I reached adulthood about the time of the big NSW drought in the early 1980s. I remember the dust. Farmers could talk about nought but rain. I find myself doing the same.
6 Feb 2013 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Water issues plague me. Not just keeping seedlings and saplings alive, but the water trough for the cattle that has rusted through already, seeping water, drip by drip, for a couple of weeks before I noticed, as the paddock lay fallow. The siphon that failed in the next paddock down, where the cattle are today. The four pig drippers (drinking bowls) that leak. Or barely give out a drop of water. Water levels in dams, in tanks, in the creek. The pinhole leak in the water tank. The lack of drinking water at the farm.

So let’s talk tomatoes. We have about ten varieties in the ground. From tiny yellow currants to big beefsteak varieties, and the very, very first of them are starting to ripen. I know, I know, for mainlanders or even those in northern Tassie, this may seem a bit late. But for us, with no greenhouse or poly tunnels, our meagre first harvest is enough to make us swoon. Only homegrown tomatoes have real flavour. Only homegrown tomatoes have that pungent aroma, that mouth-satisfying flavour in the jelly around the seeds. Only the tomatoes you can ripen, gently, off the vine (on the kitchen table, below 25°C gives the best flavour) can have you giggling like a schoolgirl at the taste. If you don’t believe me, you probably don’t grow tomatoes. Or you grow them commercially.

For me, the taste of this part of summer is cold-climate olive oil, Tongola goat’s cheese, which is made two hilltops over from the farm, and our tomatoes. Yes, I know the blackberries are ripe. The Franklin peaches are a knockout. The local blueberries sensational. And Mary and Andy’s cherries from down the road are all bliss. But they’re not a meal. Kermit-green olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, and Cygnet goat’s cheese is a meal, even if I do have to bake a loaf of sourdough to go with it. This combination is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And sometimes all three, though I do change up the type of tomato, perhaps cook a bit of bacon, and throw some spelt flour in the bread to mix it up a bit.

Now, the garden is looking pretty good, considering. The corn rustles in the wind, a tiny fraction of the sound they wax lyrical about in books from America’s Midwest. A glorious noise as the corn wriggles about, fertilising the cobs, perhaps, which is why you have to plant it so close together. Or by now just dancing in the breeze. We’ve already sown some of our winter crop, believe it or not. I eat peas and strawberries and carrots as I work the plot.

One thing I really want but don’t have in the garden yet is a scarecrow. For some reason (and I’m not alone - watching three year olds’ fascination with them), I adore scarecrows. They remind me of a more innocent time, perhaps. A reminder of a low-tech solution to a pest problem. It’s why a drawing of a scarecrow graces the cover of my book The Real Food Companion. Scarecrows dot the D’Entrecasteaux Channel each year. This region, just over the hills from Cygnet (where the ferry goes to Bruny Island), is home to the Middleton Country Fair. The Fair has a competition for scarecrows, hence the plethora of them in the Channel. Scarecrows on boats on dams, fishing. Scarecrows on benches, one year there was even a 'swear crow’ entry. The competition is judged using photos, so the scarecrows stay where they belong; along the highway, entertaining locals and visitors alike. I finally have a Saturday off to visit the fair this weekend, for the first time. Tassie does a good country show I’ve found.

Anyway, not sure if I need a scarecrow, or just want one. It won’t help things grow any better or quicker, I don’t think, though it might entertain the three year old.

The fastest growing bit of the garden, of course, is the pathways between the rows. Grass that leaps from the earth regardless of the weather. It happens there, where I constantly have to mow or slash it all year long. Even if it doesn’t rain.