Wendyl’s coun­try di­ary: shar­ing the bounty

Wendyl Nissen re­turns to the coun­try, only to find her gar­den­ing skills have gone down a treat with the lo­cals.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

There’s not much to crow about in the coun­try dur­ing a long, wet win­ter. Noth­ing is achieved with­out my trusty pair of Red Band gum­boots as I trudge around my muddy prop­erty, and noth­ing re­ally grows ex­cept some lovely lemons, man­darins and plump grape­fruit.

I do man­age, how­ever, to keep a veg­etable patch go­ing in the milder win­ter tem­per­a­tures we ex­pe­ri­ence up north, and my first meal when I get to the house is al­ways a fresh salad from the gar­den. I look forward to that meal from the mo­ment I leave the coun­try un­til the day I get back.

Which is nice for me, but I for­get that dur­ing the win­ter ev­ery liv­ing crea­ture on our land is starv­ing, as there is not a lot of nat­u­ral food around to nour­ish them while they are pre­par­ing to nest and raise their ba­bies in the spring.

I ar­rived re­cently to find my en­tire vege patch had been raided. I was ab­so­lutely fu­ri­ous. My flour­ish­ing rocket, let­tuce, spinach and silverbeet had all been stripped down to the stalks. And the Brus­sels sprouts I had planted, sim­ply be­cause I had never grown them before and wanted to see what would hap­pen, were com­pletely ab­sent, so that was a small win­dow of won­der.

I knew this wasn’t a sim­ple case of slugs or snails… be­cause I’ve kept hens. And when you have hens and go out leav­ing the gate to your vege patch open, as I did on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, you come back to just the sort of dev­as­ta­tion I found on my Hokianga prop­erty.

I don’t cur­rently have hens, so I guessed my raiders were the pheas­ants and/or quails who live on my land and in my neigh­bour’s lux­u­ri­ous bush. I know there are a lot of them be­cause I love watch­ing them pot­ter­ing around my place. The male pheas­ants are beau­ti­fully feath­ered and the quails al­ways seem to have lots of lit­tle ones trail­ing along be­hind, which un­for­tu­nately get picked off at quite a rate by the fal­cons who also live around my place. The birds even ate some of my wild­flower seedlings, which are just be­gin­ning to sprout in my wild­flower meadow, al­though they didn’t get the newly planted gar­lic, but only be­cause it is yet to sprout above the ground. And they re­fused to eat the nas­tur­tium leaves – which I quite like to have in sal­ads and sand­wiches, as the small ones have a del­i­cate pep­pery taste – so at least I still had those.

When I moved to the coun­try, there were two things I did dili­gently. I kept a gar­den di­ary, in­tend­ing to record ev­ery seed and plant and fol­low their progress in minute de­tail so that I could look back in 20 years and rem­i­nisce. But that went out the win­dow after a year when I re­alised that about 80 per cent of what I planted died. I’m not a good gar­dener, you see. I’m the per­son who spends hun­dreds of dol­lars at the gar­den cen­tre and six months later has one cos­mos plant to show for it be­cause, as we all know, cos­mos grow like weeds!

The other thing I did was read a book called The Wildlife-Friendly Veg­etable Gar­dener, which sits on my book­shelf be­tween At­tract­ing Birds and Other Wildlife to Your Gar­den and Prac­ti­cal Bee­keep­ing in New Zealand. (I once kept two bee­hives un­til we found out my hus­band had a pre­vi­ously un­di­ag­nosed bee al­lergy, so I’m not sure why I’ve kept that book.)

The wildlife-friendly way to gar­den is to share your bounty with the wild crea­tures and keep just some for your­self. In re­turn, they do a lot of good for you. The birds will al­ways eat the slugs, snails and bugs first, for the pro­tein, and only then re­sort to the plant life, so the pheas­ants and quail are help­ing me gar­den or­gan­i­cally. It is also rather sen­si­bly about fences… good fences.

So I re­mem­bered how much I love the wildlife I share the coun­try with, and how much they do for me, and then got busy with a bit of wire net­ting and some bird net­ting. I will pro­tect just a bit of the vege patch for my­self and they can have the rest. And then I look forward to see­ing their young ones in spring, when there will be plenty of food for ev­ery­one.

I for­get that dur­ing the win­ter ev­ery liv­ing crea­ture on our land is starv­ing.

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