Kitchen Garden Guides

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rainy day musings and icy strawberries

It reached 7C for a short time, on my verandah today, with rain and hail lashing the windows first on the front of the house and then the back. The dairy cows in the paddock just beyond my lounge room window huddled under the oak trees that hang over the fence from my garden. As 8 sourdough workshop participants left my house, with bowls of dough to bake, thunder crashed and the wind howled like in an episode of Midsomer Murders, just before the first murder! Since then it has been a great day to be inside enjoying the warmth of a fire; after all, this is 43 degrees south; plumb in the middle of the roaring 40’s.

On such days it is nice to wander inside your head and hear what you have to say! It is also nice to listen to live radio or podcasts and hear what other people are saying about topics that interest you, all over the world. I listened to a lovely thing about a man who climbs trees and his expedition to Morocco to climb Atlas Cedar trees, under threat from over-grazing and an extremely dry decade. He took a hammock up 50m to the top of one tree and slept there. I love the bit about the tiny spider that let itself down its silk, next to him, and we both wondered about how that spider got up there and how long is its silk. It was enlightening to hear that fencing has been erected around some areas to keep sheep out. Is nowhere safe from destruction?

I listened to another about the inside of the heads of adolescents and what research is revealing. I wish I had known some of this when my sons were growing up!

My favourite, and the one that got me sitting here writing, was about vertical and roof gardens in Sydney and how the council even has an officer for such things whose job is to promote green spaces up and over as many Sydney buildings as possible. There is a lot more to it than you think so, if you can, have a look at the photos and listen to it here. In fact it was such a good, in-depth discussion that it brought a tear my eye to think that, amongst all the bad stuff we hear about these days, our very own large, Australian city of Sydney is reaching for some outside the square stars. Or maybe, finally, such innovative thinking is becoming mainstream in enlightened areas….. sadly not so here in the Huon Valley Council zone of Tasmania, however!

As I sat in front of the fire doing a bit of yoga and then started preparing dinner, I listened to myself. I said a lot of things and most of them were about 2 topics; relationships and food! If you can get them both right, you will be very healthy and very happy. I nipped outside during a patch of sunshine to pick some parsley and mint to make chermoula for my fish tagine and my eye was caught by a skerrick of red under a leaf; a luscious, late, deep red strawberry. The sky darkened again and it felt more like evening than 2pm but I stood and savoured that rich strawberry flavour, probably the best for the whole season. It felt so good, all over.

And to think that a moment before, I was listening to a woman picking strawberries out the window about 10 stories up a building in Sydney, with a smile in her voice. Snap. There is so much more to food gardening than just the food.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ephemeral, forever

There was something very special about the corner of a river I visited today, by kayak. Although the scenery across the bay, on the approach to the river entrance, was of spectacularly rugged mountains, shrouded in various veils of rain, and was more dramatic than anything I had ever seen by kayak before, it was at the farthest reaches of a lovely but insignificant little river that I found what was to me the most beautiful spot on this amazing planet!

And now, some hours later, in a warm and dry lounge room by the sea, with a cup of coffee in my hand and kayaks safely stowed in the shed until another day, it still haunts my soul; not something I would normally say! If I were at all artistic I would sketch it so it does not slip from my memory. However, words are my only craft even though a poor writer I am indeed.

Majesty, beauty, light-defying reflections, hues of every shade of green, every shape and size of plant, massive fallen trees covered in moss and lichens and ferns disappearing into the depths of the river, the smells of the earth and a sense of wildness unique to remote corners of Tasmania have become my playground these last few months. It was natural to once again drift serenely through such scenery, in awe of nature exerting its dominance over a landscape starting only a few hundred meters from a camping ground full of Easter campers.

As I approached another bend I could hear the tinkling of the river rippling over a shallow bed of stones and soon the silver sparkle of the moving water drew my eye to the nearby bank in search of a place to stop and enjoy the play of light and sound on this day of dark, rolling clouds. Up until now the banks had been either of huge, steep, moss covered boulders which had managed to resist the raging winter flows of thousands of years, or were of densely matted vegetation and tangled tree roots, intertwined with fallen giants of tree trunks often spanning the entire width of the river.

Here, however, was a triangle edged on the long side by an old, sunken log, the whole being filled with worn, round rocks from fist to football size. One short side was formed by the river bank where the tree had fallen from some long time ago. The rocks were smooth and washed clean by the river but, as the water level is low at this time of year, they were exposed. The other short side was of shingles and sloped gently to the water’s edge. Into those shingles had fallen seeds from the plants of the surrounding forest and a little, summer garden had sprung up, sure to be soon ripped out and washed away with the first big rains of winter. Ephemeral, fleeting as a butterfly, nature’s garden was perfectly designed.

Then a light breeze caused movement above the little garden and I noticed that a tree had once upon a time fallen but been suspended by the river bank, its gnarled and splintered end hanging out above the river. Growing in the crevices at the end of that beautiful old trunk, directly above the summer garden in the shingles, was another, almost identical garden. My heart skipped a beat.

The high banks of a beautiful Tasmanian forest, the sound of the water rippling over the shallow river bed, combined with the rocky beach formed by an old log and the double gardens, one hanging above the other, together with the still water cocoon I managed to nestle my kayak into, totally enveloped my senses.

As we left, the rain began to fall in earnest and soon the river will begin to rise once more. It won’t be there when next I paddle that river; this fleeting picture of perfection.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gangster Gardening

Humbled by this real life story I feel I am spinning my wheels and not going anywhere, while in the food desert of south LA, this man is making it happen. What I so much want to do is unite people in a desire to bring food gardens to the streets and so to the gardens, homes and kitchens of Cygnet. The whole point is to make people healthy and responsible for themselves because in doing that, the whole planet will benefit. And, when it comes down to it, that is what I care about most.


Sure, I have a cute little patch of ground at the Cygnet Library that is a fabulous start and which I am unashamedly proud of. Everything to do with the effect that this patch has on our community is positive and, at times, quite remarkable. Linking food growing to the library connects people on neutral territory; with no age, sex, political or social barriers. Accidentally we have found a brilliant way of influencing everyone who reads as the library system of Tasmania is a model that should be adopted everywhere.

This man, however, is influencing those most in need of change and often these are the people who don’t or can’t read. These are people who don’t have a garden, don’t know about chia seeds, fish oil, organic carrots or detoxifying your liver. While I am doing superficial stuff in a rustic, gourmet little town he is turning gangsters into gardeners and giving people their health so they can make choices and move away from the fast food nightmare.

In a few weeks I am taking a tentative step into the equivalent of his world, here in Cygnet, when a group of mostly women, who have lived here all their lives, some of aboriginal decent but all suffering many health issues, come to my garden. Some probably can’t read. Over a couple of hours we will look, touch, smell and pick a few things then go in to my kitchen and make some soup which we will eat with some home made bread. I have no concept of how this will pan out but I hope that, in some small way, it sows a seed in someone’s mind. And I sure hope that I feel inspired to continue on trying to connect people and their food, through gardening.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Take what you need: Dealing with the stress of over-abundance

I hear it all the time…..”I have too many zucchinis / apples / plums / tomatoes…. I don’t want to waste them but what am I going to do? I don’t have time / energy / space / to make jam / bottle things / make preserves / visit my neighbour and give them away!”


Growing food is step 1 of sustainable living and dare I say it but most people never graduate past it because of the stress it can produce. They want a job AND children AND acreage in the countryside AND a food garden AND chooks…… etc.

So, if this is you, how can you remove some of the stress of over-abundance in your food garden? Bearing in mind that this is stage 1 of sustainable living and we are not asking you (yet) to change how you do things, we are just trying to stop you giving up growing food and make you more relaxed so maybe you will think about moving to stage 2.

My suggestion is to take what you need and let nature have the rest. Giving things back to the earth is simply recycling. Putting 10 zucchinis in the compost is wonderful. I recently tipped a large bag of plums that someone had given me, into the compost. I could have gone through it and picked out the good ones (most had gone soggy and some were all mouldy by then) but I thought “No, I am really too busy to deal with this, this week” and in they went. In a few months they, along with the rest of the compost, will be returned to the garden. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

imageSilver beet rules the whole of my vegetable garden if I let it, so I take what I need for myself, one meal at a time, and feed the rest to the chooks. There is always some that gets away and goes to seed, flopping all over its neighbours. So, I grab what I can and tie it up to a stake. Then it is out of the way and I can go on gardening around that 1 plant. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

In the photo above, my garden became overgrown with 2 massive, self-sown pumpkin vines and, at the time, I could not store them all so I swapped 98kgs of random pumpkins for other produce at a local organic grocer. (7 years later I still love this shirt!).

In this photo, I am taking my over abundance of greens to the same shop to swap for other things. (7 years later, that is still my favourite gardening shirt!!).

I have a wonderful, weeping Lady in the Snow apple tree with the most delicious apples you can imagine. Now it is laden and many are falling. I keep looking at it from the back door and remembering the year I did not waste a single apple. My chooks roam under that tree (keeping it free of coddlin moth) so they peck at them on and off but there are too many even for 5 chooks. Today it is raining (so I won’t be gardening) and I will collect a basketful and juice them for the freezer (my freezer loves apple juice Smile). I will take some to the friends at the community garden. I will pick one every day when I am gardening and stand there and enjoy it. I hope to wrap lots in paper and save them for later. The native honey eater birds love them too. Still there will be many dozens “wasted” but they will all go back into the soil and feed the tree for next year. That is the cycle of life and how it should be. You could rake them up and put them in the compost if you like. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

Think cycles. Then there is no such thing as wasted food from the garden (or wasted anything, really). The consumer is encouraged to think in lines: buy new, use, discard waste then buy again, etc. Nature revolves in cycles such as seasons and the recycling of living matter. By buying something from a friend or secondhand shop (or tip-shop or gum tree if you are in Australia) you are moving to stage 2, where you are re-using something perfectly good that someone else has thrown out because they are still thinking in lines and they want the latest model or fashion.

After my secondhand microwave stops working, I will use it as a seed storage cupboard out on my porch (with the parsley I wrote about on facebook today!). Then I will find another second hand one in perfect working order and, because it will only cost about $20, I won’t be stressed about it when it stops working after a few years, or if it is the best one! This is permaculture principles 10 (use and value diversity) and 12 (creatively use and respond to change). See below.

Permaculture principles in this post:

Design Principle 3: Obtain a yield3. obtain a yield


Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services5. use and value renewable resources and services


Principle 6: Produce no waste6. Produce no waste


Principle 10: Use and value diversity

10. Use and value diversity


Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

12.Creatively use and respond to change


Permaculture ethics in this post:

Earth care, people care, fair share