Most times I do my picking walk first thing in the morning before breakfast. The day is fresh, the birds are just starting up, the chooks are coming down from their roost, the dew is still on the leaves. Vegetables are cool and lush this time of the day.
It’s a meandering walk. I notice what is getting eaten by wildlife, what is looking sad, what is flowering and getting near to bearing. I let my mind wander to what I could make with the crops coming on, and try to make a mental note of any ingredients that need adding to the shopping list. I tie up a straggling tomato, pick some grasshoppers off the silver beet and some cabbage moths off the kale, free up a poor baby pigeon pea from a tromboncino vine that is trying to climb it. I put the sprinkler on a bed that is looking too dry, feel the compost to see if it is still hot, try to identify whether a strange bug is a predator.
It usually takes about half an hour, and its the most productive garden work I do. I walk with a bucket and a basket. This late in the season, the fruit fly are laying eggs in a fair proportion of the Bishops Crown chilis. That’s a good thing. There’s too many for us and I’ve done most of the chili preserving I want to do. The chooks love the little fruit fly larvae, and don’t mind a bit of chili and some chili seeds to go with them so I pick all of them, and scour the ground under the bush for more. There’s three or four good ones for the basket, and the rest for the bucket.
Some of the tomatoes are splitting from the recent rain after so much dry. There’s still plenty for the basket, but a good few for the bucket too. A lettuce is starting to bolt to seed. I always pull out the first to try to bolt – I don’t want their genes as the paternal genes in any seeds I save. The best leaves for the basket – they’ll go in the lunch sandwiches – and the rest for the bucket. Some rocket is going to seed too, but I’ll let the seed mature for a few more days so they will be good chook protein.
The tromboncinos and cucumbers and zucchini all need to be picked every day. If one of them gets away and gets to seed-bearing size, the vine will figure it has done its job and die off. So one of each for the basket and the excess for the bucket. The kale with cabbage moth caterpillars for the bucket and some without for the basket. A handful of nut grass for the bucket – the chooks love it – and some amaranth with seeds. We like amaranth but don’t need a lot of it – most goes to the chooks. Some dock and dandelion leaves and cobblers pegs for the bucket, along with the last of the pigeon peas, shell and all. The parrots have gotten into one bed and attacked the snake beans. I fix the gap they got in through and pick the chewed snake beans for the bucket and the unchewed ones for the basket.
I like giving the chooks the grasshoppers live – they so enjoy catching them. Maybe I should have more empathy for grasshoppers. But last thing I collect a handful of them and throw them into the bed the chooks are clearing and fertilising for me, along with the bucket, and a bag of grass clippings from my mowing last weekend. Back to the house to unpack the basket and put the bucket back where it goes for the house scraps. In a few hours time, that bucket will be transformed into eggs. In a few weeks time the garden bed where the chooks are will be ready for replanting. It’s a magic walk.