Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Breaking new ground

Dolly bush, Cassinia acueleata. A wonderful Tasmanian plant that is pretty,
fast growing and a great food source for beneficial insects.
Our 'patch'. It was, perhaps a hundred years ago, dry sclerophyll bushland. I like to imagine it was full of old White Peppermints with big clumps of Sagg underneath, and seasonal treasures, like Dolly Bush, Blackeyed Susan and Spreading Wattle popping up with their brilliant finery to herald a change in the seasons.

After someone cleared the 'scrub' it was then a cow paddock, and probably not a great one with its poorly draining, easily compacted soil. Its most recent history is as a chook paddock that has frustrated my attempts to grow food, due to hungry wildlife and short hoses in hot Summers. But now it's fenced, has water nearby and has been cultivated. Things are going well! 

The fuzz
But (and isn't there always a 'but') now 100 years worth of paddock weeds are thanking us for our tilling and the Spring rain, and germinating like hairs on a brushtails tail. And being the noble organic gardeners we are, there will be no quick spray to brown this green fuzz, nor will we take the Utopian path and let the weeds and our crops co-exist, as our little carrot seedlings won't stand a chance against these brutal colonisers. Hoeing is proving detrimental to my spinal column, and this is also made more difficult by the fact that it won't stop raining, and hoeing wet soil is not only difficult but it can ruin the structure of your soil. Like over-mixing a sponge cake batter, the soil will collapse and become compacted. And the no-dig method, great for a small plot, would cost us thousands in manure. But we will not be defeated, and inspired by Barbara Kingsolver (what a book!) and Mr H (writer, gatherer, gardener and vegetable eater, on my favourite blog) we will use a combination of all of the chemical free options available to us, and we shall feed ourselves, and hopefully you as well!
The spuds
The tomatoes have been planted in the hothouse, potatoes are planted everywhere. The girls have started their 'kiddy garden' (lots of sunflowers there I think!) and we will soon cultivate some ground to grow some fabulous, nutritious, curious and, most of all, delicious food plants. And, adjacent to all of this productive land, we will foster the landscape of my imagining.

I've collected seed and cuttings from the remnant 'scrub' we have on our block, and hope to plant out an echo of what was once here. This will have far more advantages than just that of feeding my romantic notions of one-ness with Nature. Diverse plantings can host a huge number of beneficial organisms. Ants will live among the gum trees and venture out to collect root feeding grubs, and leaf eating caterpillars. Flowering plants will attract hover flies and native wasps that cunningly lay their eggs on aphid babies, then the eggs hatch and the larvae devour the undesirable garden guest. Thick, prickly scrub and tussocks will provide homes for wrens and their feathered kin who feast on insects and boost the spirit of a weary gardener. I've even heard a theory that dense vegetation, especially Banksias, favours ringtail possums who do far less damage that their brushtailed friends. The trees I put in will absorb a teensy portion of the carbon emissions I create on the way to market, and most of all my family and I will feel as though we're trying to do right by the land that is supporting and sheltering us.

Fruit salad sage and Mount Wellington. What a brilliant work place!

Good weeds. For the first time ever we saw an Australian Admiral butterfly here
whose caterpillars feed on Nettles. What a great 'weed'!
And it is also a wonderful thing in the kitchen.

We'll be at the Tas Farm Gate market next Sunday, the 14th of November, where we will have loads of tomato plants, herb seedlings and Tassie treasures, including the beautiful and hardy White Flag Iris. So come on down, taste some wonderful oysters, scoff an amazing cannoli with chocolate custard and say hi!


  1. Always an inspiration Paulette. I might try and get to the markets for some tomato plants! Jacqui

  2. Thanks Emma,
    It is a wonderful plant, fast growing and hardy and the pink flowerbuds are great in a vase, but you have to dip the newly cut stems in boiling water to stop them wilting. But well worth having in the garden!

    And I have so many tomato plants Jacqui, it becomes a terrible and wonderful compulsion to grow as many varieties as you can find! And they are already forming little flower buds which means tomatoes can't be too far behind. Yum!!

  3. Paulette - clearly reading your blogs tonight, as a tonic for some other heavy reading. I love the words you use - 'an echo' of the bush that was there... John

  4. I grow a few tomatoes in pots, and instead of letting the sun fry them, I moved them to the shade and continued to water the pots. Now I’ve returned them to a sunny area on the porch and have quite a few tomatoes setting on.