Much wisdom and inspiration can be gained from some of the older women in the organic movement. Women like Evonne Swindell, Betty Cornhill and Marjorie Spear who have energy, strength and clarity at an age when they could be excused for sitting on the porch.
Myrtle Chartris is one of these treasures and an inspiration to several generations of gardeners in the Brisbane Organic Growers Association (BOG), where she provides a lively monthly show and tell from the garden in Rocklea which she tends with her husband Ray.
Myrtle has only missed two BOG meetings in seventeen years of membership and the Rocklea garden is a popular venue for TAFE classes and visitors. Last year it was included in the open garden scheme and received 455 visitors in one day.
Ray and Myrtle also run the seed bank for BOG and grow much seed themselves, including their best tip Ponderosa tomato and a large yellow squash which they have kept for 47 years, 17 of these as organic seed.
They were commercial strawberry growers on the same site as the current garden, with more land, and using chemical sprays. However the soil was deteriorating and Ray came to realise that he got sick every time he sprayed. They heard about Brisbane Organic Growers Association from radio announcements for a talk by Michael Rhodes. The meeting provided the impetus to convert to organic.
They now grow on a double house block in suburban Rocklea. They have a diverse garden, where they grow a wide range of crops for food and for seed. As they are knowledeable and careful gardeners, they have highly developed systems for rotation, composting, bed design and for cultural practices.
Garden beds are about 3m x 1.5m, designed for maximum reach. Raised beds are used for drainage in sub-tropical storms. About 10 two gallon buckets of compost are used per crop, before planting.
Some of Ray and Mrytles' favourite vegies are bunching onions, which stool out; high yielding non-hearting lettuce from which they trim leaves, Indian spinach which does not get rootrots, white aubergines which doe not get fruitfly (it does get attcked by fruit spotting bug); and their seed line watermelons, which they grew to 10kg last year. They still grow the Phenomenal strawberry, the same variety they used to grow for market, but now they use only compost, blood and bone and maxicrop, which they say stops black spot on the leaves.
Sweet potatoes runners are stopped to make compact plants, with good yields. Cosmos and other prolific seeding annual flowers are dotted around in beds or whereevr a plant has been able to grow in a forgotten corner.
Because of their interest in seeds, they grow a selection of new material each year, to try it out or to increase seed stock.
Pest problems need constant attention. Fruit such as tomato and eggfruit are covered with cloth, as the fruit fly likes to land on fruit from above and rarely finds its way underneath. Muriel also suspects that covering fruit helps to reduce ripening smells in the vicinity. Fallen fruit from the large guava in the yard must be picked up dilligently at least once per day. Fruit is dropped into hot water to kill any flies and the next day the water is tipped unto the compost. A fig is covered in a mosquito net to stop birds and flies.
Large squirming maggots in the compost indicate a population of compost flies, which predates on the housefly.
Everything in the garden is purchased cheaply or recycled, including the old Rover mulcher and the mower with catcher. Several contractors dump lawnclippings for composting and they bought a horse for a grand-daughter on the understanding that they could collect the manure.
Deep mulching reduces the requirement for hand weeding.
Ray has suffered some health problems recently, which have interupted his good attendance record at BOG meetings, and both partners move around the garden a little slower than in years gone by. However they move in a gracefull way and with purpose and the abundant harvest in their garden is evidence of their ability and skill. They eat a little chicken or fish and eggs but take no red meat. Their diet is largely determined by what the garden is producing, but they keep themselves well fed from the garden for the whole year.
They also supply a few locals, and three Brisbane stores, Good Food, Nude Foods and The Organic Cottage. Because of their public role in BOG they get many calls, especially from cancer sufferers. They have tried selling from the garden but discovered that it was too much of a distraction.