Food for Thought

Rita Shelley

I grew up in the most urban of environments. We didn’t have land. We didn’t grow things. Most of my life I couldn’t understand the pleasure in gardening. Recently, I’ve begun to change. I got there through food. You see, my partner and I love to eat and we are enthusiastic cooks. I guess It finally dawned on me that, for me, gardening is about growing food in our lush Northland soil and climate.
This year I bravely planted seeds (rather than purchased seedlings) for the first time. Some seeds were commercial. Others I got from the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust in Whanganui. I heard their research director, Mark Christensen, on radio and contacted him. They work with heirloom seeds that produce highly nutritious plants. I especially enjoyed Janet Bradbury’s delightful children’s book created for the Research Trust, Jessica and the Golden Orb. It’s about growing golden tomatoes and is available as a free download. The book advised planting borage near your tomatoes to attract bees. They pollinate both the borage and the tomatoes. I found borage at Northland Plants in the Whangarei Grower’s Market and now watch bees buzzing from one borage plant to the next. When the basil seeds in the garden didn’t sprout (I don’t think I gave them enough water) I planted basil intended for eating. The roots were still attached and the basil thrives near the tomatoes.

ritas tomatoes
In addition to tomatoes and a few beans. I am also growing parsley, basil and chives in pots from seed. What surprises me is my intense emotional involvement with these plants. People describe me as reserved. OK, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.
But it seems I do wear my heart on my garden gloves. Before my seeds sprouted, I checked them many times a day (yes I really do have a life!) When some of the tomato plants got blight after heavy rains I leapt onto the internet to find a natural cure, exactly as I would do if my partner took ill. I’ve done some serious surgery and several rounds of spraying with a baking soda mixture to save them. Perhaps my feelings will level out as I lose my novice status. Right now, it’s a tumultuous ride. My fondest hope is that the tomatoes that are on the healthy vines will ripen into golden orbs. Who’d have guessed back in my youth in the concrete jungle?

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