Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

You can’t eat coal

Attempts to grow food in thin raised beds at the back of our Sydney house often feel futile. With its small concrete patio overshadowed on all sides, our tiny plot is hardly conducive to growing fruit or vegetables, yet I persist. I know I will never grow enough to feed us (unlike in our gloriously productive Broken Hill garden) and any effort I put in is entirely disproportionate to the meagre results. So why bother?

The broad beans might make a single meal

These broad beans might make a single meal

Because growing food matters.

It matters more than mining, way more, and I’m sorry about all those jobs and all those economic benefits, but you can’t eat coal.

And yes, since you ask, illustrious Prime Minister, I would be willing to consume less power and yes, I would be willing to accept blackouts and power outages if in return it meant one less filthy coalmine in a prime agricultural area.

Quite apart from the fact that coal mining is an ugly, out-dated, dirty business with no long-term future, mining won’t in any way enhance the environment, encourage tourism or put food on our tables. Am I naïve in thinking Australia should be leading the way in a world that is embracing renewal forms of energy? We have more hours of sunlight than just about any other country yet this government has given the go ahead for a state-owned Chinese company to embark on open cut coal mining in the heart of prime agricultural land.

This is lunacy. Are you listening Tony Abbott? No, of course you’re not.

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The squirrel inherited from Dad

So I will continue in my frustrated attempts to grow food in this tiny back garden, overseen by the owl and the squirrel. Did I tell you I have an owl and squirrel in the garden? They’re not real of course, they’re garden ornaments, the former inherited from Mum and the latter from Dad. Fitting really, since Dad could sometimes be an impetuous, frenzied gardener and Mum was more inclined to watch and wait.

This week was dominated by the squirrel.

Visitors have often remarked on the overgrown hibiscus in the front garden and I’ve occasionally responded to their irritation by snipping off a branch or cutting back a twig – a tentative approach to caring for an ornamental I wouldn’t have chosen to plant.

Once we were hidden by hibiscus

Once we were hidden by hibiscus

I often wonder if an avocado tree might not work better in that spot.

When I realised the weedy bush had outgrown the reach of my pruning shears I sawed off several branches, then I sawed off several more. The need for symmetry prompted an equally radical haircut on an opposing plant and it was only the sound of bees feeding on nectar filled flowers that stopped me hacking at the camellias (which in all fairness could do with a trim but not while the bees are feeding)

Fallen flowers from the trumpet vine

Fallen flowers from the trumpet vine

The rush of enthusiasm for pruning sent me up a ladder to cut back a dense trumpet vine climber that grows up a north-facing wall on the front drive. It’s an attractive plant when in flower but again I can’t help wishing the previous owners had planted a passion fruit vine or maybe espaliered a fig along that fence, combining beauty with productivity.

The trumpet vine after its haircut

The trumpet vine after its haircut

The front of the house is now radically more exposed, and in winter there’s no foliage on the deciduous tree either, but the benefit (thank goodness there was one, I was worried there for a while) is more light and space. I reckon there’s every chance an avocado tree would grow in the new sunny spot, or maybe I can plant another blueberry bush.

No longer hidden

Hidden no longer

Perhaps I should plant a hazelnut tree? The bag of hazelnuts I bought nine months ago have waited patiently for me to buy a nutcracker, which only happened last weekend, yet the nuts are still edible and they taste perfectly fine.

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My long-term goal in this garden is to combine beauty with productivity, and I have no doubt this week’s slash and burn approach will pay dividends in spring and summer when the vine flourishes and flowers return to the hibiscus.

The dividends of a slash and burn open cut mining operation seem far less obvious.

 

 

 

 

13 comments on “You can’t eat coal

  1. Eliza Waters
    July 9, 2015

    I sympathize! How tough it must be for you not to be able to grow the food you did in Broken Hill. Do you rent or own? Could you replant with the food plants you mentioned? I know it would be hard to tear out perfectly good plants, but food trees might give you more satisfaction. Also, here’s an article that may be of interest: http://www.harvesttotable.com/2012/04/vegetables-for-growing-in-shade/

    Like

  2. debhuntwasinbrokenhill
    July 9, 2015

    You’re right, it’s such a dilemma. I hate the thought of ripping out perfectly good plants but food trees would make me feel a whole lot better about living here, thanks for that article Eliza I will read it with interest

    Like

  3. nantubre
    July 10, 2015

    I feel your pain re: coal mines. In our part of the U.S., we have to deal with oil and the use of “fraking” for oil. It is no less good for the land than coal mining. In fact, who knows, it might be worse.
    I consider my hay bale garden a success as we have harvested a ton of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, but not so much of squash, zucchini, egg plant, green beans. Waiting on the 7 watermelons to ripen. The season is beginning to wind down.
    The thing is our house sits on an acre of land. Plenty enough to grow lots of food, but being novices to veggie gardening, it’s a slow start. But NEXT year….Next year!

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    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      July 10, 2015

      Fracking is making inroads here in Australia too. Who knows what the long term effects will be? Delighted to hear your hay bale garden was so productive, I wonder what happened to the zucchini, egg plant and green beans? As you say, there’s always next year, and the year after…

      Like

  4. solidgoldcreativity
    July 10, 2015

    I like your possibility for your garden, Deb. The news about the coal mine is awful, isn’t it? Madness. We’re undermining the very ground on which we stand. How can that not lead to disaster? Best wishes in nurturing the ground around you.

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  5. Carricklass
    July 10, 2015

    Can’t think of anything nicer than your own avocados – sounds like it might be an idea for next year???

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  6. Adele Hughes
    July 11, 2015

    We do so enjoy your Blogs Deb. In complete agreement!!

    Like

    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      July 11, 2015

      Thx Adele, it seems we’re not alone in our opposition to this Chinese-owned coal mine. I’m sure Barnaby Joyce will have done what he can, if only other politicians were listening.

      Like

  7. Rae Luckie
    July 11, 2015

    Hi Deb
    I ache with anger over the destruction of our agricultural land for coal mining, and the potential to destroy aquifers… Great to hear you on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife last night – let’s also hope for the independence of ‘our’ ABC, but it looks like a losing battle.

    Cheers

    Rae

    Like

    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      July 11, 2015

      Hi Rae, good to hear from you and hope the creative writing workshops are going well. Was at a dinner with Maggie Beer last night and she is also opposed to that blasted coal mine. Had no idea they were broadcasting the Nightlife interview last night, glad you managed to catch it!

      Like

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This entry was posted on July 9, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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