Kitchen Garden Guides

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Garden Ideas and Observations

I have been reading Eliot Coleman's "Four-Season Harvest" which is packed with details on how to make the most of every season, for the vegetable grower in a cool - cold climate. Tasmania is certainly colder than South Australia, but nowhere near as cold as Maine, northeast USA, where Eliot has his organic market garden, producing vegetables year round, without any heating.image

image One of the things he suggests to protect a cloche from wind damage is to zigzag across the sections with wire. Well, I have a tall clump of miscanthus, which is like a tall, thin bamboo and very flexible, so I experimented with that. Seems good so far!


This next idea was mine alone! It seemed crazy to me to be standing in my little glass house watering plants with a hose when its pouring with rain outside so I rigged up a self-watering system for directing rain onto the soil inside, while its raining outside.image


I poked a hole in the sagging plastic roof, inserted a hose connector from the outside (the bit you screw onto the tap, normally), connected a piece of poly tube to the inside via a click-on hose fitting and tied the tube to a stake. What happens next is still uncertain but at the moment that tube goes into a watering can whose spout I point towards whatever needs watering most. Eventually I want to have a perforated tube running the length of the small bed so everything gets watered at once. If this all works, I could have several of these in the glass house which would be so wonderful.

image The third idea for the month of May was to do something useful with the runoff from a downpipe. A previous owner had directed the runoff into a rather lovely, rock edged and stone-lined soak, making this a very wet area all year round..... as the rain here falls in frequent, small amounts even in summer. Although some winters, like 2009, it can rain solidly for months!

So, with great difficulty, under the downpipe I placed a very large, flat piece of concrete I found elsewhere and around it I planted watercress given to me by a friend. Whether this survives winter frosts and rain we will have to wait and see but it seemed like a good idea at the time!


image Raising seedlings in some kind of shelter certainly helps things along, as these 5 kinds of beetroot seeds keep germinating in the poly house even with sub-zero overnight temperatures. Interestingly, the yellow and golden varieties came up days before the others, and the white seeds are yet to germinate at all. There are big holes in the walls and the roof is unfortunately well ventilated too, but it is pleasant in there and takes the chill off.


imageOther vegetables doing remarkably well under cover include this incredible tomato plant which still has plenty of tomatoes ripening in the glass house, when the rest of the varieties have stopped. I have saved seeds from this one! I hope its not a hybrid. It has a walnut-sized fruit with an intense tomato flavour. The skins are starting to toughen now but hey, that's a small price to pay for a great tasting tomato almost in June.




The bok choy is so elegant I can't bring myself to eat it but I am hoeing into the mustard greens.

One chook has started laying.... 5 to go!!

So, there's a snap shot of May at my place. Nice.... very nice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Winter Frost Fairies Arrive

I opened my curtains in the morning to see a world transformed into a chilly, frosty but delightful place. Mists wafted gently across my face, smoke rose from a neighbours chimney and my thermometer read -3C, as I stood on the verandah in my pj's, smiling at the wonders of nature. A tiny wren was out early, catching insects in the bottlebrush and the shimmer of the sun's rays tried to wriggle through the white air and reach the earth.


The paddock next door was brilliant green yesterday!

Do dark leaves reduce the frost?

image image

Even though I had not covered the mature cos lettuce or the tiny, self-sown lettuce seedlings, they suffered no damage as they thawed very slowly, the temperature being very low all morning, and I threw an old sheet over them to keep the sun off for a while. Surprisingly even the bok choy, which was weighed down with frost, recovered well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The day was filled with silence.... not a breath of wind.... after the ferocious, storm force gale of the week before.

I stopped the car and stood beside the Huon River, mesmerized by the scene. Sadly the light was not good for photography. But you get the idea.

 image image








I have been here in Cygnet for 2 months now. It seems only yesterday Mary and I pulled up in front of the house, the car packed to overflowing with our luggage plus all the produce and plants we'd bought on the way, after getting off the ferry.

On the other hand, I was walking to the shop for milk this afternoon and felt like I'd almost become a local. I have become accustomed to the town and to my home. I have moved from being an observer to a participant, in my garden and am beginning to take charge of the big shed.

As the days become shorter and colder I am getting to know the vagaries of my slow combustion fire, beginning to recognise the types of wood burned here and realising when a piece of wood is too big to fit in the fire box, before I acknowledge that the door is not going to close, in time to take it out again! By 5pm it is beginning to get dark and I need to have a good stash of firewood ready to take me through to the next night.

image Although the overnight temperatures plummet down as low as 2.5C on my verandah, I still enjoy sitting outside in the morning sun with my steaming bowl of hot cereal, knee rug tucked around my legs. Now that the bottlebrush is flowering near the verandah, the honey-eaters are always to be seen.

There are lots of little seeds germinating in the poly house..... 5 kinds of beetroot, several kale, fennel, chervil, coriander etc. Next will be Asian greens again, as I am now eating those that I planted when I first arrived here. The peas on the new frames in there are all up and I am picking mizuna leaves daily. In my delightful glasshouse the tomatoes still seem to be ripening and even still flowering; it will be interesting to see how long they go on for.

image image I have been collecting the runner beans that I left on the stalks to dry and was amazed to find that, as well as the regular black and purple ones, some were a plain, brilliant pink; even brighter than the colour in this photo. The pods of some are still green, although very big and tough, so I just eat the seeds, usually raw or thrown into boiling water only for a few seconds, like broad beans.

So, life takes on a new rhythm but there still never seem enough hours in the day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mussels, meat and more

So often I write about to grow them, how beautiful they can be in the garden, all about soil and climate then of course ideas for cooking them. But this is a post purely about the joy of meat; from the sea, the air and the land. To me, meat is another ingredient, like fruit or vegetables. Sometimes it is in my meal, sometimes not; just like carrots or beans or apples. When it is in my meal, it is served in equal portion size as any other part of the meal. Meat is no more or less the priority and I do not just cook vegetables to go with the meat; I aim to have a beautiful meal with whatever is at hand.


  Tonight I cooked mussels, Thai style. The whole meal was outstandingly delicious, even if I do say so myself! I picked a big bok choy from my garden and cooked that in my favourite way. At the same time the basmati rice was slowly absorbing its cooking liquid. Then I assembled the Thai flavours and steamed the mussels. Once everything was done, I put the bok choy in a bowl, tipped over the mussels and liquid, serving the rice in a separate bowl, which is how I like it best.

imageWhen I was in France, everyone there told me how good French mussels were..... but dear friends in France, you have never tasted mussels like those that grow in southern Australia! French mussels are tiny, insignificant little things with barely a morsel of taste compared to Australian mussels. The mussels from Pt. Lincoln in SA deserve every bit of the accolade they get but tonight all other mussel meals were surpassed by these Tasmanian mussels!! Sure they were big, beautifully orange and full of body but the flavour.... oh la la la... burst out of every mouthful like no other I have ever had. My Thai style mussels have reached their pinnacle, after cooking them hundreds of times in dozens of places!

Next I want to tell you about roast lamb. It was Mothers' Day here on May 9th and I cooked myself a good family meal, roast leg of lamb with lots of roast veg. Compared to other parts of the world, lamb is cheap and plentiful in Australia. I paid $8 / kg for it, as part of a side of lamb I bought from the local butcher here in Cygnet. It was nice and tender, local although not organic, but not the tastiest lamb I have had. For me, however, the joy of eating lamb or goat is when I get to the bone. For days I make my way through the meat until finally the bone is revealed and I can wait no longer! I cut off any excess meat and leave that for another day, leaving just the bones and any meat still clinging to them. Then I pick it up in both hands and unceremoniously hoe into it with my teeth, sucking or pulling the marrow out of the cut end of the bone too. It is heaven.... but quite messy!


I find that I can go for days or even a week without meat and be perfectly happy but the day always comes when I can think of nothing more satisfying than cooking myself some meat. I believe humans should eat opportunistically, meaning in this day and age, eating what is in season, when it is available locally and to me I include meat in this, as cave dwellers would have. Lots... millions and millions of people either don't get a chance to eat meat or don't want to, for all sorts of reasons. I could no more not eat meat than not eat vegetables.

Lastly, tomorrow night I am going to cook mutton bird, which is still harvested by Aboriginal people in April. It is a small, dark-fleshed game bird found on islands off the coast of Tasmania. I saw them advertised for sale in Huonville and bought one, for $10, which seems like a lot for the size of it. I thought this recipe looked "interesting".....

4 skinned yolla, quartered
* 2 leeks, finely sliced
* 2 Tablespoon fresh ginger juice
* 200 g mushrooms, sliced
* 250 g jar of breakfast marmalade
* 125 m1 of whisky (Scotch, Irish or Welsh)
* freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
* ¼ cup of water
Gently sauté yolla pieces in deep saucepan until golden brown. Add leeks, ginger,
mushrooms, marmalade, whisky and a quarter cup of water. Simmer gently until
birds are glazed and tender.
Garnish with chopped chives. Serve with steamed potatoes. Serves 4.

Preferably I would not eat farmed meat at all and in South Australia this is possible as there is plenty of feral meat and a shop, Wild Oz, which sells almost exclusively the meat from these pests that ruin the soil and eat food meant for native animals. Here in Tasmania I have found wallaby and mutton birds which, although not feral, are wild and not farmed. It is hard with fish, unless you go fishing yourself but generally speaking I buy the cheapest, local fish of the day.

There is a rabbit living under my house.... yum, I haven't had rabbit for ages!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Excitement of Food and of Stuff

Have you been watching Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey?

He takes you to places you'd never see otherwise; especially into the kitchens of fishermen's wives, of roadside cafes, of a famous Malaysian extrovert TV chef and oh into so many markets full of spices, tropical vegetables, seafood and smiling Thai people.

All the while my bread was cooking..... Deb's sourdough still going strong.... and the smell of hot sourdough bread was wafting in and mixing with the imagined aromas of limes, coconut milk, fish sauce and Vietnamese mint!

It made me think how exciting food can be and made me wonder why so many people eat so badly when there is so much enjoyment to be had in eating simple, tasty, home cooked, freshly grown food.

On my way back from the shop today I walked through the community garden to pick some herbs .... I am so excited by all the wonderful smells and tastes of herbs..... but I am sure no-one else around here uses any of these in the garden. Opening up the pocket of my backpack, back in my kitchen, brought a huge smile to my face as I smelt and felt each herb before putting it into a container to use later.

There is a wonderful website that deals with a lot of stuff in a highly entertaining but also serious way. If you love watching really really good video clips and animations, go straight here to The Story of Stuff Project and the blog. While you are there you might like to donate to keep this truly worthwhile project going.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Time for Words

These are some lovely ads I have come across since I arrived. They are indicative of the nice, gentle lifestyle and people here...

Give away to good home. Old jersey house cow. Still in milk but not in calf.

Miniature piglets, breeder of 10 years, reg with mppa ,expected to reach height of 40cm to the shoulder at maturity.These gorgeous bubs make great pets are very clean and easy to train.

We have two beautiful gypsy vanner horses that we are willing to give out to loving and caring homes . If you have been looking for a horses for your family or you are interested in our horses, then you can contact us for more details and pictures of the horses.

The thing most noticeable about people here is that they speak with more words.... not spitting them out in a furious hurry to finish, but slowly and taking the time to interact with you. No-one is in a rush. There is time for conversations whether it be with acquaintances in the shop, friends at home over coffee or with council workers working on the footpath in my street. Everyone stops, talks and listens; only moving on when the conversation is finished.

They remember what you say and next time they see you they have something for you.... like Jay who brought me a ladder she'd found at the tip shop because I had mentioned wanting to fix my gutter. Just like that.... so nice. And Liz who has given me big, comfy arm chairs and who arrived at the front door on the weekend laden with watercress, because she'd heard me talking to someone about it and when she found some growing in a creek, thought she would collect it for me to grow.... and the council workers who dug a trench for me with their digger at lunch time and even laid my pipe and filled in the trench while I was out.

I heard today about a group of neighbours who gave a surprise welcome party to some people moving into a house near them.... now that is pretty amazing!

It is not that time has passed Cygnet by; it is that Cygnet makes time for words.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ranelagh market day

image It was a crisp, sunny day for my first experience of the monthly  Ranelagh market. Once again I expected some kind of sign..... and I found one.... the flat tray ute in front of me on the last stretch of the road to Ranelagh had a cage strapped to it.... and I thought "Aha! These people are expecting to buy some kind of animal from the market." I followed them as they led me to the unsigned Ranelagh agricultural showgrounds!

I knew I was in the right place when I opened my car door and heard the squawk of an orchestra of birds. I felt extremely self-conscious in this rural setting without a farm vehicle and hid my camera away until I had sussed out the tone but I should have known that the people here would be as relaxed and friendly as those in Cygnet and indeed in the rest of Tasmania.

image Men in a range of hats and women in a range of shapes were investigating the cages, the tags and the owners of the chooks, ducks, game birds, rabbits and even kittens for auction. On the bench in the centre of the shed were other goods for auction..... various pumpkins,a small wooden box of potatoes, several bundles of raspberries, packs of egg cartons and jars of jam.


It was cold and draughty in the shed so I wandered off before the action started, to buy a cup of tea from the nice ladies manning the kiosk. No plastic or paper cups here; just a rack of old china mugs and I thought I must remember to bring this back before I go home! It was from there that I heard a man shouting and went around the sheep pens to see what was going on. About 20 people were gathered around, bidding on 3 calves; the auctioneer was shouting and pointing, finally indicating that the deal was done. Then off he strode towards the chook pens.

image In Adelaide you just would not see all these different, interesting fowls and roosters, of every colour and shape. It has all been homogenised into the ISA browns; great layers but of no heritage value. This photo does not do justice to the beauty and diversity of what was here today. Everyone followed the auctioneer from cage to cage and everything was sold, taking a good hour to get it done. The few ISA browns sold for between $1 and $4 each while a pair of some gorgeous little English game birds sold for $60.... these people really knew their chooks!

image There was a lad there, about 14 years old I'd say, who bought all theimage really cheap birds no-one else wanted, and went home with about 20 hens and roosters for not much more than $20. And to think I didn't even take a box! I had no idea this was going to be such a bargain. A couple of ducks got away, causing the shed door to be quickly closed while they were rounded up. The bloke who paid the most for some exotic looking speckled pair took them home in a sack.

image And what did I buy? .... a huge Queensland Blue pumpkin! Well, I couldn't go home without anything! I am really looking forward to the next Ranelagh market....when who knows what will be up for auction.


Life is good....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Using Vertical Space in the Garden

I was standing in my poly house, thinking, as I often do. I have lettuce and mizuna seedlings planted on one side and was thinking about sowing sugar snap peas up a frame, on the other. But it seemed so wasteful of space and I just hate wasting anything. What's more, I like to look at these protected planting zones as cubes, rather than just a flat space, to make the most of all that plastic!

A poly house is different to outside in other ways beside just being protected from frost and wind; when the plastic gets old, it becomes less clear and more a semi-white and this means that the whole of the inside is infused with an even, bright light, rather than having sun and shade.


So I began to toss about ideas, coming up finally with one which I think is rather good. I will have two rectangular beds of lettuce and other winter salad greens, each accessed by a short path, as in a keyhole design. Then, arching from the top wall frame of the poly house down to the far side of each bed will be 2 wire trellises for sugar snap peas.... I think you can see this ok in my sketch.... I have not drawn in all the trellises or it would look too messy but you can follow the dancing peas to get the idea!

Luckily I had, just the day before, found enough of the stiff 50mm wire mesh to do this whole job, tangled up with a pile of sticks and debris under the gum trees on my block so I was able to have the idea, make the plan, get the job done and sow the peas (which I had ordered online and received from Southern Harvest last week) all in one day!

The only problem ..... and this is quite a major problem..... is that the storm force winds last week almost shredded the poly house which is now in a sorry state and, I fear, will not last the winter as I had hoped it would. But I have an idea hatching for that too......