Models – Thursday Island’s ‘Donut Gardens’, RIG News, Dec 2012
Good garden models
The Thursday Island ‘Donut Garden’
At the recent The Winds of Zenadh Cultural Festival hosted by the Torres Shire Council, the landcare and gardening marquee was very popular, reflecting a wave of interest in gardening on Thursday Island. Various initiatives are underway, including the popular ‘donut gardens’ that are in many public places on the Island. Many thanks to Roger Goebels who provided information for the following story about an effective small garden model that may work well in many locations.
Thursday Island is a difficult place to have a garden – poor soils, prone to waterlogging in the wet and baking in the heat, not least of the challenges gardeners face. Local identity George Ernst, who has lived and worked in the Cape and Torres Strait region for many years, has developed a garden system that has proven to produce fruit, vegetables and flavourings and can be adapted to ornamentals, medicinals and other plants.
The ‘donut garden’ name extends from the round mound of mulch and compost that reduces weed growth, retains moisture and breaks down to provide food for the plants. The distinct shape and relatively small size, between 3 and 4 metres across, also helps to define these gardens. Each garden has a central fruit tree like a grafted lemon or mango tree and three or four other plants such as pineapple, chilli, pawpaw or pumpkin. The key to the garden design is that the management needed to grow the fruit also grows the other plants that produce a crop in shorter time than the fruit tree.
The use of mulch is important. To produce a constant supply of nutrients, chicken manure and small amounts of other sources of macro and trace nutrients are incorporated in the beds along with the mulch. This garden system can be adapted to reticulated water or stand alone irrigation. Shade and windbreaks can be constructed for particular plants.
The donut gardens are mostly located on road verges and other areas on public land. Support from the Council, including the Mayor, are indications of the strong community support for these gardens. Within the first eighteen months of this project 48 garden beds have been planted. Although the location of each bed is on public land, each location is chosen to meet various constraints to enhance the location – without interfering with power lines, underground services, road and pedestrian access – and to provide a range of foods.
Creating the gardens has been a team event. The plants cost money and the garden beds require regular maintenance. George, who works for TAFE, has had some financial support from the TAFE and the local Council, but the main effort is provided by dedicated and enthusiastic local people, including grade 11 and 12 students.
Most of the garden inputs can be sourced locally and apart from labour, upkeep is at a minimal cost. Each bed is accessible by the public and include painted pegs that provide information such as what fruit tree it is, who planted it and when. Additional information about, such as what the fruit or other food will look like when it is at maturity and ready to pick, can also be displayed.
Roger Goebels is a horticultural consultant, currently working on a ACIAR funded project on growing and using leafy green vegetables in the Torres Strait and Pacific regions. Roger is a member of RIG Network and kindly forwarded this story for RIG News December 2012 edition.
Featured above: Wongi tree planted with chilli and pumpkin
Below: Student topping up a garden with chicken manure. Note the dry hard soil that the garden in built on and the lush growth of the gardens further along.