There is much more to the kitchen garden at Merici College than the 600 tomato seedlings raised by students for sale at Allsun Farm's recent open day in Gundaroo. Science teacher Fiona Buining, who works with sustainability officer Phill Raso, says the school has sustainability as an elective subject in which students learn to grow food in the garden, which opened mid-2011.
During winter and spring, they have harvested broccoli, cos lettuce, endive, English spinach, red cabbage and salad greens. Broad beans were first picked on October 15, and there is silverbeet, rocket and garlic.
The produce is sold in the school canteen and also used by hospitality students to cook for the restaurant (closed for exams, but open again to the public in March).
Volunteers from the Black Mountain special school and mentors from Merici look after the compost, using scraps from the canteen. The compost is used in the raised garden beds.
Merici also has a glasshouse, where zucchini, button squash, spring onions, leeks, parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant are grown from seed. The tomato seedlings include nine varieties from the New Gippsland Seed Farm, three varieties from Diggers, two from The Italian Gardener, and cherry tomatoes, raised from seed saved by year 12 pupil Georgia Peake. They are also growing trays of microgreens, radish and tatsoi, mizuna and mustard, from Fairbanks Seeds in Victoria to use in the canteen.
During the school holidays in October a Vietnamese family that lives at the school watered the plants. The man in that family is caretaker at Merici and, in his own garden on site, he grows lemongrass, galangal, garlic and chillies.
The produce is sold in the school canteen and also used by hospitality students to cook for the restaurant.
The school has a new mobile chicken house that was built by the maintenance team at Merici. The structure allows the nine chickens to be grazed on top of the garden beds when crops have finished. The hyline chooks fertilise the bed and eat the plant residue and pests. The hens were bought from Bellchambers at Fyshwick and Buining says they are one-year-old ''laying machines''.
Two year-10 girls are responsible for shovelling manure out of the chicken house and this is stored in two bins to eventually be added to the soil. Volunteers collect the eggs and they are recorded in an egg notebook. Since September 2012, 145 dozen eggs have been collected.
Following an annual visit to Merici by Costa Georgiadis of ABC TV's Gardening Australia program in September, a new rhubarb bed has been developed and planted with 12 rhubarb crowns. Six fruit trees have also been planted in the kitchen garden.
Buining has a degree in ecology and a diploma in education, and before moving to Canberra she lived in a passive solar house on one acre at Hepburn Springs in Victoria, where she worked with permaculture expert David Holmgren.
She says if there is one message she loves to share it is the need to plan - knowing when to plant your crops and where. This is especially important in our climate as there are generally two planting windows and, if you miss them, it is too late, she says. A rotation plan means you always know what you need to do next in the garden. At Merici, rotations are planned for what the canteen needs.
>> Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.