Our kitchen garden was carved out of a neglected backyard and built upon our love of food and a commitment to reduce our footprint on the earth a little more each day than the day before. It’s been a nine year journey starting with the establishment of the espalier fruit tree and screening beds of callistemons (callistemon citrinus) around the perimeter of our block and seven large raised vegetable beds. Why seven you may ask? Well, after consulting various organic gardening books and based on our somewhat adequate vegetable gardening attempts in another space and time, we decided we needed a four bed rotational system.
However, we were also inspired to produce enough fresh asparagus and artichokes to feast upon them like royalty and to have a berry patch that not only satisfied our lustful yearning for their luscious fruit, but to also have enough to preserve. So that meant we needed a permanent bed and then another two beds to alternate the strawberries every three years.
With the garden design mapped out to include space for a water tank, chook pen and compost bins, the digger was brought in to literally carve up the backyard and mound the soil in what was to become the raised beds. I stood there speechless as the barren soil was transformed into a mountainous disaster zone within a matter of hours.
But Al, full of excitement, ordered the digger man around with such conviction and authority that I knew this was the beginning of something far greater. I pushed aside my overwhelming sense of calamity and began to focus on our vision of living according to the seasons and preserving an abundant harvest.
Many months passed by with regular trips to the hardware to purchase yet more wooden planks, stumps and nails to build over 300 meters of raised beds. Splinters and blisters from hard toil on soft administrative hands, sunburn and dehydration from the summer heat and chilly winter winds did not deter us.
As each bed was completed, standing proud beside our achievement, we planned the commencement of the next bed only after a brief celebratory moment. We knew lingering, procrastination and the distractions of pursuing other interests would be obstructors.
With the structure of the garden completed, the joy of planting commenced with regular trips to the fruit tree nursery and speciality suppliers and any garden nursery we came upon during our travels.
Our garden has grown as we have grown as gardeners. Another water tank was added to harvest more of the winter and spring rains for summer and autumn watering. The chook pen was expanded and another two compost bays have been added so we can recycle the excess garden vegetation to produce our own compost to continually enrich the soil.
Al built a worm farm, by converting an old fridge, to recycle our kitchen waste into invaluable worm castings to further enrich the soul. Large tractor rims and pots, found after a foraging expedition, now grow our invasive herbs and veggies: horseradish, a variety of mints, Jerusalem artichokes and fennel. A heritage concrete laundry trough is even home to water chestnuts. And, we added another two beds to alternate our potato patch.
But a garden is never stagnant, particularly a kitchen garden. The changing of the seasons ushers in crop rotations, raising and planting seedlings to be followed by nurturing the soil and plants through weeding, watering, pruning, mulching and composting before the harvest. Our garden has been turned over and is now set for summer.
The garlic and potatoes have been harvested and are now curing for storage. After the annual spring feast of fresh asparagus, they have been left to run to fern and berries are now forming on the female plants. The cauliflower, cabbage – red and sugar loaf - broccoli and romanesco, broad beans and peas have all been well and truly harvested and the only remanets of the winter greens are kale and silver beet.
The parsnips, turnips, swedes and carrots were a welcome addition to hearty soups and casseroles and were roasted whole to nourish the winter soul while the Florence fennel and celery have made way for the Lebanese cucumbers. As for the citrus crop of oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins and grapefruit, what was not juiced or incorporated into winter salads or donated to family and friends, has been transformed into marmalades, mustard fruits and cordials. The jars of orange, yellow and gold glisten in the pantry and beckon to be opened.
A snap shot of our winter garden and pantry, filled with jams, jellies, pickles, preserves, cordials and sauces made from our produce was captured earlier this year by the ABC TV Gardening show with celebrity presenter Sophie Thomson.