Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Last week, struggling under the first of the unit's simultaneous colds of the season, I stepped into the garden to cheer myself. And there among the sad, brown beans sat a colony of brand new bugs. I'm not sure what they are but they're garish, spotty, and they've got fluoro blood when they're squashed under my Thumb of Wrath - anything that tacky has got to be bad. But instead of doing something about them I stalked backed to the house in sniffling and snotty disgust.

The uninspiring site of the planned invasion

I garden organically and these aren't the first set of bugs that have tried to colonise the back. I'm getting kind of sick of their company and, as the thrill of the moral high ground starts to fade, I'm getting kind of sick of the whole organic thing as well. On bad days I feel the there's an awful lot of romanticism scattered like stardust about the literature. It might be desirable to 'share' with nature, knowing there's enough for all, but in my sad experience the birds, bugs, slugs and snails will eat everything, and without a single word of apology. I've had trees laden with apricots and taken about three, all green, because that's all the fruit that's been left to me. Slugs are best disposed by a gory tramp around a garden in the dark, and apparently gardeners can break the codling moth breeding cycle if they check the cycle of the moon and hunt at night. Call me old fashioned, but in my world night's for sleeping (and feeding, and settling babies, and feeding again). Apparently the proliferation of bugs is a matter of garden hygiene; am I to be called a slattern because my mulching leads to the unforeseen consequence of bug eggs and hidey holes? And has planting dill among the cabbages ever confused the moths? So I ask myself as I feed the worm farm, turn the compost, dig in organic matter, collect the snails for the chooks, and a hundred other do-it-the-right way tasks, "why do I bother?"

It's been a challenge to come up with an answer that satisfied me. I guess partly I'm a sucker for a pretty face and some curly hair - each time I watch that earthy Josh on Gardening Australia I renew my commitment to organics. Plus, Pete Cundell does it this way and he's 80, so maybe it's worth it in the long run and I’ll be a spry national treasure as a reward for my efforts. There’s the immediate dangers of poisons: the only time I've used snail bait my dog Jasper, then just a puppy, jumped the fence, ate it and almost died; growing up Lutheran I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a judgement for my sinning ways. And I do like a challenge - gardening organically is an intellectual as well as a physical task, and both dimensions are important to me. Sometimes something good happens: the lady birds I so casually mentioned a few posts back were a long time coming but such a thrill to see their dotty selves in my garden after three years of trying to put things to rights.

There's something else going on as well. Previous owners mistreated this lot and when we bought it, it was a wasteland, irrespective of the big trees and a stunted looking peach. Our garden archaeology turns up broken stubbies and cans of Bundy and Coke. Any part of the soil not intensively nursed by me has no body, no structure and nothing at all living in it. I've never lived in a place where the sight of a worm is an occasion for comment but here it's taken us four years to lure them back into our boundaries. I feel sad that such a beautiful house on such a generous plot - so much larger than anything sub-divided today - could be held in such disdain. I feel we have been blessed to have found this home, particularly when I think of so many people struggling with high house prices and tight rental markets, and my thanks is partly expressed by my stewardship of the little bit of land on which my family lives. I feel - and in this I'm romanticising, I know, I know - that organic methods are designed to develop a partnership with my environment (even though more often than not I'm a junior partner), they are not aimed at domination and getting things only my way. This seems the least I can do given my garden’s sad past.

Stewardship is important to me as a mother. 'Think globally, act locally' may be kind of naff in times when mortgage rates and Aussie values dominate political debate but I try to do the best I can with what I can. I live in a State where my concern for my children's wellbeing, and the health and aesthetics of my world, is marginalised and subjugated to the forestry industry; where some small communities quite often need to boil their water before drinking it; and where regulatory processes can be quite publicly and shamelessly opted out of - with government facilitation - when enough money and influence is at stake. I protest in all the polite ways but last weekend I sat under a tree, listening to anger and hope at a public rally against a pulp mill to be sited up river, and I felt powerless and despairing. It may be that my garden can't really be organic in the time and place where I live but in trying, I'm holding on to my belief that I can make a difference. And even if I can't I'm showing my girls that we are lucky enough to have the choice to leave our place a nicer than when we came to it, and that sometimes what matters is that you try, not that you succeed. Then again, maybe I’m just pissing into the wind.

Either way, I’m back out tomorrow, squishing bugs between my finger and thumb. I hope they appreciate their right-on deaths.

Good organics, inside

and out

On a separate matter: an innocent victim of our lack of sleep. We took our labradoodle Jasper to the vet for his annual check up, only to have him officially designated “fat”. We’re sitting on the couch instead of walking the dog, and the poor fellow is bearing the public shame. No more bacon treats and many more hikes in the forest, that’s his lot.

Eating from the garden: beautifully scrambled eggs with chives for breakfast; apples for snacks; the last of the corn with crab and noodles in a Chinese-esque soup, with steamed bok choy and choy sum (the high point of the eating week).


Em said...

When you describe it, it all makes sense to me... (I can't profess to have an organic garden, but I truly admire your efforts.)

VictoriaE said...

Is it strange that I can read this post and be both specifically amused and generally inspired by it at the same time?