True Grit & Tough Love: gardening in Queensland’s Runcorn

Growth on sound foundations: Kyabra Community Garden, Queensland

It’s Spring Festival at Kyabra Community Gardens.

Two gardening years have passed since I last popped in to Kyabra Street, in Brisbane’s southern suburb of Runcorn. It’s next to the state archive.

This community garden rarely grabs the attention of the media. It’s a shame, because every community garden loves having locals drop by. For today’s success we can thank 4BC Radio for alerting its gardening audience to Kyabra’s spring celebration. Cheers 4BC, we got a quorum!

Last time I was here we gathered in a big shed, and I gave a slideshow showing ways to live more sustainably when you’re on a limited budget: sustainable living on the cheap. Two wet summers have since passed and a dedicated core of gardeners and volunteers have tilled Kyabra. Now a bamboo stands tall enough to shade a patch of grass, keeping me cool as we discussed the eleven best ways to make compost and the basics of worm farming.

And just like last time, it was another hot. dry, dusty and windy day. Before settlement, the low hills of this area would have been dry sclerophyll forest, dominated by Eucalyptus. The soil is a heavy loam, not always very deep, but with promise for cultivation. But sloping land guarantees drainage, and since the soil is so starved of organic matter and heavily compacted, rain doesn’t easily or quickly soak in. This is pity, because dry soil is warm soil and that makes crops very thirsty.

Gardening here is not for the faint-hearted. Kyabra is already in a warm spot. Woodland shelters this plot from cooling sea breezes, but the northern and western sides are exposed to sun, wind and hail. Kyabra is dry.

When you lack cash, the gardening options on a site like this are simple. You could grow what will put up with the existing poor conditions as they are. Tough crops, like pigeon pea, lemongrass or rosemary.

Or you could put in sustained, hard work. By decompacting the soil and applying organic gardening techniques, the soil would be beautiful in around five years. Roughly the same time it took me at my place in Wynnum.

Or else you could be creative and grow food in containers, you could rise above the problem.

They chose the latter two options, and over the past two years their core of dedicated organic gardeners have greened Kyabra. The number of raised beds has doubled, there’s ten times more containerised plants, it’s greener, more interesting, plus there’s good food aplenty.

Considering Brisbane is currently experiencing the longest dry spell in a decade, Kyabra is looking pretty damned good.

Happy spring festival. Bravo!

All images © Jeff Poole

Jerry Coleby-Williams

27th October 2012