Dear Diggers (Summer Garden 2018)

Contributions and feedback from our readers

Organics vs hydroponics

Dear Clivein SA I learnt gardening from my working-class mother who lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. Then friends introduced me to the Soil Association. The old hands there revered Lady Eve Balfour’s 1943 book, The Living Soil and the whole organic program was described and practiced from an appreciation of the soil.

Later I read about, then met and attended the iconic and legendary Peter Bennett’s Organic Gardening course. Bennett railed against the artificiality and toxicity of superphosphate and the corporate system which peddled it, and all other unnatural chemical applications in agriculture, horticulture and gardening.

He was a ‘soil man’, aptly described in his 1979 book Organic Gardening.

In the 1980s I came to know Tim Marshall whose 2011 book, The New Organic Gardener added much more to Bennett’s work and continued Balfour’s tradition. As a founding member of the Permaculture Association of SA I attended and supported the inauguration of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia at Kiewa in 1987 which Tim co-founded. Again this is a soil-based project. Bill Mollison, of Permaculture fame along with co-founder David Holmgren both advocate growing food in the soil. That’s the journey upon which I garden. Compost-based and local.

There is no debate. Hydroponics is not organic. It cannot possibly ever be, even with organically based nutrients. It is only within the soil that the whole complexity of interactions between minerals, trace elements, water, plant roots and a myriad of other essential biochemical processes occur that produces nutrient rich, real food.

The dystopian future that awaits as global environmental pollution, climate chaos and political madness descends upon the world may well demand that more food is grown in ‘protected crop’ systems, but for it to be real it will still have to be in the soil. And yes, hydroponically grown food should be labelled as Artificial Food, along with GMO/irradiated etc.

Colin B. SA

Ban the opinionated gardener?

Dear Diggers, I have not renewed my membership. For a few years now my mounting anger at the politicising of my favourite garden club has been irritating. 

Every time Clive Blazey writes in our publications, he thrusts his left-wing politics down our throats, (sometimes but not always subtly), using our shared love of Heronswood, Cloudehill and St Erth to peddle his views. Enough! I will continue to subscribe for my daughter and daughter-in-law who can ignore him.

Dale S. VIC

Dear Dale, I am sorry that you don’t share our activist concerns that all is not well on our precious planet.
Apparently, Australia is not only the world’s worst polluter in terms of per capita CO2 emissions, after the Campbell Newman Queensland government was elected in 2012 it over-turned bans on deforestation with such success that in 2015 395,000 hectares of Queensland forest were destroyed. This is comparable with destruction of forests in Brazil or the Congo.
That single year of clearing removed more trees than the 20 million planted under Federal Coalition subsidies
(40% of which threatens our precious Barrier Reef). How are we to leave this planet in a better condition for our grandchildren if we remain mute when our so-called leaders are so destructive?
Yours, Clive
Reported by The Conversation, Noel Preece, Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University.

Swapping beef for beans

Dear Clive, may I please defend the poor old cow. I was upset to read such an article in your well-loved magazine, so I thought others might need to know the other side. Unless they are aware already.

I totally agree: feed lots who use grain, grown in vast areas of feed mono-crops, especially some that are GMO’s for cattle fodder, is ridiculous and unhealthy and it is heavily subsidised by their American government. Not a sound future. Plus coal seam gas and gas pipes leak vast amounts of methane gas daily, well above allowable limits and no one ever brings that up, or even when talking about “climate change”. But to blame the cow? It is all human management.

The cows/beef, bovines, being ruminants were gifted with multiple stomachs to take the suns energy via photosynthesis, green grasses (that we could not possibly digest) to process into something that is palatable and highly nutrient rich protein for humans. AND the cow can even regenerate the landscape!

Cows, via perennial pastures, can sequester huge amounts of carbon back into our soils, which would mean more fertility and increase our water holding capacity into our landscape.

There is hope, and we need cows to do it. Reference Cows Can Save The Planet by Judith D. Schwartz. Work by our Australian soil scientist Dr Christine Jones or Allan Savory, holistic management to restore landscape health, Graeme Hand or Dr Marteen Straper, Peter Andrews books; so many Australians doing wonderful research for the betterment of our landscape function and the food we eat.

From just a farmer — a Victorian Certified Organic beef and pork producer who uses biodynamics. Thanks for listening, Lee.

The garden-worthiness of eucalypts

Dear Clive,  It astonishes me that a club that values heirloom vegetable seed varieties fails to espouse the value of locally sourced native vegetation. Yes, we all know that you don't like eucalypts in gardens, and that is a matter of opinion (I personally love my view of eucalypts), but there is more to native vegetation than just gum trees!

Native plants grown from locally-sourced seed are adapted to the area and are essential to support the native wildlife and insects that we have left. Many regions have wonderful indigenous plant nurseries run by volunteers that painstakingly collect local seed and propagate these plants to ensure that they continue to survive into the future.

I would like to see Diggers producing more articles on incorporating local indigenous vegetation into gardens — because if we gardeners do not do this, then who will? It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach, there are many successful examples of gardens and food forests that can support food production and local biodiversity, whilst retaining their aesthetic appeal.

Tiana P.

Dear Tiana, we have championed the planting of rainforest trees for decades, well before we were affected by the devastating force of the ‘eucalyptic’ fire that destroyed our Heronswood restaurant.
If you go to the Adelaide or Melbourne Botanic Gardens on a hot day you will be astounded at the cooling and incredible beauty effect of our native rainforest trees. I mention trees that we have listed for years like Flindersia australis, Black Booyong, White and Red Cedar, Macadamia and Gingko from Gondwana times.
These trees not only provide the densest cooling shade but they are beautiful and their dark green foliage refreshes the senses too. These trees were planted about 150 years ago and have weathered repeated droughts. Being located in Northern latitudes they are the best choices for a warming climate.
You see when summer temperature extremes are likely to reach 48-50c for days on end, I want my trees to provide the densest cooling shade, both visually and physically. I don’t want my summer garden to have arid looking shrubs or trees whether they are from Chile or Spain or our central Australia.
Now there are truly excellent indigenous nurseries collecting seed and propagating them at much lower prices than we can manage sending plants through the post, so I am sorry that we can’t help you. Also without wanting to create more anxiety for you I really don’t believe that native plants need Native pollinators. Most of our bee pollination is performed by exotic honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) and as this picture shows native birds like the wattle bird eagerly seek nectar feeding on introduced flowers like Echiums.
Yours, Clive
Reported by The Conversation, Noel Preece, Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University.

Dear Diggers, let us continue the discussion about native plants. Australia has over 24,000 native plants, 700 of which are eucalypts. These have evolved in a range of environments, the most notable being that we have the driest continent. They provide food and shelter to many animals which have evolved over time with these plant species, often with a symbiotic relationship.

If we want to plant gardens that will survive, indigenous species are a good place to start. The beauty of these plants often takes keen observation. Natives are not showy like roses but if you pay attention they are structurally complex and varied.

Any search on the internet will give you the names of many Australian plants that provide the shade we crave on a hot summer’s day, including some eucalypts which are very garden-worthy. These eucalypts do not poison the soil, they just make it very dry, so plants that like the “dry” will flourish around the bottom of a eucalypt. I have found native grasses thrive around the base of eucalypts.

Our gardens will survive into the future if we use trial and error, diversity and choose species that have a chance of survival. Surely with 24,000 different native plants we can grow the garden that will suit all eyes, including plants that naturally form into weird and fantastic shapes!

Claire R. VIC

Dear Clive and Diggers Club staff, thanks for my recently received Festive Gardens magazine. I note the response to Elizabeth’s letter stating that a Eucalyptus is “the worst tree to plant for cooling shade”. We have a grafted Corymbia ficifolia (Western Australian Red Flowering Gum), which was formerly considered a eucalypt. It has dense foliage, is much cooler underneath than some of our exotic trees in the height of summer, and it flowers ... and flowers!

It spot flowers through the year, but for a few weeks around Christmas I like to call it our Poinsettia as few of the leaves are visible underneath a carpet of scarlet blooms. It (along with my Diggers Club sunflowers) drags bees to our garden to pollinate all our vegetables. Native birds love it too, and my family delights in the honeyeaters, rosellas, and lorikeets that regularly rest in the tree.

Size? Fourteen years old, the tree is about three times my height and 4-5m across. It provides great shelter for the garden from those occasional dessicating northern winds Melbourne has in January and February.

As for the tendency of native trees to drop branches, well it has lost one or two smaller ones but only as a result of little boys climbing to explore and look for bird nests to view.

I totally agree with your view that plants need to be garden-worthy, however, I would argue this native relative of Eucalyptus is 100% garden worthy at our place.

Brett M. VIC

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