23 Mar 2013

end of summer garden ramble

The corner behind the apricot tree where old bean trellises and tomato stakes hibernate over winter

Over the last few weekends, I've been progressively pulling out, chopping up and digging in the finished beans; yellowing, fading as they reach the end of their productive life. I've cut off the cavolo nero and the curly kale, both thick with aphids and caterpillars; unfit for human consumption but a real treat for mum and dad's chooks. I cut down the tomatoes and pulled up their stakes, knowing I had a lot to learn about growing these.

The lack of real rain this summer and the unfathomably hot temperatures led to the unhealthy state or early demise of many of these vegies, I am sure. In truth, however, I was also inconsistent with my care. As tender bean seedlings emerged, for example, I would regularly apply seaweed solution, but as they matured and when they needed it the most - when they set forth their delicate lilac flowers and set their fruit - I grew neglectful of feeding them. Or, as with my tomatoes, I overwatered; this, I learned firsthand, is just as bad.

I chastened myself for not taking better care of the soil, too. A large chunk of my vegie garden has been reclaimed from the lawn (such as that is) - a couple of years ago, I simply dug up one quadrant of the space, uncovering snaking roots from the nearby apricot and apple trees and much gravel and concrete chunks used as fill. So there has always been much work needed to rehabilitate this and make it a productive, fertile area.
The last bean crop with skinny beans hiding beneath the leaves

I tend to fall back on the excuses 'But I work full-time' and 'It's only me' to brush over any failures (which I do feel keenly). But a few weeks ago - when my neck was in the potentially-vulnerable position between the eager hands of my young physiotherapist - I listened, enthralled and envious, as he described what he grows in his suburban backyard.

'We try to have at least one thing we've grown ourselves at every meal,' he said - a reasonable logic that I think we suburban growers trot out to make ourselves feel better about having to buy most of our fruit or veg from the shops (or gratefully except it from our dads, as I do).

But then he went on to list everything he grew, and I reeled with envy and wonder (as much as one can reel when lying prone on a physio bed).What didn't he grow? Name any leafy green, cruciferous vegie, climber, herb, above-the-ground, below-the-ground edible plant - anything - he was doing it. And successfully by the sound of it, too.

I imagined a veritable Garden of Eden, here on Hobart's eastern shore. I wanted to raid it. I wanted to rise to the challenge and stop making excuses for myself. I left feeling determined to be more, well, determined (and my neck felt better, too).
New silverbeet - about a month old

And then I finally got out of the local library the Little Veggie Patch Co's 'How to grow food in small spaces' (I know I'm about two years behind everyone else). I thought the same things I did with my physio: how do they do that? They make it look easy - too easy. But ... maybe I could?

I've made notes. Notes on what's practical and necessary and realistic for me. Feed up the soil, buy bags of poo - yes. Worm farm? No (too hot; too cold). Grow smaller bush beans, not climbing ones that take over like tenacious octopi and prove difficult to remove from the trellises during garden clean-up. Net against the birds. Strategically grow marigolds and pyrethrum plants, to naturally ward off the white moths that lead to those destructive caterpillars. Grow garlic in a pot - maybe then I can't overwater and rot it.

Get the watering right!

Move the rhubarb. Feed the rhubarb. Do try tomatoes again. Work out codlin moth.

And then some dreaming. A new lemon tree, in a variety that I actually like. And what about a passionfruit vine to cover the back fence between the yellow banksia roses (passionfruit butter!)?

Perhaps this is what gardening is: trying. And trying. And learning, but mostly, just doing it.

May I recommend you drop in on Jo, who has been writing about her recent gardening adventures in Launceston, at All the Blue Day? Some of her recent posts have really resonated with me - and inspired me - and you may like them too. 
A clump of chives; the lushest thing in the garden right now.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote "dreaming". I think dreaming about lushness, plenty, gorgeous colours, baskets of food, the smell of herbs when you bush past them on the path... those dreams are what make great gardens. So I say dream big, and keep planting what you're dreaming about. And for sure treat your soil to a load of compost every now and then -- you can be sure that's all your soil is dreaming of!

    1. thanks sue. dad delivered two bags of sheep poo to me yesterday, so the soil's dreams are a little closer to reality!

  2. Dear e, thankyou for your kind comments! Gardening is so exciting, because there is always so much more to learn, but the good thing is, every year's experience of failure makes you a better gardener, as you work out what went wrong.
    I do think good soil is the key. My soil was dire lifeless clay 12 years ago, and it has taken a LOT of organic matter, like good old sheep poo and pea straw, to make it useful for growing good vegies in.
    And I do think you are amazing to have a garden and a full time job, superhero physios notwithstanding. I agree with Sue, it all starts with a dream...

    1. You're welcome!
      you are so right - every failure is a lesson to learn. and soil is the key. i'm looking forward to the easter break to get in and feed up the soil.


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