Farming Concrete is an initiative to measure and record data from gardens worldwide, allowing measurements of everything from produce harvested to happiness levels and producing reports that clearly display the benefits of these gardens.
We know that MUC garden has innumerable benefits, but recording these allows us to quantify them and really see the impact that it has on the environment and the community. We also hope that recording this data will make it easier for future community gardens to get established by raising awareness of their positive impacts.
Anyone can access our data, by visiting the 'Mill'.
1. Access the Farming Concrete website via this link.
2. Scroll down to "DOWNLOAD DATA'
3. In the 'Groups' box select 'Melbourne Uni Community Gardens.
3. The search results will look something like this:
4. Use the tabs at the top to see the different data that has been recorded (we are currently recording 'harvest count' and 'landfill waste diversion by weight').
Alternatively, you can create your own account here and add the MUC garden to your personal account. This will allow you to download detailed data that we have uploaded.
Once you've made an account, follow these instructions:
1. Under the 'Barn' tab, scroll down and MUC garden should be listed under 'Your Gardens'. Click 'add data' to access it.
2. Under the garden's page, you will be able to see all data we have collected. Please don't add your own data - we will record this at the garden and add it collectively. If you would like to be involved with data collection and recording for the garden as a whole, please get in touch!
3. Click 'add data' next to a topic you are interested in, for example 'landfill waste diversion by weight'. Not all categories will have data available. On the right of the page, click 'download data' to open an Excel spreadsheet, or click 'download report' to download a report automatically formulated by the Farming Concrete website.
4. There you have it! We will endeavour to put a monthly report up at the garden, so keep an eye out for it.
Spring! Daylight Savings! Blossoms! Hot weather! It's a pretty great time to be in the garden. And its always a great time to learn about soil, because where would our plants be without it? Craig aka the Urban Agronomist aka soil scientist extraordinaire taught us a bunch of incredible and useful things about soils.
Loam, about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay, is the ideal soil for a veggie patch: having a great capacity to hold onto nutrients and an ability to hold on to some, but not too much, water. The the ideal pH for most gardens is around 7 - at this pH all nutrients are readily available to plants. At much higher or lower pHs, many of the nutrients required by plants become unavailable. One of the best things we learned was that if your soil hasn't got a great texture, or isn't quite the right pH: compost will help. If your soil isn't full of life: compost will help. If your soil is low on nutrients: compost will help. If soils have a superfood, it's compost. Which is great news for us, because as you will have seen from previous posts, we have plenty of compost!
We process a LOT of compost at the MUC Garden, which is great! It reduces waste, and is key to the health of our garden beds. We have three compost bins as well as a worm farm, and they all receive scraps not only from our garden, but from individuals and many staff kitchens around campus. We are really grateful that people take the time to drop off their scraps, and are thrilled that we can contribute to waste reduction on campus. All of this does require a bit of management though, and this post will cover how we make it happen!
The first consideration with composting in a busy urban location like the university is making sure the area looks good, isn't smelly and doesn't attract pests. Until recently, our compost area was temporarily constructed from pallets and lattice, which worked fine but wasn't super aesthetically pleasing. We are therefore very happy that the university recently constructed a new fence for us, seen below! It looks great and hides the unsightly (to most) compost bins - tick and tick!
To reduce smell and the likelihood of attracting pests, we only use enclosed compost bins. We try and make sure nothing too smelly ends up in the bins, which we'll get into in a minute! We also have to be very diligent about ensuring that enough carbon rich materials are added to the compost to balance out the large amounts of smelly nitrogen rich materials (i.e. the veggies and fruits). We do this by adding leaves, cardboard and more recently, coffee chaff! See our earlier post for info on how we source our coffee chaff and how awesomely sustainable it is.
To ensure our system operates effectively and doesn't smell, it's important that the right things go in the right bins! Signage is key here. We have signs informing people of what is suitable to compost and what is not, e.g. meat is no good as it smells! The worm farm has its own set of instructions, to make sure our little friends don't get smothered in the wrong foods. We also have signs on either side of each compost bin, one for 'fill me' and one for 'resting' (see the illustration below by our creative talent Leila). Once a bin is full, we simply rotate the whole thing around so that the 'resting' sign is facing outwards. Works a treat!
Finally, there's no way around it: we have to work at it! As you may have noticed from our previous blogs, every working bee involves turning the compost, either with an aerator or a shovel. The volunteers also periodically drop in during the week to give the compost a quick turn and check if we need to switch to a new bin.
Composting is such a rewarding thing to do, and we're glad we can produce this nutrient rich product right in the middle of our campus.
It was lovely to have some new (and old) faces join us for the first working bee of the semester.
Although there isn't much planting, harvesting or weeding to do right now (everything is growing so slowly at the moment!) we managed to find lots to do in the garden: another lick of "Spinach Green" paint on the shed, putting some stepping stones in, taking cuttings of vietnamese mint, marjoram and thyme, planting jerusalem artichoke peelings (they regrow extremely easily), tidying up the herb spiral, feeding the worms and planting some leek seedlings.
And, as always, we turned the compost. But this time there was a change in the air: we've got a new source of carbon to balance out the nitrogen in all the kitchen scraps. We have three bulging bags of sweet-smelling coffee chaff, delivered completely for free by Allpress Espresso, who hate chucking this waste product from coffee roasting in the bin. We love using coffee chaff, because it is a local, organic waste product which breaks down quickly and smells dreamy (kind of like toffee or slightly over-cooked biscuits). As an added bonus, it is free and we are trying to work out a way to return the bags to Allpress so that it is also packaging-free. We think this is a much better carbon source than shrink-wrapped sugar cane mulch which has been trucked in from Queensland. If you'd like some coffee chaff for your compost at home, you can come and grab some of ours or go straight to Allpress. Or, why not ask your local coffee roaster? You shouldn't have trouble finding one - they are pretty much on every corner in Melbourne!
The sun came out today for a very productive and delicious working bee! We had a mini produce swap of lemons and feijoas, and harvested some beautiful radishes and chillies. We gave the compost some much needed TLC, and spent time picking coffee pods out of it which apparently are not compostable, despite what the packet may say! Even though there are construction works going on right next to us and we've sadly temporarily lost access to our natives bed and part of our perennials bed, the garden is looking wonderful. Winter crops are just beginning, with rocket and radishes in abundance and peas, broccoli, broad beans and coriander just around the corner. Winter isn't all bad!
The time came to cut down our tomato forest, which was sad because it required us to admit that summer is over and winter is coming. Tash made green tomato chutney form the unripened fruit, which was absolutely delicious.
In one of the new clearings, we spread out compost and planted broad beans to replenish the soil nitrogen after the nitrogen-hungry tomato crop.
We also harvested our first soy beans! They look so cute and fluffy growing on the bush, and taste even better than they look once turned into edamame. Simply boil for 4 minutes in salty water, plunge into cold water, pat dry then season with extra salt.
We spent our Friday afternoon working bee doing compost maintenance, thinning carrots and putting in some lovely companion plants for our future Summer veggies. We are looking forward to warm weather and the wonderful fruits and vegetables it brings!
A new working bee time of Friday 3-5pm saw us turning compost (looks good!), weeding oxalis and admiring our fresh strawberries and tiny asparagus.
We also met one of our compost donors - David from the vice chancellor's office. It turns out that the vice chancellor eats a lot of mandarins. Who knew?
Read all about it: MUC Garden and Burnley Student Association share updates on their activities.