How many backyard gardeners have studied soil science? Who knows the ins and outs of how to best maintain and use a hoe? How many different compost recipes do you know, and how successful have they been for you? Do your plans for bountiful backyard harvests turn into insect-chewed gnarled heads of broccoli, snail-devoured lettuce, and worm-ridden, blight-stricken potatoes and tomatoes? While the pictures on seed packets and nursery seedlings and many popular full-colour gardening books are enticing, actually making it all work is more difficult than many realise at the outset. I suspect many don’t get far beyond the occasional tomato and basil harvest, just big enough to impress this week’s dinner guest, then the crop is virtually finished, the plants exhausted or bolting to seed. Many of us barely manage a couple of tomatoes in pots, or a small bed in the little corner of the lawn or ornamental garden.
Lots of people would nevertheless like to grow a big vegetable garden to get more nutritious, healthy, tasty, fresh food. Perhaps to simply claim a little bit of their personal labour, space and time back from capitalism. It may be a bit “hipster” and inner-city as a trend, but it’s a cheering trend to me. Given that the last serious gardeners in many of our families may have been over 2 generations and 50 years ago (although not in my case), there is a lack of serious knowledge passed down and Steve Solomon’s book, although it focuses on Tasmanian conditions, is good reading for anyone on the island to the north of him too.
Can farming techniques foster biodiversity, or even help fix some of the problems like invasive pests? A few ideas regarding apples and birds.
Bacchus Marsh is known for its apple orchards. They are uncaged, and scare guns are the main tool (that I’m aware of) to keep birds such as the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos from smashing the crop. In West Australia, the endangered Baudin’s Black Cockatoo can be a major pest in apple orchards, sadly a contributing factor to its endangered status. Both species are seed eaters: they tear open the apples to eat the seeds inside, a very frustrating behaviour for the farmer.
The old man told me that as a young botanist circa 1970 he surveyed the pasture grasses of the NSW western slopes. Apparently he was particularly interested in the native grasses, but his superiors weren’t so impressed by this focus (he says) and he didn’t continue in that job.
Australian pasture grasses are still underappreciated and poorly understood. Many graziers prefer introduced grasses, including disastrous weeds like Buffel grass.
Recently, Dad got me a secondhand copy of Fred Turner‘s 1895 book Australian Grasses (with illustrations). A few people are beginning to appreciate Australia’s native grass landscapes for not only their ecology but in some cases as drought-hardy plants for grazing livestock. Turner noted this exact potential in many native grasses, and promoting them was a major part of his book. It’s amazing (if a little depressing) how many of the themes he introduced 120 years ago are still current. Continue reading