Barry Telford of Deakin has a "modest little urban plot" where he has been planting rocket and some kale "in honour of Bryan Martin" (from Food & Wine). When spring soil warms up, he is sowing seeds of Diggers' organic dwarf butter wax beans "Sex without Strings" (available online).
Telford says his backyard is a far cry from the 500 square metre oasis that was his father's garden. The family lived on sheep and cattle properties way out west in Queensland, what was known as the 'dead heart' around Charleville, Quilpie and Cheepie that was hot, dry, inhospitable country. Often one of the first jobs when they arrived at a new property was to build an airstrip, then a tennis court and, most importantly, a big vegetable garden.
Telford's father spent hours turning the red soil into garden beds, digging in leaf matter, carting manure from the shearing shed and chook yards and putting in pipes from the dam into the garden that had to be surrounded by a fence to keep out kangaroos, emus and large goannas. A 44-gallon drum held a mixture of water and sheep manure that was stirred up into a mixture that his dad poured around the vegetables liberally and often.
He supplied fresh vegetables for the house and for other workers who lived around the homestead throughout the year. Barry remembers sneaking down to the garden with his bowl of vinegar to consume freshly picked onion, tomato and radish dunked in the vinegar.
Maureen Bell of Aranda has emailed to us a memory from her childhood home in Melbourne. She clearly recalls her dad chopping off the head of a Sunday-dinner chook and then suspending its body from a trellis for the blood to drain and fertilise his climbing beans. The beans grew magnificently.
In her Canberra townhouse garden Bell grows climbing and French beans where she has been composting and digging in kitchen scraps to try to improve the solid clay they have.
Hints from country gardeners
If you enjoy garden wisdom from long-time gardeners, Nimmitabel and District Garden Club, formed in 1967, has produced a small book of country advice from past and present members.
Nimmitabel Garden Book ($12 from Pages of Life Bookshop, Cooma 6452-5683 – if you are heading off down Brown Mountain or to the Snowys) has a planting guide for 26 vegetables by month, hints that parsnip and parsley seeds germinate more quickly if soaked in kerosene overnight, epsom salts are good for carrots and beetroot if spread along the rows and watered in well, leaves of cauliflower should be clipped over the flower with clothes pegs to prevent frost discolouration, and sowing before rain (watch the barometer) is more effective than planting by the moon.
Club president Sue Jardine covers culinary herbs and Trisha Dixon Burkitt has listed a group of the hardiest plants for the ACT and Monaro, including cardoons, that can survive with very little watering.
A number of readers have asked where to buy the pot maker mentioned by Dom Galloway in Kitchen Garden (August 20), that transformed old newspaper into garden pots in which seeds can be sown and the whole pot planted into a garden bed.
At the Lanyon Plant Fair in March, children had fun using eco pot makers at an activity marquee set up in a paddock next to the kitchen garden. They created newspaper pots tied with string that they filled with compost, labelled and popped in a radish, pea or sunflower seed.
Kate Gardiner from Lanyon says they use Eco Pot Makers bought online from Burgon and Ball a company that dates back to 1730 in Sheffield, Britain. The kits come with three mould sizes made from turned, sustainably harvested beech wood.
Last November we offered seeds of Adrian van Leest's Opa's Brandywine tomatoes and 48 readers responded. If you still have seeds remaining sow them now, or email me if you missed out as he has another 25 packets of seed to share.
Van Leest says he can understand the challenge to achieve ripe tomatoes by Christmas but fast-maturing varieties do not have time to build up flavour. However, he thinks cherry tomatoes have great taste and are very productive.
This season I am sowing seeds of a cherry tomato variety produced by Artisan Tomatoes in California, available in Australia through Diggers. "Pink Bumble Bee" is an open-pollinated tomato that has excited organic growers, chefs and farmers' market shoppers in the United States.
Food and Wine has a few of Diggers' "Sex without Strings" seeds to spare, so email your name and postal address to me if you would like to try them: email@example.com
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.