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.
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.