Twenty-five years ago, in Tasmania, when Edwin Ride moved in with his girlfriend (now wife) Sharon, they built a vegetable garden together. It was something she had been doing for ages and he was an eager convert.
They moved to Canberra from Darwin 15 years ago and rented in Yarralumla for a decade. The generous landlord allowed them to put in veg beds, fruit trees and a chook pen. The soil was good, but possums were a pest. Then the family bought a place in Kambah.
Much of the block was covered with couch grass, so Edwin welded a ripper to mount on his car's tow bar and turned over most of the front yard. They scattered clay-breaker and then put down a treble thickness of cardboard boxes and covered that with 20cm of woodchips.
Now they have a nice humus but, when the time came to plant fruit trees, they made mounds with imported topsoil. Sharon Ride likes ornamental plants in the front garden so there has been a compromise and irises, forget-me-nots, cornflowers and roses provide floral highlights and a three-tiered bee hive is being agisted in the area. They have been hosting the bees for a couple of years for a work colleague of Sharon's.
A persimmon, two apple trees, a mulberry, fig, Trevatt and Moorpark apricots, greengage, damson, double grafted Japanese mariposa/Santa Rosa plum and d'agen plum trees are underplanted with potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, garlic, rainbow chard, dwarf beans, basil, coriander, self-seeded lettuces, onions and chillies. These are surrounded by watering dripper hoses and circles of rocks making an informal labyrinth.
Edwin Ride has a background in environmental science and jewellery making and he is good with his hands so timber decks surround the house and a tinkling two-tiered water feature with water lilies and goldfish greets people at the front porch. A finger lime is covered with blossom which attracts hoverflies.
Most of the family's vegetables, though, grow in raised wicking beds built to Edwin's own design using, with permission, recycled material from demolition sites, particularly fencing material, and from offers on Gumtree.
In late winter or early spring Edwin starts his seed-raising in the lounge room in front of a north-facing window. Then they are moved to a small cold frame. This season direct plantings into a series of wicking beds include broccoli, garlic, snow peas and broad beans, leeks from seed, well established mibuna to be cooked in a stir-fry, mizuna, kohlrabi, capsicums, cucumbers, zucchini, parsley, beetroot, black Russian and sweet bite tomatoes.
Garlic at the base of a plum tree. Photo: Melissa Adams
Recently he has direct planted Yates Sun 'n' Snow sweetcorn because it was delicious last year, Dutch cream potatoes and bush beans. Some happy and quite advanced Roma tomato and capsicum plants called to him at the local supermarket a few weeks ago and he couldn't resist so they have gone in too.
There are two chook runs. The winter run is planted out with gross feeders in spring and summer. The bedding straw is composted and all garden waste and food scraps go to the chooks for them to eat, kick around or play with. The litter is raked periodically and it goes on the vegie beds under the fruit trees.
As an independent researcher-curator and house-husband, Edwin does most of the cooking. The family eats lots of salads fresh from the garden during spring, summer and autumn. He also barbecues young zucchini with fresh garlic or makes a barely cooked ratatouille-type mix with eggplant, tomato, zucchini and fresh herbs, the leftovers of which get used the following Saturday morning in a ramekin as a relish for a baked egg.
A recent favourite is a broad bean hummus/pesto. Edwin makes his own sourdough and generously served the dip for us to taste on triangles of his freshly toasted bread. We ate at the garden table in the company of ever-present ARF (ACT Rescue and Foster) dog, the gorgeous big brown Aspen, a Keeshond/Border Collie cross, aged 14.
Edwin and Sharon Ride's broad bean hummus and their chickens. Photo: Melissa Adams
Broad bean hummus
500g broad beans (will yield about 250g beans when podded)
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
garlic (half a small clove)
Pod and boil the beans for 10-15 minutes. Rrefresh in cold water, then skin them. Wash, then blend or puree with a little of the cooking water (1-2 tbsp, depending on how mature and floury the beans are). Stir through the olive oil, lemon juice and finely minced garlic. Taste and adjust for flavours. Add a pinch of salt to taste and sprinkle with sumac.
Serve at room temperature, as a dip or on sourdough toast.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.