We are now moving into the coldest part of our winter, with daily frosts and minimum temperatures in the minus. Our garden beds are not defrosting until about 10.30am. Not that I mind the late starts to the morning. A bit if extra time reading by the fire at this time of year is very pleasant. My eclectic reading this week turned up some articles and a great book on the Chinese market gardeners in Australia particularly in the Gold Fields of the Southern Tablelands of NSW .
“Chinese market gardeners brought skills and knowledge from China as well as adopting and adapting local practices. Their labour intensive methods of farming, ability to manage and organise their own workforce in providing local markets with local produce became distinctive features of the Chinese market gardens across NSW.” Dr Barry McGowan (Australian National University)
Since moving to Braidwood and setting up our market garden I have been interested in the Chinese market gardeners of the region. Pictures show well established market gardens and it is clear from records of the time that yields were very high. On February 10, 1883, The Southern Argus reports: “…we are told the people of Goulburn are ill-provided with vegetables and that the European gardeners were solely to blame…the Chinese bring their vegetables to better perfection than the Europeans…the Chinese are model gardeners.
The Chinese have a very long history of vegetable cultivation dating back as early as 5000 BC. with continuity since that time. By the mid 1800’s when many Chinese came to Australia there vegetable production and agricultural practices were “superior” to many European practices and they were able to adapt and innovate to new environments and climates. Chinese market gardeners used growing frames covered with paper or hessian to protect delicate seedlings from frost.
Another interesting report from a regional Victorian newspaper in 1897 stated that European market gardeners in Melbourne were jealous of the Chinese hawkers who supplied suburban householders with such regularity, and also the Chinese market gardeners who sold directly to consumers. Gardeners who sold their produce directly to householders rather than through city markets obtained better returns. This is still relevant today.
There is always something to learn from the past as well as the present. I look forward to more interesting reading as we take a break through July. We will be taking a break from the stall and this blog until the 8 August, when our next newsletter will be published.