On September 1 the sun was shining and the air was fresh at Canberra City Farm on Dairy Flat Road. When I entered the community garden gate, people were working in their vegetable beds.
The first person I spoke to was the one I had come to meet, Nick Rayns, and he was helping a new plot holder with irrigation information to realign the drippers in her plot
Last December, Rayns was allotted his plot. He had a busy job and it was not until he started working part-time that there was an opportunity to dedicate extra hours at the City Farm. The home garden was not big enough for vigorous vegetables. Nick and his wife Fiona Rayns found out about CCF online but they had previously visited several urban Canberra Organic Growers Society sites around Canberra.
The particular plot allocated to Rayns had been part of a parking area years ago so he brought the entire contents of his six compost bins from home and spread and dug it in and the soil level was raised about 20cm.
Earliest plantings in February this year were starting to grow when cheeky visitors, Rayns thinks rabbits, ate all the brassicas. Now there is a wire caged section of broad beans which allowed for a dense planting and the box effect holds the plants erect and protects their soft foliage which would make lovely eating for the rabbits. He also takes note of the birds on site and, during the first nine months has found white faced herons, ibis ("bin chickens"), magpies, willie wagtails, swallows and swamp harrier raptors are all quite common. Closer to Jerrabomberra Wetlands there are many more bird species.
Rayns' spring crops are thriving with rows of leeks, several varieties of potatoes, two rows of garlic, Chinese cabbage, beetroot, pak choi, spring onions and big red (Spanish) onions, curly and dwarf kale and silver beet/rainbow chard, most of which turned out to be red chard. There is also a short row of Broccoli "Romanesco" bought as seed from Johnsons Nature's Superfoods range from Bunnings and Nick had not noticed the heads which were completely hidden by the foliage.
Rayns was born in the UK and grew up in New Zealand. His parents were prolific gardeners, his dad raising the veggies while his mum was the designer and planter of ornamentals. Nick and Fiona have lived in Yarralumla for 14 years. She is the propagator of plants for the home garden (which we will visit next week) and for the plot at the City Farm where the beds are surrounded by a border of rosemary and lavender plants to lure bees and beneficial insects.
Among the leeks and potatoes were some "volunteer" plants, a gardener's delight, including mizuna, French sorrel and a tiny blue rue seedling.
Rayns said Canberra City Farm is great at supporting plot holders by providing free wood shavings for paths and sometimes free compost. He uses a combination of a drip system for watering as well as a hand held hose. He likes drippers because they are water efficient but do involve a lot of plastic. The water on site is non-potable.
At CCF there is always something going on including building of the low energy super shed, the chook farm, the commercial worm farm and bee keeping. Rayns says experienced plot holders give advice to newcomers like him and CCF runs great workshops on composting and propagating.
It was Fathers' Day when we met and lunch at home was to be chicken pies with kale and silver beet grown at CCF. The Rayns both make these pies to their own recipe, which follows.
CHICKEN AND GREENS PIES
300-400g chicken breast (cut into 1-2cm cubes)
1 red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
1 chicken stock cube
250-500g green vegetables, finely chopped (the Rayns use what is ready to harvest including kale, spinach broccoli and silver beet)
flour to thicken
Place a cob of butter in a saucepan, fry the chicken until cooked, add the onion and cook for a further few minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and leave on a low heat with the lid on (to wilt the veggies), stirring every few minutes, for about 20 minutes. The Rayns have a pie maker that comes with a base and lid cutter, and they use four or five thawed sheets of puff pastry (not light). The mixture should make between six to eight pies that take 10-12 minutes to cook if the pie maker is pre-heated.