I post a lot on farcebook and one of the places I like posting and gossiping is Grass Roots . They asked me to write a piece for the next magazine, this is what I wrote. Minus the pictures. I will add them later.
Sandie and I fell in love about ten years ago and moved in together
into a small house with a little bit of a garden. The grass grew well
and nothing else seemed to so after a little bit of research in Grass
Roots and a little bit of Bill Mollison we decided to see if we could
The first thing to do was improve the soil. A sharp shovel and a
heavy foot wasn’t enough to get below the level of the green stuff on
top and a rotary hoe would fit down the tiny path beside our home. So
the sugar cane bales came in. Two at first just rolled out thickly on
top of the grass and let to sit until the waiting got too much for us.
The sugar cane was opened up a bit and some potting mix put in the hole
and a seedling. It didn’t matter what sort of seedling we put
everything in to see what would grow and what was good for us. We found
out a lot of what is written in gardening book sis bull. Rhubarb
leaves aren’t poisonous to the grass hoppers we have up here, they
munched through the lot of it. I think chooks were brought in to sort
out the grasshoppers and to dig over the sugar cane and poo everywhere.
This made a wonderful soil which went form being undiggable to a rich
dark brown stuff you could dig with your hands.
The chooks got penned and fenced off and serious planting started.
Nectarine and lemon went in first and are wonderful providers. For 8
years they have been giving us fruit in exchange ofr a bit of chook poo
and water. Last year’s crop of lemons was enough lemons to make
cordial for a full 12 months for us and the grandkids. The nectarines
gave us fresh fruit from July until October and a few good jars of jam
to put in the cupboards.
We experiment with food plants and trees and have quite a few now in
our garden. There’s a list at the end of this of what we have growing.
Fruit fly is a big problem and netting the trees with soft fruit and
the tomatoes is essential to get any sort of crop. It gives our garden a
ghostly feel on a moonlit night but well worth the effort for the fruit
we get. At the moment the winter crop of tomatoes are under cover to
give them a good start.
The garden bed is a prize won by our daughter Krystale. She didn’t
think she would ever need it but is now kicking herself for giving it
away. The grandkids have been gardeners since they were in nappies,
planting seeds of any fruit they eat, helping nana and pop with the
seedlings and seeds we plant and of course picking stuff for tea or just
for an afternoon snack. It is amazing how easy it is to get kids to
eat vegetables when they have helped grow them. And more so when they
can help out with making cordial or babaganoush or picking a plate of
We don’t have many proper garden beds, there isn’t that much room
with all of the trees so we grow a lot in pots and broccoli boxes
wherever we can fit them. Most are outside the kitchen door so it is
simplicity itself to get something to add to tea or to give a meal a bit
of extra zing.
This group of pots and boxes has spring onions, basil, a curry plant,
lettuce, a bulb which is now out in the garden, geraniums, leeks,
oregano, marjoram, thyme. The basil gets picked by the bucket load to
make a delicious addition to just about any sort of meal. We chop the
basil finely and add a few chopped tomatoes or a tin if there is none
ripe, some sugar and some cider vinegar. Delicious with steak or chicken
or fish or just on buttery toast. The lettuce we pick a few leaves at a
time which can end up looking a bit strange, three or four lettuces in a
pot all half a metre tall. Long canes with a few leaves on top but the
best way to get the most out of a garden.
With choosing to plant the way we do the failures can be
spectacular. The two worst were lemon grass and cardamom. The lemon
grass ended up being a patch about 2 square metres and over 4 metres
tall and worst of all Sandie ended up being allergic to it. The
cardamom was named cardamom in the pot and sold as such by the nursery
but ended up being a poisonous type of ginger that took two years and an
old cow rug to get rid of. We couldn’t dig it out and even pouring
boiling water on the roots wasn’t enough to get it to die. So the calf
rug was put over the top of it to kill off any shoots and roots. It is
so lucky the internet exists and we both know to check when things
don’t look right. The cardamom just didn’t have the right sort of
flowers so the first alarm bells were rung. If we had tried to cook
with the seed pods I guess we would both be dead right about now. By
the time we found out the plant was poisonous the nursery had closed and
we had no idea which wholesale nursery was trying to poison the people
with dodgy cardamom.
Behind us there used to be 40 or 50 huge mature trees which was
wonderful for us, for the possums, for the owls and the bush turkey and
all of the pythons and lizards. Once we had 2 houses and all of those
trees behind us, now we have 5 houses, 3 swimming pools and no trees.
The possums now use the grandpas feeder in the chook pen as their own
feed tray, the owls have gone, the turkey too and the pythons all left
except for the one that ate three budgies and got stuck in the cage.
And the ants. All of those trees had their own ecosystems of ants,
aphids, scale insects and the predators that kept all under control.
All there is now is the ants and the aphids and scale insects which are a
real problem when you try to grow food because what we eat the scale
insects enjoy and the ants make sure the scale insects are getting more
than their fair share. I relented and tried chemicals as a last resort
but they just don’t work. That highly advertised spray system by a
popular fly spray brand is hopeless. The only thing that has worked is
olive oil, dish washing liquid and water sprayed on the ants and nests
whenever they are spotted. Sandie hates me using extra virgin olive oil
on ants, but it’s there and me being a man I use it. Old logs used as
good looking borders around the trees are slowly going because they are
where the ants are nesting. Two dozen ant nests gone in the last two
weeks and more to go soon. The fight is on.
We have pumpkins growing more or less wild, there are Jap, Queensland
blue and grammar pumpkin. We grow loofa over a small arbour and chokos
on the back fence. There are passionfruit at the front gate, along the
back fence and as a wonderful shade patch for the chooks. One
passionfruit doesn’t set fruit because of the amount of scale and the
ants caring for the scale. I can’t find that nest but when I do we
might actually get passionfruit from that one too.
And this is what we have growing:-
We have 260 square metres of dirt in the garden. On that is a chook
run, the pomello, monsteria, some avocado seedlings, lychee, loquat,
longan, carambola, calamondin, jabacotiba, grumichama, native
mangosteen, bananas (2 varieties), olive, jak fruit, mandarin, orange,
blood orange, lemon, buddhas hand citrus, peanut butter fruit, fig,
coffe, manogsteen, sour sop, yellow guava, mulberry, dwarf mulberry,
malabar chestnut, kafir lime, nectarine, wampi and last and newest the
theobroma cacao – trying that to see if I am a gardener or not far too
tropical for dicky beach but worth a go not all are fruiting yet and
some are proving very hard to convince to fruit – I can get the lychee
flowering madly but she wont set fruit. Some I am learning about – the
native mangosteen has fruit that has not ripened and has been on the
tree 14 months. And the surprise? The jabicotaba – took ages to start
fruiting and hasn’t stopped – 5 distinct flowering and fruitings since
about September 2013.
Published in June July 2014 Grass Roots