chicory Permaculture

The necessary nutrients

The chicory plants in our garden have gone mental.

Not that I love chicory, I’m not even sure I really like it that much. But a couple of years ago my local hardware store was closing, and I couldn’t resist the 50-cent plant specials sitting on the table. I knew that if I didn’t buy them on this last day, then the hardware store wouldn’t compost, or donate them, nor put them to any useful purpose. They’d just be added to a massive methane-spewing landfill, one more pollutant among many.

So I bought them thinking, a little chicory would be healthy, we don’t have enough bitter veg in our lives.

But since then, the chicory population in our garden has exploded. Through some miraculous mode of delivery, seed, spawn, alien-love, God-knows, from the back garden to the distant front, they’ve spread. Tiny seedlings soon turn into giant-rooted multi-leaved behemoths. A multitude more than we can ever eat. I keep pulling them up and potting them for any unwary passersby who expresses even the vaguest of interest.

‘What’s that weird thing crawling on that lettuce-looking plant…?’

‘That’s chicory, you want some?’

‘No not the plant, the insect. What’s that insect?’

‘I really think you should take some chicory, it’s really good for you.’

Sometimes I forget about the re-planted chicory, and they die in small pots. Or they seem to die.

Utterly brown and withered, seemingly bereft of life, the small pots sit in a saucer and it rains, and then a miracle occurs. From a dry leafless stump the chicory appears again.

So we’ve adapted.

We’ve learned to like bitter chicory, so long as we mix it up with the sweeter stalks of rainbow chard, and herbs like parsley, and the mundanity of lettuce, it’s fine. Life should be an interesting mix, shouldn’t it? How dull would it otherwise be? And how much less resilient, and less healthy would we be, if we all just ate iceberg lettuce?

That’s my theory about Nature too.

After all these years of working with her, I think that we’ve forgotten her in her pot. She’s wilted and in some places is seemingly dead, but if we give her the right ingredients, my theory is she’ll probably thrive again. Provided we haven’t polluted her beyond her tipping point.

Similarly, I have these questions about society. Could a disconnected society, when brought back to its origins, watered, fed, and reconnected with the right nutrients, thrive again?

I’d really love to know. Let’s look and see what people have done in local settings to achieve these healthier outcomes, and how we might replicate their results on a larger scale.

[An excerpt from my latest project. Do you want to keep reading? If you do, let me know. This could the start of a fabulous new adventure for us.]

marigold flowers Misc

Caught on the wind

At the asylum seekers centre garden it’s hard to get people to come along. They can been so traumatised by their experience fleeing, but also by what awaits them when they come here — years of detention, they say it’s like a gradual dying — that they don’t want to go out. If I can convince them to get to the garden, I often see a shift.

I see Mo from the middle east, and wave. He is at the end of his asylum process, awaiting a reprieve from the minister; his last and only hope. He is internalised, caved in on himself. Wrapped in a blanket of his own trauma and pain, he hardly speaks a word. I have to ask him a million questions before he answers one. So I learn not to ask. Sometimes even ‘Do you want to come to the garden?’ is too hard a question. His face screws up, lost in the confusion of his trauma-locked mind.

So I just say, ‘we’re going to the garden’. And sometimes he picks up his backpack and he comes.

Within 10 minutes of having his hands in the soil, cutting dead leaves off a plant, clearing weeds his energy shifts, and the most surprising thing happens: he starts to speak, of the foods that he ate at home, of the plants he grew, of his mother and how she would care for him. And then an even more surprising development: he sings.

The songs sound ancient, and I don’t understand the words, but they speak of journeys. Meandering though sad phrases, uplifting to happy family times. I am quiet in the background, pulling the grass from our veggie beds, entranced.

What more can I do to help him and so many others in this time of crisis? I can write more letters imploring the minister, adding to my ASIO file; already a foot deep. But more tangibly I can stop asking questions and just listen. I can provide a safe place in my garden, and I can revel in the moments where their beautiful voices catch, and for a short time, freely dance on the wind.

Image of farm house with long grass in the foreground Permaculture

The Hutch

Finally, a taker for the hutch comes to me through Marketplace. The hutch is free, but she offers $25. I say she can have it. Maybe she didn’t read the ad. It’s free.

She asks if I can deliver, she has heart failure, and cannot come. No problem, I’m driving past anyway. Even though the hutch is large and awkward I can shift it on my own, perhaps with the help of a passerby. She calls me luv, and says to take my time. I’m guessing she’s an old lady.

The day is sweltering, and smoke from the bushfires cloaks everything, it’s hard to breathe. ‘I’ll give you $30 luv,’ says the lady on Messenger, ‘because of all this heat and this smoke luv, you shouldn’t be out in it.’ Still I only want a clear room, and she’s doing me a favour, this hutch has taken up space for 3 months.

I arrive at the house. A beaten up old cottage, lead paint flaking onto dried yellowing grass. I approach the screen door, a sign on it says visitors should inform next of kin, if there’s no response. I am taken aback.

She comes to the door, a large woman, not much older than me, face puffy and red, and skin terribly sore and peeled. She offers to help, but I ask her to wait inside.

As I drag the hutch inside I notice very little furniture. A small dog scrambles at her heels. She says thank you luv, thank you for coming in this awful smoke and heat.

She has $30 scrunched up in her swollen hand, and pushes it into mine, I push it back, ‘no that’s not necessary’, but she insists, putting both hands around mine, scrunching them with the bunched up bills. Drawing me to her, she pulls me into a big hug and tears fill my eyes.

Photo credit:
Dan Meyers