Dear Diggers

The decline in horticulture courses at TAFE needs addressing

I came to study horticulture later in life. The first institution I studied at was Challenger in Murdoch, WA. My sister had studied the same course 20 years earlier. She told me of a much more challenging course and assignments like collecting viable seeds from certain WA natives. Some of the teachers at that TAFE confessed that the courses had been significantly dumbed down over the years.I then moved to Victoria to pursue studies in Production Horticulture. Fortunately, I was again taught by very respected teachers at Chisholm in Cranbourne East. I pressed them with questions about the level of content compared to older courses, and they also said the TAFE Horticulture courses have been dumbed down. I ended up completing my Certificate III in production horticulture at North Coast TAFE’s huge campus a little east of Lismore. Those studies came after several WWOOF-ing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) experiences. My first WWOOF host and my North Coast TAFE teacher spoke glowingly of my second WWOOF host, who turns out to be one of the few masters of the trade that I have met. I’ve also met Jerry Colby-Williams at the community garden he provides assistance to, as well as John Daly, former curator of Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, who now specifies the best soils and growing medias available in this part of the country. My teacher at North Coast TAFE was taught by my friend at that TAFE many years ago. I asked my friend to assist me with this submission since he is privy to much inside information, such as respected authors with important horticultural works – like Kevin Handreck and Neil Black. He was recently in Hawaii presenting a paper to colleagues at an international conference. He wrote some of the modules for the Nursery Certificate Courses. The Nursery Professional Program came into existence partly because of his work. In his youth he was one of the best budders and grafters in Australia. So I include his thoughts and hope they give me guidance for the indepth article Diggers will write on the decline of TAFE Horticulture. Curiously my friend conducted a survey of horticulture courses in various countries several years ago with the finding being that Dutch courses were clearly superior, English courses were solid, Australian and New Zealand courses were less than satisfactory compared to either the Dutch or the UK, and US courses were the least useful of all.
Government has been decimating TAFE for a long time
Government has been decimating TAFE for a long time with perhaps the hope being that RTOs (Registered Training Organisations) would pick up the slack, but in fact they are paid per completion, so are even less committed to striving for high levels of skills and knowledge. Why is there such a disparity between the states? This has not been allowed in the sphere of compulsory schooling, but it makes the training received in one state less relevant than it could otherwise be. The talk about TAFE consulting with industry is farcical and in fact a scandal. Diggers investigations could expose in a huge way. If it occurred, the industry would have a firm control of the standards expected and students would graduate as highly employable rather than sadly lacking. TAFE has too much focus on lesson delivery and too little on assessment standards. So why not allow industry to create and deliver assessments? Industry representatives could be in charge of the testamurs and not Government employees. My personal view is that there could be scope for rewarding excellence by TAFE students, rather than just certifying them to be competent. Maybe the Nursery Professional Program could be rolled out to other branches of horticulture. Diggers writes a fair bit about the need for more competent gardeners and addressing the decline in TAFE courses can go some way to meeting our future need for gardeners of high competence.
Diggers member, 6–10 years, NSW

Roundup threatens bees

I read the article in your Spring magazine on the decline in bees. Scientists discovered that when bees ingest glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, it kills the good bacteria in their gut, leading them to be 
prone to attacks from diseases etc., that their immune systems would normally be able to fight off (
When scientists intentionally beamed the 4G mobile phone signal at bee hives, the bees sent out a signal to immediately evacuate the hive, leaving the next generation to die. Scientists have already stated that the 5G signal causes cancer, heart palpitations, immune system and endocrine system imbalances in humans. Who knows what effect that will have on bees?
Mobile 5G is a threat too
The 5G signal also requires twice as many towers as the 4G signal, and we call this progress. Dr. David Suzuki calculated the effect on humanity that the sudden loss 
of all bees would cause, that even the most corporate-influenced politician should take note. “If the bees suddenly died out, humanity would have four years to live”.
We can help bees by not using glyphosate-based products and grow plants that attract bees. Don’t leave sweetened water out for the worker bees to drink, they will enjoy it but won’t take pollen back to the hive, the queen bee can only produce new bees by utilising pollen. And lastly, ‘bee’ friendly.
Thanks, Jovan V, Broken Hill, nsw

Dear Clive, I have to take issue with you when you attribute low organic soils in Australia to “Firestick farming by Aborigines”.
The Aborigines had an extremely sophisticated way of ‘farming’ that kept the Australian continent in great condition and environmentally cared for this country for over 60,000 years. They ‘farmed’ cyclically, burning in a low fire way in areas they were leaving so that when they returned, there was plentiful flora and fauna which played such a huge part in their diet.
Early white explorers described many areas as ‘pack-like’, something very different from today, where controlled burning to prevent bushfires is carried out on a regular basis. May I suggest that a future edition of the Diggers magazine examine the very way the Aborigines farmed the country. Rod O, vic

Dear Rod,
when in Arnhem Land years ago with my family, we travelled in a bus with Aborigines and were astounded when they opened the windows and threw lighted matches out in order to burn off the grass. Of course, the eucalypts,who were waiting for a lightning strike to enable them to set seed, were grateful. 
Regards, Clive

Composting Do’s & Don’ts

Your latest edition has a good article on composting but includes the often heard idea that citrus and onion waste should not go into the compost. Why not?
It has worked for me for years. I have great compost, heaps of worms and no problems using it on my garden plants. I suggest people retest the hypothesis themselves. I chop up the citrus waste and chuck in the onion bits and I’m seeing no negative results, which is surely better than putting it into landfill.
Stephen R, nsw

Yes Stephen, you are right – onion and citrus can be added to compost heaps. It is always best to chop these up finely, or even run them through the blender as citrus takes longer to decompose than most vegie scraps.
The reason why these two are highlighted as no-no’s, is because many people confuse worm farms with compost, and in a worm farm, which is not turned but rather consumed by worms in its layers, the citrus and onion waste can create an acidic environment which is not pleasurable for worms.
In a large compost heap, these ingredients are often minor, and scattered throughout when the heap is turned. We hope this helps to clarify the suitability of citrus and onion in your compost.
Regards, The Diggers Team


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