A mighty power struggle

Broom, before the gall. Photo: ODT
Broom, before the gall. Photo: ODT
You can’t be good at all the things all the time, and nobody likes a show off, but I would like to be a little bit less distinctly average at growing things, says Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

I screamed with delight last week when I realised that I’d grown an actual cauliflower among the spring onions, couch grass and edible violas in my vege patch. I mean, in theory, I know how to plant things and keep them alive, but then in practice there is a patch of plastic flapping in the wind around now-horizontal fledgling bushes. At least everything’s getting a good watering this week.

One thing I seem to be able to grow easily, freely and prolifically here though: broom. We’ve made honest, deep-digging, axe-wielding efforts to get rid of it (when I say we, I’d like to clarify that I’ve mostly provided culinary and emotional support to the project) over more than a decade and there’s still acres of the stuff left.

Broom, to use a phrase I’ve overused since I learned it at uni, for its just-right mix of academia and marketing spiel, is the site of the power struggle. (Sample university usages: the female body in the Gothic novel is the site of the power struggle; the pint of beer that has to last all night is the site of the power struggle. Twenty years on and those struggles are still real. And  20 years from now, broom could be blooming its illusively beautiful yellow self across more and more farmland, bushline and beyond if we collectively let it get away. It’s officially insidious as.) So imagine my excitement when I learned this week that there is a broom mite that eats it all up as if by magic. And samples of said magic mite - the gall mite - were being given out for free. In Mossburn. For real.

First we had to get there. The Crown Range was the site of the power struggle, with snow dancing in our faces. Ladies Mile was the site of the power struggle, though whether this was sited exactly in the morning SUV/school run or the roadworks or just progress in general, it was hard to say. The ribbon of road running alongside Lake Wakatipu was the site of many mini power struggles, centred mostly on the tension between tourist cars and camper vans ahead of us.

Excited as kids at Christmas to get our mites, we tumbled out of the car with secateurs and one of those plastic-but-let’s-pretend-it’s-the-solution cooler bags. We were taken by Adam from Environment Southland to meet Jesse from Environment Southland, who told us bits about the bio control project so far and reminded us that bio control is a long-term solution but that we should see results in five years or so. While they were discussing site specifics about how the gall mite can’t fly so has to be wind-borne, I managed not to mention Plague Inc out loud. (Plague Inc is a phone game wherein I get to name a bacteria or virus and try to get it to kill the world. It’s brilliant because you can give your world-killer a name - call it after your daughter, for example - and then your phone says things like, "There is no known cure for Lauren. Lauren is spreading very fast through Saudi Arabia". I don’t know why this is funny. Or fun. But it is.) I kept quiet, unusually for me; in awe of a world where people are so at ease with understanding and nurturing the grow and kill of things.

Nobody likes a show off but I was actually quite good at managing to recognise the silvery galls and get them with my secateurs, which gives me hope that I am going to be able to manage the rest of this project, by remembering that I have left them in the car and prioritising the time to cable tie them to my own broom bushes. The accompanying instructions are very detailed - almost as if they are written for distinctly average growers like me - specifying how not to choke the sample or leave it hanging at a funny angle. I have ample experience at getting this wrong but I’m hoping, I’m always hoping, that this time I mite (see what I did there!?) get it a little bit right. 

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