Off to school we go!!

G Block, where the learning begins...

19 July 2011 Today we started TAFE. If you haven’t been following our posts so far (where have you been?), we have enrolled in a Certificate 4 in Agriculture (Organic Farming) at Wollongbar TAFE. That’s right! Now, Rachel was planning to go to Griffith University next year and do a Clinical Psychology Doctorate, but as as the enrolment date drew closer she couldn’t hide her lack of enthusiasm from herself or anyone else. I am already a Psychologist, (have been one for 20 years) and whilst I love what I do I am keen to take things in a new direction, like somehow combining psychology with my love of growing food and being in nature.

So a couple of months back, we started to get a bit clearer about what we really wanted, and soon after we heard about, and then promptly enrolled in this Organic Farming Certificate. We are doing it over the next 12 months, part-time (it’s only 6 months full-time). There is also a Diploma in Organic Farming if you decided to get really serious (I think this one is offered at Murwillumbah campus).

So… First day at school. Always nerve-racking. Will it be enjoyable? What will the class-mates be like? Where are the canteen and the dunnies located? You know that sort of stuff. Happily we found that we had a good sized group (8 or so very nice peoples), and our first teacher, Mark is really lovely and knowledgeable. At lunch we also found the canteen and it has the most spectacular views across the valleys beneath Wollongbar. Wow.

Mark will be taking us through Plant Propagation and Crop Production over the next 6 months. And didn’t we jump straight into it today! After a cursory review of OH&S procedures, and a little background information about propagation techniques, Mark pulled out the Certified Seeds from The Diggers Club and we got planting. He explained that we needed to get our first crops in so that we have some crops to supervise and some produce to harvest in the coming few months. This way we get hands on experience of all aspects of growing veggies. He also told us we get to eat everything we grow(and share it with friends and the canteen kitchen)… Fantastic!!

Planting our seedling trays

Experience really is the best way to learn, so we were both pleased that the course was so practical right from day one. Mark helped us to confirm that we live in a warm climate here in Northern Rivers and then we selected from our batch of seed packets the ones that needed to be planted first into punnets, rather than directly into the garden. As it’s winter, we also chose plants that could use the warmth of the greenhouse to get them started (germinating) but in the coming weeks we will also be planting crops directly into our garden beds. For example, I planted Cauliflower, Broccoli, Cabbage, 3 varieties of Cucumber and Kale into punnets and then these were taken into the greenhouse. Others in the class were planting a range of other vegetable seeds. Looks like we will have a huge variety… and probably need to buy a second fridge to accommodate all the produce!!

Our little seedling trays in the foreground

In the afternoon, we tackled some theory on ‘Crop Husbandry’ (basically managing your crops), like how important it is to test your soil and know what to add to it. One goal with Organic Farming is to add in extra nutrients before you plant so that you leave the soil in the same condition in which you found it (or better)! That’s pretty cool. We learnt about acid and alkaline PH levels in soil and what that means for growing vegies…

Then we headed out to peruse the compost and check out our new garden beds. The compost they make on site is excellent quality. After checking out the composting process, we headed over to our very own garden beds (see images). Once again, spectacular views! And as we arrived we both remarked that we seem to have have brilliant Farm-Karma because we keeping ending up at such stunning locations. Mark took us on a tour of the beds, some of which were lying fallow (uncultivated), ready to be planted. Many had green manures (like Lap Lap and Cow Pea) in them helping to recondition the soil, and several had leftover veggie crops grown by the previous students. As we walked around Mark said we could help ourselves to anything still growing… So for the next 90 minutes we toured the little garden and ate our way around the different beds. Personally, I sampled Broccolini, Kale, Peas, Corn, Lettuce and Parsley… Yummy! My hunter-gatherer archetype was well pleased at all this roaming and sampling!!

Views from our TAFE garden

Our final task for our first day was to learn how to take a soil sample for testing. Basically, we will test it now before we plant to get an idea of what the soil needs, and then we will test it again after we harvest to ensure the soil is in good condition. The main thing with this is to take a sample from a number of places around your growing beds, so you get an average of the quality and nutrients. There is a special technique Mark showed us, but I can’t give everything away… you’ll just have to do the Cert 4 😉

Michelle with freshly harvested produce

Ciao, Michelle

PS. Rachel says hi, she’s busy upstairs transferring today’s notes onto the computer (just love her super-organised streak)…

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