Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Human Health, Starvation and Biodiversity

I have been reading three very interesting pieces of work. One chapter of one book is about gathering winter wild food in France, by Eliot Coleman. What most people would call weeds, are sought out as prized winter food by old time French men, mostly, who explain that nature has provided these foods in winter as it is then that they are filled with the nutrition we need to help our bodies cope with the cold of winter.

This is something I have often thought was more relevant to healthy eating habits than is given credit. If you eat what is grown there, wherever you are right now, it is the right thing for you.... it has experienced the same weather, air, water etc as you have and if your food is thriving in that situation, then, when you eat it, you thrive too. Its no good shipping tomatoes from a place where it is summer, to where it is winter and expecting it to supply what your winter body needs.

The second is on this fascinating blog, simply called Vaviblog which recounts the travels and recent tracing of the footsteps of the prominent Soviet botanist and geneticist, Vavilov, best known for having identified the centres of origin of cultivated plants.  As pointed out and written about so beautifully, from this introduction, through every engrossing page...

Agricultural biodiversity is all that stands between the world and starvation. I hope that by giving a voice to Vavilov this web site will help people to understand why that is so and to take steps to safeguard our past … because it is our future.

Here is an excerpt from the blog, where the author comes upon a market under a tree in Ethiopia...

...At last we saw the shiny black seeds of noog piled high, next to other oilseeds such a peppergrass and sesame. Next to the many colors of ground cumin and chile pepper, there were brilliant golden piles of ginger, as well as masses of intact but sinewy ginger roots. One woman hand-roasted and weighed various grades of Ethiopian wild and domesticated coffees right before your eyes, while another sold various colors and textures of sea salt nested in pale brown paper containers, each looking much like a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a sugar cone. There were countless medicinal herbs as well as the crystallized globules of Ethiopian myrrh and “false” frankincense. Surrounding all the herbalists were huge piles of blue Hubbard squash, papayas, onions, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, and pomelos...

Elders from Europe, Africa, Asia and indigenous people all over the world know that wild, natural food has all the nutrition they need at the time of picking. It is fact that even something as simple as a cos lettuce has in it vitamins and minerals in different proportions, according to how, where and when it is grown. In winter, for example, it may be bitter and far from this being a disadvantage, we should take that bitterness, as it is a wonderful immunity boost and helps ward off winter ills.

So it is with great joy that I find I am able to gather food at the Cygnet Community Garden, because I garden there.... and yes, I did go on Monday! While my home garden is still very young, I would hate to have to buy vegetables grown away from here. The vitality that local food gives me far outways its identity as a carrot or apple and this is why there is so much more to nutrition than science has yet discovered.

Thirdly is a report from the Settimana della Biodiversità in Rome, organized by Bioversity International, which states that:

Efforts to increase production have so far been based on simplified systems that depend on a few varieties of even fewer crops, which require large amounts of energy-dependent inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. These simplified systems are both vulnerable to shocks and are unsustainable.

“This leads me to the conclusion that we must change paradigm and invest in intensification without simplification,” said Frison. He called on governments and funding organizations to invest in research and development for agriculture, based on this new paradigm.

Amir Abdullah, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the World Food Programme (WFP), addressed WFP’s work with chronically hungry people. “One of the causes of malnutrition is the lack of biodiversity. We recognize every day the impact that lack of biodiversity has on the people we work with. For that bottom billion, it’s a matter of life and death.”

These three pieces reflect what surely we already know in our hearts, that human health depends on eating the food that grows naturally where you live and eating as much variety as possible, every day of your life. It is a very cheap, short term aid to send war torn, malnourished nations thousands of kilograms of white rice and other equally processed stomach fillers. It is much harder but more important to see to it that "that bottom billion" has access to land to grow whatever grows naturally in their soils and climates, and with the greatest biodiversity possible, so there will always be food to harvest, no matter what shocks occur.

We all buy spices from far, far away but as a general rule of thumb please, see your soil and your toil as your health insurance. Do whatever you can to reject out of season produce and in-season but grown far away produce. Instead seek out anything that grows wild in your area and in your garden. Plant as wide a diversity of food plants that you can squeeze in, that will grow happily in your conditions.

I don't suppose I will ever stop saying it but that's because simplicity is often the answer that stares us in the face, while we search for complexity.... Saving seeds will sinlgehandedly save the world.

 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Have fun....

 

Preaching at people rarely works but making fun does. It seems to me that fun has gone out of some people's lives and, somehow, if you can give people a little taste of fun again, they respond in the most amazing ways. Like this video shows..... no-one said "Go and walk on those steps and it will be fun." They just put it out there.... and let it happen.

Its the same with this whole Transition Town thing; you can offer a list of serious discussions and ask for leaders and participants but the person who gets up and talks about doing fun stuff like .... making limoncello and cassis... the one who turns a potentially boring subject into a fun one by calling it The Tomato Appreciation Society... or cooking decadent stuff using seasonal fruits from our gardens.... like getting together this week to get it all going....  all the while smiling and laughing, will be the one who gets people signing up.

However there are some people who refuse to see fun.... I made the sad mistake of putting up a curving fence, instead of a straight one, for growing the peas up, at the community garden and was told off because growing food is not about making it look nice. Bloody hell.... I give up. I was shocked anyone could be so boring, so grumpy, so un-fun. Shall I bother going today?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Let the Show Begin!

 

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And so it was that we started the Home gardeners Group... with introductions, seeds and food to share. A dozen or so of us gathered at my place, most not having met before. When you open the door to gardeners, you know they are your friends, even before they step inside and so it was today. I am so lucky to have found such people already after only 3 months. It took me 20 years of solitary gardening in Adelaide.

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I caught a few of them on film... hahaha.... that word film shows my age! But Christine did a much better job of photographing my winter garden and kindly sent me her photos...

There are so many stories amongst the people, I am sure.... from far and wide and up and down but, right now, we are all living within 20 minutes or so of each other.... at places like Charlotte Cove, Birch's Bay, Lower Wattle Grove and Woodbridge.... washed up on the shores or returned home.

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Frances brought buckets of dill and sweet pea seeds to start our seed sharing. Ros gave me a plant called herb Herb Robertianum which is wonderful because I have never heard of it. Please read about its cancer curing qualities and other benefits, as found on Isabel Shipard's website. When mine gets big enough I will certainly be chopping it up into my meals, as suggested. Evidently it self sows readily in a damp, shady spot.

 

There are lots of recipes to be shared amongst us and the table was laden with goodies!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Home Gardeners Group

On Friday a whole bunch of people are coming to my place for the inaugural Home Gardeners Group get together. It is initially under the banner of the SCSLG... which stands for.... South Channel Sustainable Living Group.... hooray, I remembered it all!!! If anyone reading this blog would like to come, please send me an email and I will send you my address, because absolutely everybody is invited. It's going to be a fun, food-focused morning and here is the email I sent out about it:

WHERE:

  • If you were not at the Monday night meeting but would like to join in with the Home Gardeners Group, you are very welcome. Please let me know if you would like to come to our first get together, this Friday June 25th at 10am at my place.

WHAT:

  • The idea of the group is to enjoy sharing knowledge, experience, stories, seeds, plants, produce, recipes, food from our home gardens and hopefully to take ourselves to interesting local places related to growing food. I hope we can organise workshops on topics of our choosing and even make some fruit brews, such as limoncello, cassis, frangelico, honey mead, elderflower champagne to name a few.
  • If you are coming on Friday, let's start this off as we mean to continue. So if you have any seeds / seedlings / herbs / produce / food etc to share then bring them and we'll put them on a table for others to see. Then we will each tell the group about what we brought so people hear the story and we get to know each other.

REQUESTS:

  • I don't have many chairs so it would be helpful if you could bring one! I thought we'd have a walk around my acre, share what we have brought, have some morning tea and hopefully a few laughs as we get to know each other and talk about the kinds of things we might do together. Its colder in Cygnet than around Woodbridge, so please dress warmly!
  • Please try to car pool; after all this is all part of what we are trying to achieve. If you don't know anyone yet, hopefully you will after Friday. And I will make a list of members' contact details for us all.
  • Please feel free to contact me anytime but if you ring me, I may be outside and not hear the phone. I don't like answering machines, but if you ring after 5pm I am sure to be inside. I am online all the time, so emails will always be answered quickly. And you might like to read my blog Vegetable Vagabond from time to time. The blog we made for the Hills and Plains Seedsavers in Adelaide is full of stuff you might find interesting and/or entertaining too.

 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Winter food from the garden

I love the seasons. I'd hate to have tomatoes or capsicums and basil all year round in my garden. Yet, there are people, millions of them, who buy the same old vegetables, week in week out, forever.... They never stop complaining about how tasteless and expensive it all is; but never stop to think why this might be. I cannot understand it; truly, surely nobody could really be that stupid!

image It was -2C on my verandah again this morning and the world was covered in a delicious, crunchy white layer of tiny pieces of ice. The chook water was frozen, when I took them their hot breakfast, and I had a time of breaking it up so they could get their beaks into it. I picked a leaf of mizuna and enjoyed the frozen treat, before heading back to my warm fire. This photo is of very happy, very large and wonderful silver beet.... perfect for Maggie's spinach and spring onion pie.

Just because it is cold, does not mean nothing grows and does not mean you have to eat junk food to keep warm. So, what do I eat now and what is in my garden in the middle of a Tassie winter? Here's a little table of ideas, but please bear in mind I have only been here 3 months and do not have everything I hope to have in the garden by this time next year.

  Suggestions From
Breakfasts:
oats and nuts soaked overnight in apple juice. Heated, then stewed quinces added. (I have this about every second day) apples I picked, juiced and froze in 1/2 cup serves. Nuts from my garden in autumn. Bought oats from S.A. (Four Leaf). 
Quinces from neighbour.
image eggs, tomatoes, coriander on toast
(its hard to believe how orange, nearly red, this egg is that I had this morning... and the flavour! )
all from my place except the local bread
  Oat pancakes with stewed fruit, yoghurt and maple syrup (THE best thick, healthy pancakes in the world. Make them... and tell me if they're not)
Lunches: soup with lentils or beans and/or couscous and parmesan or Thai style pumpkin soup etc stock from local, org beef bones. Kale, potatoes, carrots, parsley, celery, tomatoes, dried beans, oregano all from my garden.
  toasted cheese and chutney sandwich I made green tomato chutney from community garden produce. And I have made Deb's sourdough bread. I need Gavin's cheeses.
Dinners: roasted veg reheated and topped with fetta plus salad greens or kale from my place, comm garden and local man's garden: celeriac, parsnip, pumpkin, swede, carrots, fennel, garlic, onions etc, lemon juice, olive oil. Tas fetta is not as good as the K.I. one! Spices bought: cumin, coriander seeds, fennel seeds.
  Pork chop and broccoli, pumpkin, apple sauce, potato and maybe salad. local, organic, free range Berkshire pigs!Lucky me!
  Big stir fry with Basmati rice and maybe a piece of incredibly good Tas ocean trout.... smoked in my fish smoker or fried. From my garden: bok choy, carrots, celery, Viet mint, coriander leaves plus bought onions, Erica's garlic, bought peanut oil and fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves from Jan, etc
  Avocado and ginger pasta Acocados are a winter thing. Enjoy them now!
Desserts: Apple pie, crumble etc ...with local pure cream or yoghurt.

 

Always there's salad, naked or lightly dressed with peanut oil and either Maggie Beer's verjuice or lemon juice, and pepper. Salad ingredients fully flourishing in the frost:

Various lettuce, mizuna, mustard greens, broad bean tips, mache, chick weed, pea shoots, spring onions, young leaves of kale, beetroot and other beets, carrots, parsley, plus in the glass house - coriander, celery, miners' lettuce, and still the odd ripe tomato.

Now, if you are not hungry after reading that then...well, I guess there's no hope for you! Sorry.... I am feeling rather annoyed with people who insist they can only afford bad food. Of course you don't have to buy expensive cream or Maggie Beer's verjuice BUT, if you grow lots of variety in your garden and learn about eating from the garden, you can save a lot of money and actually get a full quota of nutrition from every mouthful. Life is way too short to spend it adding sauces and chemicals to what should be the outstandingly distinct, delicious and incredibly health-giving foods we can all grow.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grow your own Avocado Plant

Its the time of the year to be eating avocados and here in Cygnet they are only 68c at the supermarket so I bought 4..... then began to think about growing my own. Here it would be necessary to do that in a glass house or poly tunnel but in most parts of Australia you can grow them in the garden. Sure it will take ages and you never quite know if it will fruit but I reckon its worth a try to grow them from seed.

I found this information on a lovely website, all about avocados:

You'll be glad to know that you can use the seed from an avocado to grow your own tree. Here's how:

Avocado seed in a glass image

  • Thoroughly wash your avocado seed.
  • Secure toothpicks into the seed so that they sit out horizontally.
  • Suspend the seed with the heavy side down over a glass of water. About 3cm of the seed should be sitting in water.
  • Place the seed out of direct sunlight and top up the water as needed.
  • In 2-6 weeks, roots and stem should start to sprout.
  • When the stem is 15 to 18cm long, cut it back to about 8cm in length.

 

Avocado seed sitting in soil image

  • When the stem has grown leaves again and the roots are thick, plant it in a pot with half the seed exposed
  • Water the plant lightly and frequently, with an occasional deep soak. The soil should be moist but not saturated.
  • Make sure it's getting plenty of sunlight.
  • When the stem is 30cm long, cut it back to 15cm. This will encourage new shoots.

Now you should be well on your way to growing your own avocado tree.

 

After writing this, I received some more useful information in a comment from Lesley who says: 

You can grow avocados outdoors in Tas if you have a warm spot. For a while there was a commercial avocado plantation at Swansea on the East Coast that produced beautiful fruit. Unfortunately it died out, not due to the cold but due to severe drought and an inadequate irrigation supply (they are very sensitive to water stress). I planted one last year on my Little Swanport property and it is doing well- we do get several light frosts a year. If you are thinking of planting an avocado or any other plant that is marginal in our climate you need to pay special attention to getting all their other requirements right. Avocados are sensitive to root rot (phytophera) and thus need free draining soil with heaps of organic matter. They also need regular watering and shelter from wind. Get these criteria right and if your site isn't too cold, you are well on your way. It is worth buying a grafted tree if you are going to this much trouble. "Bacon" is the recommended cultivar for cool climates - shop around until you get one. One bonus is that you don't need a pollinator if growing avocados in a cool climate, unlike in the tropics.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stories from a happy garden...

 

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Once upon a time there was a huge flax outside the window.
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Then it was cut down .....


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And the cows came and began to eat it .... so it was moooved !
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Once upon a time the broad beans sagged from the heavy frost.
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But the coral lettuce stayed bright and cheerful....
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...and so did the mizuna.
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All the Adelaide people thought the kale had aphids ......
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But when the sun shone, all the aphids melted away!
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In the glass house, though, the fennel twirled and danced.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Re-incarnated Horse Radish Farmer

Monday is community garden day. It starts at 9.30am but (and don't tell the others), its still freezing at 9.30 so I go at 10, which is only marginally better! Today we were finishing off weeding and replanting one of the beds in the mandala section. It was a hell of a mess and had been since last year when the unusually high winter rains had flooded this medicinal herb area completely, eventually leaving a sodden, compacted, weed-infested chaos; with not a single herb surviving.

In another area, the rhubarb had been shaded out by extra growth on the fruit trees so it was decided to transplant the dozen or so rhubarb plants into this now weeded slice of the mandala pie. Everyone seemed to love rhubarb and talk was of magnificent rhubarb plots in childhood home gardens, recipes and how best to grow them.

Now, there are many different characters attending this gathering but this little story is about one. You may remember I have mentioned Liz several times before..... in relation to our sailing trips, the Thursday food forest and the kind giver of 2 great armchairs that fill my lounge with comfort. Well, Liz is intelligent, articulate, not afraid to call a spade a spade; often recounting decisions made in meetings, a keen environmental activist and knower of every single person who has ever passed through Cygnet, by water or by land!

This morning I happened to be surveying the happy scene of workers and listening to their chatter about rhubarb, as I arrived with my gardening tools, when suddenly Liz called out "Look, there it is! They didn't drown after all." and hurried off to find a bucket. I looked at where she'd pointed.... to me it appeared she had gone mad and had begun to dig up the path! All I saw was grass, which had been happily minding its own business and making a very nice walking surface between the beds until this minute.

Now, this whole gardening session lasts for a couple of hours and the longer it continued today, the more I was convinced that, in some previous life, Liz had been an enthusiastic horse radish farmer! Her excitement had been cause by minuscule blades of what was impossible, to the untrained eye, to distinguish from the couch grass. Before this mandala was shaped, horse radish had prospered here, but so had grass.... Ever as full of ideas as I am, Liz said to me "You dig up the path and I will save the shoots!" Well, Liz did not stop rescuing shoots and roots and spouting forth with facts about horse radish for 2 hours, nor did her enthusiasm wane, even as the others packed up ready to head off for a cup of coffee.

Finally it was agreed that every single piece of horse radish had been meticulously excised from where it had last been seen 2 years previously, and Liz had formulated plans for selling these rather unpopular plants to every one of the crowds of people she knows, all in the name of making money for the community garden. With a bucket of roots left for the workers to take home to eat, she was reciting recipes and menus even as the last person left the garden, mostly empty-handed. It seems that the average Australian is not as keen on horse radish as one originally from far north Scotland, especially one who, I am sure, must have once been president of the horse radish growers society in a previous life!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sustainable Living/ Transition towns and the Future

Recently I spent all day in Woodbridge; a tiny little place about 15 minutes drive from Cygnet. The day was organised by a very enthusiastic and energetic sustainable living group to discuss where to from here. This coast is breathtakingly beautiful and attracts people looking for those things in life that are priceless - space, community, sharing, .... you know the deal....

Tasmania is decentralised. This means that the population is not all huddled in the capital, Hobart, but spread pretty evenly all over most of the state. A tiny place like Woodbridge can therefore be treated as equal to any other community in Tasmania. To me, who has always lived in Adelaide-centric South Australia, this is a revelation and is similar to European countries like France. People came from about a 15km radius around Woodbridge, mostly from what is known as The Southern Channel area.

Woodbridge has a small general store and that's its only retail outlet. But it has surprisingly large primary and secondary schools and a very well-equipped community centre. Another thing about this part of Tasmania which is different to my experience of Adelaide, is that there are lots of young families here as well as old farts like me; in other words, it is ripe for reaping the skills of both youth and wisdom! Lets hope the youth hop over to my place from time to time to help with all my projects.

I went just to listen ..... and of course I ended up with my hand in the air, wanting to be a part of several groups at once. Why is it I cannot help leaping about with enthusiasm when with like-minded people?? Anyway, the upshot is that I am going to be a part of organising the growers' group who have already made a great start in things like CSA (community sponsored agriculture), linking growers and consumers; helping run a school food garden; applying for grants to help to turn ideas into realities.... and so much more.

It was there that I met up with Babs again and she invited me around to see her garden. Wow..... and I thought my place was great; now I am green with envy! Look at that glass house and the raspberries she picked in about 5 minutes..... while I picked lemons from the other side of the glasshouse. I was so overawed with it all that I forgot to go on taking photos! But I did take several of Eden and the prettiest goats I have ever seen. Babs is going to be one of my new garden group and guess what? Four of us are starting this week, at my place..... on Wednesday!

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Todmorden.... I can't help but want to plant up my own town too, after watching this....

 

These people have inspired me to send in my application to be the volunteer gardener for the Cygnet library. It has been sitting on my desk for weeks while I lose interest in taking on what could be a totally boring and depressing little project..... I had planned to turn it into a food garden. I so wanted to show them the beauty of herbs and vegetables and be there, to talk to library goers as they walk past me in the little strip of heaven I imagined.... but somehow I lost interest when more exciting things came up. However, I am going to do it now, thanks to Todmorden and the bloke towards the end who is so enjoying growing food wherever he feels like it!

While others have meetings and make plans I am going to quietly get on and do it. This is my way. I hate meetings and committees and rules. I just like to do stuff and inspire others to follow by the doing, and let it lead where it will.

Now I have put it on the blog I will have to do it because I know somewhere out there, some time in the future, someone will say "Hey Kate! What's happening with that whole library garden thing?" And it would be very embarrassing to have to admit I had chickened out, wouldn't it......

Friday, June 4, 2010

When green becomes red and then green again...

Here is one of the stupidest ads I have ever seen:

Solar Panels From $0.98/W

World Record!

We Ship To Australia

Kyocera, SMA, Xantrex

Since 1973 US

That is a Google ad in the sidebar of an excellent website, Worldchanging.

Sadly that kind of ad makes a mockery of genuine efforts to reduce greenhouse gases... such as those made by Daily Dump who have a mission to get people composting at home in Bangalore, using these gorgeous pottery bins and bamboo baskets, all made locally..... while the rest of the world makes them from plastic!

There is so much emphasis now on buying stuff to make yourself more green..... solar panels made on the other side of the world is just one example. Someone said I should change my heating, change my oven, get a new washing machine, change my roof, get more rainwater tanks which just leads to more pumps, more plastic pipes to pump the water around in, more factories in China to make the fittings, more trees cut down to print operating manuals, all using totally crazy amounts of fuel and making huge plumes of CO2 but..... it makes you look green.

Unlike a lot of others, I think the best way to be green is to reduce what we use now, grow more food, buy local, swap stuff with local people, help each other out and share tools, trailers, skills and have more fun doing it. I am not going to the climate change rally in Hobart, an hour away by car; instead I am walking to a garage sale, then to the local man who makes fire tools and then to a friend's place for coffee and a walk around her garden.

We should all make small and permanent changes in our communities. I have just been reading a wonderfully inspiring story of a town in the UK called Todmorden which has gone from starting a herb garden to ... well everything you can think of. Please, take a few minutes to browse through some of the inspiring initiatives ordinary people have come up with and made happen.... Incredible Edible Todmorden.

I hope that I can say, in the years to come, that I helped do for Cygnet what these people and others have done for Todmorden and helped save the Cygnet Classifieds from stupid ads like the one above, instead making it a newsletter of inspiration for a simpler and more rewarding life.

Here are some of the inhabitants of my garden this week

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