Main Navigation

Cool new uses for fridges in outback Northern Territory

Red Cross staff are finding cool new uses for old fridges - turning them into garden beds - allowing people in one of the most remote parts of Australia to grow their own vegetables.

Thursday September 10, 2015

Fridge gardens in Tennant Creek

Red Cross began the Above Ground Household Garden project in Tennant Creek in 2013, enabling 30 households in the tiny town 500 km north of Alice Springs to make water-efficient garden beds out of fridges and old drums.

Red Cross Senior Community Development Officer Emma Newman says many houses have no garden and some yards are almost completely made up of hard bare rock, with very few trees.

"The soil here can be very dry and hard and it's very hot for much of the year," she says. "People would say that they would like a garden, but were not sure how to go about it. Using a "wicking bed" model, which retains moisture in a reservoir from underneath, we learnt how to make efficient garden beds out of fridges and other large containers.

"We started collecting fridges, foam boxes and drums, and gave them out to households for small vegie gardens in their own yards. We would then go back, working alongside the household members, fill the beds and plant.

"There are some restrictions through the seasons, with extreme heat our greatest challenge, so we try to work in the morning.

"We now use other containers, including cutting open old gas bottles, but still placing them above the ground. One of the most essential ingredients in this project is buddying: our staff visit clients often, help with their garden, give advice and have a yarn, where they can bring up any other community issues that need to be brought to attention. This is a great way to support our community development work here as well.

"Other challenges are that the cool soil is appealing for hot dogs. Also babies like to stick their hands in and pull out whatever is growing - or was growing! However that is one way to learn about plants! And of course, watering - it's a challenge for us all - but here in the desert, the soil dries out quickly."

Derek Clarke says he was thrilled to successfully apply for the position at Red Cross for the Above Ground Garden Worker. He works alongside John Fitz, the Cultural Support Worker, to visit people who have asked for a garden bed.

"I'm happy to meet new clients, and watching them have happy faces when their vegie garden pops up, all ready to pick," Derek says.

"Every time we drop in we notice they watered it already. We're just helping make sure they maintain it," says John.

Emma says the next step is building up a good supply of compost.

"Now we are attempting a compost system, to make rich soil, instead of buying it in bags," says Emma. "Above Ground has many positive environmental aspects, including reusing and recycling. And best of all, we are working with people for greener, cleaner and hopefully happier lives."

Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority has contributed funds for the project. The Uniting Church has also provided their yard as a garden depot to work from, where some fridge wicking beds are growing things, promoting growth to the general public on the main street.