Last November The Canberra Times photographer Dion Georgopoulos went to the Kambah home of Brett Burdett for a news story about the destructive Khapra beetle found in fridge packaging. Dion emailed me to say the gentleman had an amazing garden based around fruit trees, very different to the usual vegetable garden set up and he gave me a phone contact.
Last week I rang Brett Burdett who said, “I am egocentric about my fruit trees and very proud of the garden.” No wonder, it is worth talking about.
He moved there in 1983 from New Zealand and his Canberra-raised wife, Donna, joined him in 1991. As a boy, Brett visited his grandparents on the Coromandel Coast on the North Island who were self-sufficient in veggies and fruit, using seaweed, washed up on the shore across the road from their house, as fertiliser.
As teenagers, Brett and his friends would roam freely and “raid” overgrown orchards to collect plums, pears and apricots which led to him planting his parents’ backyard with fruit trees. He grew up in the bush and farmland hunting rabbits, possums, wild pigs and deer and loved being in the native forest under a canopy of trees. He was also inspired by botanist Muriel Fisher.
“In Canberra I wanted to create a contiguous canopy of fruiting trees so I could mimic the way temperate rainforests of NZ contained multiple species all competing for resources, permaculture-style,” he said.
The Kambah block had no topsoil and needed a mattock to penetrate the dry reactive Canberra soils. He planted apple varieties Jonathan, Granny Smith and Red Delicious, plums Satsuma and Santa Rosa and a nectarine. He added trailer loads of stable waste from nearby horse stables, Autumn leaves from neighbours and composted everything.
There are now 22 fruiting species, two mature cherry trees, pears, non-astringent persimmon, jujubes, feijoas, lemons, Washington navel orange, olive, loquat, Chilean guava, yellow guava, fig, mulberry, cherry plum, and Jostaberries. There is also one male and two female kiwi fruit vines, grape vine, youngberries, boysenberries, raspberries and thornless blackberries, a handful making an irresistible morning tea. The plan is to have at least two sources of fresh or preserved fruit available throughout the year.
Apart from the sparing use of CSIRO-developed insecticide (Yates Success) which employs a naturally occurring soil bacteria on the cherry slugs, they are chemical-free gardeners, unless you count blood and bone and a bit of lime. Containers of apple cider vinegar catch fruit flies.
The main competitors for their produce are bowerbirds, occasional parrots, brush-tailed possums and, increasingly, fruit bats. Netting is occasionally used but the best deterrent is their border collie, Bentlea, who has an ongoing battle with each of these “pests” and recognises them by name.
There are five circular, raised vegetable garden beds made by Brett. One is filled with corn bulging with cobs, another with rampaging zucchini plants, one with self-sown tomatoes underplanted with cucumbers, a forest of basil and a bed just sown with bok choi and pak choi. Brett saves seed and has a special area in his garden for raising edibles and Australian native plants. He has kept a detailed track of the succession of every plant in the garden for more than 30 years.
Brett said the garden is his gymnasium. Donna suggests what and where to plant and does much of the harvesting and preserves. The recipe was one of her mum’s.
1.5kg ripe tomatoes
500g white onions
2 cups sugar (if too sweet, cut down on sugar)
600ml brown vinegar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 tbsp salt
cayenne pepper to paste (pinch mild/2 tsp hot)
Cut tomatoes, pour off three-quarters cup of juice, cut onions finely. Onions, tomatoes, sugar and vinegar in saucepan slowly till it thickens (some hours). When thickened, mix mustard, curry powder, flour, cayenne, salt with tomatoes juice left aside. Add to saucepan, stir to boiling. Cook for three minutes. Seal in sterilised jars when cool.
Last week in Kitchen Garden we referred to Seed Savers sharing seeds with volunteers at Canberra City Care. On March 3 from 6pm, Arian McVeigh of Canberra Seed Savers will be speaking at the Winederlust’s Live Your Best Life series at the Pavilion Hotel in Dickson.
Arian will be encouraging people to think about where their food comes from, giving tips on seed growing and saving and what to grow and when to plant in Canberra.
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Kitchen Garden: a contiguous canopy of fruiting trees
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