STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER (NOT)

A HUMBLING experience this week when a commercial strawberry grower in the neighbourhood invited us to come and pick our hearts out for a morning before he destroyed his crop.

The strawberry harvest has been a bumper this year, so there’s a glut, hence low prices make them uneconomical for our neighbour to pick and send to market. All that planting, tending, watering, watching, growing and blooming – for nothing.

We have luscious fruit for desserts, breakfast bowls, pavlovas, strawberry milkshakes, smoothies, tarts and jam.

But the grower has nothing. Just bills, disappointment, dismay at market forces that punish him  – and others like him-  for doing too good a job. And uncertainty where to go from here.

We probably won’t again see his stretch of neat rows of ripening strawberry vines  when we pass by,  more’s the pity for us.

The laws of supply and demand rule in economies and a surplus of commodity for the market wanting to buy it forces prices down. I get that. But I am sick that powerful supermarket chains can dictate abysmally low prices for their suppliers. And am saddened that people see the 90c a punnet prices there and won’t pay $3 or even $2 for the same at smaller outlets, a price which more accurately reflects the sweat and time the crop cost the growers and which they can reasonably expect to deserve.

I hear elsewhere the same is happening for other food like potatoes and carrots; growers of beautiful produce ploughing it back into the soil because picking and getting it to market won’t return their costs, let alone make them a profit.

Someone is sure to comment that the alternative to this free market operative is protectionism and that does industry efficiency no good in the long term. But I know many people who would gladly pay more than $2  for two litres of milk and $3 or $4 for a punnet of beautiful local strawberries if it kept the farmers in business. The alternative scenario  is importing everything cheaper from who knows where and grown under who knows what conditions.  That scares me.

But on a happier berry note, our own mulberry tree bore plentifully this year and I beat the marauding birds and flying foxes to the fruit this time. A healthy bowl full transformed into two jars of mulberry jam. I love fresh mulberries, but they are a messy fruit and the juice stains hang about for a while.

First crop of mulberries

I always think of my mother making us strip our backyard tree of fruit when mulberry season  came around, because the fruit bats used to feast on it and then poop all over her washing. The unripe specimens must have caused their digestive tracts some upset, because the mess on the sheets and towels on the clothesline was formidable.

Lovely friend and organic fruit tree grower Phil Ryan gave me this hint about keeping the mulberry tree in an attractive umbrella shape and preventing the boughs from getting too tall. I tie bricks or large shards of terracotta to hang off the longer branches,

Mulberry tree shaped by weights on branches

weighing them down and forcing them to grow horizontally rather than vertically. Result is a pleasing shaped tree and I can reach all the fruit without too much stretching.

SPRING ROLL

I often underestimate my garden. I see profusion of colour and blooms in other’s and think mine deficient. This week when I had to gather a spring collection vase for Garden Club, I suffered the usual self-doubt. ” I don’t have enough; I wont be able to make a decent display etc” .

But walking around the yard, I found gathering a bit of everything in flower made up more than a handsome vasefull. It didn’t win the club’s monthly  bench competition, but I was pretty pleased with my assembly and even if it wasn’t in true florist formation, it was a wild and wonderful array of blooms that smelt a treat and reflected a sense of happy profusion  and excitement that spring always bring to mind.

My motley spring crew ready for judgement

I collected stalks of  scarlet and some white bougainvillea, abelia, tibouchina, clivia, white May ( spiraea),  seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus ), a groundcover that is taking over my herb patch,  some bromeliad spikes,  nasturtiums and a couple of branches of grevillea for contrast. See pic left.

So a garden is the sum of its parts, see?

Next month the club is featuring hippeastrums. It will be tricky because mine are flowering right now, but may not be in four weeks, when they need to make the grade.   I have a stack along the driveway  and in pots, a legacy from a friend who was rebuilding her patio area a few years ago and discarding them by the truckload.

Red hippeastrum opening for business

I think I have about 40, but wish now I had grabbed the same number again. I love watching them push up through the ground and open up in all their red and variegated splendour. They don’ t flower for long, but they are a magnificent sight. If ever you doubt there is a master architect at work in nature, just gaze into a hippeastrum bloom. The structure and colour and intricacy of shape and texture is truly ( and I hate this over-used word, but appropriate here) awesome.

Show stealers; variegated hippeastrums

Hippeastrum means literally  “horse’s star”. It is a genus in the family Amaryllidaceae with 70-75 species and more than 600 hybrids and cultivars. The genus is native to tropical regions of the Caribbean, Mexico and South America.  If I can just make them prolong their show this month, I am sure to impress at the next club show and tell.

Happy gardening this lovely spring.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Dorthea Timms said,

    Really enjoying these thanks Julie. My greengrocer bill is now bigger than my Coles Supermarket because i’m buying all my fruit, cheese and deli stuff from them (cheese is from Italy though). Have even started buying my clothes from Sybil’s which is all Australian made. They have great designs but are for the larger lady. I get the smallest size they make 16 and it is very generous beside Sportscraft’s etc 16. You should let Geri know they now have a factory outlet at that Jindalee DFO. A friend of mine bought the outfit she wore to her daughter’s wedding for $200plus at Sybil’s Newmarket store only to see itfor $39 at the outlet eight months later. Oh dear” Dorth xx


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