WORDS & PHOTOS: Julianna Rozek
On yet another gloriously warm spring day, Horticultured ventured out to CERES, joined by Engineers Without Borders Unimelb. CERES Community Park is also known as the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (not Ceres the Roman agricultural goddess, or dwarf planet).
Their main goal is to promote environmental sustainability - something both of our clubs are highly interested in. CERES do this through a range of initiatives including community gardens, educational workshops on everything from beekeeping to kombucha making, renewable energy demonstrations, and developing and trialling new green technologies.
While there is heaps to see and do on the 9-acre site, the main activity of the day was a tour of the sustainable water initiatives with Nick the site manager. CERES harvest and manage water from their carpark, sealed roads, roofs and the broader catchment area. This water is used to water their organic farm, in the Merri Table cafe and in a dam supporting biodiversity.
Nick is directly involved in many of the projects and gave us a great understanding of not only what they are doing and why, but also the challenges.
One example is the permeable pavement which CERES have been investigating in conjunction with industry and university partners. While it looks great on paper - roads which allow water to filter through and reduce stormwater peaks and floods - the reality is expensive and hard to maintain. Without labour intensive management, permeable roads can quickly become impermeable.
Recently re-surfacing a main service road required CERES to align reality with their goals of environmental sustainability. The solution was a convention impermeable road made of partially recycled tar and printer cartridges, with features to direct most of the runoff to a dam.
CERES is a very valuable urban site for investigating new technologies. The opportunity afforded by 9 acres of land in an inner-city suburb, passionate employees and generous donors and partners is rare in a city of ever-increasing development and density.
One of the themes that surfaced in the tour was that CERES should be a model for the future and innovation, but short-term grant funding and harsh regulatory compliance meant that they continually rely on tried-and-tested solutions and technologies. If we are serious about addressing the problems presented by climate change and expanding populations perhaps we need to show a little more bravery.
Thank you Nick for being so generous with your knowledge while showing us the water-saving initiatives operating at CERES. We had a great time and learned lots from walking around the gardens with you.
Anyone who has been part of a community garden, or any community group for that matter, will know that there are always challenges of some kind! We are fortunate to have a group of friendly, enthusiastic members, so we don't have issues with conflict within our group BUT we do have other issues from time to time!
This blog will talk about some recent issues we've had with space conflict. Over the past few months, the university has re-done the path next to the garden and added in new lighting. This is great, but it has made things a bit difficult for us! This is how we've managed the issues presented by these works:
2. Damage to apple tree and blueberry bushes
Our Granny Smith apple tree was slightly in the way of the temporary fencing used, so the contractors tied its branches together to move it out of the way. While they meant well and we appreciate them not snapping the tree, they tied it up extremely tightly with a very thin, very tough cord (like thick dental floss!). This cord cut into the flesh of the tree, so we had to remove it. Since then we have kept an eye on the health of the tree and looked out for signs of infection in the branches, and thankfully, it seems to be unharmed.
Similarly, three blueberry bushes were in the way, but unfortunately they did not fair as well as the apple tree! The fencing was placed directly across our perennial edibles bed, and three blueberry plants were either snapped or uprooted. The uprooted plant was transplanted and given lots of water, but sadly it didn't survive (see below right). The branches that were snapped off the other two bushes were used as cuttings to grow new plants in our greenhouse. We are yet to see how they go!
3. Damage to soil structure
In order to install the new light and run power to it, a large chunk of our perennials bed was cut into, as well as the entire front of our native edibles bed. This not only directly destroyed plants, but presented challenges for the rest of the bed while the gap was there as soil next to the holes eroded and fell in, an issue both for us and the builders!
The holes dug ranged from approx. 40-80cm in depth, digging through the top soil as well as the underlying clay and rock layers. This soil was replaced, but of course not in the right order! The layers are now jumbled up, and who knows what impact this has had on the nutrient levels of the soil. We will endeavour to do some testing on this soil soon to see what the effects are. In the meantime, we have mulched the area to reduce the chance of weeds coming up and to stop it from looking too unsightly.
You can see in the photos below that our natives bed has more or less recovered. Thankfully, Aussie plants are pretty tough! Along the path's edge, we have planted Native Violets (Viola hederacea), and we are hoping that they will cope with the altered soil composition and spread out.
Our experience with this has taught us firstly, that not everyone appreciates plants like we do and secondly, that communication and education are so important! This should, of course, go both ways. We understand that the works carried out were necessary, and perhaps some more information about exactly how they would benefit the university community (e.g. the provision of lighting which is great for us) would have been useful. We learnt that the contractors took more care with where they dumped rubbish after we informed them of the importance of our native plants (which are expensive, culturally valuable and hard to get established!). Ideally, a quick meeting with 'us' and 'them' before works commenced could have reduced the negative impact of the works on our garden. Thankfully it's more or less back to normal now, and we'll just need to focus on rebuilding the soil where it was altered and monitoring the health of our damaged plants!
Read all about it: MUC Garden and Burnley Student Association share updates on their activities.