Gardeners are such individuals which is why no two gardens are the same. We all make plans and plant and sow for different reasons. Just the other day I was visiting a city friend who invited me to look in her vegetable garden. I managed to supress my surprise when I found myself peering out over a sea of long grass. "I call this my picking garden", she said as we wound our way through the tall seed heads to little islands of soil among what was, to me, chaos. But by the time we'd spent ten or fifteen minutes in her jungle, Sue had gathered enough leaves, herbs, and petals for a pretty and delicious salad. She was delighted with it, and so was I.
My dream garden has always been one that grows all the food we need to survive – and in many ways that's the case. For carbohydrate we look mainly to potatoes and yams (we are too cold this far south for kumara). Protein comes in the form of peas, beans, and nuts, with the chooks helping out as they can. If you count in the wild apples and berries we collect along the roadsides, we keep ourselves well supplied in fruit, and the bees, in a warm season, deliver a few kilos of honey for sweet treats. Wine is made from whatever surplus fruit or veg is on hand. But where self-sufficiency is concerned, we have always been lacking two staples. The first is soy beans, which we purchase from a Marlborough grower, and use to make soymilk, soy yoghurt and, occasionally, tofu. The second is grain, of which we use very little.
I thought it would always be that we would have to buy in these two staples, but this summer I discovered otherwise. Those of you who follow this column, may recall, back in late spring, that I was experimenting with soy beans. I planted barely a tiny handful of seed, some in pots on the windowledge, and some in the glass house. Apart from a little watering, I left them to their own devices, so I was astonished, at the end of March, to find that the harvest from the plants was enough to allow me to make three cups of delicious soy milk. Then, about a month ago, I was looking out the window at the gooseberry bed which I had fertilized earlier in the year with the sweepings from the chook house . Grain, mixed in with the manure, had sprouted amongst the gooseberry bushes, grown to full height, and formed beautiful golden ears of wheat. I harvested them before the sparrows had a chance to help themselves, and promptly wondered what to do with it. Then I remembered a long-ago trek through the mountains of Ladakh where I had come upon a woman driving a yak over piles of wheat lying on a flat, stone paved circle. Nearby, other women were tossing the grains into the air from wide baskets so that the breeze carried away the chaff, leaving the hulled grain behind. I couldn't imagine my donkeys being willing enough to trample my grain, even if I did have a threshing floor, but a rolling pin achieved the same results, and the winnowing (I used a roasting dish on a windy day) worked well enough to remove the husks from the grains. It was a lot of fun and I reaped almost a cup of wheat for my efforts. Boiled, this in turn amounted to almost three cups of swollen wheat-berries, more than enough for a breakfast porridge for two, served with honey and soy milk.
I don't imagine that I will ever actually embark on growing all of the soy beans or grain that we require in a year but it's very satisfying to know that, if called on to do this, I could. And so, in some small way, like all gardeners who plan and dig and plant and sow, this summer, my dream garden may have at last come true.