Nature's preserve

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A veritable explosion of the kitchen garden craze has seen chefs across WA swapping aprons for gardening gloves in a bid to get the freshest and best ingredients to the customer's table.

But amid the boom of home-grown chard and freshly picked herbs, one Margaret River business has been quietly and carefully cultivating its organic vegetable garden and orchard for near-on six years.

Almost everything grown in Providore's half-acre vegetable garden finds a home, either on the plate or in a jar as one of the business' renowned chutneys or preserves. And it's that garden-to-plate concept that makes Providore's products so delectable.

General manager Melanie Rose said the organic vegie garden was pivotal to the company's jams, preserves and sauces.

"Anything we plant, or will be planting, will be going into pickles or chutneys," she said.

"This year we made an absolutely delicious organic fig paste and the rhubarb is always a hit in our famous rhubarb and raspberry jam.

"Another all-time favourite is our beetroot and orange relish, which we grow beetroot for all year round.

"Our herbs and spices are used fresh and dried in many of our products.

"We use our own chickens for eggs - about the only thing we don't do on site is milk.

"Anything we can't produce ourselves we source locally."

More than 1000 olive trees and a vineyard produce table olives, olive oil and wines, while grapes from the vineyard are also made into sauces.

But when heading to Providore's Margaret River food store, visitors inevitability end up wandering the rows of herbs and vegetables of the garden.

Now well and truly established, the garden generally takes under 10 hours a week to maintain, except when undertaking major work, like seasonal planting.

Providore gardener Jane Hilton describes tending the vegie patch as a dream job - except for when it's cold and raining.

Her philosophy when it comes to gardening is to keep it balanced.

"The most frequently asked question about organic growing is about how we deal with pests and if we can't spray for pests then what do we do," she said.

"I liken the use of chemical sprays to antibiotics. We don't routinely take antibiotics to keep ourselves healthy - and if we did take them ad hoc our immune system would be compromised.

"If we sprayed ad hoc it would create an imbalance of the system, meaning the garden, and the natural health, immunity and fertility of the soil would be altered.

"It's really about maintaining balance and that's balance of nutrients, balance of moisture and also balance of what we realistically expect of the plant.

"Not every leaf will be perfect without a hole in it - there won't be 100 per cent survival and production.

"It doesn't mean we've got a perfect garden but it's at its optimum."

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