Notes from the Kitchen Garden: Reflections on a difficult summer

Joyce Wilkie 7 February 2020

Even in the most difficult years, there’s a deep pleasure in harvesting your own food. Photo: Joyce Wilkie.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the wors
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand
The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats (1919)

Because of the Christmas New year break I penned my last Kitchen Garden column early, just as the fires in NSW were starting to ignite. Today I am deeply troubled by what we are all living through. Drought, fire, heat, smoke, hail, and now maybe flood, an apocalyptic nightmare.

In a silent moment of sadness and grief and also an explosion of anger I introduce the February Kitchen Garden Notes not by me but by words written by W.B. Yeats a hundred years ago. The troubled times he was writing about were nothing to do with large human population and climate change but his timeless lines aptly express the pain I feel today.

Every day I go to work in a garden that is getting dryer and dryer. No matter how much water I apply I cannot get my leafy greens to grow. My dams are empty, my bore is salty, and around the house, the beautiful bush is shedding its leaves, it’s branches, it’s bark and there is hardly any understory left.

Hungry kangaroos and wallabies, together with birds are putting incredible pressure on my usually firm defences and attempts to grow food. Part of me feels hugely guilty because we have been so incredibly lucky not to have faced fire this season.

The smokey haze that wraps me tight while I work causes me to reflect on dear friends that have lost so much to fire in the last couple of weeks. Not to mention that every gardener and farmer I talk to all express anxiety about everything including getting crops to pickable/saleable stage.

Kitchen garden

Dark clouds of smoke swathing the kitchen garden. Photo: Joyce Wilkie.

So do have I any revelations? Yes, I do. First growing food is empowering, subversive, challenging but possible. I applaud you if you are doing it and encourage you to start if you’re not.

If you are feeling anxious, disempowered and depressed take heart: no matter how small your garden, a nourished, biologically active soil is sinking carbon using soil fungi to hold water in the soil carbon sponge.

Secondly, you are also decreasing your dependence on the big providers of fossil fuel products. Healthy organic gardens are powered by human and solar energy.

You are also reducing your need for packaging and at the same time doing work that has the power to rebuild soil and also your soul. The joy and flavour of freshly picked produce just a step or two away from your kitchen door cannot be matched.

Yes, it does take water and that is another dwindling resource. So put buckets in your showers to catch the water you don’t use, encourage the men in your family to urinate on the citrus trees so they don’t need to flush a toilet. Feed your food.

If you did put in a garden months ago sing a hallelujah to eggplants, they are magnificent this season. The stone fruit is full of flavour and there are few fungal problems. There are also very few insect pests. Continue to plant seed in hopeful moments. We will get a reprieve, that is how our planet works, but please remain mindful that we all need to change.

What I’m Eating:

  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Radishes
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Rhubarb
  • Salad greens
  • Spring onions
  • Stone fruit and plums
  • Tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants
  • Zucchinis

Seeds I’m Planting:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbages – conical and ball head types
  • All types of Chinese cabbages
  • Coriander, dill and fennel
  • Endive and radicchio
  • English spinach
  • Kale
  • Lettuces
  • Mesclun salad mix
  • Radish both summer and the larger winter types
  • Rocket
  • Spring onions
  • Turnips, swedes and the little round oriental turnips

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