Coun­try di­ary: gar­den woes

Wendyl Nis­sen learns to bide her time and wait out spring’s change­able moods be­fore she can surge ahead with her sum­mer gar­den plans.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

It should be spring, I should be in the gar­den, the weather should be warm, the sun should be shin­ing, I should be able to walk out­side with­out my gum­boots on, I should be lov­ing the warmth. There’s a lot of shoulds in that sen­tence and I’m not happy about that.

I am not a pa­tient per­son. As a mag­a­zine ed­i­tor I was not renowned for my abil­ity to wait and see. It was now or noth­ing, my way or the high­way, just do it and talk about it later, a good meet­ing is a short meet­ing and give it to me yes­ter­day. If I was ne­go­ti­at­ing an ex­clu­sive story deal with a celebrity or a news­maker and they asked for some time to think about it, I’d say: “Sure, take all the time you need, I’ll ring you back in 10 min­utes.” If I had asked one of my writ­ers to chase up a story that morn­ing and by the end of the day they hadn’t got it, I would wish them a good night at home… on the phone. “You’ll have that story by the morn­ing, won’t you,” I would smile, ever the vel­vet steam­roller.

But since mov­ing to the coun­try, na­ture has de­manded of me a cer­tain will­ing­ness to en­dure, be­cause the weather is never quite what you hope for. When you want a lovely sunny day to en­joy on the deck reading a book, it rains. When you want a rainy day as an ex­cuse to hang out in­side and watch movies, the sun comes out. As I write this, I have 30 flax plants wait­ing to be put in the ground, but it is howl­ing a gale, and hail is at­tack­ing the house. So in­stead I light the fire, read a book and grit my teeth be­cause, this year, I have big plans for my gar­den.

For a start, my plum tree will pro­duce plums, un­like last year when it took a year off. I have lost count of the amount of sea­weed I have lov­ingly spread around its roots over the win­ter and, to re­ward me, it now stands tall and re­splen­dent, heav­ing with blos­som, which I just hope the bees are able to pol­li­nate and the wind doesn’t blow away.

I am also go­ing to re­new my ef­forts to gar­den or­gan­i­cally, but what re­ally is or­ganic? To be an or­ganic purist I would have to change all my soil, which has been fer­tilised with non-or­ganic blood and bone. I would also have to make all my seed or­ganic be­fore I raised it, which means I would have to ditch all the seed I have lov­ingly col­lected over the years. I prob­a­bly shouldn’t throw on horse dung, which I col­lect from the road­side, be­cause I can’t be sure that the horses were fed only or­ganic feed.

You can see how com­pli­cated it gets. It makes me won­der what the ad­van­tages are to be­ing strictly or­ganic if it means I have to pay good money and work hard to find or­ganic com­pounds, when I know the pro­duce I’m grow­ing is not only eco­nomic but also good for me. I’m more in­ter­ested in words like “sus­tain­able”, “nu­tri­tious” and “ac­ces­si­ble” than the term “or­ganic”.

In­stead, I pre­fer to stick to a few ba­sic rules. I don’t use chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides or in­sec­ti­cides on my plants and I fer­tilise with bits of sea­weed col­lected from the beach, com­frey tea that I make in an old rub­bish bin, lime, and blood and bone. This means that by the time we eat our gar­den pro­duce I can be sure that, for the most part, no chem­i­cals have been added to it or used to kill off ben­e­fi­cial in­sects like bees, la­dy­birds and pray­ing man­tises.

Keep­ing bugs and dis­ease away is tough with­out chem­i­cals, but there are some re­ally ba­sic things I can do which sim­ply re­quire a lit­tle bit of ef­fort. Early de­tec­tion is im­por­tant, so I in­spect plants daily. Many bugs can be picked off by hand. In the case of aphids, which quite of­ten ap­pear on my roses, I sim­ply brush them off with my fin­gers or a tooth­brush ev­ery time I pass them on my way to hang out the wash­ing.

And I work hard to en­cour­age in­sect-eat­ing birds into my gar­den by pro­vid­ing more and more trees for them to nest in. At the mo­ment I have a res­i­dent pair of fan­tails in the or­chard, sev­eral pairs of wax-eyes, who pick in­sects off my vegie patch ev­ery evening, and some swal­lows nest­ing by my pump.

It should be a great sum­mer… if I can en­dure the wait.

No chem­i­cals have been used to kill off ben­e­fi­cial in­sects like bees.

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