Rich harvest reward of tender care

Suri Talip with his black sweet japanese pumpkin. Photo: Katherine Griffiths Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Shanghai night field

Suri Talip of Holder practises a form of organic gardening known as Yoko agriculture, which includes giving positive words of encouragement to the plants, giving ”true light” (spiritual energy) to the garden, and having gratitude for the fine tilth of his soil that produces easily lifted kipfler potatoes and black sweet heirloom Japanese pumpkins.

For Talip, gardening has a spiritual side, and he quotes Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet: ”And what is it to work with love? … It is to sow the seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy.”The Holder harvest

Rows of tomatoes, among them red and green striped tigerella and longish Amish paste, form a bower. The family reaped a January harvest of a year’s supply of purple Italian garlic, grown from garlic from organic suppliers in Melbourne and Canberra, and white onions, red salad and red Spanish onions, and cream gold (brown) onions raised from a supplier at the Exhibition Park farmers’ market. The honey and cream corn and breakthrough corn from Diggers Club in Victoria are growing prolifically.Orchard trees

Talip has planted five varieties of apples – pink lady, granny smith, sundowner, golden delicious and red fuji. He has nectarines, plums, apricots, figs, almonds, pomegranate, and an old peach tree they are trying to cure of curly leaf and brown rot. A variety of citrus includes oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangelo and cumquats. He espaliered young pear trees beside the chook run and round nashi pears dangle at eye height with sun-blushed williams bon chretien pears.Indonesian inspiration

Surianshah (Suri) Talip was born in Kalimantan Timur on the island of Borneo. In Indonesia his family had a wet paddy field and grew hill rice by shifting cultivation – after one planting and slash and burn, they would move back to that site five years later. They grew their own vegetables, tapioca, sweet potatoes and bananas and his mother was the greenest ”green finger”. He and his wife, Jackie Talip, met when both studied at the University of New South Wales. They have seven children. Talip came to Canberra in 1974 and taught surveying at Canberra Tech College (now the CIT). He lived in Charnwood, then ”in the sticks”, where he kept an organic garden and was vice-president of the Canberra Natural Health Society. He left for overseas work in 1977 and returned from Malaysia in 2007.Berry curtain

Raspberries are grown on single stems and trained up wires to create a living curtain between the house and a paling fence. They have just produced a second flush of fruit. There are goji berries, a bumper crop of youngberries, gooseberries, blueberries, currants, kiwifruit vines, rockmelons and honeydew melons. Surrounding the strawberry patch are the blue-starred flowers of borage that are used as an edible decoration on fruit salads.Nowra’s Yellow House

The Burketts of the Yellow House in Nowra are friends of the Talips and they inspired him to create an integrated garden incorporating vegetables, fruit, flowers and chickens. Since 2009 the Burketts have been selling heritage perennials through their garden nursery at the Yellow House and, apart from a vast orchard, their culinary ”wonder vegetable” is the choko.

Talip’s tips

Talip grows lemon verbena and uses the fragrant leaves in tea or adds them to iced water. To improve the soil he uses compost, green manure, mulch, liquid fertiliser made from compost, comfrey and worm teas. He has a small worm farm and the family keeps four isa brown chickens. A friend recently gave them two rhode island reds but they are having trouble integrating with the others. He is a member of the Diggers Club in Melbourne and subscribes to the ABC’s Organic Gardening magazine. Jackie French’s books are constant references, particularly Backyard Sustainability.

In the kitchen

Talip is the cook in the household and he cooks a variety of cuisines, including Mediterranean using homegrown mini black eggplants, and Asian dishes incorporating homegrown bok choy (pictured). He is also happy cooking scones for morning tea in the garden. Baked meatballs with tomato sauce made from homegrown tomatoes, garlic, red onions and capsicums were a frequent request from a seven-year-old grandson recently.

>>Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.