Thursday, August 30, 2012

“There is nothing--absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in THE GARDEN."

…. Kate Flint, Vegetable Vagabond blog, 2012!

When I came to live in this pretty little house, on an acre of paradise, at the bottom of the world, there was nothing edible in the garden except a few well-established fruit and nut trees. For this I was very grateful, as they take years to grow and produce well. However, I felt lost and incomplete not being able to pick even some parsley.

After a full year of sowing and harvesting what I could, one day I saw some self-sown lettuce seedlings appearing and I felt I was at last beginning to belong. Now, two and a half years since I arrived, I can say that I have a well-established food garden and a wonderful seed bank, in the soil and in my cupboard. If Cygnet was cut off from the world, I would be well-fed and able to feed others.

Sitting by my sunny window the other afternoon I wrote down everything I could think of that is edible in my garden. Here is the list. Of course vegetables and some herbs change with the seasons. I have not been specific with varieties here.

FRUIT AND NUTS VEGETABLES HERBS SOWING IN SEED TRAYS
almonds various chards oregano tomatoes
hazelnuts spring onions parsley lettuces
chestnuts artichokes sage bok choy
walnuts sunchokes rosemary spring onions
gooseberries Chinese artichokes thyme shungiku
raspberries oca tarragon coriander
red currants asparagus winter savory capsicums
boysenberries Tas. nettles salad burnett chicories
quince red cabbage garlic chives corn
prune plum leeks galangal asparagus
red plum sorrel lemon grass herbs x lots
cherry plums fennel bulbs Viet. mint SOWING OUTSIDE SOON
Irish strawberry various kale lots of mints parsnips
crab apple cardoon bay peas
apples, various walking onion chamomile brassicas
olives red dock angelica carrots
apricot mizuna native violet purslane
cherry frilly mustard chervil etc etc
pears broccoli raab lavenders  
peach various chicory    
feijoa broad beans    
Chilean guava miners’ lettuce    
rhubarb various lettuce    
grapes beetroot    
Tas. raspberry parsnips    
Cape gooseberry mixed Asian greens    
elderflower shungiku    
kiwifruit Belgian endive    
lemons sugar snap peas    
limes garlic    
cumquats watercress    
mandarins land cress    
fig various “weeds”    
hops      
alpine strawberry      
various
strawberries
     

One of the things I do in my garden that differs from many other people is that, wherever you walk, there is something to eat, depending on the season. I use fruit trees as THE trees. So, I sit under the walnut tree, on the lawn, in summer. I have a little seat by the pond, which will be shaded by a crab apple on summer mornings and by an Irish strawberry tree in the afternoon. Various paths are edged with espaliered fruit trees or overhung with fruit trees whose blossom at the moment is incredible.

There are also an increasing number and range of Australian and Tasmanian shrubs and small trees, for the birds and insects. And I let areas of grasses grow as a meadow. It is delightful to watch the myriad of insects and tiny birds darting about there, especially when they are in flower and seeding. Although this does not directly feed me, the diverse ecology of this garden keeps most “pests” in check and allows my food plants to flourish.

There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time in the garden.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

World Kitchen Garden Day 2012

World Kitchen Garden Day was started by Kitchen Gardeners International.

Miraculously 18 people turned up to go on the walk I had organised to celebrate World Kitchen Garden Day 2012. Already the ground was saturated, everywhere you looked, in this part of Tasmania. Then it rained solidly all night.

At 7am I woke to silence…. “Hooray” I thought “The rain has passed and the day is going to be fine.” However, by 7.15 the sky was black, the wind once again burst through the trees and, seconds later, rain lashed the windows. I looked at the weather forecast…. snow above 200m, 60km/hour winds, max. of 11 degrees. Sigh…. such is winter in Tasmania.

imageIt was still only 4 degrees at 9am and the pattern of rain and wind, then sunshine was persisting. I went on with my plans; finishing off a sign, having a good breakfast and packing my camera. I looked out my kitchen window and a rainbow appeared right over Burton’s Reserve, where the walk was to begin. A good omen!image

 

The walk began at 11am so I was at the pre-arranged spot, sign (now covered in plastic) in hand….. waiting in brilliant sunshine!  In previous years, there had been at least 20 people gathering around me as soon as I arrived, (Last year it was 60!!) Slowly, a few bright and happy souls joined in and we set off for stop 1: the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden at St. James School, just off the main street of Cygnet. By the time we got there, our numbers totalled 18. I was happy.

 

 

imageChloe and Helen have been making a cob oven, seating and cooking area for the school. Their vast experience in such things, worldwide, is astounding. The clay for this project comes from a teacher’s property, just a few kms away. When the shelter is finished they will lime wash the cob construction and it will then be weather proof and ready to use. I can’t wait!

 

When the rain came over again, Marcus showed us imageinside the propagation shed of the kitchen garden, through the new poly tunnel and into the kitchen, where the students cook and eat what they have grown.

Marcus oversees the programme as well as teaching secondary school agriculture and landscaping, amongst other subjects.

 

imageOff we then set, along the main street…

At the library garden, Carol has made beautiful little signs for each of the plants so that people know which plants are edible, where they originate and how to use them. We encourage passers-by to nibble them and, by the looks of their small stature, I think either people or something are doing a fair bit of nibbling!

 

 

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Next stop, Bruce and Kerry’s ….. Bruce had been down helping at the Scout Monster Garage Sale and just popped back home to show us around his very pretty property. As well as the food gardens he has several chooks and 3 friendly alpacas. What a place Cygnet is, where alpacas can live in a back yard, just a 1 minute walk from the shops!

 

image A short stroll up past the oval is Carole and Keith’s picture postcard house and garden. One thing I learned from both Bruce and Keith is that citrus, when sheltered from frost by a shade cloth roof until well established, can cope very well in this frosty hollow. Of course, the shade cloth is removed during summer.

 

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I am very envious of Keith’s little potting and growing shed, partly covered in laserlightimage…. and the blossom of the fruit trees, together with the view were just glorious….. but, inside, a real treat was waiting…..

 

image This magnificent wood and electric oven is something I drool over every time I visit Carole. She must think I am totally loopy because I head over to it and touch it so often. The convenience of having some of it electric is such a good idea. It is a massive piece of Australian cast iron ingenuity but when I search on the internet, I cannot find mention of it. Called a Homestead Cooker, it could grace the homes of all Tasmanians.

Carole had heated soup and made cakes. I took some of my home made sourdough and it was nice to take off our jackets and scarves for a while and recharge the batteries.

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Last stop was my place where I introduced people to a few plants they had not eaten before, such as broccoli raab, French sorrel and wild sorrel (which everyone thinks is a weed) as well as broad bean tips, miners’ lettuce and ornamental kale.

It had been a really lovely day and I am so grateful to everyone who showed us their projects and gardens. A special thank you goes to the enthusiastic couple who came over the snowy peaks from Hobart to tread the roads and lanes of Cygnet on this cold winter’s day.

You will find more photos of our walk here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Endive, the French way….and Monty Don on chicory, the Italian way

When I was in France, I ate a lot of endive; those pale, tightly packed, candle flame shaped bundles of leaves available at every market.  They were at their best when baked in the oven, next to the root vegetables. Amazingly, they stayed juicy and whole.

So, I read about how to grow them….. and did it. I sowed seeds of Belgian Endive last spring, let the plants grow all summer, then, in early winter I cut the tops off about an inch from the base, dug them up and put them side by side in a large pot, with barely damp soil. The soil was just to stop them falling over, but the methods I read about suggested sand. I think straw would also be fine, perhaps, although you don’t want them to dry out completely. They must be covered to make it dark, the story goes.

imageDug up, with the outside leaves removed image
Tops trimmed
image Trans-planted to a large pot with a lid to keep out the light image Now here they are, ready to cook, about a month or so later.

Mine did what they were meant to, although they did not grow as big as those I bought (but never grew) in France (I understand they are grown hydroponically there these days.) Successful and delicious, never the less. However, since then, I have had a chance encounter with some more information, which sheds light on the life of chicory, in general.

Monty Don’s book about his own garden, Longmeadow, is such a delight to read that I find myself opening it up and reading a page at every opportunity. I came across this, the first sentence under “Chicory”…… I like the way that chicory has two distinct phases of growth….Ohhhh, why do other books not point this out??

image Part one of their cycle is to establish a deep tap root and they will sprout lots of green leaves towards that end. But these leaves are impossibly bitter and tough. Not appetising. However, that is not their role. They serve to feed the taproot and supply the gardener with composting material during autumn …..what is then left, in late autumn is stage two, the harvestable plant, which responds to temperature and light levels to change leaf shape and sometimes colour.

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Then he goes on to say that the British traditionally just grew witlof chicory (and the French, endive), which requires blanching in the dark (as I have just done). But radicchio (Italian for chicory) in all its assorted glory is adored by the Italians who grow it with great care and expertise. He goes on to mention “Rossa di Verona” (slightly speckled and cabbage shaped) and “Rossa di Treviso” (cos lettuce shaped, with curling leaves that have clear white ribs and perfectly good raw, or cooked). These two just happen to be some that I am growing for the first time, (see photos above) never ceasing to be amazed at the transformation from bitter and green, to brilliant red, totally different in shape and beautiful to eat! Now I  understand why!!

Wait, there’s more…..The winter leaves can be cut flush with the soil and will regrow to provide 3 or 4 crops before spring. So, it being late winter here now, I had better do this today, or they will go to seed before I get a second harvest. In fact, I am going to cut some now and take some photos….. breakfast will have to wait!

And while I was there I took some more photos of my garden….

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A runaway chard, all alone…image image
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Europe rules against seed diversity

Imagine a place where seed companies, such as our local Southern Harvest, are told what seeds they are allowed to sell and seedsavers groups and people with market stalls cannot sell seeds from their gardens….. well, take heed, Australia, this is exactly what has happened in Europe.

The choice of what crops are available for gardeners to grow has been dealt yet another restrictive blow, according to leading organic charities Garden Organic and the Soil Association.

In a recent ruling in the European Court of Justice in Brussels(1) a small French seed company, seeking to defend its sales of old unregistered varieties of vegetables, lost its case. The company, Kokopelli, argued that the basis of the EU Marketing Directive was unlawful and curtailed the right to trade seed freely. However the court opposed this and ruled in favour of the current legislation, which restricts what seed can and cannot be marketed and sold.

Current seed regulation has meant that many once freely available varieties have disappeared along with the useful traits that breeders and growers may wish to utilise in the future. Garden Organic works to protect such ‘at risk’ varieties through its Heritage Seed Library; a collection of almost a 1000 unregistered vegetable varieties - and distributes seed amongst members, rather than selling it. The decision to rule against marketing these seeds means that once again many varieties will not be available and many more will be at risk.

Whilst some international directives(2) openly encourage the protection of biodiversity, this recent ruling against Kokopelli appears to go against this.

Bob Sherman, Chief Horticultural Officer at Garden Organic said, “It is disappointing that the EU has neglected to unravel this controversial Directive to give amateur gardeners freedom of choice. Very few people believe that trade in traditional and endangered varieties threatens the commercial seed world. Despite some recent slackening of the regulation of ‘amateur’ and ‘conservation’ varieties, it appears it is still possible for large corporate businesses to control the market with no hesitation in resorting to law against the minnows of the sector. Fortunately Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library is not a seed company and we will continue to work at protecting the availability of many ‘at risk’ varieties by allowing our supporters access to seeds.”

More…

Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association said “For both amateur growers and commercial producers, the resilience of our farming systems depend on a wide range of genetics within the food chain. It is vital that these varieties are maintained as a living collection amongst growers. Every variety lost weakens our ability to create an effective food system that can cope with the increasing challenges of climate change and resource scarcity.”

We support the statement by the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) EU Group(3) and hope that the review of the legislation taking place in Brussels at this time will finally take into account traditional varieties and those bred on farms and will put in place a legal framework that will allow the marketing of these without the current restrictions and thereby protect this important resource.

Notes

1.Summary of the judgment in Case C 59/11, Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SA: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2012-07/cp120097en.pdf
2.ITPGRA International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture  http://www.planttreaty.org/content/sustainable-use
3.IFOAM EU Group Press Release http://www.ifoam-eu.org/

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

We gathered, we ate, we shared seeds and stories

image Some days are just nice from dawn to dark. My raw milk friend also brought with her today a bough of lemons for me! Here they are, hanging on a chair in my kitchen while I look up preserving lemons in salt.

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I have become quite partial to preserved lemons as I adore Middle Eastern food. Meyer lemons like these are perfect for it so tomorrow afternoon that is what I have planned to do.

image After she left, I went out and picked some vegetables and salad greens as Tuesday afternoons I cook meals and various things for a local family. The frost had only been light overnight and had left gorgeous, dewy droplets on the leaves. Left, is broccoli raab; with large, tender, delicious leaves as well as being covered in bright green sprouting broccoli clusters.

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Last year I grew lots of red cabbage. After I sliced off the cabbage, I left the short stumps in the ground and they put out more side shoots. Interested to see what would happen, I left them and now they are over a metre high, each with about 3 main stems. One of them looks like it is forming into a red cabbage, a metre off the ground! I continually pick some of the tips and use them in salads or cook them. Also in the bowl are red chard leaves, chicory – green and red, mizuna and various other Asian leaves.

Tonight is Soup and Bread Night at The Red Velvet Lounge and I arranged to have our SeedSaveUs get together at the same time. Lyn brought along seeds with a story…. the son of a friend has recently bought a property from an elderly man who often sold his vegetables at his gate. It seems the man left his seed collection for the next owners too!! Lyn brought some tomato seeds and other things that he had been growing for many years. There were about 10 or so of us at our table, enjoying free soup and bread, nice music, good company and sharing lots of lovely seeds.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Broccoli….things I never knew before

I bought Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book w-a-y back in the 1980’s and I still read fascinating things in it, that I did not know before.

Last night I read it in bed. I should not keep such books beside my bed because I find them irresistible. Many people have lent me books, in the last few months, and I should be reading them at every opportunity but….. well…. I could not put this book down.

Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables but one I rarely grow well. Now, when I say “broccoli” do tell me if you don’t immediately think I mean big, green heads of it. To me, this is the common broccoli. Of course there are many others but in my ignorance I was amazed to read in the book that purple sprouting broccoli was all there was in England (where Jane Grigson wrote) until the 1970’s. Broccoli actually means flowering shoots…. plural. The book says that the larger heads of green were developed in Italy “recently” and the book was written in 1979.

It seems that the stems in those days were much more popular than they are here, today; although I eat stems, leaves and shoots. Some of the recipes Jane Grigson gives throughout this wonderful book are from ancient food books and just go to show how fashions change in ingredients and cooking methods, just as fashions change with clothes. I would consider the following to be quite innovative recipes, but they date from the Roman days:

Cook the broccoli and serve with cumin, salt, ‘old wine’ (?), fish sauce and olive oil. If you like, add pepper, lovage, mint, rue or coriander and the broccoli leaves.

There is also a recipe for adding broccoli  and mallow to soup made by soaking and cooking barley,  green lentils, green split peas and chick peas

In the Cygnet Community Garden purple sprouting broccoli does particularly well. We also have broccoli raab, at the moment. I throw them both, raw, in salads, mostly. I once grew some of that gorgeous romanesco broccoli, with the pale green spirals but it took about 9 months.

I don’t go much on the new style of cookbook that has a beautiful photo and one recipe per page. I much prefer books with soul, filled to overflowing with words….. this Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book is just such a one. The pages of mine have all fallen out, there are notes written all through it by me and not a single photo. Perfect.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A cafe ….with soul

Steve at The Red Velvet Lounge has opened his doors and his heart and his purse, inviting you, us, anyone to get together for free soup and bread on Tuesday nights when there’s not much else open in Cygnet. Steve, his wife Cate and their children are all there, helping out and it is delightful.

imageI walked there last evening in the brisk, winter twilight, past all the houses in my street and wondered why the people were not all out walking to Steve’s. When I arrived, there was already quite a lot of chatter and in the window seat area a duet were singing. Instantly I felt welcome, relaxed and grateful to have landed in this wonderful place, at the bottom of Australia.

Next Tuesday, August 14th, 5.30pm at the RVL we are having our SeedSaveUs monthly get together, to share seeds, plants and produce. Do come along, sit by the fire, have some fabulous soup and talk about sowing tomatoes and other things.

Hope to see you there!

Thanks Steve!