A week following our big day, an even bigger day–in the form of a Red Wriggler Homecoming–was in store for the Southern Beaches Community Garden.
It’d be then, on Thursday, March 5th—amidst grey skies and torrential rain—Tom Symmons from Worms Downunder (based out of Chandler, QLD) would arrive with the SBCG’s newest, most anticipated members in tow.
Worms. But not just any worms.
Red wiggler composting worms. Lots and lots of them.
Five kilograms or, to be a bit more precise, something in the vicinity of 20,000 worms.
Delivered and spread out amidst their moist cocopeat and straw bedding inside the SBCG’s Double Grande Worm Habitat, the red wigglers would begin their settling in process.
It was an impressive sight, seeing those little magical creepy crawlies set loose in their new home. But, not nearly as impressive as the Red Wigglers themselves. At least, according to the incredibly thorough and enlightening literature provided in the Worms Downunder information pack.
For example, did you know the worms:
Breathe through their skin as they don’t have any lungs
Are hermaphrodites (they all have both male and female reproductive organs)
Are sensitive to light to the point where paralysis can occur within one hour
Can die if their skin becomes too dry
Cannot regulate their body temperature as they’re cold-blooded
In addition to body temperature, ambient temperature plays a major factor in the rate at which the Red Wigglers feed. Too high or too low a
temperature takes the worms out of their ideal comfort zone, greatly reducing the amount of food they consume.
However, in an ideal, well-maintained environment, Red Wigglers are capable of eating anywhere from 50 to 100% of their body weight in organic matter PER DAY.
So it stands to reason, then, the more worms, the better.
And the best part…?
You don’t have to worry about having to cull any of your Red Wiggler worm population as the little critters are as clever as they are hungry. Clever in that their reproduction is self-regulated in direct proportion to the size of their environment.
Regulated to the point where, in ideally maintained conditions, the worms can double their numbers once every three months.
Which, for the SBCG’s Double Grande Worm Habitat, will eventually equate to 80,000 Red Wigglers…
All doing their part in processing upwards of 40 litres of green waste a day, producing nutrient, soil-enriching worm ‘castings’ and helping to remove vast quantities of methane producing green waste from our local landfills.
A win-win for the SBCG and the local community alike.
If you wanted an example of community in action, a visit to your nearest community garden would be as ideal a stop as any.
And Tugun’s Southern Beaches Community Garden would be no exception. From garden beds which need building, grounds that need tending, compost bins that need turning and pony poo runs that need manning…
There’s plenty of work of the volunteer variety to go around. And, yet, that would only be half of the ‘community in action’ story.
Because, without funding from generous donors, all that work doesn’t even get off the ground. And in the case of the SBCG, chances are extremely good that generous donor would be the Tugun Branch of Bendigo Bank.
Yes, since the garden’s inception in 2009, Tugun’s Bendigo Bank has offered the garden’s members and the community, in general, its unwavering support. A level of community support that is extremely rare.
And one person that knows this better than anyone is Bendigo’s Tugun Branch Manager, Allan Merlehan.
So, that said, we at the SBCG wanted to show our gratitude by giving Allan the floor. To give him the opportunity to answer a few questions and, in doing so, to shed a little light on the banking mindset that has helped to separate and distinguish themselves from the rest of the banking, big player herd.
All while simultaneously helping the SBCG grow as much as it has.
So, Allan, how long have you worked for the Tugun Branch of Bendigo Bank? As a banker in general?
I’ve been at Tugun for I0 years and in finance for a total of 36.
Was there anything overly unique or special about the bank that sort of drew you to the place?
The ‘Community’ focus was one aspect and the other was they had bank managers with authority in their branches, so you had decision-makers at ground-level.
Having worked there for as long as you have, what do you feel makes Bendigo Bank different from other banks?
The bank’s focus on the customer & the community.
On average, how much does Bendigo Bank put back into the community each year?
Our branch directly sponsors about $90k.
When do you remember first hearing about the Southern Beaches Community Garden and how has the Tugun Branch been involved with the garden?
I heard about them very soon after I arrived in Tugun in January 2010. Since then our Tugun Community Bank Branch has provided over $32,000 in funding to assist with projects such as the propagation tunnel, water tanks, a covered seating area and a trailer. Our directors and staff have also volunteered in a working bee.
What were your first impressions of the organisation?
They immediately came across as a group of determined people wanting to improve their local community.
Since then, what have you found most interesting or impressive about the garden?
How the garden has continued to evolve from the initial concept 10 years ago to what it is today.
Do you find any similarities between the goals of your bank and the SBCG?
The goal of connecting with your local community & endeavouring to make a difference.
After so much involvement with the garden, what are your thoughts as you walk around the grounds that, over the years, you’ve had such a significant hand in helping to shape?
I believe it is the members who have had a significant hand in shaping the garden into what it is today. We have assisted where we can, but it is the determination and hard work of the committee and the members of the SBCG that has brought that concept 10 years ago into a reality.
Of Bendigo Bank’s Tugun Branch’s many contributions to the local community, is there one that makes you most proud? If so, which one and why?
I am proud of all our contributions in the community, whether that is in a dollar value, the sharing of knowledge or the volunteering of time. It’s not so much the contribution, but what it enables others to do, that makes a difference for our community.
It’s a rare morning you won’t find SBCG member Natalia Ribeiro tending to her diverse and vibrant garden bed. Plot number five to be exact. The one, fittingly enough, located just around the entrance to the SBCG propagation tunnel housing fledgling seedlings which, if they could talk, would surely tell you about wanting to look just like the plants on their door step when they grow up.
It’s the plot managing to grow coffee, pawpaw, Thai basil, various chilli plants, mint, tarragon, bitter melon, arrowroot, okra, various lettuces and, no doubt, a wide
assortment of other unique fruits, flowers and veggies that might look familiar but whose names don’t exactly leap off the tongue.
And while you might not know the names of everything growing in garden bed number 5, one look will tell you the person responsible for such a prolific plot has invested more than just a bit of their time and effort into that space.
And you’d be very right.
But probably not for the reasons you might think.
For Natalia Ribeiro, you see, her raised garden bed is more than the mere sum of its many bountiful parts. It’s a portal of sorts. A connection to her past. A past that, until she and half of her eleven brothers and sisters emigrated to Portugal in 1974, saw Natalia grow up on her family’s vast farm in East Timor.
So all that said, in what we hope will be the first of many ongoing ‘Faces in the Crowd’ posts to come, here’s Natalia’s take on all things gardening.
How long have you been a SBCG member and how did you first get into gardening?
I joined the SBCG back around 2010. I was walking by and saw the area and immediately went in and started asking questions. As for how I got into gardening, that’s a bit of a long story. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. My father took over the family farm in East Timor from my grandparents. It was more a ranch than a farm and we had everything on it. Livestock of all sorts and we grew all our fruit and vegetables. We were completely self-sufficient with the only thing we had to buy from the store being toiletries. My favourite memory of the place was sitting on our big veranda waiting for my father to come home from the fields. I’d see him in his loaded up truck and I’d get so excited to see him every time. I lived there until the age of nine. It was then, when my father decided things were getting too dangerous, that me and half my twelve brothers and sisters moved to Lisbon, Portugal. He ran that farm for 61 years before my oldest brother took over.
What do you find most rewarding about gardening?
Like was probably the case with my father, I find the most satisfying aspect of gardening being able to grow my own fruits and vegetables and being able to harvest and bring them home. I’m proud to be able to say what I produce allows me to cook a delicious meal for my family.
What mistakes do you feel new gardeners make?
I think too many new gardeners underestimate the amount of work which is often necessary to produce and maintain a really healthy and productive garden over time.
They come in to it all very excited to get a garden bed and for the first few months—especially when the weather is cooperating—everything seems perfect. But later, whether it’s their busy life outside the garden or whatever, they start to neglect things. Add long periods with little to no rain and failing to get their garden sufficient amounts of water only seems to make the issue worse. A garden can be a lot of responsibility. I don’t think a lot of new gardeners understand that.
What’s your favourite fruit/veggie/flower to grow and why?
I’d have to say pau pau is my favourite because it’s so healthy and it grows year round. Back in East Timor we ate it all the time green or ripe. We used all the parts of it, too. The leaves, the flowers. Everything. My father planted a big patch of it and I remember he used to sit on our veranda eating it with a spoon in the afternoons.
What’s an aspect of gardening you struggle with and why?
I know a lot of people will probably say the heat but, to be honest, I’m pretty used to it. I suppose East Timor prepared me for it and I just really enjoy being outside tending to my plot and the other common areas. I usually arrive very early in the morning and am gone before things get too hot anyway. That way I do what I need to do in the garden and I still have plenty of time for other things I like to do like going to the beach.
What’s your favourite all natural fertilizer and why?
Although we have access to composted material in the garden, I still prefer grass clippings. The clippings are natural and generally in an abundant supply. I sometimes find bits of discarded plastic in the compost bins which kind of ruins everything for me. It might seem nit-picky, but I’m just all for the grass clippings.
What’s the best way to convince a young person gardening is a viable activity?
Leading by example in an enthusiastic manner is probably the best way. That way it’s easier to explain how much fun gardening can be while having them help you with various projects around the garden, like watering.
If you were a politician with clout on the Gold Coast, what gardening related initiatives would you put in place?
I would probably want to start an educational program in the area that focused more on recycling. Because it seems like a lot of people don’t have a really good idea about what can and cannot be recycled or composted.
If you could swap out your gardening ability with another skill or hobby, what would it be and why?
One of biggest dreams of mine has always been to be a real qualified chef. I’ve always been pretty good at creating healthy meals for my family but to be a chef would let
me take things to a whole other level. Plus, being a chef would allow me to really capitalise on my knowledge of plants and vegetables.
What’s the most memorable tip anyone’s ever given you pertaining to gardening?
Of course the most memorable tip I’ve received about gardening was from my father. He just always used to say that to have a beautiful and healthy garden you really just have to be committed to it and to believe.
In 1956, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh had a plan. He wanted to set up an awards program which would recognise adolescents and young adults for completing a series of self-improvement activities. The ultimate goal of the program being to help young people discover their full potential by finding their purpose, passion and place in the world.
To achieve this award, each young person would need to participate in a four part process. A process which revolves around physical recreation, skills, community service and participating in a team adventure in a new environment. All while under the guidance of award leaders, supervisors and accessors.
Today the Duke of Edinburgh Award has expanded to 144 countries with over 8 million young adults having participated in the past 55 plus years of its existence. And in Australia alone, the Duke of Edinburgh Award has seen over 775,000 young people participate.
Young people like 14 year olds, Niamh Williams and Hester Clark of Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School in Terranora, NSW.
For a period of three months, both Niamh and Hester have collectively worked 26 hours under the guidance of SBCG
Community Engagement Officer Di Gunther. In that time their activities and subsequent accomplishments have been numerous.
These activities and tasks involved garden projects including seeding and weeding along with general garden beautification projects. Projects such as designing murals for the garden white board and composting bins, installing and decorating the wooden frames around the garden’s worm farm baths and assisting garden member Hana
Smith decorate large bulk containers with colourful and engaging sunflower and bumble bee scenes.
Additionally, the two friends also designed a folder containing various seedlings that are distributed at community workshops so the recipients can see what the plant will look like once it matures. And at the Palmy Festival, Niamh
donated her time at the Children’s Workshop answering questions and assisting the ever inquisitive youngsters in preparing and taking home a decorated pot with their choice of seedling.
In the end, it’s simply safe to say, it’s been a very hands on few months for two very busy bees. All of which has been incredibly appreciated.
“The girls have been a credit to the youth of today,” says Gunther who adds such a positive experience will see her being
very proactive in inviting many more young people into the garden. “The artwork they have helped create has been happy and injects colour into the garden space and ignites the imagination of all ages…More families have joined since the girls have been involved and when asked why, they simply state they enjoy the welcoming feeling they get when walking around the garden.”
As for how two teenagers managed to find themselves in the SBCG garden in the first place, that can be largely attributed to Niamh’s mother, Fiona, who, as fate would have it, herself participated in The Duke of Edinburgh back in 1988-89 while in school in Ireland. (Fittingly, Niamh’s father, Paul, completed his program in 1984-85 in England).
Fiona says she was struggling to find a project to fulfil the community service portion of the award until a couple lunch break discussions with Di—the two are co-workers in the mental health department at Tweed Hospital– parted the clouds in what everyone seems to feel has been a very symbiotic working relationship.
“It’s been good to see how everyone at the garden works as a team to make projects come together,” says Hester.
And Niamh, “I now have a greater interest in doing planting and gardening projects at home,” before adding a sentiment both rising high schoolers share. “Thank you to Di, Hana and everyone else at the garden for making this such a positive experience.”
All of which is, no doubt, everything Prince Phillip could’ve hoped for.