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Seed Raising

Here is the original post by Anne-Marie from June 2011. We miss you. Hope you are having a wow of a time in your mobile home.

Hi everyone,

Let’s get seed-raising for our First Birthday Spring Fair celebration so we can have spectacular flowers, vegetables and herbs growing throughout the garden.

Here’s how to start your seeds growing in winter, for spring planting, by making up a seed protection box using one of those foam boxes you can pick for free from a green grocery shop/fruit market (they usually throw them out so just make sure the boxes are without holes in the bottom or sides).

What you need to get the seeds growing:

  • 1 protection foam box
  • Either single cell punnets or multi cell punnets (clean with warm soapy water and dry before adding growing mixture
  • Seeds (one variety per punnet; if you have enough seed then one variety per box)
  • Seed growing mix
  • Masking tape
  • Permanent marker
  • Plastic spray bottle  filled with water
  • Clear plastic (enough to cover top of box to keep seeds & young seedlings warm)
  • 4 sticks for box (sticks should be the height of box plus 6”)
  • Seeds
  • A couple of bricks or something to hold the 4th side down

What to do:

  1. Cut the foam box down to 2” above height of seed punnets.
  2. Use the masking tape to tape a stick to each inside corner of the foam box
  3. Label each punnet using masking tape (or paddle pop sticks). If you have the same seeds for the whole box just write the name of the seed etc on the outside of the box.
  4. Add a very thin layer of water to bottom of foam box.
  5. Fill punnets with prepared plant raising mix
  6. If the seeds are very small put about 2 to 3 seeds per cell for multi-cell punnets. Larger seeds put 2 in each cell.
  7. Very lightly spray the punnets with water using the plastic spray bottle.
  8. Use the clear plastic to cover the box.  Take it over the top of the sticks and down over the 4th side of the box. Tape plastic to 3 sides on the box but leave the 4th side loose.  Don’t tape this side down as you need to be able to water the seeds with the spray bottle.  Just tuck the plastic under a couple of bricks to hold it down over the box and to keep the seeds from the weather.
  9. Put the box in a sheltered place but with plenty of light.  Once the seedlings are up you can gradually bring them out into the sun and when there are stronger you can take the plastic off and they should be ready for transplanting into the community garden.
  10. Make sure that the seeds do not dry out but also make sure that you don’t have them swimming in water.  When the seeds come up watere regularly and don’t let them dry out.
  11. Once the seedlings are growing strongly we can start planting them.

Here’s a list of plants that will grow well at the community garden:

Edible flowers:

  • Pansies
  • Johnny-Jump-ups Viola tricolor
  • Small Snapdragons Antirrhinum majus
  • Yellow gem marigolds
  • Calendula
  • Cornflowers Centaurea cynaus
  • Sundews Portulacas   (these can also be grown from small plant cuttings)
  • Carnations Dianthus caryophyllus
  • Pinks Dianthus
  • Impatiens Impatiens wallerana
  • Native Violets & Violets

Salad greens :

  • Migunette lettuce (Red and green)
  • Butter lettuce


  • Tomatoes
  •  Rainbow Chard
  • English Spinach & Spinach


  • Coriander or Cilantro
  • Bee Balm Monarda didyma
  • French Lavender
  • Dill
  • Angelica Angelica archangelica
  • Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum 
  • Borage Borago officinalis
  • Burnet Sanquisorba minor
  • Chevil
  • Marjoram (will grow by cuttings)
  • Sage (any different species would be great) we already have the common Sage and Pineapple Sage (will grow by cuttings)
  • Ground cover rosemary (will also grow by cutting)
  • Lemon thyme
  • Ground cover thyme
  • Common thyme
  • Savoury
  • Chives and garlic chives
  • French Tarragon

If you have any other herbs to spare that would be great as we will start up a herb garden

Another homemade small greenhouse can be made using a large plastic soft drink bottle.

  1. Take the lid off and keep for use after you have completed your greenhouse
  2. Cut the plastic bottle in half (lengthways) using a knife
  3. Put growing soil in one half of the container and sow tomato seeds in this
  4. Spray with water
  5. Use masking tape to seal up the two sides of the bottle
  6. You can put the lid back on
  7. Water through the lid as needed (keep the soil moist but not wet
  8. Put near a window but not too close (keep it warm but not hot)
  9. Watch your seeds grow and when they are near the top of the little greenhouse then they are ready to plant.

Some other plant growing containers

You can also use a foam box (this time with holes) and plant tomato seeds in there (use a good soil mix with plenty of old manure for this one)

Use a very large clear plastic bag over the whole box and water as necessary (again keep the soil moist but not wet).  You should get a lot of seeds come up this way.

The same method can be used with an ordinary pot to grow cuttings or seeds.  Use a small pot for seeds and larger one for cuttings.

You also need some sticks to hold the plastic bag up and masking tape to hold the bag down around the pot.  Same deal water as needed.

Happy potting

Anne-Marie McArdle

MVCG’s Roving Gardener


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Great Information on soil health

Putting life back into Garden Soils


Rebuilding fertility and Soil Structure, to easily grow healthy plants & Vegetables

Use worm extract microbial fertiliser, organic and biology based. Use your “Worm Farms”.

Biology, is where the future lies in rebuilding depleted Australian soils.

We have the worst depleted soils on earth, in Australia, but they can easily be made fertile if you understand how soils work, and what controls soil fertility.

Basic Building Blocks you need to understand

A healthy soil is full of life both microbial and all sorts of little critters including important ones like earth worms

To Rebuild Healthy Garden Soil and Fertility.

The first step to rebuilding our depleted garden soils is rebuilding the microbial life that was once in our soils, we should be looking at our soils as the biggest asset we have in the garden, without healthy fertile soils you will never grow healthy plants and you will be treating the plants for the same problems every year. As gardeners we should never impose detrimental gardening practices on our soils. If you look after your garden soil the soil will reward you with healthy plants and fresh nutrient dense vegetables.

Do you have Worm in Your Garden Soil?

When you dig in your garden are you seeing earth worms, if not this is the first indicator of low microbe numbers, low soil fertility and soil garden health. It’s commonly believed that worms eat organic matter when in fact worms eat microbiology; these are the organisms that are breaking down the organic matter in the garden soil and turning it into humus.

Why do I not have worms in my soil?

The problem with modern gardening practices is the use of synthetic fertilisers and chemicals to make it easier to grow plants, when in actual fact these synthetic compounds that are added to the soil sterilize the soil and kill off all the microbial life in the soil. Once you kill off the microbes in the soil you will no longer have earth worms.

How does this affect my soil then?

The microbes’ job in the soil is to cycle the nutrient and minerals in the soil and to break down and shred the organic matter turning these materials into a soluble form for plants to be able to absorb through the root wall. So the life in the soil is making organic fertiliser for your plants to be able to grow. the microbes and worms also move these materials around in the soil taking it down deeper into the soil, opening up the soil so it holds more air and water and allowing plant roots to penetrate deeper into the soil profile to assess more water and nutrients when conditions are dry.

Are You Struggling with Soil Compaction?

The Cause

Both machinery and foot traffic cause compaction, but the biggest cause is long term and over use of synthetic fertiliser. Soil compaction and sterilizing the soil’s microbial populations is caused by synthetic fertiliser and chemical abuse to your soil.

Soil microbes live on each and every soil particle in a healthy garden soil and they open up the pore space between each and every soil particles; this then allows air and moisture to penetrate into the soil profile, the microbes and worms also take organic matter down into the soil profile , this helps to break up clay soils and adds organic matter to sandy soils  improving its water holding capacity this also allows the plants roots to go down further into the soil profile after these compacted zones are opened up by soil microbes.

Soil Ph.; Should I know mine?

Yes.  Soil PH is critical and basically controls the soil function,  as soon as your soil PH swings away from neutral and gets above 8 and below 5 your soil microbe start to go dormant, so once this happens your nutrient cycling stops, also mineral availability is at its largest availability at around PH 6.4, as your PH swings you also get chemical lock up in your soil, so the minerals and nutrients  are there but unavailable for your plants to use.

How to stop the nutrients and minerals from leaching or washing out of your garden soil

With synthetic chemical fertilisers over watering or heavy rain leaches or washes the synthetic fertiliser down through your soil profile and away from your garden plants and veggies. This chemical then ends up in our ground water polluting our natural rivers and dams, plus our drinking water supplies

In a healthy garden soil, soil microbes consume the minerals, nutrients and tie up chemicals already in the soil profile, these compounds are then contained in the microbes’ bodies until the microbe is consumed or dies, this stops the nutrients and minerals from leaching out of the soil profile with heavy rain or irrigation. This is the organic slow release method of farming that is sustainable, and this is why you can reduce your fertiliser inputs

How can I reduce the amount of water my garden requires? 

Microbes coat each soil particle with a mucus layer that absorbs water this retains more moisture in the soil profile, also because the microbes open up the soil and allow more moisture deeper into the soil profile more water is stored for your garden use, with far less evaporation and as the microbes take organic matter deeper into the soil profile the soil retains more moisture.

Is your garden under pest and disease attack? What about Biological Control?  

Synthetic fertilisers kill off microbes and increase compaction and swing your Ph from where it should be, so soils with low microbe numbers, will be unable to defend or out compete the diseased organisms, both bacterial and fungal, when they arrive in your garden, you are then forced into treating with more chemicals that also have a detrimental effect on your soil and microbe numbers.

The biology contained in worm extracts (worm wee and castings) as a bio-control helps to protect the seeds, seedlings and plants from both pest and disease attacks, by helping to increase plant brix levels and supply the nutrients and minerals in a soluble form available to plants, the microbes will also consume disease spores from the soil and crop, when in good numbers. Build the microbial life in your soil and they will build soil health. Rebuilding soil microbe numbers is the key to soil fertility, if you are seeing mineral deficiency or pest attacks on your plants and vegetables it can always be traced back to mineral deficiency in the soil, don’t treat the problem you see on a plant, fix the problem once and for all, by repairing the soil.

How do I break down the organic matter in my soil?

Organic matter is broken down by microbes and turned into humus or plant food, the soil microbes and worms will also consume and eliminate any disease organisms contained in organic matter or manures that you have put on your garden, but with synthetic fertiliser use and chemical abuse on your garden and soil you can kill off the microbe numbers and be left with organic matter and manures that contains disease spores that will attack the next crop planted in it. Organic matter cannot break down without decomposing microbes, so this organic matter will just lay on the surface of the soil.

By using worm extract on your gardens and plants you are replacing the missing species of microbe that have been killed off with the extra benefit of soluble nutrients and minerals in an easy to apply liquid.

By reducing synthetic chemical use and building soil health you can build microbe numbers and rebuild your soils for more sustainable gardening whilst reducing your costs.


Thanks Rose

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Kirsten extolls the benefits of azolla.

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Had to post this.

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Here is the soil report on 5 areas of the garden. On first reading it is alarming to see heavy metals but on referring to the safe level guide, you can see that the levels of heavy metals at MVCG are negligible.

Soil Report MVCG 2014 001

Soil Report MVCG 2014 001 (2)

Thanks again Rose.

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Healthy Soil = Healthy Food

A short report on a Seminar presented by the Local Land Services, Greater Sydney, NSW Govt. on March 4 2014.

The aim of this Seminar was to present practical tips for producing healthy food in an urban environment.

The location of the Seminar was at the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability, 2 Balls Head Drive Waverton. This location is a sustainability educational centre and includes a Community Garden on the grounds; the development of this garden was part of the third presentation. This interesting and historical centre is open 6 days a week Mon-Sat, well worth a visit).

Attendees included representatives from Community Gardens, Schools, Street Verge growers and some commercial and council interests.

There were three presentation topics:

A good Soil Recipe – Michael Hewins, Milkwood Permaculture.

Tips included how to cultivate a healthy soil structure and a suggested produce cycle to maintain effective production.

Creating safe produce – Prof Mark Taylor & Macquarie University’s VegeSafe program team.

A discussion on Soil contaminants, their usual sources and identification using technology. Soil sampling was carried out on soil samples brought by the participants using their handheld XRF “gun”.

Case Study of a successful Community Garden – Ralph Forinash, North Sydney Council.

This presentation showed how North Sydney Council, under the management of a dedicated council employee, has developed three Community Gardens in its area; on a bitumen surface, over contaminated soil and on a difficult and small sloping site.

This was followed by a brief facilitated discussion by the attendees covering further subjects of interest worthy of subsequent follow-up by others, including Macquarie Uni.

The introduction to the seminar mentioned that the interest in local growing was becoming worldwide in cities and that the urban environment presented unique challenges. This seminar about healthy local produce has a ‘back to basics’ approach. Soil health is a huge field of study and this seminar can only be a brief introduction.

1.         A good Soil Recipe

Good gardening is an exercise in observation skills, seeing patterns, and soil manipulation, both organic and permaculture.

Healthy soil is alive (with microorganisms) so feed the soil not the plants.

Soil cultivation is both biological (bacteria and fungi) and physical (types of dirt).

Soil in nature is generally covered (leaf litter, etc.).

Nutrient dense food comes only from nutrient dense soil. Feeding the soil with compost requires balance and diversity. Compost is a stimulant and is concentrated; it should be aimed at cultivating the soil’s biology.

Digging the soil stimulates bacteria growth and produces a short term stimulus.

Worms and hot composting builds up bacteria and fungi. Overuse of leachates, concentrated nutrients such as seaweed teas, worm wee, etc., does weaken the plant’s ability to use the soil.

Mulches provide a covering protecting the biological activity and moisture retention (lucerne, etc.); green manures allow the soil to rest awhile.

The suggestion is to move away from just physical cultivation.

This suggested produce cycle over time will feed and develop the soil for each successive crop:

Green manure (cover crops i.e. vetch, oats, etc.) coming into winter

Vegetable fruit crops (any that produce crops to pick)

Leaf crops

Root crops

2.         Creating safe produce

“VegeSafe” is a Macquarie University pollution research program, its aim is to identify soil pollutants and their distribution, initially in the Sydney area.

They have designed a handheld tool to identify soil contamination, mainly from heavy metals in the soil, on-site alleviating the need to have soil sent for laboratory processing at some cost.

The most common contaminant found is lead, the sources of which include petrol, paint, industrial pollution and introduction from various external soil sources (can include dumping or ‘clean’ waste or even ‘new’ soil)

These contaminants end up in the plants and subsequently in the food, or they can be ingested from the soil and even inhaled from soil and dust.

VegeSafe provides free soil testing to Sydney residents, advice and affordable solutions.

VegeSafe is on www.facebook.com/pages/vegesafe/571316076267515

3.         Case Study of a successful Community Garden

The Coal Loader location includes a Community Garden on the grounds; the development of this garden commenced with a bitumen surface. Slides showed the development of several garden types including Boxes, Keyhole gardens (with brick walling), an in-ground level garden and a ‘no dig’ garden plot

Another site, Milson Park, was over contaminated soil and necessitated a protective layer (“geotech”) between the garden and the subsoil (preventing plant roots from entering the contaminated soil), a layer of crushed compacted sandstone and another layer of gravel, etc. was then placed over this protective layer which became the walkway surface between the garden plots. Again use was made of Boxes and keyhole garden plots.

The third site was on a difficult and small sloping site. Tests showed no contamination and so the garden was introduced straight into the soil, this site is still under development.

We finished the Seminar with a most delightful lunch, catering for all tastes (vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, etc., etc.). We have learnt a tremendous amount and we have included everything that we can remember (with help from our notes) in the report above and hopefully our community garden members can benefit from this information.

Rose Hooppell

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Here at MVCG we grow a mega amount of Mustard Greens, the Japanese Red Mustard Greens variety. They have a bite  like wasabi and began life as one small plant, planted by our wonderful Anne-Marie, which eventually became aphid-infested and died after sending its seeds into the great green yonder of the garden.

I have this same prolific plant in my own garden and entertained the idea of using it to make dried wasabi peas (still researching that one).

In my efforts to be self-sufficient I added mustard greens to my spinach, parsley & egg stir-fry and voila I’m a convert. When cooked they have a pleasant taste and no hint of hotness.

My next step, Dr Google of course, where I found an amazing amount of information on this very nutritious plant.

From the website, The World’s Healthiest Foods – www.whfoods.org I found out that Mustard Greens are said to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer properties and lower the risk of cardiovascular problems.

Nutrients in Mustard Greens 1.00 cup cooked (140.00 grams)
Nutrient                             %Daily Value
vitamin K                              524.1%
vitamin A                              177%
vitamin C                               59%
folate                                     25.5%
manganese                            19%
fiber                                       11.2%
calcium                                  10.3%
tryptophan                            9.3%
vitamin E                               8.4%
potassium                              8%
vitamin B6                             7%
protein                                   6.3%
copper                                    6%
phosphorus                           5.7%
iron                                         5.4%
vitamin B2                            5.2%
magnesium                           5.2%
vitamin B1                             4%
vitamin B3                             3%
Calories (21)                          1%

To read the full article go to http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=93

Now how about that!

How to grow Mustard Greens

Sow directly into soil in early spring or late summer, lightly cover the seed. They tend to bolt in the heat of mid-summer.

Companion plants: nasturtiums, onion, dill and borage all deter insect pests, especially the cabbage moth.

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