By mid-May growth in the kitchen garden slows r-i-g-h-t down. Things that, even a month ago, were progressing well are now almost dormant, sitting quietly in the cold soil, waiting for the winter solstice (about a month away, people) to return to us longer days and shorter nights, however incrementally. Gardening is both gymnasium and therapist as I once heard a woman on the ABC suggest, but it's nice, from time to time, to put your feet up to rest for a while as the winter quiets things down, to read and plan your next garden moves. Increasingly, growing your own food, on whatever scale is available to you, is being seen also as something of a political act in ever-widening circles. Cue Lolo Houbein's Outside the Magic Square: A Handbook for Food Security.
The challenging times that lie ahead of us collectively climate-wise are beyond the scope of discussion on this blog - I am not a political writer, but my thinking and conversation with friends and family is deeply immersed in that sphere and yet, here I am, a somewhat informed individual, who is ultimately as confused as the next. And frankly, in my (egads!) middle age, I feel helpless. I know that I'm not alone. Houbein's book manages to tackle these issues head on - there's no beating about the bush, here - but with one fabulously focussed difference; she offers real, practical solutions, so many in fact that the book is not likely to sink in over one sitting. Doom and gloom be gone!
In How to use this book, Houbein says you can, "of course read the book cover to cover. Or take a dip and read the parts that appeal." I took the latter approach, reading my way through the ideas which are grouped thematically. Following the various trails of thought you'll find out that even one square metre of garden space - the premise for her first book, The Magic Square - can introduce a little something fresh to your diet each day, you'll learn about the future of food production in Australia (and beyond), the plight of farmers (shocking given 2012 is the Year of the Farmer), how to grow your plot without chemicals, what to grow, how to do it and when, how to build drought-proof beds, how to cook and preserve the food you're producing and loads more. There's a LOT to take in, so do it slowly. What I found particularly refreshing was that any questions she raises are answered, something lacking in many drier, more academic books. Not only that, but Houbein's enthusiasm is so infectious I dare anyone who reads it NOT to want to get their hands in the dirt immediately.
This was our kitchen garden in November of last year. Much has changed, and much has been learned along the way (as is always the case, no?) and it provides so very much, without the use of nasty chemicals. One story, that of a fledgling nursed back to health by wildlife rescuers is particularly poignant:
...Ken fed it broccoli from the garden which the little bird gobbled up daily. When the broccoli ran out Ken bought it some, but the bird retreated to the corner of the cage and wouldn't touch the shop bought product. When organic broccoli was obtained the bird ate it again with gusto. This story alone is enough to make me an organic gardener!
Outside the Magic Square brims with practical, if not a little scattered, information, but the author is deeply involved in her message and her enthusiasm makes me yearn to live with my garden full-time. Yes, she may well be preaching to the converted, but I found the book both timely and encouraging. One of the best and most positive on the subject I've come across. And a-men to that.