Autumn Open Day at Bellis

See and learn how using Hailguard and correctly positioning this netting on fruit trees prevents fruit losses to birds and fruit bats without harming wildlife

See and learn how using Hailguard and correctly positioning this netting on fruit trees prevents fruit losses to birds and fruit bats without harming wildlife

Every time I open my garden there is something to celebrate about organic gardening and seed saving.

Sharing a surplus of organic food and seed comes top of the list. Last spring was exceedingly dry, conditions that made it the best spring seed harvest from winter crops. Though hot – and ultimately very wet – this summer was good for avocados in Bayside Brisbane. So this weekend, Chas and Gail, my neighbours, are giving me three crates of surplus organic avocados to give to our first visitors. Bayside Brisbane also had a good year for jackfruit, pomelo and other citrus. I’ve made jam with surplus citrus and rosella and have pomelo and mandarin seedlings.

This is the seventh year I’ve opened my garden through Open Gardens Australia. I try to share food culture – different ways to cook, and different crops to eat.

Organic gardening is good for the environment, and this weekend you can see an example of wildlife-friendly fruit tree netting. The standard, single filament fruit tree netting – the kind that every garden centre and hardware store sells – traps, maims and often kills birds and fruit bats. Once trapped, struggling animals then attract snakes, which also often get trapped. Gardeners trying to release trapped wildlife get bitten by poisonous snakes more frequently than you realise. So check out my bird and bat-friendly alternative netting technique and learn how to use it. Thanks to Bat Conservation & Rescue, Brisbane, this win/win keeps gardeners and fruit bats safe.

My 813 square metre garden is a result of (close to) ten years of organic gardening. Originally, the soil was worm-free and full of nutgrass. As you will see on this week’s ‘Gardening Australia’ show (ABC 1, Saturday 11th September at 6.30pm) my soil was once worm-free and hard enough to break the blade of a rotary hoe.

It took five years to create fertile soil and conditions that provide abundant, diverse foods. I also get sugarbag and products for healing, like Aloe vera. Visitors can see rare heritage crops, like ‘Parramatta Sweets’ mandarin (from NSW), ‘First Fleet’ coffee (from Rio de Janeiro, 1788) and the ‘First Fleet’ lettuce  that once fed convicts at Farm Cove. I’m pleased to say this lettuce has now been repatriated to the Royal Vegetable Garden in Balmoral, Scotland, with the approval of HRH Elizabeth II (in October 2011).

Another celebration is the maturing ecology of my food garden. The outlook is not good for pests, especially grubs and caterpillars. Normally anything up to six species of beetle grubs – curl grubs – chew into root crops, spoiling them. Here, Black hairy flower wasps have vanquished these grubs, and to keep things in my favour all I need do is use a special mulch under certain trees.

This summer, two special parasites moved in. One is an ecto-parasitic fly, an Argentinian biocontrol (the Tachinid fly, Trichopoda giacomellii) released by the CSIRO near Moree to cull the native Spined citrus bug (Biprorulus bibax), a pest that spoils citrus fruit. The other is a Leucospis wasp that parasitises other wasps which in turn parasitise caterpillars. Entomologists have been unable to identify the Leucospis wasp, which is probably a new, undescribed species (see gallery below). I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

My garden is thrifty to run. Guinea pigs help maintain my lawn, and running the rest of the garden takes one person 8 – 10 hours a week.

I’ve learned not to rely on the potato. Instead, I grow yams, arrowroot, cassava, sweetpotato and cocoyam. They cope better with our droughts and floods.

I’ve learned how to prepare meals with green bananas instead of rice, I create experimental pestos and use green pawpaws instead of spuds.

Many of the two hundred food plants growing here are volunteers – self-sown seedlings. Volunteers make food growing easy, productive and reliable whatever the weather.

Mineral deficiencies have been overcome by active monitoring and soil improvement, and consequently my crops are healthy. I reckon food is my medicine, and garden fresh foods add vitality to my diet. If, like me, you have 117 different foods on the menu, who needs ‘superfood’ or vitamins?

Jerry Coleby-Williams
8th May 2013