A Charles Darwin University PhD graduate has used her knowledge of traditional Sri Lankan agriculture practices to create an innovative forest garden - combining native plants with waste and sustainability principles to produce organic fruit, vegetables and herbs.
International House Darwin (IHD) resident Dr Kamal Melvani established the garden under a canopy of Top End tropical rainforest just two months ago at CDU’s Casuarina campus.
It has since flourished to produce vegetables including eggplant, corn, chilli, spinach, kale, radish, beetroot, pak choi and bush beans, as well as herbs such as parsley, basil, rosemary, coriander, and lemongrass.
A series of fruit crops including papaya, Brazilian cherry and passionfruit is expected to start yielding in the coming months.
Dr Melvani said the forest canopy created rich soil for the produce to grow, with the native plants helping pollination, while food and plastic waste was also recycled to form compost and garden bed retaining walls.
“I come from a background of regenerative agriculture in Sri Lanka and am now studying horticulture at CDU, so setting up a garden like this on campus gives me tremendous satisfaction,” she said.
“We are using conservation forestry, agricultural forestry and organic vegetable cultivation to create the forest garden.
“The native plants help the produce to pollinate and we are reusing kitchen waste to form compost and plastic waste for the garden beds.”
Dr Melvani is preparing a small team of IHD residents to take over management of the plots when she returns to Sri Lanka next year.
Residents will learn to cultivate vegetables and are free to pick the garden’s produce for use in their own cooking.
“The forest garden is a combination of waste management and sustainability, teaching young people how to grow vegetables sustainably and how to deal with waste,” Dr Melvani said.
“Hopefully after I sail into the sunset in January the students will be able to continue this work.”
IHD resident Muriel Scholz is one of the aspiring green thumbs who will take over managing the garden and said plans were already in place to ensure it is sustainable in the future.
“We are developing a crop calendar, which will allow us to the change the crops according to the seasons,” she said.
“It’s great to see the garden evolving and working on it is giving the residents here a sense of community.”