Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 tomatoes

Here's a quick run down of the tomatoes coming to Farm Gate Market this Sunday. All grown in second hand pots in our house made potting mix using what we consider to be the most sustainable ingredients that grow good plants. Sadly this post is without any ranting or advice because I need to get back out in the garden... 

Be early for the best selection, the market begins at 9am, and bring a box if you can to get your babies home safe. There are more tomato varieties over the coming weeks, and this week we'll have seed potatoes of many varieties, tomatillos, peppers including the addictive and easy to grow Padron, climbing beans, the first of the sweet corn and Black Aztec corn (only a few of these), a few zucchini and squashes, beautiful lettuces and dozens more delicious plants, along with a big pile of the best produce from our garden. Hope to see you there!

Black Cherry

Not quite ripe 'Tigerella'
Tasmanian Yellow Yellow, beefsteak type, large fruit. Sweet, meaty fruit magnificent sliced in thick slabs for sandwiches. Climbing variety.

Rouge de Marmande French heirloom, sets fruit in cool seasons. Medium size, irregular shape, rich flavor. Short staking variety.

George Fat, richly flavoured field type, from George the market gardener near Margate. Prolific bush variety, I use up-turned pots to keep the fruiting branches off the ground.

Moldovan Green Our most productive and incredibly delicious last season. A beefsteak type that ripens to green with pale areas. Bush type.

Black Krim Gorgeous, purple-black fruit with beautiful rich flavour. Medium to large, flatish shape. Staking.

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. Climbing variety, but tends to grow lower and more bushy than most.

Green Grape Sweet, delicious cherry tomatoes that ripen to a green/gold colour. Complex flavour and a pretty addition to a mixed tomato dish. Extremely productive and ripens on spent plant through winter. Staking.

Tommy Toe Classic cherry tomato. Productive & tasty. Staking variety.

Reisentraube German heirloom. Reliable producer of hundreds of delicious, beautifully flavoured, heart shaped cherry tomatoes that grow in big trusses. Compact but unruly staking variety.

Alisa Craig Reliably yielding Scottish heirloom with delicious, medium sized fruit of great flavor. Suited to eating fresh, the original tomato to serve grilled beside your eggs and bacon. Staking.

Medford Early/mid season variety, 5cm round, red fruit. Vigorous, disease resistant. Rich flavor, staking.

Golden Nugget Early variety with sweet, 2cm, yellow fruit. Prolific bush variety.

Stupice Czechoslovakian heirloom. Early and cold tolerant with abundant sweet 2-3 inch red fruit. Our most productive here. Compact staking variety.

Wapsipinnicon Peach Named after a river in Iowa this American heirloom bears good yields of 4-5cm, delicious, yellow, fuzzy skinned fruit. Bush type, benefits from staking to keep fruit from the ground.

Leicester Jones Bred by a Tasmanian naturopath, perfect for our conditions. Delicious, large, pink, ridged fruit, low acid and high flesh to seed ratio.

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

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



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Eggs, again...

This little chick wants us to be able to legally sell her eggs. If you're a Tasmanian resident who enjoys their eggs and supports small scale mixed farms please consider signing our petition to be tabled in parliament in late October. Thank you!


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Weedy wanderings

Oxalis sp. Clover like leaves, lemony flavour. This much maligned weed is a refreshing garnish anywhere you'd like a lemon flavour. Around Tasmania you'll find species with white, yellow or pink flowers, and green or maroon leaves. 

One of the very best things about what we do here is community. There are loads of incredible, knowledgeable, like minded people about. Every one of them brings their own gifts, skills, knowledge, energy, philosophy, and every one of them is open, generous and wonderful to be around soaking up the sweet energy of shared ideals.

One such energetic, knowledgeable and all round awesome human is Hannah Maloney of Good Life Permaculture. Hannah is an experienced and vibrant permaculture designer and educator. On Sunday I had the pleasure of showing a group of Hannah's students around our plot and talking about the weeds that grow here and how we use them. It was heaps of fun to be around a group so interested in the functions of plants in a landscape and open to thinking about them in different ways. We have a tendency to want to label things as good, bad, edible, weedy, native...when many plants are far more than just one thing. Taking the time to think and chat about this stuff probably raises more questions than answers, but for me the questions are often more exciting and important than answers. Questions motivate you to think and research, which in turn gives you the opportunity to see something as mundane as a weed through the spectrum of its natural history, botanical detail, nutritional values and cultural significance.

Before the advent of modern vegetables many 'weeds' were important and nutritious foods. In seeking efficiency of harvest, bigger yields, consistent productivity and milder flavours, many of these plants have fallen out of favour. But many still hold significant cultural value. Traditional meals that celebrate the seasons can be found in many cultures. Pistic from Italy, Horta in Greece and Nanakusa-no-sekku in Japan. Below is a run down of what we looked at with Hannah's students on Sunday.

Before you use any of this info though please be aware that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It is all to easy to misidentify something and, while most plants are harmless, there are others that can upset your stomach, cause allergic reactions, burn the inside of your mouth, make you sensitive to sunlight and many other unpleasant outcomes. Some may not affect you negatively but could have adverse impacts on people who are young, pregnant or have compromised health. Please read the warnings below before you make yourself a meal.

ASTERACEAE, Daisy Family
Spear thistle, Cirsium vulgare
Spear thistle, Cirsium vulgare Edible leaves, flowerbuds, and root. Dried flowers used as rennet, seed roasted. Great compost plant.

California thistle, Cirsium arvense 

California thistle, Cirsium arvense Perennial thistle, spreads by rhizomes as well as seed. Edible root, harvested in the first year, leaves and stems. Leaves can be used as curdling agent. This species has both purple and white flower forms. This turned up in our paddock last summer and I'll be doing my best to get rid of it this spring. Being perennial and spreading via rhizomes I think it would be more difficult to control than the odd spear thistle.

Sow thistle, Sonchus oleraceus
Sow thistle, Sonchus oleraceus Young, spring leaves are a tasty salad green. Older leaves can be cooked. Apparently Maori people used the sap as gum, although the medical use of the sap to soften warts makes me curious about the advisability of this.

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale Edible root, leaf and flower. Addictively bitter spring leaves are wonderful to stimulate digestion. Flowers can be battered and fried or made into ‘wine’.

Out of interest, I found an obscure one while checking dandelion species in Tasmania. It’s interesting to think of how many agrigultural enterprises based on unusual plants have been tried here.
From the Utas Dicot Key: “Taraxacum kok-saghyz (Russian Dandelion) is an uncommon weed species, found near Cressy where it was once cultivated for rubber production. It resembles the much more common dandelion (T. officinale), although smaller.” PFAF database “The root is a source of a high quality latex, used in making rubber[1, 46, 61, 110]. Yields between 150 and 500 kilos per hectare are possible[110, 171]. The roots are harvested in the autumn, before any hard frosts which can destroy some of the latex. They are then macerated to extract the latex. The root is rich in the starch inulin. After the latex has been extracted, this inulin can be converted to alcohol and used as a fuel.”

CARYOPHYLLACEAE, Carnation family
Chickweed, Stellaria media
Chickweed, Stellaria media Winter active weed, grows through the cooler months. Excellent people and animal food, medicinal and great winter groundcover.

Corn spurrey, Spergula arvensis Young leaves as a salad green, or if you've got a lot of time on your hands, the tiny seed is edible too.

Petty spurge, Euphorbia peplus Common annual weed, used to remove sunspots, but use with caution as it’s irritating to some people and keep away from eyes.

Shepherds purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris.

Shepherds purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris Peppery, tasty winter weed. Thrives in infertile soil. Young leaves raw, older leaves cooked. Flower tops make tasty, peppery garnish.

Hairy bittercress, Cardamine flexuosa There are several native, and introduced Cardamine species, all are peppery and edible.

RUBIACEAE Coffee family
Cleavers/Stickyweed, Galium aparine Young, tender shoots eaten cooked. Use roasted seeds as coffee substitute and leaves as a tea. Tangles of this plant are used as sieves for milk.

Acetosella vulgaris syn Rumex acetosella Sheeps Sorrel 
Acetosella vulgaris syn Rumex acetosella Sheeps Sorrel Rhizomatous weed, thrives in compacted, acidic soil. Lemon flavoured leaves, in small quantities or cooked, as they contain oxalic acid, used in salads or pottage. Reported to be used as a milk curdling agent.
Dock, Rumex crispus
Dock, Rumex crispus Thrives in compacted, poorly drained soil. Young leaves are great in pottage, slippery and a little astringent when eaten raw.

Other useful plants:
Nettle, Urtica diocea
Nettle, Urtica diocea Delicious and nutritious edible when cooked to break down stinging hairs. Can be brewed into a fertiliser tea and hosts the larvae of Australin Admiral butterflies and lots of ladybirds here last summer.

Fennel Foeniculum vulgare Ubiquitous and delicious weed. We cather the fronds and leaf bases in spring, the stems for throwing on a fire and adding fragrant smoke to barbeques, the pollen as a flavouring (just cut a big bunch of flowers, brush off any insects and hang upside down in a paper bag to dry) and the seeds in curries.

Mallow, Malva spp Edible leaves, immature seed pods and flowers. Leaves will thicken weed pies and soothe the digestive tract. 

Fat hen, Chenopodium album Wonderful summer weed. Closely related to quinoa it makes a great salad ingredient when really young and a spinach substitute when mature. The seed is edible, but tiny and coated with saponins that must be washed off before consumption.
Native Fireweeds, Senecio minimus also S. linearifolius, S. quadridentatis  and other native speciesGreat colonisers (Mother Nature's band aid!) of disturbed ground and poor soil, fast growing and useful to cut for composting. Senecio linearifolius is easy to strike from cuttings and makes excellent, fast growing habitat. Not edible, but very useful plants.

My thoughts on eating weeds.

Only eat it if you know exactly what it is. Plants can be superficially similar, making it easy to misidentify edibles. Make sure you are absolutely confident with your identification before making a meal. You don’t know what you don’t know. I've seen hemlock harvested by someone who thought it was a wild parsnip, a seaside daisy, probably harmless but containing small amounts of alkaloids, misidentified as sea celery and a fungi gathered for consumption in the wild in Tasmania labelled as a species that doesn't even occur here. Get to know the characteristics of plant families and use these as your guide. Use books, referenced websites and experienced people to guide you, and if you have any doubts leave it out.

Only take what you need and gather from multiple plants.  Generally this rule would only apply to native plants. The plants we forage from provide a number of environmental services. They provide food and habitat for other species, they prevent erosion and protect and stimulate soil life and they propagate themselves. Denude a plant and you remove all of the benefits it provides for its local environment.

PLEASE! Watch where you step. Many coastal plants are edible, and they also can conceal the nests of shorebirds. Species like hooded plovers are under threat, partly due to human activity in their habitat and it is far too easy to tread on a clutch of tiny, sand-coloured eggs and not even know you’ve done it. I’ve also seen shearwater burrows collapse under the weight of a person putting the birds that use those burrows at risk and making the dune susceptible to erosion. This applies to all plants on all habitats. Many species of native orchids are difficult to see and easily trampled. And for your own safety in the warm months keep an eye out for snakes and jack jumpers.

Consider the history of the site you’re foraging on. Pollution can affect the safety of food plants you gather in many differing ways. Nitrogenous fertilisers used in conventional agriculture can cause nitrates to build up to toxic levels in thistles and other weed species that are normally edible and nutritious. Old industrial areas or orchards may have heavy metal or other toxic residues that can accumulate in plant tissue. Roadsides, gardens, parks and farmland may have been treated with herbicides, unless you know the area is clean avoid it! Other reasons to gather carefully and wash what you gather are pollution from traffic, dog urine, septic runoff and a multitude of other pollutants.

Don’t spread weeds or soil borne diseases. Make sure your boots, secateurs and collecting gear are free of soil and weed seeds. If you’re collecting things like fennel seed try to get all of it in your collecting bag and don’t allow it to scatter while you’re cleaning or threshing it. Keep Phytophthora in mind and avoid moving through affected areas.

Try not to break the law. It is illegal to take plant material from reserves (although careful harvest of invasive species may be beneficial). Always seek permission from landholders before foraging on private land. And don’t eat any threatened species.

Damsels with damsons. In any old farming area in Tasmania you are likely to come across damsons and sloes or other wild plums. Every May we take a trip to the back roads of the Derwent Valley and gather damsons to make a tart, rich jam and a thick, spicy sauce with our chillies. While we're there we gather fennel seed for curries and rosehips for tea.


Identification keys, and photos of a lot of the plants that occur in Tasmania.

This is helpful if you want to determine if a particular plant is recorded as being naturalized in Tasmania.

Notes on edibility, medicinal and other uses of thousands of species of plants.


Wild Food Plants of Australia, Tim Lowe

Wild Food in Australia, Cribb

Weeds of the Southeast, FJ Richardson, RG Richardson, RCH Shepherd

Tasmania’s Natural Flora,

Weed Forager’s Handbook, Adam Grubb, Annia Raser-Rowland

Paulette Whitney, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Three Sisters

Painted Mountain corn, Uchiki Kuri winter squash and Lazy Housewife beans.

EDIT - since I wrote this I have learned a lot, but not nearly enough, about cultural appropriation. My acknowledgement of the traditional roots of this system aren't good enough. 

This post is a litany of good intentions, naive stupidity and learning from mistakes. You are completely excused for groaning at my ineptitude, or my missing of the bleeding obvious, but, to give me a little credit, although I make a lot of mistakes I'm (sometimes) good at learning from them, and I'm sharing them here so that you can learn from them too.

The Three Sisters is a planting method based on a traditional American technique of which I have only a very tenuous understanding. Native American gardens are complex and are based upon values including nutrition, flavour, stewardship of land and soil, and the spiritual significance of specific varieties of plants and parts of plants. The commonly understood Three Sisters planting includes squash (or pumpkins), corn and climbing beans grown on mounds together, but has countless variations depending on the climate, soil or the gardener. The theory behind the method is that the beans fix nitrogen for the corn and squash, the squash suppresses weeds and provides ground cover, and the corn supports the climbing beans. 

Here at Provenance Growers we're super keen on polyculture. Growing more than one crop in the same bed can be a really efficient use of space. Some crops can be complimentary to each other's needs as in the scenario above, others just get along well enough that we can increase our yield from a bed by sowing faster growing crops amongst slower ones, others involve planting a new crop among one that is almost finished (right now I'm planning to sow broad bean seed under our tomato plants, when we're done with the tomatoes I'll cut them off at ground level and our beans will take off). Tomatillos self seeded amongst our oca and they both seem happy together, the frost that signals the oca harvest will conveniently kill the tomatillos. Every season sees us trying something new, sometimes failing, others succeeding, always learning.

We made our first three sisters mistake at sowing time. I've now learned that you should establish your corn seedlings first, then the beans, and the squash a fair distance away from the other two. Both climbing beans and squash grow fast, the beans need the corn to climb up, and squash will swamp any nearby plants pretty quickly. The second mistake came at planting time, something went terrible awry, we were racing to get our new irrigation system installed and somehow neglected to plant enough pumpkins....zucchini took their place in one bed, volunteer potatoes performed really well in another.

The third, and perhaps most vital mistake was in our variety selection. We planted the plants we always have, with the notable exception of the beautiful grinding corn, Painted Mountain, in these pictures. Our friend Fraser from Old Mill Road Bio Farm quickly recognised that you'd be a dill if you grew things that needed regular picking, like those zucchini (oops!) and green beans (oh dear!) or sweetcorn (bugger!) because the close planting makes getting in to harvest regularly pretty difficult. But we did kick goals with this Painted Mountain, some Uchiki Kuri squash and those volunteer spuds. We also broke the formula by planting in rows rather than the traditional mounds simply because it seems to be the most efficient use of our drip irrigation system. We did make the mistake of planting different varieties in each row, which meant they tasseled at different times, so pollination wasn't as good as it would have been if we'd planted in blocks.

Lessons learned, we will get into it again next year with drying beans, winter squash and pumpkins, grinding or popping corn, perhaps potatoes, and, not being one to stick with a winning formula, I might have a go at interspersing some millet or grain amaranth too, along with whichever other whims strike during our cold Tasmanian winter where we huddle by the fire and dream up plans for next springs gardening adventures whilst quietly cursing the quarantine restrictions that mean we're limited to only a few varieties of corn. *Note: We do value greatly the work Quarantine Tasmania do protecting our state from the scourges of pests like fruit fly, we just sometimes get intense seed catalogue lust, which, sadly, must remain unsated.

Next season I'm hoping to embark upon these shenanigans on a grand scale. I'm keen to work on growing what is traditionally a cheap commodity, grinding or popping corn, and sharing it with some keen locals who will hopefully enjoy the unique flavours and properties that different strains provide, and the differences in flavour that a locally grown and freshly milled crop can provide, enough to make it a commercially viable adventure. Because if these things aren't commercially sustainable then they're sadly not sustainable at all, no matter how delicious or beautiful they are. And we're hoping to supply seedlings of the plants you'll need to embark on your own Three Sisters adventure next spring, or you can just pop down and see us at market and enjoy the fruits of our experiments.

We've kept the husks for tamale wrappers, although they may have to be tiny tamales...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An 11th hour plea!

I began this letter months ago, but sowing kale, keeping up with animals and weeding has kept me busy. It's our Tasmanian state election this Saturday, and whilst there are so many important issues to be covered, these are the ones that directly impact on our family business.

Any politicians that have something to say will be loudly congratulated!

Dear Politician,

I am writing to you seeking your position prior to the upcoming state election.

Together with my husband I run a small mixed farm growing specialty herbs and vegetables for local restaurants and vegetable seedlings, vegetables and eggs for the Hobart farmer’s market.

The Federal Egg Act is due to become enforceable in November. As far as I understand, following community action, Tasmania’s conditions are under review to better reflect the practicalities of enforcement on producers after confusion and misinformation previously, that lead to media interest in the issue and a petition being presented to Minister Green.

I would love to hear how you and your party intend to offer support for small primary production enterprises.

Our production system is diverse to allow for resilience in the face of fluctuating seasons and markets. This diversity enables us to offer a good range of local, fresh, nutritious food to our customers and also is integral to our land management systems. We currently use poultry to cultivate, control pests, create manure and clean up spent crops. We sell the eggs to cover the cost of their feed and as another income stream on our farmers market stall. Our eight-year-old daughter has grown and sold radishes to raise capital to run quail as her first business venture. She hopes to care for the birds and sell the eggs on our farmer’s market stall, but with limitations on the number of birds as it stands this would prevent her from undertaking this entrepreneurial initiative.

I have been encouraged to hear that all parties intend to support rural Tasmania, and I would love to see this focus not only on large scale agribusiness, but supportive of small scale, family based enterprises as well.

Our business is unique and has followers all over the world on social media. Our brand is intrinsically linked with Tasmania and adds weight to the boutique food angle of Tasmania’s tourism branding. Businesses like ours provide authenticity, depth and faces for the image of Tasmania as a place rich in quality, sustainably produced food.

My husband Matt is a qualified chef, and it would greatly increase the viability of our business if we were able to utilise excess produce to make pickles, jams and other low risk products to sell in the cooler months when produce is more scarce. This is a traditional method that small, family scale farms have used to maintain income streams. The difficulty we face with the current regulations is economy of scale. Because of the diversity that makes our business resilient in the face of the vagaries of weather and markets, we cannot afford to invest a lot of capital in any one aspect of our enterprise, so to access a commercial kitchen would make it to expensive for us to grow, process and market the small quantities we would be producing.

We would applaud a bureaucratic culture that sought to enable family enterprises like ours.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Paulette Whitney

The reason we do what we do.
We want our kids to enjoy value in hard work,
good access to a wide variety of clean, fresh food,
cohesive, supportive communities,
a beautiful environment
and successful, happy family life.