“In Autumn, when my persimmon tree changes from green to amber… there are some nights when the moon glints off the leaves, hypnotizing me with their bioluminescent glow.
My earliest memory of me being involved with the earth was me bringing food to my Grandfather’s farm in the Pagas, Cabanatuan City, Philippines. I still feel the humidity on my skin. I remember thinking how cool it was that he was ploughing his plot with his trusty water buffalo. He would allow me to ride on the buffalo and I was always hypnotized with how the plough separated the ground. He would teach me about gardening and planting. ‘The soil needs to breathe’, he would say.
I arrived in Sydney with my family in 1984, I was 9. I had few friends as I could not speak English, I remember joining my mum in the garden which sparked my interest in gardening. I would rather be in the garden than at school, I was not interested in reading but if you put any literature about gardening, I was on it “like a seagull on a ship!”.
I now live in Seven Hills NSW Australia on a 575 sq mtr block of land, half of the land is taken by the house, a chook pen and a cubby house, I live with my wife Helen and our 2 daughters Ava and Isabella. I have 1 hen named Tosca, she is a Lavender Sussex.
I am a registered beekeeper. I have 4 hives and thoroughly enjoy taking care of them (or do the bees take care of me?). They have definitely improved the yield on my veggies. I decided to keep bees to help me with my mental health. I once read that if you are depressed, it means you are thinking about the past and if you were anxious it was because you are thinking about the future but if you are in ‘the now’ your mind has nowhere to be but the ‘now’. Bees seem to keep you in the now because if you take your concentration off them, they could sting you!
In saying that, my bees are very giving, they are amazing and each hive has its own character… I even have names for all my hives, Virginia Zeani, Gino Bechi (named for my favourite opera singers), Tais Taras and Grahame McIntosh (named after my voice teachers).
We purchased our property because I was attracted to its cottage core feeling and it backed onto a reserve full of trees, so my backyard feels bigger than its actual size. I remember I came to the inspection more interested in the type of soil the house came with, more than anything else. It was my, ‘Under the Tuscan sun’!
When we first moved in 2004, I planted my first tree which was an espaliered plum tree. I then planted 6 apple trees, 1 fig tree, 2 pear trees, all espaliered to save space and to make it easier to net against fruit flies. I also have 1 Persimmon, 3 lemons, 2 mandarins & 3 orange trees. I also have lime and 2 grape vines that have been cooked in the 45˚C heat that we have experienced in the last 2 years. The front garden at the time was all about the English cottage garden with beautiful flowering annuals and part of the back was ‘tropical’.
My friend Kate introduced me to the Diggers club magazine and I was very impressed that they could landscape with edible plants, and I thought I would try to do the same. From there, my obsession with edible plants was born.
I remember watching my grandfather use organic matter on his crops, so I introduced the same practice in my garden. I befriended a local wood chipper and he would deliver me truck loads of fresh mulch which I would use as a path and once the mulch has broken down I add them to the beds. My worm farm is also ready to be split.
Helen would have a giggle that I was planting vegetables in the front like the Italians and Greeks but this was the only place I could get full sun. Helen cooks using the vegetables available from the garden.
I love the organic and Permaculture principles, home grown vegetables and adore varieties that do not store or travel well. You will always find lettuce in my garden as I allow them to self sow. I also use them as a living mulch…. I plant heaps of leafy vegetables (Lettuce & Asian greens). In between the edibles I also allow flowering annuals.
I collect my own seeds which allows me to plant in abundance and succession, this ensures we have continuous salads from the garden, I love the idea of not having to store my vegetables in the fridge. Last season I was so excited with my seed collection I ran to show my wife and I accidentally spilled seeds everywhere!! Needless to say, I now have excess lettuce on the pathway.
February is the hottest month of the year, so usually January and February we buy more than we harvest, no amount of protection can save the veggies from the heat.
At the moment, I have a glut of Lemon grass for my mother in law as she makes satay sauce. I have self sown parsley, artichokes (also used for structure), I have coriander (Cilantro) around the garden.
I often add aged chicken manure and compost to the garden. When we moved in, I brought in horse manure and grass clippings from the local lawn man. I was lucky I isolated these as there were heaps of weed seeds and the horse manure had antibiotics reside in it. The most destructive pests here are snails and slugs (which I trap using beer), white butterflies and fruit flies (I use the exclusion method by netting the plant).
Growing up I always saw in magazines rows and rows of veggies thinking I needed to replicate this to be successful, but in reality all I needed were a couple of plants of each which gives me more variety to pack into the garden whilst helping combat weeds.
My local council holds an annual garden competition and I would like to try my luck with predominantly edible plants. I would like to bring attention to permaculture methods and how gardening can bring people together and show kindness towards each other. Maybe it is just me, but I can feel that people are more unsettled and angrier. We need to cultivate more kindness in society.
Looking into the future, I would like to move to a bigger block, perhaps share what I have learned in some sort of class scenario. What I love the most is my family, garden, bees and helping people understand themselves so they can live a more productive life. In the meantime, I need to find a way to keep a goat or two in my backyard so I can milk her and make cheese!”