Sunday, 9 November 2014

Grass Roots

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 grow anything.
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 salad.
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

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