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Winners and losers

Winners and losers

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JUSTIN RUSSELL wonders why, despite a summer of extreme weather, his garden managed to produce an abundance of food. The answer is diversity.

If the summer just passed taught me anything, it’s that every season has its winners and its losers. My household has been flooded with produce during the last few months. We picked dozens of kilograms of blackberries from just two plants, had enough spare grapes to put away two dozen bottles of jam and 10 litres of wine, have been inundated with capsicums and chillies and cucumbers, apples, plums, rhubarb, rocket, corn, tomatillos, peaches and tomatoes.

You could be forgiven for assuming we had perfect growing conditions. In fact, they were horrible. Summer started extremely dry, and the garden baked in a record heatwave. The stonefruit and grapes went ballistic. Since Australia Day, though, it’s barely stopped raining. We’ve already recorded well over half the average yearly rainfall in six weeks. Yet still the produce keeps coming. We’ve got rhubarb, leafy greens and corn coming out of our ears.

I know of others in neighbouring areas who haven’t been so fortunate. There are successful organic farms in the Lockyer Valley where entire paddocks, containing some of the best soil in the world, were washed away in January’s flood. Where creeks have shifted their course by five hundred metres, leaving acres of gravel where premium vegies were once grown. I can’t help but ask, why has my household done so well this summer when others have suffered?

It helps that we’re on a slight hill, have well drained soil and for the time being, a reasonably amenable climate. But beyond these factors, the best answer I can come up with, is diversity. At my place we grow a very wide range of edible plants, and in a sense, hedge our bets against extreme weather. No matter how wet or dry things get, something or other in the garden is sure to thrive. Abundance is almost inevitably assured the more diversified the garden.

So while it’s been a manic summer, and every indication is that the climate in our area is set to become even more chaotic, we go forth into an uncertain future with a genuine sense of security, safe in the knowledge that except in the most extreme floods, fires, tempests and droughts, there will always be something in our garden to eat. In the end, diversity rules.