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...