving in the spring sunshine throughout Littleton’s garden beds – lettuce, spinach, warrigal greens, lemon balm, and coriander, a donation from Bega Valley Seed Savers.

“People are invited to take a few leaves for lunch or dinner, that’s why the plants are here, just carefully pull leaves off from the base or stem so that the plant can keep growing,” Geoffrey says.

“As the weather warms up people will start to notice tomatoes and basil come through, and it won’t be long before we are eating strawberries.”

Geoffrey and Marshall tend to the garden each Wednesday and Thursday and invite people to stop for a chat.

“If you have any questions about the plants, how to pick them, how to cook with them, or if you have plants and time to donate, let us know,” Geoffrey says.

*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council

Put the kettle on, it’s time to get in the garden. Kathleen’s autumn-winter checklist.

Kathleen McCann
Kathleen McCann

The colder months are here and our region really feels it.

Life retreats only planning to stir with the first rays of spring, but don’t you retreat from your vegepatch or orchard, there are things to be done and still food to grow.

First a bit of observance – with a cuppa and sitting in the sun in the middle of the garden to peruse some of the issues that came up last season.

Some thought starters…

Do you need to rearrange the beds? What beds worked well last season and what didn’t? Do you need to put in a green manure crop to reinvigorate a bed where plants didn’t really thrive?

Take the time to really see what went well and what didn’t.

Start to make a list of some of those jobs you’ve been putting off in the garden…

Red daisy helps bring the good bugs in
Red daisy helps bring the good bugs in

Clean up the old summer beds and compost all that you can. You have been feeding and improving your garden for a while now so it’s good to keep what you’ve grown in the system.

Remember to collect fully grown seedheads from the best plants, dry them out and store in airtight containers.

Fork and aerate beds, reinvigorate with dolomite, potash and your favourite type of fertilizer, mine is my compost with added chicken manure from my girls.

Mulch all the beds again, I use slashings from the farm, rotted bales from the produce store and sometimes grass clippings if they don’t contain seed heads.

Plant out winter crops – brassicas, rocket, parsley, peas, chives, onions, garlic, silverbeet, spinach, coriander, all the root crops and don’t forget the broad beans!

Have you thought about what flowers to plant around your patch?

I have lots of geraniums, nasturtiums, marigolds, chrysanthemums, salvias and daisy family around mine. Someone is guaranteed to be flowering all through the year. The good bugs will thank you and help you control the bad ones.

Keep on top of any pests – aphid, white moth, cabbage moth, snails, and slugs all appear around this time of year before the harsher temperatures make it difficult for them.

Aphids! A little eco-freindly washing liquid mixed with water in spray bottle will take care of them, but you'll need to keep it up
Aphids! A little eco-friendly washing liquid mixed with water in a spray bottle will take care of them, but you’ll need to keep it up

For the ‘slimers’ I put ash around my seedlings to protect them, for aphids and moths a small amount of mild eco-detergent mixed with water in a spray bottle helps. The key is to be consistent, once is usually never enough!

Feed the citrus – cow/chicken manure, some potash, and a little Epsom salt, and mulch them.

Rake up leaves from deciduous trees and compost them, or better still put them into the chicken yard and let them play around in the leaves and turn them into compost for spring. Most deciduous trees are ok, but research your trees toxicity to chickens first if you have any doubts.

Planting more fruit trees?

Bare-rooted stock is now in and autumn is a great time for planting out. Remember to plan where your trees will work best and how you’re going to manage them throughout their (and your) life.

Clean up under all your fruit trees.

If you’re growing stone fruit or any of the pomme (apples, pears, etc) family get some help from the chickens in cleaning up. It is fine to leave the ground bare under the trees for a couple of months.

Red ribbed dock and horseradish, I eat the dock leaf and the root of the horseradish
Red ribbed dock and horseradish, I eat the dock leaf and the root of the horseradish

Start to think about how you’re going to prune for next years crops. Plus how are your tools going? Maybe an afternoon of cleaning and sharpening is in order?

Look for dead or dying branches to remove. Your first prune of the year should be the apricots – June is the usual time for this group. Wait till it’s very cold and all leaves have dropped to prune the rest of your orchard, that’s mainly so you can easily see next year’s fruiting spurs.

If your fruit tree has wooly aphid, scale, or sooty mould then it is usually a sign the tree is not doing so well in its root system, or rot has set into the heart of the tree.

You’ll need to make a decision, whether to save the tree or cull and start again. Often the tree is failing because of an issue within itself – just like us!

Keep up the watering, this time in the afternoon, when it is a little warmer.

A lot to consider, you might need more than one cuppa!

Play, plant and go well my gardening friends.

Words and pictures by Kathleen McCann – permaculturist, artist, good chick and number 1 worker at Luscious Landscapes.

The big dry – how to help your garden survive with plants up to the challenge

Kathleen McCann
Kathleen McCann

Everything is crispy, trees are turning up their toes and dust is now the common ground cover.

How on earth can we keep a productive vegetable patch and prevent fruit trees from losing their crop in these extreme dry times?

Part of the answer – grow plants that are up to the challenge.

Heat tolerant plants for the vegetable garden:

Arugula – wild rocket, spicy peppery flavour
Beans – dwarf varieties
Broccoli – picking varieties
Capsicums – all peppers including chili
Corn – nothing better than your own
Cucumbers – the small varieties work better in tough conditions
Eggplant – once again the smaller varieties work better and grow quicker
Hardy woody herbs – Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary or bush basil
Pumpkin – the smaller, quicker growing varieties
Silverbeet – perennial varieties work well
Spring onions – keep planting out to keep up a supply
Tomatoes – smaller varieties of fruiting toms grow well in tough conditions
Weeds – yep, you can eat’em. Purslane, warrigal greens, dandelion; all good to add to your menu
Zucchini – smaller varieties again do better

Fruit trees that cope with heat (to a point):

Almond
Apple – dwarf and smaller fruit varieties
Apricot
Avocado
Banana – on greywater if possible
Pear
Passionfruit
Plum – Asian varieties
Pomegranate
Macadamia
Red Mulberry
Walnut

And once you have them in the ground, some tips on keeping the moisture up to them…

During the planning stage of making your garden it is vital to think about water – availability, easy access, recycling and ways of keeping it on (or off!) the block for as long as possible as needed. This determines the size of the garden and what you can produce using the resources you have.

If your garden or orchard is on a slope you may have to introduce terracing or swaling (a ditch on the contour) to help slow water down so that it seeps down into the ground instead of running off the top.

Check your taps and connections, every drop counts.
Check your taps and connections, every drop counts.

Do you have access to town water?

If you’re on town water you will have to decide if you’re prepared to pay for its use. If you are on dam water or tanks then it is important to manage your use over the drier seasons.

You have to regularly maintain all taps, connections, and joins – leaks stick out rather easily with lots of green turning up in unusual areas.

Remember 1 ml of rain on 1 square foot of roof catchment means 1 litre in the tank.

Watering the garden deeply once or twice a week, usually in the evening, really helps maintain good root coverage below ground. If you miss an evening, early morning is second best.

In prolonged extreme temps and hot winds, you may have to water every day or every second day depending on water availability.

You could also look at recycling your greywater out into the garden. There are certain rules to follow so read up on the local council regulations.

Kitchen, bathroom and laundry greywater will need to go through a filtration system to take out any impurities.

You can use laundry greywater straight out on the vegetable patch – but only if you aren’t washing nappies. If you do wash nappies you will have to put the water through a filtration system before it goes onto the garden.

There are many designs out there on the net, ranging from simple reedbed systems to very expensive technology.

And remember to use eco/soil/plant friendly detergents for greywater use.

Mulch deeply to keep in moisture

I start my beds with no-dig gardening techniques and keep adding throughout the seasons as needed.

I make sure I have at least 10cms of mulch around the summer vegetables that need it – leafy greens, tomatoes, soft herbs such as basil, brassica’s, capsicums, chilli, zuchinni, etc.

I don’t mulch around any alliums though – onions, spring onions, chives.

Remember to keep up the slug and snail baiting throughout this time too as deep mulch can also help them survive the heat.

With fruit trees, mulch to the drip line of the tree – where the end of the branch hangs down to the ground is the usual size of the root ball.

In extreme weather conditions, you may have to decide what to keep growing and what to let go?

If you do have to make the decision to stop using some garden beds, it is a good idea to ready that bed for fallowing – letting it sit there – weed free if possible, fertilised and mulched – until the weather turns and you can replant for the next season when it looks like enough rain has returned.

Too many apples, remove half or more to help the tree cope in dry times.
Too many apples, remove half or more to help the tree cope in dry times.

Plant out larger vegetables on the hottest side of the garden to help protect and shade the smaller, less hardy varieties. Companion planting guides will help you choose who can tolerate who.

If you have a netted orchard you could plant a shelterbelt of smaller trees on the west/northwest side of the fence to provide shade and wind shelter.

You need to make sure the shelter belt is far enough away so that root invasion isn’t a problem in the orchard. Choose trees with a small root ball.

Most eucalyptus have roots that can travel up to 45 metres looking for sustenance.

In extreme conditions, shade cloth can be hung above your fruit tree and to the windiest side to help keep them cool.

If you have limited water you may need to take half or more of the younger fruit off to help the tree cope.

Play, plant and go well my gardening friends.

River Cottage Australia on hold – Paul West making new plans

River Cottage Australia, just outside of Central Tilba. From RCA Facebook page.
River Cottage Australia, just outside of Central Tilba. From RCA Facebook page.

River Cottage Australia at Central Tilba has been mothballed as backers of the TV show press ‘hold’ on further filming.

Host, Paul West says the future of the series is up in the air but he’s hopeful the show might return to TV screens one day.

“We don’t have a commission for the 2017 viewing year,” Paul says.

“For the last four years we have filmed a season every year continuously and this will be the first time we have had a break.”

The lush property, come TV set at the foot of Gulaga Mountain has been de-stocked, the cast of animals have all gone to good homes, their celebrity status attracting interest but not higher prices.

“We have stripped the high maintenance livestock out, like the chickens, the pigs and a lot of the cattle,” Paul explains.

“We just left a couple of the cows to keep the grass down, the property will still tick away but it won’t thrive like it has in past seasons.”

Digger the dog stays with Paul as part of his growing family.

“He’s not for sale…although that depends on how he’s behaving,” Paul laughs.

The West family on Paul and Alicia's on wedding day. From RCA Facebook page
The West family on Paul and Alicia’s wedding day @ The Sanctuary in Tilba. From RCA Facebook page

Having moved their life from Tasmania to the South Coast of NSW to film the show, Paul and his wife Alicia are now exploring new income options.

“It’s [River Cottage] not my property, I didn’t own it,” Paul says.

“As much as I do love going up there, I’ve got a family to feed, so I need to generate income, I can’t just do it for the love.”

Given the warmth many have for the show, it’s easy to forget that River Cottage Australia is a business – a partnership between Keo Films and pay-TV channel Foxtel.

According to Paul, the decision to rest the series is a commercial one that relates to the modern media landscape.

“The TV environment has changed rapidly in the last couple of years with the proliferation of on-demand streaming services and that caught our broadcaster on the hop a little bit,” Paul believes.

“They [Foxtel] had a restructure and River Cottage didn’t meet the criteria.”

Based on the long-running UK series hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall,  the Tilba version of the show reached into communities right around South East NSW.

The skill, passion, and beauty of these small communities was showcased to 17 countries across Asia and Eastern Europe.

Local people and their flair for food, the environment and each other became the star of the show – and generated terrific goodwill and prosperity beyond the TV production houses.

“There is no doubt the filming of 32 episodes of this national and international show has had a positive impact on the region in many ways,” says Sarah Cooper, Business Assistance Manager, Eurobodalla Shire Council.

“Aside from the immediate economic benefit that comes with a full TV crew filming for 3 months each year, there will be long-lasting effects,” Sarah says.

“The increased tourism in and around Tilba with visitors wanting to sample the ‘River Cottage Australia’ life has been a huge economic boost for the region and will be for some time.

“It’s been a four-year partnership with Council and the community, we will miss the show.” she says.

Paul West speaks with Ian Campbell about his plans for the future:

Paul West laughs as he remembers meeting viewers from Hungary on the main street of Central Tilba.

“If you have an eye for natural beauty, great communities, and that true regional character, then this is the best part of Australia,” Paul says.

The cooking and gardening program has also made a number of skilled locals ‘famous.’

Matt Christison with Paul West. From RCA Facebook
Matt Christison with Paul West. From RCA Facebook page.

As the show moved along Paul needed to call on expert advice, drawing on CWA cook Nelleke Gorton, farmer and felter Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins, Erica and Nic Dibden from South Coast Cheese and Tilba Milk, and mobile butcher Matt Christison, among many others.

Matt says the show has changed him.

“It’s been a huge buzz, the crew made me feel so welcome – they are great people.

“I was gutted when I heard the news, I will miss it. The Cooking School especially has been very satisfying,” he says.

Matt’s profile on the show has been good for his own business, which he’s very grateful for.

“Other’s have been inspired too, there are a lot more mobile butchers out there now,” Matt says.

While the show featured the recipes and gardening tips you’d expect, it was also known for showing regional life in all its colours, including the slaughter of farm animals.

As the one firing the gun and often cutting the throat of an animal, Matt says the reaction of viewers was interesting.

“I am very proud of that work,” Matt says.

“We showed how it can be done naturally and humanely.”

On the flipside, Matt says he’s disappointed his butcher jokes were cut from the show.

“I cracked every ‘meat’ joke there is, none of them made it to air,” he laughs.

Kelly Eastwood is another of the names tied to show reflecting on the positive impact it’s had and making new plans for the future.

Paul West and Kelly Eastwood. From RCA Facebook page
Paul West and Kelly Eastwood. From RCA Facebook page

Kelly was the TV Food Producer and as a qualified chef was Manager of the River Cottage Australia Cooking School, which ran in conjunction with the TV series.

Kelly says the region has left its mark on her and she’ll be staying.

“With all the travelling I’ve done, this is the first place I’ve had an affiliation with, it feels like home,” she says.

Just like Paul West, Kelly has built a connection with the local community that has moved beyond the TV screen and into the fabric of what regional living is about.

Kelly has become a key member of the Tilba Chamber of Commerce and has just been appointed president of the 2017 Tilba Easter Festival committee.

“I got involved to say ‘thank you’ to this community for its support of the show and the cooking school,” Kelly says.

“Moving here for River Cottage Australia has been life changing, there are lots of reasons to stick around.”

Kelly says she’ll take the next month off and rest before jumping into anything new.

“There are lots of opportunities for good food here and I’ll be writing my cookbook over summer,” Kelly says.

“I believe so much in this region and I just want to show it off to the world.”

For Paul West, his wife Alicia, their 2-year-old boy and baby due early next year, River Cottage Australia lives on in many respects.

Triangle Farm Tilba. From Facebook
Triangle Farm Tilba. From Facebook

While the show might be hibernating, Paul’s passion for food is awake and kicking under the banner of Triangle Farm Tilba.

Over the last couple of months, Paul has been turning a grassy paddock on the Princes Highway, opposite the Dibden’s dairy farm, into a market garden.

“When you are making a TV show you do more TV making than you do food growing,” Paul says.

“Now that the TV show isn’t on the horizon, I want to do more food growing.

“I’ll be growing a variety of chemical free vegetables that I hope to sell into the Bermagui and Tilba farmers markets, and maybe I’ll get down to Bega as well, and supply a few hospitality businesses,” Paul says.

A pop-up food stall is also part of Paul’s thinking, but he’s keen to get the garden producing first.

“Tilba sits atop a region that is colloquially known as the triangle,” Paul explains.

“It’s the trio of villages – Bermagui, Cobargo, and Tilba, they make a triangle on the map.”

Paul says the name Triangle Farm is also a nod to the triangle being the strongest shape.

“And the three points [of a triangle] also symbolise produce, place and people – the three most important elements in food,” Paul says.

Over the last four years, River Cottage Australia has been nominated for a number of TV industry awards, including best lifestyle show at the recent Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, it has attracted weekly audiences of up to 132,000 people and sold thousands of cookbooks, but perhaps its greatest achievement is the mark the show leaves on the community that took it on.

Farewell River Cottage Australia – fingers crossed you come back one day.

Veges galore – What is the secret to an abundant garden?

It’s all about the base, ’bout the base, ’bout the base…the garden bed base that is. If you want to grow luscious healthy, strong and abundant vegetables, herbs and flowers, you are going to need good quality soil.

As well as good soils, a vegetable bed needs aeration, sunshine, water and lots and lots of food – if you want to have a continual abundance in plant life.

The soil itself can be made up of different types of sediments: clay, sand, loam or decomposed rock – a combo of all four is the best – lucky you if you have it!

Most of us in Australia have either a clay issue or a sand issue, but you can bring it to life with the following:

  • Broken down manure – cow, sheep, chicken, horse, alpaca
  • Some sort of organic mulch – like straw, broken down sawdust, seedless cut grass, shredded leaves
  • Compost – made at home if possible, the bagged stuff you see in stores isn’t that fantastic, so I’d steer clear of it if possible
  • Mineral enhancers – rock dust, potassium sulphate, dolomite
  • Moisture – not too wet, not too dry – consistency in moisture is the key
  • Worms and other good little helpers for decomposition

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned commercial fertilisers.

You can use them – blood and bone, pelleted chicken manure with additional minerals, etc, but these are commercial, processed animal products from who knows where and are often advertised as ‘organic’ but that can simply mean that the contents of the bag came from something that was once living.

You should look for the Australian organic label when buying processed fertiliser and always read the list of ingredients and mineral components on the back of the pack – some products contain elements of heavy metals.

The trick to continual good vege bed health and excellent cropping is regular top-ups as you harvest.

Most people don’t pull everything up in their home gardens at once, it’s usually a continual picking regime for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As you start to make space in your beds, you want to keep planting – add some more goodies if you can. Remember what you take out in mass (in terms of the size of your veg) you really should put that and a bit more back in as compost, manure and mulch. Aerate with a fork first if needed and then add the goodies.

Remember what you take out in mass (in terms of the size of your veg) you really should put that and a bit more back in as compost, manure and mulch. Aerate with a fork first if needed and then add the goodies.

Aerating works better than turning the sod over – biologists have discovered different microbes and small invertebrates live at different levels in the soil profile. Turning the sod means they are in the wrong place and can die, leaving your soil without little helpers for breaking down nutrients for the plants to eat.

I also suggest that you don’t put the same type of plant back into the same spot, a practice that helps to reduce the risk of disease. Follow a root crop with a leafy crop, follow a leafy crop with a heading crop, follow a heading crop with a vine crop. For instance, carrot then lettuce then broccoli then pea. All while keeping an eye on the seasons and what works best when!

I started off my vegetable garden with the no-dig method, mainly because my soils are clay-based and were rock-hard. From that start I have just kept up the layering, adding more and more good stuff and 4 years later I have a bed that sits around 15cms above the path. Fifteen to 20cms is a good depth for most vegetables.

Next bit is – should I go seedlings or seeds?

There are guidelines on most packaged seed. Root crops do better when sown direct into your bed, so do corn, peas, beans and cucumbers. Other seeds should be sprouted and raised in boxes or pots before planting out. Getting tomatoes off to a good start in a greenhouse or glass-lidded box is a good idea and some people start them off as early as June or July ready to be planted out when the frost has (finally) gone.

You could be like me and not worry about it and just chuck stuff (seeds) around randomly and hope for the best – it’s haphazard, works 70% – 90% of the time, and it does confuse the pests a bit too.

You can let plants self-seed and run wild through your garden, but sometimes you run the risk of inbreeding, stunted growth and bitter tasting veg as the plant returns to a wilder form.

I save the healthiest, slow to bolt plants for seed. Remember though that the one lettuce head can produce 60,000 seeds, yes you read right 60,000! Non-hybrid and heirloom plants are the best to collect seeds from.

Seedlings raised at home are generally strong and healthy. Commercially grown plants are often forced into growth to look good for the consumer and have little resistance to pests and disease.

Locally grown seedlings from your farmers market are generally better quality than from a supermarket or hardware store.

I always follow a planting out of seedlings with seaweed concentrate or worm juice, just to give the plants a feed to get over the shock of transplant. If a plant looks poorly, I will follow-up with regular liquid feeds every few days, till I see an improvement – if it doesn’t improve after 2 weeks, pull it out and start again.

Watering consistently will also help in vegetable abundance – early morning or late afternoons are the best times through the warmer months.

Splitting fruit and bolting to seed are an indicator that you are not watering regularly enough. Never be cuaght out with the notion that just because it has rained your vege garden will be okay – you should check the soil after rain to see just how far the rain penetrated.

Happy spring planting!