Friday 30 January 2009

Veggie Wrap

This is how we keep our garden cool in the extreme heat of Adelaide’s summer.

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The main garden bed protected from the vicious sun.

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Herb garden.

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Passion fruit & tomato shady area.

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No scorching of the beautiful tomatoes. They are ripening very well.

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Lemon Myrtle on the left also under shade cloth.

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Curry leaf tree under shade.

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All wrapped up for an extreme Adelaide summer.

A sunburned country

"I love a sunburned country
A land of sweeping plains
Of rugged mountain ranges
Of drought and flooding rain
I love her far horizons
I love her jeweled sea
Her beauty and her terror
‘Tis the wide brown land for me"
The Australian poet and writer Dorothea McKellar wrote her best-known poem 'My Country' at the age of 19 while homesick in England in 1908. The second stanza of this poem (above) is well-known to most Australians; the first stanza being about England is probably less well-known: -
"The love of field and coppice,
of green and shaded lanes
Of ordered woods and gardens
is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
brown streams and soft, dim skies-
I know but cannot share it,
my love is otherwise."
OK, so blogs should have some poetry sometimes, but also a little irony: Veggie growers in sunburnt South Australia have been doing it tough this past week, and we're expecting another week of weather topping 40C (+104F) with no relief in sight.

Even keeping the water up to the garden is no longer enough; various fruits and vegetables are starting to suffer from sunburn and will have to be shaded to survive.

Perhaps Maggie is quite right to pick her tomatoes green and eat them now, before they are solar-roasted into oblivion...

At least the evenings are pleasant, with the planet Venus sitting up there tonight next to a new moon.

Thursday 29 January 2009


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There are 2 kinds of fried green tomatoes in my kitchen at the moment.

The first are a few scorched green tomatoes from the 2 bushes we do not have shade cloth over. The dogs will eat these or I shall put them into some chutney I want to make.

The other kind of fried green tomatoes will be eaten by us.

Want my recipe, it is so easy.

Just slice some green tomatoes, coat them in seasoned besan (chickpea flour), cook them in a little olive oil until golden, turn them over cook until golden and soft in the middle. Serve with lemon or a fresh veggie salsa. Delicious.

Traditional recipes use wheat flour, the sliced tomatoes are dipped in beaten egg, then coated in flour but my recipe is quick and easy and I like the besan flavour.

So if you have some green tomatoes and some power, we have had a blackout the last 2 nights at meal times and one this afternoon as I write this, you might like to make up this delicious snack.

It is so hot outside you could probably even cook them in a cast iron pan in the sun!

Peaches and pumpkins

OK, that wasn't so bad!
Temperatures yesterday reached a new record high for the city of Adelaide, coming in at 45.7 Celsius (or just a tad over 114 Fahrenheit) and we should get that again today, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (known universally in Australia as the BoM). 'Very hot, dry and sunny' pretty-well sums up the weather for the next week...
All the lettuce seedlings are still battling on, and I have had to set the alarm for 6am to be up and getting water out before trundling off to work. One young chicken gasped it's last in the heat yesterday, but that wasn't any surprise, given that it's looked pretty weird ever since we bought it in as a day-old chick to get a broody hen off the nest by giving her a new interest in life.

Cherries, apricots and nectarines have disappeared from our daily breakfast table, as they generally crop coming into Christmas and for just a few weeks beyond. Luckily for us, the peaches and satsuma plums are just starting to ripen, and all these trees are bearing heavy loads. It's been raining lemons for three months now, and they are starting to wind up as well, dropping the very largest lemons as the crop comes to an end. Even the chooks - who spend the hottest part of the day under the lemon tree's deep shade - have picked up the rhythm of it. As soon as they hear the characteristic fluting sound of a lemon starting its downward rush through the upper foliage, they scatter to the winds to avoid the latest citrus-bombing organised by Mother Nature.

More than half of the vegetable garden is out of production this year, as we simply don't have enough water to keep it in action. The BoM are predicting above average rainfall for February, so we might get 12mm rather than 10mm, which would be a 20% improvement! Still, we are going to be ever-more reliant on a winter growing season here in Adelaide, when good water is assured and temperatures are still warm enough for brassicas and root vegetables.

And so I've been working on new ways to boost the water-holding capacity of the soil, and have been using deep trenches cut through thick compost layers to hold water for long-enough periods to push water well down into the root-zone when trickle-irrigating. This works because new compost is practically impervious to water when freshly-made from green wastes around the city. The pumpkins are over in the half of the garden that's out of action, with only climbing beans and asparagus for company. The compost acts as a deep mulch 300mm thick, and straw laid over that keeps the surface temperature down a bit so that the growing tendrils don't cook (the dark surface of the compost gets very hot in the sun).

Over in the background of the top photo one can see the giant heap of waste garden material I've yet to get around to shredding. Once that's done (while the weather is still dry) it will be spread on the paths to be further broken-down underfoot, while acting as a natural mulch to catch and hold in any summer rain that falls during thunder-storms.

And those brassica seedlings for the winter crop? I've planted the seeds along a drip-line that keeps a long thin seedbed active even through the hottest part of the day...the drip line is permanently connected to the rainwater tanks each afternoon while the rest of the watering system is dormant, keeping the surface moist enough for germination. That's it to the right of the evergreen shallots...

Tuesday 27 January 2009

European wasps

Streuth! A gadget that really works!

All those lettuce seedlings require daily watering, and all of a sudden this small patch of moist soil was attracting European wasps (also called German wasps, Vesbula germanica) - a recent introduction to Australian and a declared pest species. They'd land on the seedlings, and head down into the soil from there, so I suspected a nest was forming in the cool shade - surely the most pleasant spot on the property amidst the current heat wave (41 Celcius, 106 Fahrenheit, three days in a row!)
These wasps are certainly common in Germany, and hang about food, especially when picnics are underway. I've never been stung, but swatting at them drives the Germans into a frenzy, if not the wasps, although the latter are supposed to be particularly aggressive (shout the Germans in a frenzy) to whoever happens to be holding the tea-towel that just flicked at them.
I had David and Gill Corkill over for tea last week; David and I were both editors of The Living Soil magazine at different times. So I dug out all the old SASA back-issues of the magazine (which had mysteriously been left in my care) and gave them back to David who, unlike me, is a life member of the Soil Association of South Australia.
There, among all that old stuff, were some fly-traps. I've only had them unopened in the original boxes for five years, such being my lack of faith in garden gadgets, but the flies around the compost bins have been building up in this heat, so I pulled out these plastic thingies to put them to use. All one has to do is to take the bait powder (which smells like dried fish meal) and mix it with 500mL of water in the bottom of the jar. The flies crawl in through the inverted cone, but can't find their way out, leading to death by drowning.
In the first half-hour of deployment, I'd caught one European wasp, so I moved the trap up to the lettuce seedlings where those wasps were really buzzing about.
Next morning, 25 wasps, none still airborne, but only one Australian blow fly.
There's a moral to this little story; if only I could figure out what it is?

Sunday 25 January 2009

A gift-wrapped garden...

BEFORE (showing trenches ready for seedlings)
And so, ‘lettuce see’ what it looks like next day (see the article 'Lettuce begin...' below), after pre-dawn watering and wrapping in shade-cloth, and with the Adelaide weather forecast being: -
Sunday Max 30
Monday Max 35
Tuesday Max 41
Wednesday Max 41
Thursday Max 41
Friday Max 39
Saturday Max 35
AFTER (showing shade-cloth in place)
Note the rain-water tanks in the background; two of these tanks also store the week's water ration. There are no pumps or water pressure systems; just hoses and buckets.

Watering requires patience, but such slow furrow irrigation (with the orange flooder on the end of ordinary hose connected to the tanks, shown in the pumpkin patch) soaks in well, allowing the soil to act as a water store until the week's water ration arrives on Sunday and Wednesday between 6.30am and 9.30am. The dark soil is actually compost laid over clay. It won't contribute much to soil fertility until after the next winter rains have broken it down and earthworms have incorporated it into the soil. But it makes an excellent mulch. Water spreads out underneath it, and plant roots follow.
Some folks put all their spare cash into their superannuation funds. I'm putting mine into compost (purchased by the truckload) and soil fertility and better soil water-holding capacity.
After all, you can't eat money, it will get hotter, and water will become scarcer.
So gardening under these conditions is excellent practice for a drier future.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Lettuce begin…

The heat of the afternoon has passed on the only day in weeks that was forecast to have maximum temperatures below 30° C, and fronting a week where forecasts predict three days running at 41° C and the rest of them no lower than 35° C. So, at last, it’s lettuce-planting time!
Having seedlings survive and thrive under these conditions, and especially when water is scarce, takes some planning. Yet the bulk of our summer salads rely on a steady supply of at least two large lettuces per day, month in and month out, so postponing planting is no longer an option as our spring-planted lettuces run out, go to seed or are fed to the chooks. We can flush out our salads with rocket, capsicum, onions, tomatoes and other herbs, but the numbers remain the same; there needs to be at least a hundred lettuces planted out into the garden every few months if chooks and humans are to get their greens.
Fortunately, lettuces are dead-easy to grow, provided one avoids the ‘Iceberg’ horrors found in the local supermarket and one stays with the open-leaf types that neither rot under irrigation nor get eaten out from the inside by earwigs. Lettuce seed saving is also easy, and the seeds remain viable for years – mine are at least three years old, and have been stored in a hot shed throughout that time. I keep a working tin full of ‘mixed lettuce seeds’ – these include purple oak-leaf, royal oak-leaf, red cos, green cos, freckled cos, green mignonette and frilly pinks. These are planted into the rich soil of my seedbeds simply by riffling the soil surface, sprinkling on the seed, then sieving compost-fines over the lot and patting it all down to seat the seeds. Then it’s just a matter of keeping them moist, shaded when necessary and protected while small by wire cloches that prevent birds digging them up while looking for insects in the moist soil. After a few months, these seedlings are crushed up and ready to be transplanted into the regular garden beds, and that’s today’s job during the twilight after sunset.
Transplant-shock is exacerbated by heat and moisture loss in young seedlings whose root system gets ripped up after being watered twice per day. So these seedlings are sown into trenches that have been soaked beforehand to such an extent that the sub-soil is saturated and stays cool during the worst of the day’s heat. Once each seedling has been broken out of the clump dug from the seedbed, its roots are laid onto the moist earth at the bottom of the trench. The roots of the whole row of seedlings are then covered with more moist soil. Shade-cloches are placed over the row for over a week to prevent moisture loss over-running the shattered root water supply and to keep out birds. Planting in trenches allows continuous soaking from the low-pressure rainwater tanks without run-off losses or leaf-rot common when over-head sprinklers are used. Then its just a matter of keeping the moisture up to them and the cook away from them until they are ready to eat.
Not much effort, yet substantial rewards at the meal table.

Wednesday 21 January 2009


I have just read the first chapter of 'The Essential Dalai Lama' and as I sat here, thinking about it, it occurred to me that the inside of a plane epitomises exactly the problems of the western world. Instead of groups of people interacting, we have hundreds of individuals more or less silent, each confined to a small space, avoiding contact with each other, but rather spending many hours totally absorbed by the electronic screen provided for each passenger by the airlines these days. There are dozens of movies, hundreds of games and thousands of songs, divided into genre or artist. Then there are people like me who have laptops to fiddle about on or ipods to plug into or books to get lost in. We are in crowded isolation.

Every day hundreds of thousands of people sit for extended periods on international flights, doing nothing productive and refraining from interaction with the people next to them. I can think of a few ways to make the trip seem faster, encourage conversation and/or do something useful. There could be some registration of interest buttons on each console which invite you to join a like-minded group, through your headphones, if need be.

If the seats could be turned like in trains, and a narrow table set between, people could play cards, for example. Anyone interested in giving a short talk from their seat could have the talk piped to listeners via a certain channel and discussions could be encouraged. Or anyone wishing to participate in chat could give a quick resume of why they are travelling and an anecdote or 2 from their past.

Passengers could perform simple tasks and feel our time has not been wasted. Maybe we could fill in surveys, or do other paperwork relevant to our skills. We could grind spices, make gifts for orphans, mend clothes for the needy, write emails to lonely people in old folks homes.... anything. The Dalai Lama says we need a spiritual revolution, we need to re-establish our bonds and links with the community, we need to help others. What better time to do it than whilst sitting in a plane for 15 hours, at 11,583m and going 600km/hour!

After reading a couple more chapters I am getting to the crux of the human dilemma. We all seek happiness, which is understandable but most of us are going about it the wrong way. It is fruitless thinking that getting more of anything will make us happy when it is giving more that really makes us happy. When you meet someone who gives of themselves, everyone around them feels good. They have compassion and a sense of caring. Compassion, the Dalai Lama says, opens an inner door through which we can communicate with others with ease, heart to heart. He does not advocate we should be selfless. Giving makes the compassionate person feel good and the Dalai Lama points out that it is in this way that each of us can be selfish, in a positive way. 

Compassion goes hand in hand with inner peace. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved but also helps us to develop inner happiness and peace.  Inner peace gives us the strength to deal with situations with reason and calm because our mental tranquility remains undisturbed. Inner peace allows conflicts to be dealt with, with compassion and does not allow hatred to develop. Only by spreading inner peace can we ever hope to achieve world peace.

....not exactly a vegetable gardening post but rather the thoughts of a vegetable gardener who enjoys nothing more than giving and sharing....

Wednesday 14 January 2009


image Tuesday was a very good day to stay inside as it was a hot and windy 41C. I thought the garden would suffer but when I made a tour of it once the shade from our enormous gum trees had come across, at about 5pm, it was all looking good except for the pumpkin leaves which I am sure will come good overnight.

image As Wednesday is my allowed watering day, I set the drippers to come on at 3am..... not the 6 - 9am the government says, but near enough and far better I think, as the plants have time to enjoy the extra water before the sun comes up. In South Australia, once the sun is up, in summer, it is intense.

People from the UK and Europe always comment on the strength of the Australian light and the brightness of the colours. When I was there in September / October, everything was soft and the sun was warm and pleasant and mostly I didn't even wear a hat for gardening. Here, even on a cool day in spring and autumn, the rays of the sun burn into you and sensible people wear hats..... I feel I need to, just to keep the sun out of my eyes, it is so intense.



Before it got too hot I picked lunch.... a couple of types of lettuce, some broad bean shoots, sorrel, basil, nasturtiums, Black Russian tomatoes. I love this lentil salad I make..... I think it is in Gardeners' Gastronomy. Yes, I had meat.... a leftover feral goat chop from the BBQ on the weekend.

This photo at left is of the water spinach I bought and as a vegetable and put in this vase ages ago. I even went away fro 2 weeks over Christmas and it not only survived but grew all these extra shoots and leaves. The leaves are very small because it has no nutrient and no direct sun, while it sits on my kitchen bench in bright light..... show me a place where the light isn't bright in South Australia right now!

Those I planted out in the tubs of water have bigger, dark green leaves but haven't grown many leaves yet. Hopefully this hot weather will see them take off.

Friday 9 January 2009


Australian Environmental Choices
A website for finding out about non-toxic paints, carpets, building timbers, clothing, paper and all household things.It is very comprehensive. Everyone has to buy things from time to time and it is good to know where to look for information before you make a big mistake and buy something packed with more chemicals than a packet of Monsanto seed.

My Health Insurance

I see everything that goes into my body as part of my health insurance plan. My mother is 86 and takes no medication and never has. I would rather spend money on the purest food I can find than on pills that could have been avoided. Growing most of our fruit and veg means I can afford to buy the best of whatever else I need, like dairy / feral meat / spices etc. Best means purest and most local, not most even-sized or most even-coloured or most exotic.

On my kitchen bench I have 3 boxes of apricots, picked Thursday from my mother's trees. Today at the market I did not buy strawberries or watermelon or mangoes or other fruit shipped in from northern Australia. This week we will eat apricots, peaches (from a neighbour), dried figs (from last year's crop), blueberries (from the freezer, picked last year) and a couple of bananas (my weekly indulgence, organic, from NSW).

I also only bought a few beans (because they are in season but mine are a bit slow) and some potatoes (which I don't bother growing and don't eat much), as far as vegetables go. In the garden we have tomatoes, cucumbers, lots of salad leaves and herbs, kale, Chinese cabbage, green capsicums (from last year's plants - Tony's Pimento), zuccinis of various shapes and colours....probably some other things.... lots more coming.

I bought some feral goat chops for a BBQ on the weekend as the weather is forecast to be nice. I will make some lentil patties and some vegetable skewers too..... oh I did buy a couple of eggplants too, for the skewers and because I can't wait any longer!

Things that have gone mad, apart from me, in 2008:

Bacon flavoured everything appears to have gone gangbusters, predominantly in the US. Resulting products included such delights as bacon brownies, bacon vodka and bacon and egg ice cream

Tonka beans
Popular among gourmet diners, the seed of the Dipteryx odorata apparently now pops up reguarly on higher end menus – despite being banned in the US because it contains coumarin, a compound that is lethal in large doses. FSANZ say the bean can be toxic when eaten raw but is fine in it's typical current use as an interesting alternative to vanilla.

But the trend for local and/or organic foods is still on the increase despite the economic downturn.

Wednesday 7 January 2009


It was time to start reading a new book. I have finished and enjoyed "The Private Patient" by P.D.James and also a wonderful book that I found in a second hand shop in Moonta, called "Spice Travels" by Ian Hemphill. He is a spice merchant from Sydney whose passion for spices has led him all over the world in pursuit of knowledge about the growing and processing of every spice on earth. So, I had 2 choices left, both recommendations from son Alex. First "The Ancestor's Tale", nearly 700 pages of Richard Dawkin's fascinating and beautifully written book on evolution. Second, "A Short History of Myth" by Karen Armstrong.

I have read about half of the introduction of each....and here I am thinking about humans being meaning-seeking creatures who conversely also have an imagination that allows us to think of things that have no existence. It is going to take me a long time to digest both of these books at this rate! As I gaze out of the shack window, while my mind considers facts and myths, the fact that is most noticeable is that the wind is coming up yet again while Roger imagines the feats he could achieve windsurfing, now that Langmuire has arrived.

The wind wriggles into life in some most interesting ways. Some of them are universal, some local. Some are obvious, some only observed by crazy people like me who seek both the real and the myth. Some beneficial, some not, but all a very real part of existence for every living thing on earth. So, who is Langmuire?

DSC_0001-4 As the wind strengthens, it has various universally understood effects on the water beginning with ripples and waves and progressing to what we call white-caps (or white horses) from about 10 knots and then white foam forming in lines directly downwind at about 15 knots. I cannot explain the scientific reason for these white lines but I do know they are called Langmuire's Circulations, after a Mr. Langmuire. In my photo at left the white line cuts across the sea just below the writing.image


In the photo at right you can see that the lines extend downwind of the reef.

This is the point at which Roger goes windsurfing as he knows there is enough wind and he can see the direction, without even going outside.....thanks Mr Langmuire! 


Before Mr Langmuire visits, though, other things happen..... the horizon turns from a soft blue, blending perfectly with the sky, to a sharp, dark line heralding the arrival of the afternoon sea breeze. If I am walking on this beach on a still day, before the sea breeze arrives, it is totally silent, as where I walk is very shallow and there is not even a ripple on the shore sometimes. There are no roads for many miles and rarely any people.... just the pure, pristine sea, and me. As the wind begins to rise, I can hear it far out at sea. It is quite beautiful and unreal to hear the wind in the distance but it be completely still where I am standing. As the first tiny flutters of breeze erratically approach the shore, the movement of the surface of the crystal clear water reflects on the sand below and makes delicate patterns, like light glistening through thousands of pieces of glass. It is quite breath-taking.

These first breaths bring pockets of air from who knows how far away. Some are hot, some cool and eventually they mix to form a  breeze uniformly cooled by its drifting across the sea. Even on a hot day, the air doesn't need to travel far across the sea to cool down or far across the land to heat up. Just sitting in the shallows instead of further up the beach makes a hell of a hot day into a pleasant one.

Just before Mr Langmuire arrives though, sand and seaweed start to blow along the beach, the windows start whistling, it becomes a challenge to sit outside and read without losing your hat and the local gulls start playing in the wind.They flap upwind for a while then turn like an acrobatic plane and shoot down the beach at break neck speed, without so much as one flap of their wings. They do this over and over on windy days, especially the larger, darker gulls, who also use the wind to hover as if in a windless cage, just outside our window, even in what seems like a gale, showing us just what nature can do, unaided.




Nature does very well when left alone..... here are a couple of recent examples.

Tuesday 6 January 2009


I reckon your ripening tomatoes would enjoy hearing the late John Denver singing his famous song Home Grown Tomatoes. So turn up the volume and sing along, your tomatoes will love it .

One of the best tomatoes we have grown this year is Riesentraube

Huge Clusters of tomatoes!
Riesentraube Grape Tomato
Origin: Germany

Riesentraube is an old fashioned grape tomato from Germany that was known to be offered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the mid 19th century. The name "Riesentraube" literally means "giant grape", but what is meant is actually "Giant Bunch of Grapes" as this wonderful old variety produces huge clusters of scarlet red, one ounce grape tomatoes. The plants are very large and produce huge yields of these richly flavoured tomatoes. The variety is extremely popular among tomato collectors as it possesses the full tomato flavour that is missing in so many modern cherry tomatoes.

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Ours are ripening slowly but the vines are massed with tomatoes.

The other varieties of tomatoes, from Eden Seeds and Select Organic Seeds, Bob grew this year were

Waspipinnicon a peach, fuzzy skin tomato

Purple Russian from the Ukraine

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St Pierre a French heirloom

Black Krim from the Andes

Whippersnapper from the Andes

Red cherry Franchi seeds

But the star tomato this year is definitely RIESENTRAUBE, I hope they all like John Denver!

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Sunday 4 January 2009

"Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi" .

Australian Seedsavers Jude and Michel Fanton have finished their wonderful DVD, called Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi.

You can see the trailer to this film and buy it direct from the Seedsavers website, .

......imageFilmed across eleven countries with twenty tribal groups, this inspiring cultural tour of the Asia Pacific region engenders great respect for local traditions and wisdom.
It shows that common global threats to food quality and food security have local solutions in which we can all participate......