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SHS Garden Journal Blog

Heart of a School Garden: Friendship, Food & Community Wellbeing

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We are often asked, ‘What’s the best thing about your job?’ For us top on the list is the diversity of people we meet and how these acquaintances or relationships enrich our opportunity for learning and zest for teaching. Whether it’s a conversation with a young child, student, a teacher or community member each interaction provides an insight to our work purpose

Asiye & Zorka Riverwood Community Garden

                                              Asiye & Zorka - Riverwood Community Garden 2015

We wanted to share with you the story of Zorka and Asiye, who are the best of friends. Together they radiate the heart and soul of Riverwood Public School garden. They support the garden to grow and flourish through their hard work, presence and commitment to creating a safe environment for the children to learn and belong. They no longer have children at the school, but they tend the garden each week out of authentic interest and wellbeing. For them the garden provides a sense of belonging to their community and heartfelt connection to their homeland. While they have been in Australia for around 40 years their cultural backgrounds of Macedonian and Turkish along with the 17 different cultures represented at the school embeds a deep character. 

What do you love most about coming to the garden? 

Zorka - My daughter was grown up, and I got lonely. I think I can sit here watch TV all day and get to be a bigger person than I am! This is my hobby. Being in the school garden reminds me of when my daughter was at school, and it is important the children know where food comes from. My daughter used to ask questions like ‘Does a watermelon grow on a tree?’ and I think the kids might be the same. It’s very important that they know where the food comes from, not just the shops. Watching the lifecycle of plants growing from seeds, to the table, makes my heart bigger. When I see the plants, I am jumping for joy! 

Asiye - This is my community. I like to watch the changes of the vegetables growing. I like to be busy. 

What changes have you seen over the time you have been here? 

This garden was empty, dry land before the garden. Hard work has made the difference to what is here today. 

What are your hopes for the garden? 

Zorka - For the future, the soil is still dry, it needs to be better, and that the garden is still looking as beautiful. 

What do you gain from the garden? 

It is joyful to see the plants growing, to see the students coming and eating, sharing the food; they pick it themselves and eat it here in the garden. 

Zorka and Asiye are the garden guardians, earth stewards and food producers. These two ladies have enriched our learning in the 3 years we have known them through our shared interest in growing food and nurturing a sense of place. Learning for us is about respect and creating opportunities for people to grow together. Creating communities of practice is essential to this social learning relationship. Learning evolves through shared stories, regular interaction, conversation, and openness where everyone feels valued for their contribution. Both ladies work in collaboration with the students to create a haven and special outdoor learning space representing the heart of the school. 

Zorka and Asiye delight in the knowledge that they are making a difference to their community, they do this to instil a community sense of pride. Harvest days in the school garden are a special community occasion; on these days Zorka and Asiye can be found in the garden hours beforehand preparing for the afternoon. During a big day of work they will stop for lunch by setting up their outdoor table and chairs with a simple spread of food where they both share a meal, conversation, laughter and stories with each other. They love this and it reminds them of how food was shared and celebrated in their respective home villages.

Volunteering their time to the school garden is only part of their commitment to community. They also volunteer to keep the streets of their community clean through the Community Clean Street Program an initiative organised by the Riverwood Community Centre, where citizens meet to pick up litter in their neighbourhood to improve their area. Zorka and Asiye are members of the Riverwood Community Garden a beautiful multicultural garden, abundant and thriving with 55 plots. You can sense the strong community connection in Riverwood where everyone works as a team to support cohesion and pride. Whether we are working towards a healthy environment, sustainability, food security or community health and wellbeing it is visible that difference is achievable at this grassroots level. 

Permaculture Principle 8: Integrate rather that segregate
Our goal for a strong community is to work as a team supporting each other to grow. Learning is collaborative based on a commitment to our purpose. Decisions are thoughtful and reflect the ethics of Permaculture: earth care, people care and fair share. We embrace the diversity of this community and love to hear stories of how food is the centre of cultural celebrations. Growing food brings us together, it unites across cultures as a common staple while valued as a highly prized gift when grown and shared amongst community. While the garden can bring us an abundance of healthy food, the garden offers community a sense of harmony and an authentic relationship with the earth and people around us. Identify your own community champions, nurture these relationships and delight in the pleasure of watching your garden grow together. Successful relationships in the school garden will help plants grow stronger and the produce taste better! 

For more information about Permaculture ethics and principles visit:

Author: Michelle Carrick 
Seed Harvest Spoon Co-Founder & Program Director 
Copyright 2015: Seed Harvest Spoon Education Foundation Ltd.

Permaculture Principle: Use and Value Diversity

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Diversity is all around us – nature, gardens, communities, families and schools. The growth and potential of these networks depends on shared interactions, relationships and how diversity is valued. 
A combination of skills, talents and attributes leads to productive, resilient and thriving ecosystems. Diversity enriches life when used in positive ways.

Diversity in the Garden

Acknowledging the many functions of individual elements within a network means we can make the most of their participation in an ecosystem. For example, think of our amazing worms that decompose food scraps and garden waste, provide and transport nutrients to soil through vermicast and secretions, aerate soil, while educating children about life cycles and ecology. Then we have the Comfrey plant - a nutrient rich garden mulch, compost activator, resilient garden edge barrier, liquid tea fertiliser, nitrogen fixing soil regeneration, dynamic accumulator, beneficial insect attracting flowers, the list goes on…

Within our backyard garden exists a thriving community. Interactions take place between living things and their environment every second of the day. Have you ever stopped to observe creatures hard at work acting with a sense of purpose in their environment?
Ants are always busy at work, lifting, moving or carrying their discoveries from one place to another, or leading an expedition for food. They are fantastic at aerating soil and even better at seed dispersal. They make up one of the many elements of our food web.
Our garden health and vitality depends upon a variety of plants and creatures to support its functioning. Diversity builds strength and stability = life balance.

A monoculture garden where rows of single type vegetable plants are grown together competing for the same resource, is susceptible to attack of pest and disease.
Our aim is to create a polyculture model, featuring patterns of support and interaction in the garden. The elements within a polyculture garden all work together in synergy to enhance life of soil, microorganisms, insects, plants, and wildlife. While a little competition is natural and important for growth, balance promotes wellbeing and quality which leads to life abundance.

How can you use and value diversity in your garden?

How can you strengthen the connections, and support multiple functions so that one species doesn’t dominate all others?

Some ideas for enhancing balance and biodiversity within your garden:

  • Interplant your herb and vegetable plants with colourful beneficial insect attracting edible flowers, such as marigold, calendula, nasturtium, chrysanthemums, lavender and borage.
  • Design and plan for guilds, companion planting, growing a combination of perennial and annual food plants to integrate the benefits and adaptations of different plants that will in turn support the common goal of each plant, while increasing the overall health of the garden ecosystem.
  • Encourage native bees to enhance pollination – bees require food for forage and materials for nest building. A garden abundant with a diversity of flowering plants, trees and herbs will provide bees with nectar, pollen and resources for habitat.

Author: Michelle Carrick
Seed Harvest Spoon Co-Founder and Program Director
Copyright 2014 Seed Harvest Spoon Education Foundation Ltd.

Permaculture Principle: Use Small and Slow Solutions

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Portable garden? Small and slow - start with what garden space you can manage

In our fast-paced busy lives, it is good to know that the small and slow is valued. Permaculture principle 9 “Use Small and Slow Solutions”, is all about recognising the natural pace of things.

Our garden could be more abundant and vibrant if we used quick–fix fertilisers and growth-boosting products, but at what cost? A plant that grows organically, and at its own pace will be more resistant to diseases and pests. The soil life will certainly be healthier in a balanced permaculture garden; any sudden influx of synthetic nutrients and minerals will disturb the delicate balance of soil biota. We won't be able to see it. We will be able to see vibrant flowering of plants above, but how long will the disturbance to the soil take to re-balance, and what are the long-term repercussions? 

A slow and small solution is to use worm juice, vermicast and home made compost that improves the soil and promotes healthy and hardy plants.

In large-scale farming, the addition of synthetic fertilisers creates a catch-22. The soil becomes dependent on this addition of nutrients and minerals to sustain yields, and is unable to rehabilitate itself into balance. Less life in the soil leaves plants more susceptible to disease, which then necessitates chemicals and pesticides to control these problems.

“Permaculture is…working with nature rather than against nature…of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.” (Bill Mollison Introduction to Permaculture)

Marigolds planted between snow peas - inviting beneficial bugs to feed on pests, rather than using quick-fix sprays that upset nature's balance

Supporting local Farmers' Markets is part of the Small and Slow approach. Food is sold not far from where it is grown. It is seasonal, it supports small-scale farmers and producers, and consumers are connected to their food source in a very real way. It may be slower than a visit to the local supermarket, but well worth the effort; and remember, like the snail, slow and steady wins the race. And if the prize is a healthy integrated ecosystem, it is worth waiting for.

Natalie Er, Seed Harvest Spoon Facilitator

Permaculture Principle: Integrate rather than Segregate

Friday, December 13, 2013

Integration is the essence of resilient ecological and social communities. An environment whose wellbeing thrives consists of relationships that are mutually supportive and recognise all living organisms as valued participants with a role to play.

No one can do it alone we all need others to motivate, support, guide, teach, encourage, care and provide for us at different times.

In Permaculture we view how organisms contribute to the holistic composition of community or ecosystem through the many interactions they perform and synergies that exist.

A garden that is rich in diversity will support a network of creatures and plants to coexist and reach their potential by creating a balanced ecosystem based on cooperation and mutually beneficial interactions. This will eliminate much of the work for us as the plants and creatures provide for each other’s needs. E.g Plants feed earthworms by shedding their leaves, flowers, and twigs. Worms decompose this garden litter to create new rich organic matter to feed the plants and soil life. Worms tunnel within our soil to create passages for nutrient, water and aeration to flow while enhancing soil structure. This supports the root structure and health of plants as it makes available water and nutrients for the roots to absorb without too much effort. We can support the work of decomposers such as worms by adding mulch to our gardens providing habitat and food for worms.

The possible interactions and relationships that exist in our backyard range in complexity as those in social communities. Just like human friendships – plants and creatures function to their capacity when they are part of a culture that accepts and desires the best for them.

In permaculture, relationships that provide mutual benefits while meeting the needs of and using another’s products are called guilds.

An example of a simple guild is demonstrated by the ‘Three Sisters’ a Native American planting tradition of Corn, Beans and Squash.

The beans draw nitrogen from the air and convert this to be used by the corn and squash. The corn stalks form a trellis to support the beans growth and the squash is a living mulch that covers the ground reducing weeds, protecting the soil and maintaining moisture.

At Riverwood PS we have planted corn, beans and zucchini (squash is commonly used in preference to zucchini, but we have used zucchini as it was available). This is the first time we have planted the combination, it is a learning experience for the students at Riverwood PS – we make observations each time we are in the garden checking the progress of the plants growth. 

Permaculture Principle: Design from Patterns to Details

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Look closely at a spider’s web: we know what they look like, but each one is different. The spider has taken into account its location, what anchor points are available; what is movable, flexible and what stays put. An effective web is also close to possible food sources; right by big bushy areas that attract bug life, or near a light bulb that attracts moths. Even though the design of the web is universal, it has adapted to its location.

It is easy to get caught up in details and immediate ideas when setting up a garden. If we begin from the standpoint of, “I would love to have fresh herbs and lettuce growing right by the door, so I can use it while I’m cooking”; it makes sense. It is using the zone principles of permaculture, with ease of access to the things we use the most. 

We take small steps from here, Where will I put my compost so I don’t have to walk as far? Worm farm? Vegie patch? And we need to consider the big picture. Looking at your garden as a whole and considering nature’s patterns (the seasons, wind patterns, shelter, sunlight, slope of the garden, thermal masses, trees that attract birds, where the water flows after rain) we gain a better understanding of working with nature. These cues will better guide us as to where the right spot for that vegie patch is - yes, near the kitchen, but right by the brick wall of the garden shed to harness the warmth and protection it offers.

So like a clever spider, see the patterns first, then add the lovely silvery details.

Author: Natalie Er; Seed Harvest Spoon Facilitator.

Permaculture Principle – Produce No Waste

Thursday, September 05, 2013
This is a favourite permaculture principle of ours, as it encourages resourcefulness and creativity whilst minimising waste that goes to landfill. The purpose is to engage a shift of thinking from active consumer to thoughtful producer. It involves us actively taking responsibility for the amount of waste that we generate, by making changes to how we view unnecessary purchasing and packaging habits. 

Can we engage children in developing agency in waste reduction? 

Children grasp the concept and are active participants in promoting waste minimisation. They can achieve this through composting, worm farming, rethinking, reducing, reusing and recycling. Role models that support children’s learning and participation, will foster these skills to evolve as a way of life. 

Starting early is the key

Sorting waste is an easy skill for children to manage! Early mathematical skills of sorting and classifying are fostered when children are involved. Combining signage to represent these concepts will enhance pre-reading and writing development. 

What makes this even more interesting for children is the addition of animals, such as worms and chickens. Both these animals contribute to waste minimisation as they munch their way through our food scraps and garden waste. Their work provides us with nutrient rich organic matter called humus, for our garden soil to promote healthy plant growth. When these plants are eaten the nutrients are absorbed to promote the health of all living things – including us. Food scraps that go to landfill produce harmful methane gas and leachate that are pollutants to our environment, creating negative energy and intolerable smells. 

Starting small and embedding achievable practices, such as recycling waste by composting or worm farming will make a difference, leading to further awareness and implementation of other waste reduction strategies. If we take the lead we will inspire others to do the same.  

Positive energy is infectious particularly when children are involved! 

Permaculture Principle: Use and value renewable resources and services

Friday, June 28, 2013

Renewable energy sources

Energy sources found in nature that exist freely and are readily available to be converted to energy. e.g. Solar, Wind, Tidal waves, Biomass, Hydropower, Geothermal.

Non-renewable resources

Energy sources found in nature that have taken millions of years to form, are used in the production of energy and will eventually run out. e.g. Fossil Fuels (coal, oil, gas), uranium.

Being the middle of winter, this is a timely principle to think about as we may be more dependent on energy sources to: heat our homes or workplaces, dry our clothing, spend more time in our cars, eat warmer foods, use lighting for longer hours, etc. 

How can we be effective in our energy consumption?

Think twice before using non-renewable energy sources and look for alternatives. Extra blankets, layers of clothing, a beanie and scarf and Ugg boots may do the trick to keep the electric heater from being turned on.

This Permaculture Principle reminds us of the sources of renewable energy (green or clean energy) available to us readily in nature, that can be used as a resource or service; and the need to reduce our consumption and reliance of non-renewable resources for energy production that are running out and impacting our environment. 

On a daily level in our home, school or organisation we can look at ways that we can minimise our reliance on non-renewable energy, while maximising the potential of alternative forms of energy.

A classic example that David Holmgren refers to in demonstrating this principle is the Solar Clothes Dryer:
“A clothesline makes use of sunshine and wind to dry clothes. This is a non-consuming use because neither the sunlight nor the wind are significantly less available for other uses. Clotheslines require minimal materials, in this case nylon cords and salvaged timber. This simple system replaces a tumble dryer in which hot air (heated using 2000 Watts of typically fossil fuelled electricity) is blasted through clothes, bashing around in a metal drum, rotating on nylon bearings, which typically wear out in a few years. The solar clothes dryer provides another renewable service, sterilization from UV radiation, reducing the consumption of more non-renewable resources, noxious laundry chemicals used to sterilise nappies.” 

Source: Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles Teaching Kit, Second Edition, David Holmgren, Co-originator of the permaculture concept.

Riding a bike or walking is another great step to reducing our impact and consumption on resources, and both provide us with a service in return - a free source of exercise to improve our health and fitness. I have noticed in the last few years an increase in the amount of cyclists that travel past my home to and from work each day – the addition of improved bike lanes and tracks has encouraged this. 

Including chickens in our garden system has supported the transfer of waste to a natural source of energy within our garden. Our food scraps, garden waste, and unwanted pests are fed to the chickens this provides them with a diverse diet and in turn the chickens convert this matter to nutrient high manure to fertilise our garden plants and trees providing them with energy. That’s not the only service the chickens provide – we also receive healthy fresh eggs. This simple step has meant that we are do not need to purchase garden fertiliser.  We are contributing to a closed loop system where energy is remaining within our system to enhance our environment.

Special Note:

Our permaculture articles are based on the 12 design permaculture principles developed by David Holmgren, visit for more information and resources. 

If you would like to learn more about Permaculture please visit the following sites for courses (including some upcoming courses with David Holmgren):

Permaculture Priciple: 'Self-regulate and Accept Feedback'

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Focus for May: Self-Regulate and Accept Feedback

We have resources at our easy disposal and quick fixes to solve our problems. This convenience can lead to complacency and overuse. It is very easy when things are in abundance to keep on taking without thought about nurturing or giving back to the earth to protect and sustain our valuable resources.

Through self-regulation and by taking responsibility for our actions, we can limit our use of resources such as water, energy, food, etc. Be mindful by learning and understanding where the resources we purchase come from, and what is involved in bringing them to us. We can be proactive and take positive steps to give back to our environment. Keep the circle of giving and receiving flowing.

Accepting feedback from the environment and those around us will help us understand that non-renewable resources are not an endless supply, but something that we need to nourish and support for future generations, so that they may benefit from them as well.

Permaculture Principle: 'Obtain a Yield'

Friday, April 12, 2013

The essence of this principle is that with whatever energy you are going to contribute to something, there must be a worthwhile result.

We can consider this in many aspects of our lives - work, financial investments etc; but most definitely this applies to what we are cultivating in our food gardens.

Put simply, choose to plant crops that you will acquire a good volume of produce as a result of the level of work you put into your garden, and consider how demanding the plant itself is in terms of nutrients and care.  You should also only consider planting foods that you and your family like eating.  Why bother planting and harvesting foods that you loathe! As the saying goes, "You can't work on an empty stomach!"

I recently had a pumpkin seedling appear in one of my garden beds.  This had just sprouted from compost I had added from my Compost Bin.  As I once had success with a butternut pumpkin vine grown in a no-dig garden bed that I had constructed on my concrete driveway, I thought I might try my luck with this vine.  Pumpkin vines spread very quickly wide and far! Flowers appeared and the baby pumpkins started to grow.  Unfortunately though, whether it be due to the high rainfall lately, the baby fruit started to rot before growing to a decent size. Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so the vine was starting to take away too much from the other plants in my garden bed.  I realised that the pumpkin vine 'yield' was not going to be big enough, so the vine was pulled!

Think about the yields that you are obtaining from your energies during April - it might be time to make some changes.

For further information on this Permaculture Principle as well as the other eleven, visit They have just relaunched their website and it looks fantastic!

Permaculture Principle: Catch and Store Energy

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It is highly appropriate that we have chosen this Permaculture Principle to focus on during March, with Earth Hour making switching to renewable energy a focus this year. We should all consider solar power as an option for our households and workplaces. Aside from the environmental effects of generating electricity, the increase in electricity prices is reason enough!

In relation to our gardens, March is a great time to 'catch and store energy' with the arrival of autumn, and the abundance of autumn leaves that fall to the ground. 

Leaves that fall onto our garden beds provide beneficial free mulch to protect our soil reducing the amount of water we use. The leaves create a forest floor in our garden beds enhancing the first layer of organic matter in our soil. Earthworms love to feed on leaf litter in the garden, decomposing the leaves to create nutrients for our garden soil. The leaf litter provides all garden critters with habitat so that they are able to keep our garden ecosystem healthy.

Leaves that fall on hard surfaces such as footpaths, gutters or pavers can be collected and used as a valuable resource for creating healthy garden compost. Carbon materials (such as leaf litter) are an important addition to our compost system. A healthy compost system consists of a mixture of nitrogen and carbon ingredients to promote successful decomposition rates and a thriving ecosystem.

Involve Your Children:

While we have such an abundance of autumn leaves, we can encourage children to help us rake the leaves, collecting and storing them for use throughout the year. Talk to them about the importance of 'making hay whilst the sun shines' ie we are catching and storing a resource that we can use when it is not naturally available.