It has been suggested the impending world food shortage will require us to grow more of our own food; become a nation of back-yard gardeners.
IT’S an excellent idea. In the days of the quarteracre block every household had a lemon tree, a couple of fruit trees, and a small vegetable plot tucked-away in the bottom-half of the backyard.
It was fenced-off and down behind the Hill’s hoist which sat in pride-of-pace in the middle of the lawn.
In Gwalia – mostly Italians and other Europeans – everyone had a vegetable garden, grapevines, rock and water melons, and figs trees. Joe Scolari, who lived in the main street, had the best grapevines in the town. He was something of an expert and every winter, like some ancient Celtic ritual, he went from house-to-house pruning the vines, guaranteeing a bumper summer crop. The Scolaris had a small orchard on the side of their house. The apples, plums, apricots, mandarins and oranges grew in such profusion they shared the abundance with friends and neighbours. The peaches were so juicy kids had to eat them in the bath.
We always had a vegetable garden. The only fertiliser was chook manure. Twice a week Beria would clean-out the chook house and cart the manure. The rich goldfields soil supported fat earthworms up to six inches long. It was organic by modern standards. There were peas which we picked and ate raw – shells and all, runner beans, radishes, sweet carrots, silver beet, iceberg lettuce, chicory, six feet tall Slav cabbage, huge striped watermelons, and grape and passion fruit vines.
The tomato flesh was solid, a taste explosion in your mouth which could be eaten like an apple. In Kalgoorlie, Beria’s huge apricot tree produced so much fruit Beria would leave filled boxes at the front gate for people to collect. In the season, the local greengrocer came every second or third day and took away sugar bags filled with enormous pink grapefruit and Valencia and navel oranges.
They were a best seller. The half dozen citrus trees produced so much fruit Beria could not give it away. Beria planted a grapevine trellis running the length on one side of the house. Every year she made batches of the most delicious grape jam which she gave away to all and sundry. Her vile husband, Salinovich – not my father – was jealous of the compliments which came her way. One day, in a fit of pique he ripped-out the dozen-or-so vines.
Beria never said a word: “I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he upset me.” Salinovich was an alcoholic of diminished responsibility; a cruel and violent man, he died in the Claremont Mental Asylum.
In Gwalia, the Quarti’s had a mulberry tree.
We waited expectantly, and come the summer my friend, Jan, and I would sit on the edge of the roof, legs dangling, gorging on the juicy black berries warmed by the sun.
When my sister lived in Port Augusta, she converted part of their two-acre property to a small stone fruit orchard. The white peaches and nectarines were unsurpassed.
My father was born in Magliano, a Tuscan village in the Alpi Apuane and descended from generations of subsistence market gardeners in a region which is still farmed as a local food bowl.
Our house in Gwalia had two enormous fig trees – black and white, black Muscatel grapevines which groaned under the weight of pendulous bunches, and an enormous concreted area at the front of the house which was shaded by passion fruit vines, yielding enough fruit to supply most of the town.
If all that sounds like some bucolic paradise, do not be misled. It was hard yakka. Beria spent part of every day in the garden and that did not include the morning and evening watering sessions using a hand-held hose fitted with a brass rose. The garden required hours of work – weeding and turning the soil. White cabbage butterflies arrived in platoons.
When the eggs hatched we spent hours pickingoff and squashing rapacious baby caterpillars – ‘cabbage grubs’ – which can devour an entire crop.
Beria grew everything from seeds which had to be transplanted from seedling boxes. It was endlessly time consuming.
Modern households are time poor; our needs have changed. We demand tasteless, seedless grapes and watery tomatoes all year round. Cherries are no longer a Christmas treat. We import oranges from California! Supermarkets are convenient. Apples are waxed, and are often 12-months old before they hit the supermarket shelves. The difference between fresh and supermarket onions is massive.
Freshness and quality have been sacrificed and seasonal vegetables are a thing of the past. The dynamic of the household has altered, dramatically.
In many instances both adults are working. While homes are fitted with labour saving devices, the preparation and maintenance of a vegetable garden is labour intensive. Houses are not fitted with grey water storage. The cost of water has increased dramatically and a vegetable garden is no longer a viable financial proposition. Even Duke of Edinburgh has said it’s cheaper to shop at Tesco’s!
While, in theory, the growing of your own fruit and vegetables sounds a wonderful idea, the application is a whole different story. It’s possible but not probable!
Contact Roland via firstname.lastname@example.org or hear him every Monday morning – 10.30am – on radio 3BA.