And then they struggle. This is gardening in a country ablaze. Not that I’ve had a fire at my door, but a fast-moving 60 hectare grass fire did come within 5km on New Year’s Eve and that was close enough. January has been full of days above 30 celsius and we’ve had about 40mm of rain locally in the past four or so months. Not the time to establish a hedge, vegetable garden or trees, all of which I’ve pigheadedly attempted.
The only two apps I use at the moment are the Country Fire Authority and weather. It’s all about watching stats, worrying about wind direction, hoping for rain. Every photo I take in the harsh sun looks overexposed and my feet are taking on hobbit hoariness after hours in the garden.
Having said all of that, it’s not completely grim. The beehive that my neighbour Terry put on the front lawn is doing really well (despite lack of rain, the heat and not much food about). I’m eating a lot of ice cream and swimming in dams. The colour in the landscape is really beautiful.
I’ve just polished off a giant bowl of spaghetti with garlic and basil from the garden. I’m eating radishes and spinach and eyeing up the spring onions. I have to keep reminding myself that this is the first gardening season of many and I shouldn’t expect too much, better to savour the little edible victories and keep observing and learning.
I have learnt that every job in a garden this size is huge. New beds means getting in the tractor and rotary hoe (and, let’s be honest, Pepe to do the heavy work). Planting a hedge seems to take months. A while ago now I dug 30+ holes for a feijoa hedge along the northern boundary and returning to plant just recently I got all boot camp on it and was out digging at 6am many mornings in a row. They’re surviving well so far with a fantastically extravagant weekly bucket-watering regime.
The choice of plant is a hopeful experiment, an ode to my NZ childhood. And I figure if Gerhard and Bern’s have survived for 20 years around the corner then I’ve got a chance here. The wire protection keeps most kangaroos and rabbits out – save the odd clumsy ‘roo that catches a paw and squashes the damn thing (one shrub lost so far.)
I waited until we got bunny-proof fencing in place to start planting veggies. So full of promise in September, the fenced area is now unquestionably tanned.
I’m giving a go raspberries, gooseberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, jerusalem artichokes, radishes, spinach, beans, lettuces, spring onions, leeks, cucumbers, a few types of melon & pumpkin, and all sorts of herbs. The most successful crop so far? Sunflowers. Ha! Well at least the bees are happy.
When I asked my neighbour and fellow gardening enthusiast Claire what she did in the evenings she said “kids to bed, a cider and two hours of watering.” I get it. Years of gardening in the Melbourne suburbs had me a bit smug about my green thumb and now the climate and soil are slapping me in the face. With just a few plants in the ground I’d rather keep my babies alive with a spend of $170 on 12,000 litres of water than go out to dinner or buy a dress. Not that I’ve had to buy water yet, but in these next few establishment years I doubt I’d hesitate if the need arose. For now I’ve got a 52,000lt capacity and apart from keeping the new plants moist Brie and I are frugal as hell. It must be said we’re getting a bit dirty.