The COGS approach

COGS operates eleven organic community gardens in the Canberra region. The two most significant qualities which characterise the nature of these gardens are ‘community’ and ‘organic’.

For our gardens to operate smoothly it is essential that all plot holders cooperate to ensure that these garden qualities are maintained. To assist new plot holders to integrate smoothly into a COGS garden, a brief outline is given below of the operation of COGS gardens as both community and organic gardens.

Community

The community aspect of COGS gardens is emphasised in the COGS Constitution: “… garden committees are behoven to administer the gardens in a manner which promotes the spirit of harmony, fair-mindedness and goodwill amongst gardening members. Likewise, individual plot holders are to conduct themselves in a manner which promotes the same spirit, the spirit viewed by COGS to be essential to a true sense of community well-being”.  This community aspect is expressed through the cooperative and collective use, maintenance and development of the communal areas of the garden.

In practice, each garden is divided into two areas. One area comprises all the plots allocated for use by individual plot holders and the other is the communal area. Each gardener is individually responsible for the maintenance and appropriate use of their assigned plot and they are free to use the plot in accordance with the garden rules while they remain financial members of COGS and have paid all plot levies due.

The use and nature of the communal areas vary but all gardens contain at least a garden shed in which communal tools are stored and where gardeners may also store some of their own tools. Some gardens also have barbecues, pergolas, glasshouses, compost heaps, herb gardens, seed saving plots, fruit trees and bird habitat shrubs in the communal area. All pathways, fences, swales and water reticulation systems are also regarded as part of the communal area. The maintenance and development of the communal area is the collective responsibility of the whole garden community. Usually this is achieved by regular (or semi-regular) garden working bees and all plot holders are expected to participate. Working bees are organised by the garden convenor in consultation with local garden committee. Most gardens also have recreational barbeques from time to time.

Organic

The COGS Constitution states that “organic gardening principles must be complied with at all times in the community gardens”. While none of the COGS gardens is certified organic by any of the Australian certifying agencies, the list of permissible materials for plant protection and soil conditioning taken from the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce must be complied with at all times. Any plot holder who does not comply with these lists will be expelled from the garden.

The National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce outlines the organic principles which COGS expects gardeners to apply in all COGS gardens. It defines organic as “the application of practices that emphasise:

  1. use of renewable resources;
  2. conservation of energy, soil and water;
  3. recognition of livestock welfare needs;
  4. environmental maintenance and enhancement, while producing optimum quantities of produce without the use of artificial fertilisers or synthetic chemicals”.

It is not possible in this short note to canvass all the implications this definition of organic has for our gardening methods, however, the new COGS gardener should at least consider the following points.

1) use of renewable resources

Use biodegradable products where possible, for example, use straw mulches rather than plastics, and recycle where possible. However, this does not mean plots should be allowed to become rubbish tips. Any recycled products used on plots should be relevant to the plants the plot holder is growing. Plots should be kept neat and tidy at all times and should not be used for storing material not used for gardening.

2) conservation of energy, soil and water

Soil is the most precious resource in our gardens. An abundant and diverse soil life is the basis of good organic gardening. The use of composts and green manures to increase soil organic matter and to feed soil organisms, and through them our plants, is essential to the success of organic gardening. Organic matter and soil organisms also maintain and enhance soil structure so care must be taken not use cultivation techniques which destroy that structure. Many Canberra soils are quite fragile in this regard. While we aim to conserve our own soil we do not encourage the plunder of other landscapes in an attempt to “improve” our soil by buying in top soil from landscape suppliers. Apart from the Queanbeyan garden which is built on compacted gravel in an old railway yard, the natural soil can be successfully managed to produce good quality organic produce in all the other gardens.

The practice of water conservation is also an important aspect of organic gardening. Water conservation is achieved by mulching and other techniques. To minimise water use and at the same time maximise production it is essential to match the varying plant water needs at the different stages of a plant’s growth cycle to the watering regime. All COGS gardens are subject to the ACT water restrictions and these must be complied with at all times. For more information view the current water restrictions

3) environmental maintenance and enhancement, while producing optimum quantities of produce without the use of artificial fertilisers and synthetic chemicals

The importance in organic gardening of nurturing and enhancing soil life through the use of compost and manures was referred to above. Inappropriate gardening practices can quickly and severely damage that soil life and upset its ecological balance. It is the maintenance of ecological balance both within and above the soil environment which is crucial to minimising pest and disease problems in organic gardening systems. Even the use of chemicals permitted under the national organic and biodynamic standards can severely damage the ecological balance within a garden and lead to the development of severe pest and disease problems. For example, Bordeaux mix, which is permitted under the national standards, if allowed to run onto the soil is extremely toxic to earth worms and beneficial soil fungi. Similarly, pyrethrum and derris dust, both allowed under the national standards, if used indiscriminately can destroy the beneficial insects which keep many garden pests under control. While these organically acceptable pest and disease control methods are available to organic gardeners they must be used with discrimination if severe upsets to the ecological balance are to be avoided and more harm than good caused by their use.

Great care is needed to ensure our gardening techniques do not damage the ecological balance within our garden and between the garden and its surrounding environment. Pests and diseases do attack our plants from time to time and must be dealt with. To minimise damage to the ecological balance within our gardens that our pest and disease control efforts might cause, all gardeners are encouraged to practise integrated pest management. More information on integrated pest management has been published in Canberra Organic and is available on the COGS web site, or from your garden convenor.

Garden Administration

The overall administration of COGS gardens is the responsibility of the COGS committee. The day-to-day operation of the gardens is delegated to individual garden convenors who are assisted and advised by local garden committees. Garden convenors and local garden committees are elected by all plot holders at garden AGMs which are usually held in August/September each year. Gardens are expected to be largely self-sufficient and self-managed.

Gardens are funded through annual plot levies payable at the beginning of every garden year (1 September). Plot levies cover the cost of insurance, water, repairs and maintenance and depreciation. All plot holders must be financial members of COGS and pay all plot levies.

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