Saturday, December 8, 2012

Chilli plants

I've just finished packing the chilli and capsicum plants for market tomorrow. Some varieties are old friends that we have grown and enjoyed over previous summers, others are new to us, but all sound delicious. We grow most of ours in an unheated polytunnel with mesh walls, but they are all easily grown outdoors in a warm sunny garden or in pots. Potted plants can also be moved indoors at the onset of cold weather for an extended harvest. 

Alma Paprika, unripe fruit and flower.
Plant them into good, rich soil and remove the first few flowers to encourage the plant to put some energy into growing before it begins fruiting. All varieties can be harvested green or red, and, if protected from frost, your plants will continue fruiting well into winter. Our pantry is well stocked with little jars of dried chillies and bottles of chilli plum sauce, and the odd jar of pickled peppers is still lurking in the fridge. The most precious one for me is our paprika. When dried it forms luminous, dark red flakes and smells sweet, rich and complex.

Friggitello Italian frying pepper, harvest while green and grill, then finish with salt and a little vinegar, or allow to ripen to red and use in salads. Mild.

Padron Spanish frying pepper. Mild with the occasional hot fruit giving them the nickname of 'Russian Roulette Pepper'. Grill over coals or fry in oil and finish with salt. Most rate at 500 on the Scoville scale with the occasional fruit getting up to 25,000.

Ciliegia or Devil’s Kiss Italian medium/hot pepper with small, round red cherry-type fruit. Good for stuffing, fresh eating or pickling.

Hot Paper Lantern Cool climate alternative to Habanero for hardcore cooks. Red, wrinkled HOT fruit. Grows well in pots. Scoville rating of 400,000 - 450,000

Calbrese Another hot, Italian cherry type. Use fresh, fried, pickled or dried.

Alma Paprika A favourite of mine, use fresh or dried. Red, round, warm but not super hot fruit with a rich flavour. 100-1000 on Scoville scale.

Drying our first harvest of Alma Paprika.

Pepperoncini Another good performer at Neika. Thin walled pepper with great flavour and a little warmth, bred for pickling, also great dried. 


Beaver Dam Hungarian heirloom, warm to hot flavour, great for pickles and salsas. Suited to cool climates. 500-1000

Antohi Romanian Romanian heirloom, introduced to North America by Jan Antohi, an acrobat, when he defected. Mild, sweet flavour suited to eating fresh or fried. Can be picked at the yellow stage or left to ripen to red. Gets a zero on the Scoville scale.

Rocoto Perennial tree chilli. If protected from frost this pepper will fruit all winter. It produces great crops of hot, round peppers. May grow to 4m but easily pruned to a manageable size. Withstands cool temperatures, but not frosts. 50,000 to 200,000


Cayenne Good producer of long, red, hot peppers. Use fresh or dry for year round use. 30,000-50,000 Scoville points.

Find us at Farm Gate Market every Sunday from now until Christmas with these, loads of other wonderful plants and produce, along with gift vouchers and edible plants in vintage terracotta pots.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Picking flowers

Today is pick day. It's still early in the season, and tiny green shoots, radishes and flowers are at their peak. The last of the winter roots and stored squash are finished and summer vegetables are still in their seedling pots, hardening off in the spring sun.

But there's still a bounty to be found. We crawl, on hands and knees, through the garden seeking out tender leaves of chickweed, delicate, sweet and peppery radish flowers complete with buds and succulent stems, baby red orach leaves, tips of Lebanese cress, anisey, green seeds of sweet cicely and little leaves of lemon liquorice mint with their strange scent of jelly babies.

Where we live and garden, on the lower slopes of Mount Wellington, we are surrounded by wilderness and the soundtrack to our work is provided by swarms of bees who don't seem bothered by us stealing their flowers. Currawongs sit in the dead stringybarks at the top of the hill and sing their nine-note, off-key song, plovers occasionally rise from their nests in the paddock to fly shrieking at any hawk or falcon that dares enter their airspace. Closer to hand, wrens pause from hunting aphids on the quince tree and sing with a fervour that belies their size, and robins sit on the handle of my fork watching us closely on the off chance we might unearth a worm, letting out the occasional trill to remind us to look up from our work and admire their crimson bellies.

Native hen eggs, this nest is right next to our pumpkin patch.
The tidbits we gather are off to our favourite restaurants, some for Garagistes, The Stackings at Peppermint Bay and for The Source and events at Mona. On Saturday afternoon I'll pick these same leaves and flowers for Farm Gate Market as salads for you to take home. And while this is all happening, I'm feeling grateful to have started a garden like ours, in Southern Tasmania now.

Last fortnight's version of our Farm Gate salad.

The food culture that is blossoming here is in tune with how we want to work. Chefs who demand unusual produce contribute to biodiversity. A few years ago it was rocket or mesculin mix in a salad when you went out for dinner. Now, through the seasons, we would offer local chefs more than 70 different greens.  This allows us to use what grows with no need for lights, green houses, chemicals or other interventions needed to grow things out of season and gives us the chance to experiment with new or forgotten plants.

Today I've picked radish flowers for a chef to match with rillettes for a special picnic. The peppery, juicy stems and buds will be the perfect foil for the rich meat. Chervil and sweet cicely flowers have gone out to meet a chocolate dessert. Stock flowers that have the scent of your Nanna's perfume (in a good way) will meet some similarly sweet crab. The chefs we grow for only put flowers on a plate when they will add something to a dish, be it texture, fragrance or flavour. The good looks are just a bonus so please don't push them to the side of your plate, savour them!

So thank you to the people of Hobart, chefs, their patrons and our market friends alike, for embracing the unusual, eating flowers and weeds with us, and allowing us the chance to work with the flow of the seasons in this beautiful place where we live.

This Sunday, the 4th of November, we're doing an extra Farm Gate Market and we'll have some of these greens and flowers for you to take home. We'll also have more varieties of tomato, possibly over 20 for you to choose from this week, and the first of our chilli and pepper seedlings.

The following weekend, on the 10th and 11th of November, we'll be at the Plant Hunter's Fair in an incredible garden at Neika, see the flyer below, and at Farm Gate as usual on the 11th.

Peppers for Farm Gate this week. Find a warm spot, dig in some compost and chill the beers...

Friday, October 26, 2012

2012 tomatoes, first varieties.

Show Day has been and gone, and many Hobartians are rushing out to get their tomatoes in, but beware, frost may still strike. If you do plant now, and you live in a frost prone area, grab yourself a lace curtain from the opshop and use it, draped over some stakes to protect your plants from light frosts.

The first of our tomatoes are ready for planting, and have been hardened off exposed to all the windy, cold rainy weather we've had. These will be at Farm Gate Market with us this Sunday, the 28th of October, and there are quite a few more coming over the next couple of weeks, and chillies, capsicums and eggplants galore on the way.

We grow our tomato seedlings without any pesticides, in recycled pots, using our house made potting mix, which contains composted pine bark, Renew Biological Fertilizer, Tasmanian dolomite and blood & bone and certified organic seaweed and fish based fertilisers.

Deutsche Fleiss German heirloom, easily grown, high yielding variety. Red, 3-5cm fruit that look deceptively like a supermarket tomato but are one of the tastiest salad tomatoes I’ve grown. Fruit are firm and store well. Staking variety, tends to grow low and bushy.

Eva Purple Ball Productive German, Black Forest heirloom with mid sized, pink/red fruit. Climbing variety.

Jaune Flamme A French heirloom with small, opaque, orange fruit. Unique dense texture makes them great fresh, cooked or dried. Staking variety.

Kotlas Early, cold tolerant, Russian heirloom. Sweet, mid sized, red fruit with green shoulders. Staking variety.

Tasmanian Yellow Yellow, beefsteak type, medium/large fruit. Sweet, meaty fruit. Climbing variety.

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

Silver Fir Russian heirloom, bush variety with lacy, silvery foliage well suited to growing in containers. As it is a bush variety, fruit ripens all at once.

Roma Classic cooking tomato, egg-shaped fruit with few seeds. Semi bush variety, benefits from some staking.

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.

Wapsipinicon Peach Named after a river in Iowa this American heirloom is said to yield thousands of 4-5cm, delicious, yellow, fuzzy skinned fruit. Climbing variety.

Camp Joy Hardy, productive, large, cherry type tomato. Really well balanced flavour. Climbing variety.

Stor Gul Swedish heirloom. Produces epic, 100mm, yellow/orange fruit. Vigorous plant up to 2m. Delicious and beautiful.

Tigerella Gorgeous green-red tomato with orange stripes. Small to medium fruit, tangy, firm flesh and incredibly tasty.

Tommy Toe Classic small cherry tomato. Productive and tasty. Staking variety.

Principe Borghese Classic Italian, egg shaped variety. Bred for sun drying but also great fresh or roasted. Prolific, staking variety.

Granny’s Golden Globes (pictured here with Wild Cherry) 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, pull spent plants and hang in a dry place for continued harvest.

Harbinger English heirloom, produces well in cool weather and for a long period, green fruit is said to ripen well off of the bush. Medium sized, red fruit. Staking variety.

A little of last year's harvest

The remains of last year's tasting, if only I could find the notes....

Pickling cuke seedlings at Farm Gate
on Sunday too.
The first of three tomatillo varieties
coming to market this Sunday.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kids in the garden

One of my best mates is the kitchen garden coordinator at the school our kids go to. She is a super inspiring gal.

Her job is funded for 6 hours, but she puts in many, many more. She liases with teachers and the P&F, drives for miles with a huge trailer, gorgeous toddler in tow, to find compost, manure, pizza oven bricks and more, then lugs what she's found around the school, organises other parents to help, sorts out how the program she wants to run fits with class teachers and the curriculum, and does millions of other things. And the garden is looking great! Following the tenures of two other passionate gardening mothers, our school grounds are getting soft edges. Kindy kids are leaving class with bunches of parsley  sticking out of their bags, there are old boots hanging on strings outside one class with daffodils growing out of them, a scarecrow with soil and seeds in her pockets that my girls check for signs of life as they pass. Children have ownership of the grounds as they watch things that they have planted grow.

My friend has done wonders, and somehow fits it all into an already rich and full life.

She astounds me.

Today she came and rescued some plants from my reject pile and while we sorted plants and her beautiful little one played in the propagating sand and snoozed in the potting bark, we chatted about plants that kids enjoy in the garden.

My friend's pic of her little one relaxing in my potting bark.

My girls have access to a huge variety of plants, and watching how they interact with them is exciting.

The sweet tooth is always nicking carrots, wiping the soil on her jeans, then eating them, still dirty, on the spot. She steals strawberries from potted plants I've protected from birds and nurtured for my market stall minutes before I pack them. Cheeky. She eats purple broccoli from the school garden every day and loves to leave offerings for the fairies, picking mint, pineapple sage and other fragrant leaves and tiny flowers. She arranges them like a dinner party on the dining suite from her dolls house, hoping the fairies will come in the night and leave her tiny letters.

The other one is interesting to watch. She searches through the garden for food like a little finch scavenging seed. She makes recipes in the kinder veggie patch, rolling parsley inside cavalo nero (her favourite kale) leaves to make little snacks. She seeks out intense flavours, unripe blueberries, over-ripe alpine strawberries, anise hyssop flowers and chickweed.

Working hard sowing borage.

They both help me sow seed, write labels, weed, tidy up, barrow compost, harvest and cook. They care for, and play with, chooks and pigs. They know where food comes from, and they talk about it with their friends. Last night while we were picking dinner the littlest one learnt the differences in smell and taste of Italian parsley and Chinese celery leaf. She told me which of our three kinds of broccoli she preferred for dinner, and chopped a mountain of mushrooms from a friend's mushroom compost stash to cook with her harvest for dinner. And she was so proud.

This is real food security. Teaching kids to grow and cook for themselves, and sharing with them the true value of food, and the rich experiences that can be had when you spend time in the garden.

Literacy, numeracy, botany, chemistry, entomology, nutrition, economics (I'm happy to pay for slug collection or weed pulling) sustainability, self discipline and probably dozens of other things are learnt in an incidental and practical way. This same interaction with food gardening doesn't need a plot as big as ours. It can happen with a box of potatoes grown on a patio, herbs on a windowsill or, if you're lucky like our kids, and many others in Tasmania, at school.

Growing, gathering and marketing her own King Edward spuds.
Teddy saving seeds.
School harvest!
Rhubarb, angelica and tomatoes for market.
Feathers for kinder craft.
Helping gather for market.
Feeding the pigs and chickens with a playmate.

Potted strawberries on the Christmas lunch table.
Gardening can be anything, but most of all it's fun!
Here the little one is modeling her hero,
George the veggie man from Margate.

We'll be at Farm Gate this Sunday the 7th of October, an extra off schedule market, with eggs, pumpkin, seed spuds, a cornuicopia of edible potted plants, fresh greens and herbs. See you there!

PS....another inspiring friend's thoughts on learning and sharing in the garden can be found here: 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Seed potatoes

They're here. 

Heaps and heaps of certified seed potatoes. 

Even though they're only spuds, and even though they arrive every year (and involve a fair bit of digging...) I found myself racing down the drive to peer into their hessian sacks, and imagine their potential, when they turned up today.

We've spent a lot of time hunting down unusual seed potatoes, and for the last three years we've grown many different varieties. Some have fallen by the wayside because they don't taste that great or yield well, and many others have been revelations in what the flavour and texture of a potato can be. This year we want to share that pleasure with you.

The ten varieties below have earned their stripes, both in the garden and, most importantly, in the kitchen. Look for them on our stall at Farm Gate Market on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

Cranberry Red: Seriously delicious. Pale pink flesh, creamy texture, large round potatoes.

Sapphire: This one has deep, purple flesh, if you tried and hated Purple Congo, as I did, give this one a try. Lovely, fine textured flesh, great roasted or in salads, or makes an ugly, purple mash that kids adore.
Banana: We love this one! High yielding, with small tubers from 5 to 10cm. Said to have been developed in Russia and introduced to cultivation in North America by Russian fur traders. Seriously delicious with firm, golden flesh. We love to pull these fresh from the ground just before dinner. 
Pink fir Apple: Another fingerling that is a winner in the kitchen. Sweet, white flesh, knobbly shape and pink skin. We eat them steamed, roasted and in salads. French origin. And who doesn't love a potato baby?

Tasman: Australian bred variety, all rounder. We found this one performed really well here, big, healthy plants and delicious tubers.
King Edward: Delicious, multi purpose potato. One year I was running late (like most years...) and these didn't get planted until January, and they performed beautifully. Fantastic yield, delicate skin, good keeper. Really reliable cropper and all rounder in the kitchen.
Up-To-Date: Scottish heirloom, fantastic baking potato.

Kennebec: Traditional, grandmotherly spud. These big, blocky shaped tubers were bred for their long keeping qualities. These are my favourite to nestle beside a leg of lamb in a roasting tray, they seem to soak up pan juices and become beautifully fluffy texture inside, while being crispy on the outside. They have a tendency to grow big, so it is recommended that you plant them close together to check their growth and keep them a reasonable size.

Dutch Cream:  Sweet, waxy, golden fleshed, multi purpose spud.
Pinkeye: The earliest. In a frost free garden, or with a sneaky pot on the veranda, you'll be eating potatoes in early summer. This beautiful spud, for me, brings with it memories of childhood feasts with my mum buying a 'half case' of the first South Arm pinkeyes she could get her hands on. After rubbing off their thin, sandy skin under the tap, they would be boiled with handfuls of mint from the garden, and served with butter, salt and pepper. So good. She now laments seeing them year round, for her, and for me, they are best enjoyed straight from the earth as a as a seasonal treat. I must've eaten these too quickly last season to take any pictures... Maggie Beer has a wonderful discussion of these, and the idea of what constitutes a 'proper' pinkeye in her book 'Maggie's Harvest'. We're running low on Pinkeyes, leave a comment here if you'd like to reserve a kg or two to collect on Sunday. 

Rainbow chips. With spuds like these who needs chemicals to make food fun for kids? 

A little note; we are still eating the King Edwards, Cranberry Reds and Sapphire we harvested last season. A friend stores her potatoes in an old chest of drawers covered with a heavy blanket, ours are in sacks in the shed and are only just starting to shoot. It feels wonderful to be self sufficient in such a nutritious, tasty form of carbohydrates!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

And there in the wood.... Musings on piglets and pumpkins.


They're arriving today. Three little pigs.

Last spring we had a tractor come. We needed to get some ground prepared in a hurry for our potatoes. In the confined space we had, the giant wheels of the machine made huge, compacted ditches where nothing will grow. It pulled the clay subsoil to the surface, and generally made a mess At $100 it seemed like a good idea, to save our backs and have the tractor guy do the work, but we were left a little unhappy.

The big machine drove all the way from Margate just to till our plot. It probably did more harm than good for our ground, and we still needed an afternoon of rotary hoeing and a whole day barrowing compost and shovelling and raking the ground into beds. Not really labour saving, ruinous for our soil and big contribution to the greenhouse effect.

So enter the pigs.

Pigs love to dig. I've visited the incredible Agrarian Kitchen and found a lot of inspiration. No treated timber in the garden, minimal soil disturbance, and minimal use of machinery. To start a new plot where a paddock has been they employ pigs rather than tractors. So we're taking tentative steps down that path today.
We had roaring success with a small, no-dig plot of unusual pumpkins and squash last summer, and these beautiful veggies sit patiently on the lounge room floor all winter until we're ready to eat them. So despite harvesting 100kg from a 15m2 area, we have been selfishly hoarding them to eat ourselves (winter is long, and they are delicious!).

We've fenced off a small area where the runoff from the garden travels down a slight slope to a mini wetland where it is filtered by rushes before flowing back to our dam for re-use. To maximise the efficiency of water use, we thought we'd start our porkers there now, then fill the ground they cultivate with pumpkins and squash this summer. We may just grow enough to share without the need to irrigate another plot. While the pumpkins grow the pigs will be moved up the hill to prepare more ground. For fruit trees, broad beans, potatoes....more beautiful food!

From left to right: Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash, Tuffy Acorn Squash and Delicata Squash.
Seedlings of all of these, and more, will be available from us in October, and squash should start appearing
on our stall in February, although they taste better the longer they are stored.
And next winter we'll be able to enjoy some ham with our pumpkins. And share some of this deliciousness with you.

I'll post some pictures of our little piggies tonight when they arrive, I can't wait!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


There is something magical about the Bruny Island ferry. Perhaps it's moving across water, the leaving of work and home on the other side as you journey toward adventure, nature or solitude.

For me it's a 30 minute journey from my door to the boat that lifts the weight of the mundane from my shoulders and allows me to dream. Every year I travel there with some special friends who worship landscape and food as much as I do. We eat, wander, botanise, swim and think together. We gather sea celery and seaweeds to flavour the fish that we catch, we gnaw on the leaf bases of sagg plants for refreshment during a hike, or gather and painstakingly clean wild rosehips to brew tea. We are aware of the possibility for nourishment the land provides, and I've often imagined the people who trod this soil before me gathering berries and seeds, digging tubers and diving in the icy waters to catch seals or harvest abalone to sustain their families.

Much of what I know of the edible plants from this landscape is theoretical, stuff read in books but rarely put into practice, the reality of eating from the land has never really touched me. But last weekend that changed.

The site of our meal.

David Moyle, the chef at the Stackings at Peppermint Bay, was creating a wild food lunch on Bruny with Penny Clive, an historian, art lover and keen observer of nature, who was bringing an incredible musician to the island to perform, and knew landowners with a deep connection to their place who were happy to host us. David's friend Johnny makes beautiful films, and came with his friend Jeremy to record the journey.

This confluence of talented and generous people led to a magical event on a spectacular piece of coastline. Music, food, people, architecture, film and land were bound together to create something of deep, raw and delicious beauty. Visitors came to eat and listen with us and were open, questioning and involved, and left with sand in their shoes and the scent of smoke in their hair.

At first glance the site shows little promise as a place to find wild food. Open pasture, surrounded by coastline and dry schlerophyll forest. An old farmhouse, a subtly beautiful, newer building, and a working farm with a big mob of sheep. But a day wandering with Penny and David, nibbling and photographing revealed the bounty the land holds. We listed at least 30 edible plants, some native, others introduced, all with culinary potential. To taste the plants that I have known are edible with a chef I admire, and to hear his thoughts on them, their flavours and their potential, and to have Penny take beautiful, detailed photographs of them so we could identify and catalogue what we learnt was, for me, a rare and wonderful experience.

It was a beautiful thing to stand among people as they ate and share with them the stories of the plants they were eating. Hobart's tea queen Varuni gathered plants from among the tussocks and she and other willing hands picked them over to make an infusion to accompany the meal. Others watched David shuck oysters and talked of the difference between the native Angasi oyster and the farmed, now feral, Pacific oyster that now dominates the shorelines of our estuaries.

I learned so much about cooking. David chose to season with kelp, smoke, herbs and seawater. The memory of the smoky, succulent wallaby haunch, slow roasted over coals and scented with smoke from aromatic native herbs still lingers, the land and sea provided incredible flavours, we needed nothing more.

We gathered beach herbs from a frozen shore. Sand, seashells and plants
alike, all encrusted with tiny, white shards of frost which seemed to enhance
the briny tang of the herbs.

The remains of the salad.
Samphire, dune spinach, sea celery,
wild turnip leaf, scotch thistle root.

Unearthing kelp-wrapped abalone from their roasting bed.

The makings of the salad.

For me this was a truly humbling experience. One day of harvesting with my friend and colleague Sam, armed with steel tools, clad in merino and down, and wearing protective gloves left me exhausted. Blisters and chilblains on my hands, aching arms and a weary spine bought to mind the people who depended on this landscape for the entirety of their existence without these luxuries. Their strength, resilience, knowledge of and connection to the land are at the front of my mind today, along with thoughts of past Europeans new to these shores, trying to feed their families in, what to them must have seemed, a barren and hostile land.

A big thank you to Penny, David, the land owners, Johnny, Jeremy, the musicians whose magic I caught whispers of as I sliced abalone outside, and the warm and beautiful people who came, ate and spoke with us.

Succulent, sea-brined, slow grilled wallaby haunch. Delicious.

This is one of my favourite types of work. If you would like help identifying native plants and weeds on your land and finding out their uses we are available to consult and catalogue them with you. Please get in touch to find out about availability and rates please email us at .  You can also find us at Farm Gate Market on the second and fourth Sunday of each month with plants and produce.