Thursday, December 15, 2011

Last Farm Gate for the year

Globe artichokes, basil and shiso.

It's that time of year. The soil is still damp around here, it's getting late, but not too late, to plant those summer annuals like tomatoes and basil. The garlic needs harvesting, and it's our best crop ever this year. This season's young chickens need to be moved to a run where they can have a little more space, the grass needs cutting before the fire season sets in, the Scotch thistles are about to flower (ouch!) and to top it all off it's almost Christmas!

It feels a little wrong to me to promote anything for Christmas gifts, as so often it becomes a storm of junk with something like $500 million being spent in Australia on gifts that are unwanted. But, with two garden fairies here, Christmas is loads of fun and it is beautifully nostalgic trying to give them the joys that we remember from our childhoods. And an unwanted plant is easily passed over the fence to a green thumbed neighbour.... 

I reckon I'll find myself at Salamanca early on Saturday to pick out the last few things we need, including some gorgeous scarves my fantastic mother in law sells from a project she visits in Luang Prabang that supports women to work in traditional handicrafts (she can tell you more about this wonderful project), or some ceramics from the gorgeous Alex and Marion. And our friends at Harvest Feast will be there on Christmas eve with healthy, delicious food, including local, organic berries and Pigeon hole bread.

At Farm Gate Market this weekend it's our last market before Christmas, a great place to find gifts and food, made or grown by the hands that sell them to you. There will be herbal teas, gorgeous soaps, jams galore, wine, cheese, ham, honey, vegetables, Dorper lamb and Boer goat and, I'm led to believe, a certain red and white clad bloke, with a big beard, will be coming to wreak havock among the small people...

Yesterday Sam and I picked out some plants that we think would make lovely Christmas gifts, including some gorgeous French alpine strawberries in flower, nice purple sage plants and wasabi for those with a cool, damp patch in the garden. I've also printed up some gift vouchers for anyone who can't decide. We're planning on putting together some little boxes of plants, like tea garden plants, a beginners herb garden, or a bush tucker selection. We'll also bring down some pretty plants in ceramic pots ready to go on the  kitchen doorstep.

Angelica archangelica. A joy to have in the kitchen
and the garden.

Sea celery. Perennial herb native to Tas with earthy
parsley flavour. These will be in our bush foods pack
or as single plants in small tubes or larger pots. 

Dianthus plumarius. Hardy perennial with edible,
clovey-sweet petals. Very ornamental.
These will be in our edible blooms packs
or as single plants in small tubes or larger pots.

Hope to see you there, this Sunday the 18th from 9am - 1pm. We'll next be at market on the 8th of January. Have a fantastic Christmas!

Purple sage, variegated lemon thyme and wasabi.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Chop Suey Greens
Tung Ho
Garland Chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemum coronarium
Glebonis coronaria.

So many names, all for one fabulous plant!

This is a great plant. For me it ticks all of the boxes.

Ornamental. So pretty! Who can resist those yellow flowers?

Tasty. The leaves and ray petals of this plant are delicious. The leaves have a savoury/floral flavour. They are best added at the end of cooking, or with warm broth poured over raw leaves to wilt them, or young leaves are great raw in salads or included in sushi. The flowers can be made into a pickle, eaten raw as a garnish, or used as a tea.

Beneficial. Most members of the daisy family have flowers that attract beneficial insects to the garden. Hoverflies, lacewings, bees. It flowers early, and for a really long time.

Healthy. According to one of my very favourite books, it is high in vitamin A and folate, and the flowers contain good levels of vitamin K. It is said to be anti-inflamatory and anti oxidant and the flowers apparently have anti tumour properties. The leaves have been used to treat stomach disorders and eliminate phlegm.

Easy to grow. I planted this once, and from there it has had babies here and there in the garden. It is an annual, but late plantings overwinter and flower early in Spring.

Funky. Here we grow food for fun. New flavours, textures and experiences are all found outside my door. Putting something new on the table always stimulates conversation as well as appetite.

Broad leaf form. Gorgeous barely wilted in a hot broth.
Fine leaf form. Lovely raw in salads.
We supply this plant as seed for you to sow, as plants (I have serrate leaf and large leaved varieties in pots for your garden), or as cut greens and flowers for the kitchen. It will grow seemingly anywhere, but give it good, composted soil (or great potting mix in a good sized pot), plenty of water and a good amount of sun and it will thrive.

Come and see us at Farm Gate this Sunday the 27th of November for your piece of shungiku action!

We'll also have the last of our tomato and tomatillo plants, loads of basil seedling punnets- holy, common, Greek and purple varieties, along with plenty of other herbs and garden goodies.

And some other things that made us happy this week....

Aphid hunter.

Turnips. Snowball, Purple-top-Milan, Des Vertus Marteau, Goldball.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails.

Well, slugs and blackbirds really. And also little boys.

A station wagon worth of market plants. All ready to plant in your edible garden.
Slugs and blackbirds are giving me a run for my money, eating seeds and newly germinated seedlings. At times it feels like an uphill battle. I have my brilliant friend and horticulturalist, Sam, helping me one day a week, but the rest of the time it's pretty much just me against the slugs, birds, escapee chooks and all of the other challenges a gardener faces, together with the usual things I have to fit into a day as the mother of two gorgeous garden fairies.

But a little (big) boy is about to help me win the battle.

I started this thing hoping to grow it slowly, to have a viable business to give me full time work when the littlest garden fairy starts school. But things have been going well. The people of Hobart are giving us great support at the Farm Gate Market, and a couple of amazing chefs have come along for the ride with us, offering support, sharing their amazing knowledge and advice, taking the good with the bad while we get the garden sorted.

So, now we've decided it's time that I gain the help of my partner in crime, the gardening chef.

The gardening chef in action.

For 11 years he's worked at Mures Upper Deck, creating gorgeous dishes with Tassie seafood. As our garden has grown he's started spending long stretches before work wandering the garden seeking out the lushest, most interesting leaves, flowers and veg for his plates. He cultivated, sowed, jealously guarded and nurtured his own patch of salsify, and this patch, I think, gave him his first real taste of fork to fork cooking. He roasted the salsify, blanched and blackened the kale then served them both with a few slices of melting Tallegio cheese. It was good. Bloody good!!

He is neat, organised, disciplined and precise.

I am chaotic and hopefully knowledgeable enough to counter my lack of discipline.

He cooks. Awesomely.

I garden. Rampantly.

He's decided to give up the head chef caper and take up some work in one of our favourite restaurant kitchens where he can be part of weaving magic with the best produce to be found in Tassie, and spend the rest of his time in the mud. With me.

So, between the two of us, some kitchen garden magic will flourish. And, either out for dinner, or at the Farm Gate, we'd love to share the fruits of our labours with you.

Shungiku, or Chop-suey-green flower. We have seeds, plants
and cut greens of this available at market. Tasty!

We'll be at the market this Sunday, the 30th of October, hopefully with the gardening chef and garden fairies in tow, for the Farm Gate's second birthday celebration.

Littlest garden fairy admiring a sundew, Drosera sp. in our 'scrub'.
This is why we want to use the minimum land to produce the maximum food.
To leave room for these important treasures.

The biggest garden fairy gathers and labels our eggs for market.

Calendula officinalis, double form.
Use petals in salads, on cakes or medicinally
in tea or ointment.
We grow it to attract beneficial insects.
And because we like to make posies.

Tiny 'National Two' radishes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More tomatoes

 We've got tomato plants coming out of our ears!

This week at the Farm Gate we'll have:

Staking varieties:

BLACK CHERRY - Dark purplish fruit to 3 cm across, produced in trusses on tall vigorous bush. Sweet, juicy flesh with a rich, smoky flavour. High yields. Really delicious!!

DEBARO - Medium sized, red, egg shaped fruit with smooth skin, to 4cm across and great flavour. Productive.

BRANDYWINE -American Amish. Large (huge!) pinkish red, flattened, globular fruit. Great for slicing.

STUPICE - Czechoslovakian heirloom, cold tolerant, with abundant sweet 2-3inch red fruit. Hardy, delicious and productive. *Our most productive here, early, delicious and cold tolerant.

LEICESTER JONES- Tassie bred by a naturopath 25 years ago. Large pink, ridged fruit, good for Tassie. (low numbers of this one).

RED FIG - Red, sweet skinned, pear shaped, cherry type.

REISENTRAUBE - German heirloom, produces big, prolific bunches of small cherry tomatoes with a point on the tip. Great flavour, generous plant.

TIGERELLA - Red tomato with orange stripes. Small to medium fruit, firm flesh.

WILD CHERRY - Species tomato, producing masses of tiny, less than 1cm, fruit. Vigorous grower.

Bush varieties:

GRANNY'S GOLDEN GLOBES- Low growing cherry tomato. This little gem comes up like magic in my Mum's garden each year. It produces masses of tiny, yellow fruit with thin skin that burst in the mouth, or can be picked in trusses and roasted. Holds fruit until late in the season. Delightful!

GEORGE (that’s not its real name, but I couldn’t understand George through his thick accent when he told me!) Fat field type, from George near Margate, seed scavenged from a sauce tomato. This is a bush variety, I use up-turned pots to keep the fruiting branches off the ground.

PURPLE TOMATILLO, produces big crops of small purple-tinted fruits on a pretty, small bush.

GREEN TOMATILLO, our favourite. Makes fantastic salsa when chargrilled. Heavy cropper, easy to grow.

Our Tassie natives are staying home, however if you could use any of the plants from here please let me know and I'll bring them in for you.

We'll be at the Farm Gate this Sunday, the 23rd, and the following Sunday, the 30th, with our ever growing selection on edible plants, and plenty of cut herbs, edible flower posies, and other tasty things from the garden.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tasting Tassie

I'm a little bit obsessed by the idea of food with a sense of place. Not just local, organic and seasonal, but tastes that may be unique to where you are when you eat them. Tassie talks itself up on loads of fantastic produce that it'd be hard to live without. Olives, truffles, cheese, wine, saffron.....but, with the exception of seafood, perhaps mountain pepper and the odd bit of wallaby, I doubt that many native foods have made it past the lips of most Tasmanians.

There are quite a few wild food plants that are easy to use in any conventional kitchen. Flavours that are unique, but not challenging to the inexperienced palate. These are some of my favourites.

Sea Celery, Apium prostratum. This one is my very favourite at the moment! It's closely related to celery from a botanical perspective, but in the kitchen, and to the eye, it is more reminiscent of parsley. It has a strong parsley-like flavour, but is a little more earthy. I've had it growing, both in the outside garden here at Neika, where it's been waterlogged, frozen and rabbit nibbled, but still grows enough to gather, and in the polytunnel where it is more protected and grew well all winter. I've got lovely plants in tubes that are coming to market this Sunday.

Kunzea, Kunzea ambigua. This is an East Coast native from the Myrtaceae family, along with eucalypts, guavas, lemon myrtle and clove. Its probably the first Tasmanian plant that has come into regular use in my kitchen. It has a sweet, floral, mentholy aroma when fresh, when dried the menthol notes disapate. I first used it for cups of tea when bushwalking, and during tea breaks at Plants of Tasmania Nursery. I use it along with thyme, lemon zest and garlic to season roast chicken and spuds (or maybe one of Richard's Bruny bunnies..), or on its own with fish. It also adds a nice floral kick to cheese crackers. I'll have this available as a cut herb ready for use in your kitchen.

Round leafed mint, Prostanthera rotundifolia. This one is as pretty as it is tasty, although I use it in tiny quantities. A small teaspoon of leaves blitzed with the sugar used to make chocolate chip cookies, gives a clean, minty sweetness. In the garden the plant gets to about 1.5m tall and is covered in gorgeous purple flowers through Spring. It can be short lived in the garden, but regular pruning will stay it at its best for longer. It is listed as vulnerable in the wild in Tasmania. I have some lovely plants in flower that I'll bring down to market.

I'll also have the usual array of plants, some mixed bundles of herbs ready for you to throw in the pot, eggs, purple sprouting broccoli for the early birds, and whatever lovely Spring greens look best tomorrow when I'm gathering!

So rock on down to the Farm Gate on Sunday from 9am!! And watch this space for a list of our 19 awesome varieties of tomato seedlings that will start appearing at the market soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Heidi, the Mountain and me.

This post is about nothing to do with gardening, food or soil. Just a great afternoon with a special person, a reminder of what we're here for.

Summit girl

Planocarpa sp
Planocarpa sulcata 
Rock face

Astelia alpina, Pineapple grass. Has sweet, red, edible berries in Summer.

Ozothamnus ledifolius, Fragrant plant with culinary potential???

Rubus gunnianus. Native mountain raspberry.
Said to be delicious, but I'm yet to see a ripe berry.
Exocarpos humifusus, Alpine native cherry.

Making a witches brew.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Maybe it's the easy way...

I'm buzzing. Our soil biology expert Letetia has just left and my mind is awash with the possibilities, planning how to harness the potential of what I've heard. When I wrote this morning's post I was expecting some new ideas, but it was far more than that. It was a lesson in holistic thinking, in taking care of the soil by doing less. Introduce the innoculants, change cultural practices to enable them to thrive, and watch your garden grow over time as soil structure improves and a healthy balance between pests, predators and beneficials is restored.

There's no way I can explain it here, (and please don't take my inexpert summary of what I've learned too seriously!) but it all made sense. Nutrients are tiny right? Plant roots that absorb them are tiny too. So it makes sense that to enable plants to take up the nutrients they need for optimum growth that these nutrients need to be in a tiny form, and what could be tinier than nematode or amoeba poo?

Plants have evolved in the presence of bacteria, fungi and the nematodes and protozoa that eat them, then expel the waste in a form that is available to the plants. Different types of plants are adapted to living in the presence of different balances of soil organisms.

My unloved soil, waiting to have its potential unleashed!

We looked at my soil, temperature, pH, profile etc, then took samples inside to look at under a microscope. Compared to a healthy soil mine is a bit barren, perhaps to be expected from a former cow paddock that has had very little love.

But Letetia makes brews, careful cultures of organisms that should be present in a healthy soil. She analyses soil samples and prescribes the correct inoculations to restore balanced soil life to suit specific crops. Together with organic matter, preferably grown, collected and composted on site, these inoculants will colonise my soil and make nutrient available to plants. When plants have the full spectrum of nutrients available to them, they are more resistant to pests and diseases, they produce higher yields, are more nutrient dense and taste better. This method works with plants and soils, so rather than digging endlessly to make soil friable, fighting pests, buying and applying fertilisers and weeding, you foster the right soil biology balance to favour the desired crop, and in doing so you achieve all of those things without the effort and expense. We also discussed the questionable impacts of many inputs in common use. Many conventional fertilisers, all herbicides and pesticides can have a negative impact on soil biology. Many manures and mulches produced through conventional agricultural techniques will have some form of chemical residue present. And many come in plastic packaging and are moved around the countryside to get to your garden.

This is a bit like a toddler teaching tightrope walking, so I won't say much more. I am a naturally cynical person, but Letetia's scientific approach and demonstration, together with the fact that everything she said ran in parallel with my theories about soil fertility and ethical land use, has made me want to master this method and create a truly wholesome patch.

Letetia does soil analysis and offers great advice and also runs workshops through NRM South (sign up to their newsletter to hear about great learning opportunities, I'm going to their 'Farm Insects, Pests or Guests? workshop on Bruny in November).

I'm truly excited to begin this journey, innoculate my soils and take another peek through that microscope in 6 months and see who's living down there! But most of all I can't wait to taste what comes out of our healthy garden this Summer.

Doing things the hard way

This 'organic' thing ain't easy. Slugs are presently ruining my life. During this unseasonably warm weather we sowed madly. But where young artichokes and radishes should be flourishing only tiny stumps remain.

I've tried beer traps, iron chelates (which I'm not that comfortable using), 6 year old slug hunters paid at the rate of 1c per slug, sheets of plastic laid overnight and slugs wiped from underneath each morning, but none of it seems to help. Imagine my dismay at potting up 200 tiny lovage plants, only to find the lot eaten to nothing the next morning.

Fertility is also an issue. In my tiny plot I seem to have several different soils. One spot is double depth topsoil where soil salvaged from the nursery area is mounded up, another is the old chook run where there is a thin layer of fertile black stuff on top of our native clay. The rest is mostly our 5 inches of soil, atop rocky, mudstone clay. Soil that looks great when it is damp and has something growing in it, but dries out and grows twitch and yellow dock like thatch if you look away for a moment.

We also make our own potting mix. I figure if I only want to use organic methods in my plot, why should my pots be any different. I use Tassie composted pine bark, sand, blood and bone, kelp meal, rock dust and dolomite, as well as a couple of certified organic fertiliser blends to provide other nutrients. This isn't working as well as a mix containing artificial fertilisers does, but if I'm growing food plants, this is the way I want to do it.

So, today, we have a compost tea expert coming to look at our soil biology, and hopefully help us find a holistic, low input way to deal with our challenges and put tasty, healthy food on our tables, and produce healthy plants with out the need for artificial fertilisers in the potting mix. From the little I understand, compost teas, tailored to the soil type you have, can increase biological activity in the soil, making the nutrients, that are already there, more available to plants. It also makes a broader range of nutrients available, increasing the nutritional value of foods and letting plants develop a full spectrum of flavour.

So I'll be off now to fill the bikkie tin, make room for her microscope on the table, and cross my fingers that this will be part of the answer to a more successful plot.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Finding food on Bruny

I know it might be hard to believe, but every now and again I have an urge to escape this idyllic life a I'm living and get away from it all. Last weekend I did just that, not so far away that I couldn't still see Mount Wellington from my window, but far enough that my mind was free to wander as it wished.

And, as always, it wandered to plants and food, often to both at the same time. I'd decided to try doing some proper cooking with wild edible plants, rather than my usual curious nibble on a walk. It was a perfect weekend, still and sunny with incredible views of Hartz and Adamson's Peak covered in a stunning helping of snow.

I caught myself a cod and some kindhearted fishermen must've taken me for a hopeless fisherperson and gave me a couple of fish from their catch. I gathered a little Seablite, Suaedea australis, from near the jetty. Then I wandered back to the shack (thanks so much Peter and family!) pulled some Sagg, Lomandra longifolia, stems and tried cooking with these plants that I'd only eaten raw in the out doors before. I blanched the Seablite for a few seconds, it is seriously salty, and finished it in the pan with my fish. I broke up the bases of the Lomandra stems and squashed them hard onto the base of the pan where I was frying up the tail of my rock cod. And, if I do say so myself, it was damn fine! The salty Seablite was spot on with the sweet cod, and the Lomandra, well that was a mixed success. The flavour of the pieces that were crisp or tender enough to eat, was fantastic! However it was lucky I was eating alone, as much of it was too fibrous to swallow. I reckon the right method of preparation could get this great flavour onto plates without the need for spitting...

Seablite, Suaeda australis.

Rock cod, Sagg and Seablite.

When my weekend of solitude was almost over I went for a ramble on the beach at Great Bay. Below you'll find photos of some of the wonderful wild edible plants that have been sustaining Tasmanians for thousands of years, but which many of us are yet to experience, oh and perhaps one more modern food, unique to Bruny Island, that any forager would be hard pressed to resist......

As always, when collecting plants from the wild, especially on the shore, remember that these plants are often habitat for breeding sea birds, and are vitally important for slowing coastal erosion, so gather only a little and watch your step. And always ensure you've correctly identified any wild plant before eating it. Please take a look at the warnings on this post before venturing out for a forage.

Sagg, Lomandra longifolia. Edible leaf bases, nectar and apparently seed can be ground for flour.

Sea celery, Apium prostratum.

Samphire, Sarcocornia sp. Most of this had recently died,
perhaps from inundation in a recent storm.

Coast wattle/Boobyalla, Acacia sophorae. Edible seeds, roasted while green.

Dianella brevicaulis, edible blue berries.

Carpobrotus rossii. When you find the right patch, the fruit are delicious, leaves are edible too.

Coast saltbush, Atriplex cinerea. Edible foliage, and a rather gorgeous plant.
Ice plant, Tetragonia implexicoma. Use as a green vegetable.

Oen, from Bruny Island Cheese Factory. With foraged Damson paste and rat tailed radishes.

We'll be at Tas Farm Gate this Sunday, the 24th of July. Hope to see you there!