Great time to try: starting a vegetable garden

Tania Malréchauffé/Unsplash

Rachel Goldlust, La Trobe University

Being in isolation might be a great time to try something new. In this series, we get the basics on hobbies and activities to start while you’re spending more time at home.

There is a long history of looking to one’s own garden or small farm when the weight of economic and political chaos becomes too much to bear.

A suggested ‘cottage garden’ published in The Town and Country Journal, 1891.

Since the first major depression that hit Australia in 1892-93, there have been calls to get back to the garden as a material response to potential food shortages, and as an emotional salve that lends elements of feeling productive and in control.

Urban food production in the second half of the 19th century soared. It was common to grow a wide range of vegetables on small plots alongside piggeries, dairies and livestock in the crowded inner and outer suburbs.

Small-scale local production was the most convenient way to make sure local communities could get fresh food. But as a deep recession loomed, there were calls to get people onto the land. A new generation of urban workers started to look for security, autonomy and opportunity in rural or semi-rural self-sufficiency.

Gardening a new landscape

This move towards growing one’s own food was based on dire economic need, but it also came to symbolise a turn away from the modern, providing social and spiritual regeneration.

For early suffragists, self-provision was deeply political. Ina Higgins, Vida Goldstein and Cecilia John started a women-only farm cooperative on the outskirts of Melbourne in 1914. Producing food during the first world war was practical and necessary, while also providing social and economic emancipation.

Ina Higgins in the garden at Killenna, 1919.
National Library of Australia

Allowing women to escape the confines of home and factory, small farming meant they could transgress expectations of labour, marriage and motherhood and re-interpret production as physically beneficial, morally uplifting and socially responsible. It allowed women to take control over their own livelihoods in a way that had been previously unavailable to them.

The hippies of the 1970s started the call once more. With a dedication to homesteading-type activities such as craft, food preservation and practical up-cycling, the children of the post-war generation found comfort in the “old ways”.

These were simple, home-based activities that also fulfilled their desire to set environmental limits and take responsibility for personal resource use. Growing food was not only nostalgic but reflected distrust of advertisements and commercial interests and a general rejection of consumerism, labour and materials beyond the home.

Nimbin in the 1970s became Australia’s counter-culture capital, with a strong emphasis on self-sufficiency.
Harry Watson Smith/Flickr, CC BY

Today there is yet another resurgence in backyard and small-plot food growing, canning, bottling and preserving.

Growing your own food at home may not solve all of your family’s food needs, but the practice of picking, preserving and cooking one’s own food brings a sense of control and calm.

Read more:
Anxiety and depression: why doctors are prescribing gardening rather than drugs

Tips for your own venture into veggie gardening

Observe and interact

Look at the space you have and the resources at hand. Will you grow in pots or in the ground? Think outside the square: can you use your nature strip, a balcony or perhaps even a friend or relative’s garden (while still maintaining social distancing)?

For those growing in the ground, your time is limited as we head into winter, so start small. Remove as much of the existing grass and vegetation from the garden bed as you can. Dig in some quality compost, such as mushroom compost, to improve soil quality.

No-dig gardens sit above the ground, with layers of organic material forming the perfect growing environment for veggies and herbs as they break down. These can be started with very little investment.

You can look to buy (or build) some raised planter boxes that wick up moisture from a reservoir built into the box. Raised garden beds are great for growing small plots of veggies and flowers. They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails.

Planter boxes can keep gardens tidy and well-watered.
Jonathan Hanna/Unsplash

Never reach for a chemical pesticide to solve a bug, weed or disease problem. Build up your soil. Add organic matter, side dress with good compost, use good organic fertilisers. If you pay as much attention to building up the soil in the garden as you do tending the vegetables, your vegetables will practically grow themselves.

Check on your garden daily. The more time you spend there – even if it is just five minutes early in the morning – the more you learn about it.

Look for community

There are mountains of Facebook groups, blogs, websites and community organisations providing resources for basic vegetable gardening. Find one in your area that is suitable for the weather, soils and conditions, and learn from other’s experience.

Local networks will be able to tell you what’s best for planting, how to make a garden if you’re renting, or even share seeds with you!

Even a small balcony box can be rewarding

So what if your spacing is a little off, or you are a week or two late in planting? Or maybe you’ve just started with one tomato plant? A vegetable garden doesn’t require perfection to produce food.

As a way of getting outside, or into nature, or just having a moment to yourself, gardening may be just the reprieve you’re looking for.The Conversation

Rachel Goldlust, Phd candidate in Environmental History, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The case of the pirated blueberries: courts flex new muscle to protect plant breeders’ intellectual property

Not all blueberries are the same. A variety called Ridley 1111 is at the centre of an important lawsuit for intellectual property and plants.

David Jefferson, The University of Queensland

A few weeks ago, the Federal Court of Australia ordered a farmer in New South Wales to pay A$290,000 to a blueberry-producing company because he had grown and sold a proprietary variety of the fruit without permission.

At issue in the blueberry case were questions of intellectual property. Who owns the plant varieties that are commercialised in Australia and other countries? Who can grow them? If you are the owner of a particular variety, how can you prove someone else has grown it without your permission, and what can you do about it?

The case is an important one in an area of law that may affect how we develop new varieties of plants. This type of work is important to address challenges such as food security and climate change adaptation.

Read more:
Will patenting crops help feed the hungry?

Australia’s intellectual property law was changed last February to give courts more options to protect plant breeders’ rights. This case is one of the first to take those revisions into account, which give courts more options to impose sanctions for infringements.

The plant breeders’ rights system works like a patent or trademark for plant varieties: when breeders create a new variety, they can register it and obtain exclusive rights to grow and sell it.

The system is designed to encourage breeders – who may include scientists, companies, or growers themselves – to develop innovative plant varieties. In other words, the possibility of commercial exclusivity functions as a profit incentive.

The case of Ridley 1111

The recent case (Mountain Blue Orchards v. Chellew) was about a blueberry variety named Ridley 1111. It has appealing characteristics for growers and consumers alike: the berries ripen early and have a notable dark blue colour and firmness.

The NSW-based growers Mountain Blue Orchards obtained plant breeders’ rights for Ridley 1111 in September 2010.

This March, Mountain Blue filed a claim before the Federal Court. They alleged that a grower based near Grafton in NSW named Jason Chellew had obtained, grown, and sold Ridley 1111 blueberries without authorisation.

Earlier this month, the Federal Court found in Mountain Blue’s favour. The court ordered Chellew to destroy the infringing plants and pay Mountain Blue A$290,000 in damages. This sum included compensatory damages, additional damages, interest, and litigation costs.

How do you prove someone has pirated your plants?

Establishing infringement for plant varieties is more difficult than for products protected with other kinds of intellectual property.

If someone is using your trademarked brand name, or is selling a widget that you patented, it is relatively straightforward to show infringement by deconstructing these things into their component elements.

In contrast, plants are complex living organisms that change based on human and non-human influences alike.

DNA testing played a role in the Ridley 1111 case, but this alone may not be enough to prove infringement. A protected variety may have only minor genetic differences from other varieties. Likewise, two individual plants of the same variety may have tiny genetic differences due to random mutations.

Furthermore, plant breeders’ rights infringement may occur at a small scale over diffuse areas, making it difficult for rights owners to enforce their rights.

Finally, it is difficult to collect evidence of possible infringement. If plants are grown on private property they can be hard to see, and third parties may be reluctant to help. Rights owners may also be wary of possible adverse business or public image consequences from pursuing a case.

A new kind of damages

Another difficulty in plant breeders’ rights infringement cases relates to the limits of how much impact even a successful case might have.

Until last February, courts could only award damages based on a calculation of the actual loss suffered by the rights owner. It can be difficult to put a number on this loss, which meant that many in the agricultural industry saw plant breeders’ rights infringement as having few practical consequences.

The Ridley 1111 case is a sign that this may be changing, however. It is one of the first the Federal Court has considered since February’s comprehensive amendments to Australian intellectual property law, which now allows judges to award additional damages.

Courts can now consider several factors when setting damages in an infringement case, including how flagrant the infringement is and the need to deter future infringements. This brings plant breeders’ rights into line with other forms of intellectual property law such as patents and trademarks.

The resulting penalties can now be much higher. This could encourage growers to pursue licensing deals with the owners of protected varieties, when in the past they might have risked a lawsuit to save on royalty payments.

However, this assumes growers are aware of the possibility of heightened penalties, and that rights owners can prove that infringement actually occurred.

Read more:
To feed the world in 2050 we need to build the plants that evolution didn’t

Encouraging innovation

What effect will these changes have on the ground? It is probably too ambitious to argue that these changes alone will lead to increased innovation in plant breeding, as some industry groups have claimed.

The development of new plant varieties involves significant investments of time and other resources. What’s more, breeding often relies on substantial collaborations between the private sector and public or academic research institutions.

So while the possibility of obtaining additional damages in an infringement action may have some effect, other factors will continue to affect the development of new plant varieties.

These include the ongoing need for governmental support of plant breeding initiatives, the development of effective partnerships between the public and private sectors, and an accurate understanding of the kinds of crops that would be best suited to Australia’s climatic and agronomic peculiarities and to the desires of Australian consumers.The Conversation

David Jefferson, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.