Soil testing the John Sweet way

Starrett Vea Vea has taken photos of some interesting recent activities in the Beacon. The images show John Sweet, along with Jemal, Kellie Galletly and her daughter Ruby testing the soil and inspecting the plants. They’re checking to see what’s happened in The Beacon since we began preparing the site in February by ripping, mulching, applying lime and biofert and planting several legume species.

beacon april

Since the planting event in late February, the legumes have come up quickly with the hot weather and rain.

checking the roots

One of the legume plants is pulled up to check the root system for the rhizobia nodules. They’re there – this is a good thing, as rhizobia bacteria fix nitrogen when they’re present in the root nodules of the legumes.

ruby getting soil sample

Ruby is doing the hard work, while the adults look on.

soil test

John measures the sugar content of the plants with a refractometer. To do this he washes the refractometer plate with distilled water. With a garlic crusher, he squeezes some juice from the leaves of a legume on to the glass plate. John then takes a reading of the sugar content in the sap of the plant.

What has this test revealed? According to John, there has been an improvement in the soil since we began working on The Beacon. We’re hoping that the things we’re doing are bringing the soil biology back into a healthy balance. If this occurs it will optimise the soil conditions for a healthy sunflower and sugarcane crop. Along with community members, we’ll plant the dual crop in early August as part of the Sunset Seed and Song event that’s currently in the planning stages.

Planting Legumes at The Beacon

planting the legumes

The Beacon Legume Planting Day was a success! The rains held off until 11am, which gave us enough time to make a great start.

We had 27 people along as participants – just the right amount to make a critical mass, not too many to be unmanageable.

Philip Kemp from the Yuwibara Aboriginal Corporation came down to be part of it, and there were people from Mackay Council who work in arts and sustainability, Katie from Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Mel from Pioneer Catchments and Landcare, and of course all our key players including Starrett from MADASSIA, Kellie our education expert, and farmer Simon. Oh, and Councillor Laurence Bonaventura, who has been a great supporter of our work since last year’s Sunset Symphony in the Sunflowers. Charmaine Miller had done an interview with us on radio my105.9, and she came along with her son. And we were graced by a bunch of lovely cheeky kids of all ages too.

legume species list

Here’s how it went:

We started off with an acknowledgement of country, followed by a short update on the who what when where and why of our overall art+farming project.

Simon Mattsson explained the biological significance of planting legumes (in a nutshell, legumes fix nitrogen in the soil and improve the soil biology to give our future crop of sunflowers and sugarcane a better start). He brought along a mature soyabean plant from his farm to show the nodules that form on the roots.

simon with soyabean plant

Then Kim, Sophie and I pickup up our ukuleles and led the crowd in a rendition of “The Legume Song”. The tune is based on a sugarcane planting song from Barbados, which Kim adapted with new lyrics to local conditions!

After this, Simon demonstrated the use of “innoculants” to help the legume seeds along.

planting day

Simon uses a cement mixer to combine the seeds with the innoculants:

cement mixer

simon with legume seeds

Everyone got stuck into it, forming into small teams of 2 or three, and working their way along rows that Kim, Sophie and Deb had marked out, and planting deep into the mulch layer:

planting legumes

planting the legumes

sam and son

Some of us were more higgledy piggledy than others, so it will be interesting to see what patterns the seedlings produce when they emerge!

After an hour we had a break for some delicious sugarcane juice provided by Sugar Rush – a local business just starting out.

sugarcane juice

sugarcane juice closeup

It was terrific to work with Karl from Sugar Rush – Simon and Luke provided the cane freshly harvested from the farm in Marian. And Susie made some excellent home baked scones for our morning tea which disappeared almost instantly.

We were pleased to get so many legumes into the soil, although we didn’t quite finish the job. That honour was saved for Starrett’s crew who planted out the rest of the legumes on Monday morning. Now we wait and see what happens!

(all photos in this blog post are by Cherrie Hughes and Lucas Ihlein)

Watershed Mackay in the Media – Legume Planting

In the lead up to our legume planting at The Beacon, Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens, we made two media appearances. The first was an article by journalist Camilla Warner in the Mackay Mercury entitled “Art and Agriculture Sprout into One”:

mackay mercury article

The second was a radio interview with Charmaine Miller, on my105.9 radio, which is run by the Mackay and District Aboriginal and Islander Media Association. It was a full house in the studio with Kim, Lucas, Starrett and Simon, all talking about working together on the Land Art Project at the Botanic Gardens and discussing why we’re involved from our diverse backgrounds and professions.

at the radio station

Kim and I brought our ukuleles along, and everyone sang “The Legume Song” on the air – a “world premiere” – which was a thrill. (if you want to listen to the song on its own, click here).

Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens hosts unique Land Art Project.

the Beacon - prior to planting
The Beacon – mulched with hay – prior to planting the first crop of legumes (photo by Flow Motion Media)

A unique work of land art is being launched in Mackay this week.

Watershed: The Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens Land Art Project is the creation of Wollongong artists Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams, in collaboration with a host of local farmers and community organisations.

The project involves the planting of a dual crop of sugarcane and sunflowers on the Meadowlands at the Botanic Gardens. The artists hope to raise awareness about the importance of soil health in agriculture, bringing farmers into dialogue with the wider community through events and workshops.

Some of the key collaborators in the project include Mackay & District Australian South Sea Islander Association (MADASSIA), Yuwibara Aboriginal Corporation, Central Queensland Soil Health Systems, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Artspace Mackay, and Reef Catchments.

On Saturday 24th February from 8am-10am, the public is invited to join the artists to celebrate the commencement of the project. Participants are invited to take part in the planting of a crop of legumes which will help to build nitrogen in the soil.

For more information contact the artists:

0423 745 736

View or download a PDF flyer for the event here.