Growing Organic

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 40, Lent 2007

by Terrelaine Kennedy

It was my good fortune to be taught organic gardening by my Celtic grandparents in the age before modern chemicals unbalanced the soil. Conservation of the world’s resources and the nurturing of the earth, its soil, minerals, humus and micro-organisms has always been my passion. Sorting my rubbish into compost and ‘hard’ rubbish was the first system I began on my one-acre lifestyle block in Te Horo in 1947 where I lived for 14 years. Recycling almost everything followed.

It was my good fortune to be able to buy a place which had been worked organically for 10 years previously, so it was easy to continue. The hens fertilised the asparagus garden alternatively with scratching free-range in the orchard. They loved the nettles in the orchard which I in my initial ignorance of herbalism used to pull out for the compost heap.

Later I learned to value their ability to correct my anaemia. Nettle soup became a valued food. Medical doctors could not cure my allergies and food sensitivities, so I eagerly embraced a learning programme (self directed but encouraged by a neighbour lending me a herbal book).

‘Look how my husband’s hair is growing back,’ she enthused as she pointed to the new growth on his temples. ‘I pick three young sage leaves each day and put them on his sandwich for lunch, well chopped. Camouflaged with cheese or egg the flavour is quite acceptable to him. I’ve been doing this for three months. Isn’t the result encouraging?’ It was impressive.

My recurring migraines were becoming more severe. Doctors proscribed ergot, then something else, but neither worked. Rosemary was mentioned in books as a herb to heal headaches. I had the trailing variety growing over the patio so I pinched out the youngest shoots and nibbled them, savouring the bitterness in my mouth until the saliva neutralised it. This was repeated for about half an hour. What relief followed! Sheer heaven! No headache or nausea. No fainting or blackouts! There after I carried rosemary wherever I went. I made herb tea of it. Three years of migraine ceased permanently.

Other herbs miraculously appeared on my land, no doubt brought by wind or birds. – feverfew and yarrow were only two of many. Over the Christmas-New Year closure of the country general store I could not buy Panadol to cure my sinusitis – a severe feverish bout. Through the fog of feverish headache, I dimly remembered that yarrow is a febrifuge. I reached out my back door where the yarrow had taken hold. Thoroughly washed and chopped up, the whole plant was brought to the boil in a pot, then left to brew. Cup after cup of yarrow tea was downed that day in between lying in bed tossing and turning. By evening, the fever had vanished, never to return. I have never bought Panadol from that day to this. My pilgrimage towards a fully healthy life had begun.

It became an interesting game to see how long I could flourish by eating my organically grown produce without having to walk over the railway line to the store to buy anything. The garden was fertilised by kelp seaweed brought from the beach. It was hosed down, chopped a bit then buried in the garden in trenches. All the minerals which washed down to the sea by the rivers were taken up in the kelp – and returned to my land. Some kelp was soaked in rainwater then poured on my plants as liquid fertiliser.

So many huge pumpkins and silver beet burgeoned from this treatment that the excess was placed in suitcases and lugged on a bus for the one hour commute to work. It was then lugged up the hill to the office where I taught by correspondence for my daily living. As I distributed the huge vegetables to the desks of my friends, I was welcomed with warmth. They readily paid the price I asked. My nickname at that time was ‘the Pumpkin Lady.’ Eggs from the hens were the next crop as I recycled containers to convey them in my large briefcase. Nothing was wasted.

Now, years later, in my small council flat garden I can still grow for some of my needs. The large public community garden provides the rest. The weed fat hen (which Americans call ‘lambs quarters’) is my spinach substitute – and had no oxalic acid in it. Dandelion leaves are processed for my salads and for tea drinks. Lemon balm leaves are added to the fat hen. So is sow thistle which Maori call ‘puba’.

My lifestyle is nurturing me well. Scriptures say, ‘let the herbs of the field be your medicine – and your food.’ How true a guidance this is for us. We need only follow it.

Terrelaine Kennedy is a member of the Christchurch CW and recently attended the national CW hui.

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