Shotaro's small garden in Altona

Shotaro has transformed a small space into a productive oasis filled with unusual herbs and vegetables that reflect his Japanese heritage.

“I grow lettuce, chives, radishes, peas and broccoli as well as Japanese edibles like edamame (soybean), daikon, mitsuba, satoimo (Japanese taro), sansho (Japanese pepper), and ashitaba herb. I learnt about growing and fermenting vegetables from my grandfather who was a market gardener on the outskirts of Osaka and I like to share this knowledge at local community workshops. The My Smart Garden website and online workshops are a great way to be inspired and connect with others and there’s resources there for individual and community gardeners too.”

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“It can be hard to find resources and gain knowledge with backyard gardening. Suburbs are changing and it is hard to find a large backyard to feed your family. When I started ten years ago I had a small budget and had to be creative. I learnt how to make my own compost and natural fertilisers and swap seeds and plants for the garden instead of buying from the shops.”

As a passionate gardener, Shotaro’s in-depth knowledge about creating healthy soils and using the no-dig method, is complimented by his enthusiasm for planting green manures to add nutrients back into the soil.

“At the Altona Community Garden, we broadcasted seed bomb mixes of nettles, borage, nasturtium, comfrey, mallow, lucerne and mustard leaf and added compost to the soil. It was amazing to see the difference after the rains and how the soil comes to life. Growing a living mulch, with plants that have a deep taproot such as daikon and dandelions helps improve the soil structure, but also adds micro-nutrients accessed by these plants from deeper soils using the chop-and-drop method, or by making fertiliser teas.”

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Shotaro welcomes common garden pests as part of a healthy biodiverse backyard and as a litmus test for plant health. He tackles pest problems with a gentle approach such as using a natural lacto-fermented rice water spray for black aphids on allium plants, which also provides a natural fertiliser and minerals for plants to use while promoting a healthy bacteria population.

Shotaro’s south-facing garden fruit trees such as apple and nashi pears are espaliered along the brick walls to maximise warmth and the light facing north.

“Last summertime I co-planted pumpkins and edamame, letting the pumpkin grow over the roof and the fence to use the vertical space. We usually harvest between 4 and 15kg per month of fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit. It’s been a wonderful learning journey connecting the kids with nature, seeing their delight with observing compost worms, and helping me in the garden.”

 

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As an active local community garden member, Shotaro loves sharing experience with gardeners from various multicultural backgrounds.

“We always have very interesting discussions on what is a weed or an edible in the community garden. Attending My Smart Gardens workshops is a great way for locals to connect and help shape a sustainable future in the local neighbourhood – you get great cross pollination of ideas, garden knowledge and resources.”

Shotaro believes these community connections are so important to also include apartment dwellers that can drop off their food waste to a local gardener or community garden and be part of the community’s circular economy of creating compost to grow and share fresh produce. Coffee grounds, sawdust, seaweed, and mulch are also sourced for free from the local area and shops. It’s all about sharing and distributing valuable local resources back into the soil. Hopefully you can attend one of his fermenting workshops or come and say hi at the local Altona Community Garden.

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