Sunday 29 March 2009


Getting back to nature is something I am always going on about and I came across an article on this great website recently featuring one of my favourite ideas.... nature stripping. The gist of it is making use of the piece of ground between your house and the road, excluding the footpath.




In Seattle, there were places with vegetable garden strips....





windsor st nature strip


In the suburbs here in Adelaide there are several examples of native plant strips, none better than Windsor Street in Unley, behind the Fern Ave Community Garden.



That's not all there is though. This is a good website with a sensible name "Sustainable Gardening Australia". There are all sorts of facets too, such as this art exhibition in Victoria featuring sustainable gardening, articles on guerilla gardening, cute and quirky insect info and of course, what to do in the garden month by month. It is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation promoting gardening in sympathy with the environment, including native and vegetable and other gardens.

Thank you Em for putting me onto SGA. I have added a link to it in the side bar.

Friday 27 March 2009


image People all over the world eat different foods, but when it comes down to it, there are only things from animals and things from plants. You may like chilli sauces, soy sauce, tomato sauce or a good gravy. You may season your food with salt or pepper or oregano or lemon juice or coriander leaves or rocket. You may like seaweeds and sushis or pate and caviar or lollies or vegemite. You may eat Mexican food or Japanese or Middle Eastern but they are all either of animal or plant origin. Even our drinks are just clever uses of plants. Do you drink coffee, peppermint tea or rooibos or even sake,  gin, vodka, wine, lemonade or, horror of horrors, coke? Whatever the case, it all originates from animals or plants.

Way, way, way back in time, people only ate what they could pick or grow or catch. Life was hard work and the human life span was often short but not usually because of what they ate. Usually death came through disease and lack of hygiene, hunting injuries or fighting. (The single most important cause of the increase in world population was the discovery of hand washing, to reduce the spreading of infection. Hand washing has saved more lives than every medication ever discovered, combined.) People knew what they were eating because it still looked like the raw ingredient until they cooked it.

imageWhat has happened in my lifetime, is that what a lot of western people eat has stopped being food. Or at best, is so thoroughly disguised and prepared for consumption that its origins have been long lost in packaging. Although a chiko roll or hotdog or a can of coke once had its origins in something plant or animal, it has been processed down to a piece of coloured, flavoured, preserved, and often deep-fried mass and remade into a shape and colour and flavour that market research has deemed attractive to consumers. Look at this photo I took in a French supermarket of thousands of tiny plastic pots different types of yoghurt etc.....where are the 1 kg containers? Not available anywhere.... and so many flavours.... I felt sick just looking at them. Better to make your own yoghurt.

A boxed, frozen dinner is the ultimate con. The picture on the box is usually of a hot meal. There is no way you can choose the product by feeling the freshness of a raw potato or seeing the colour of the broccoli and in some cases the ingredients have travelled from faraway countries and over long periods of time and cannot have any goodness left in them, never mind the numbers you will be eating to ensure its stays looking edible. You might as well eat the box. In a less extreme way we can take the example of steak. These days, in supermarkets, they are wrapped in plastic on foam trays, hidden under labels proclaiming their low fat content or advertising the supermarket's low prices.

Meat is Murder by slabsofabsence.I remember, as a child, going into a butcher's shop with my mother to buy some T-bone steaks. Behind the butcher, on a rack stretching half way across the room, hung animals, undisguised, and from one of these the butcher would skilfully cut a section of meat. From here he would take it to a band-saw and cut the bones and then sharpen his knife and carve out 4 T-bone steaks, placing some more into the display shelf. They would be wrapped in paper and handed to you to put into your shopping basket. There was no doubt that this was meat and no doubt how it got to be on your plate for dinner. He would advise you how to cook it and tell you how long it had been hanging and where it had come from and I would learn about the seasons and their effects not just on growing vegetables but also on animals and on my dinner.

At school I learned about cuts of meat by studying posters depicting sheep and cows, mostly, carved up into sections, while they were still "on the hoof" so to speak. We learned which bits were for grilling which for slow cooking and which for roasting. You were expected to have skills to deal with food, to prepare it with this understanding and women, mostly, learned how to feed their families with real food. Mine was an old-fashioned school, I guess, but it stood me in good stead. That, and cooking with my mother. Show me a 15 year old today who would know much about where milk comes from, let alone which part of a sheep their microwavable, marinated shasliks, vaccuum sealed to keep their freshness, came from!

What about preservatives and all those numbers that you see on packets of processed foods? And medications and dietary supplements? Some of them are processed as an extract from a plant, and concentrated then made into a pill or a powder or a liquid. A lot of medications start as an extract of a plant or even animal in its testing stage and then some are synthesized, or artificially made, whatever that means. Usually I would say go and eat a decent diet and forget the supplements. Asian medicines seem to only use the original organism and this causes not only the depletion in the numbers of wild creatures but also a wastage of the rest of the organism. For example, millions of sharks are killed for their fins and often the rest of the fish is thrown back to sea, such is the lure of getting more fins and therefore more money than can be gained from shark meat. I doubt whether anyone buying shark fin soup, however, in a western country even thinks about where the shark's fins have come from.

My rule of thumb is only buy raw ingredients and avoid anything that comes processed but if you have to buy things like dried fruit or breakfast cereal, buy one ingredient at a time. For example, when I buy sultanas I do not want sulphur to make them dry faster or oil to keep them separated or preservatives or a resealable, heavy plastic bag. I buy plain, sun or air dried sultanas from a shop that sells them in bulk and put them in a jar when I get home. The fact that I can get them locally grown and organic, for a good price, from a local shop (or from my garden or a friend's) is a bonus for me. As for breakfast I don't eat cereal much but I prefer to buy oats and other grains, nuts, sunflower seeds and dried fruits and mix them myself. Most of these things are produced in South Australia. It is different for other places but I would use whatever grows nearby in preference to buying something readymade.




If we all do this, the world will be a better place.... of course I do make exceptions.... this walnut tart was superb!

French patisseries....oh la la la....

Thursday 26 March 2009


I know this is not meant to be a blog about beaches but how can I resist playing show and tell when I do also have something to say about my lunch? Ok, I'll put the lunch bit first and you can close your eyes and not read the beach bit if you are such a purest!

I am addicted to leaves. I have tried to even out my diet with other vegetables but when it comes down to it I just can't stop eating leaves, any way they come. I am always going on about growing them because I live on them. And the funny thing is, they are what grow best in my garden. So which came first, the addiction or the crop? Who knows but it has been a gradual thing, over about 10 years or so probably.

image First I grew what is now my favourite winter leaf, the pale green spinach; the first seeds I ever received from a seedsavers group. Then I grew different lettuces and herbs. I came to love picking cold, crisp leaves in the early morning, for putting into my children's sandwiches. I would pick extras and wrap them around some chives or oregano, as a pre-breakfast snack, standing there, in the vegetable garden in my dressing gown and bare feet.

image My Wednesday gardening friend, Glenys, is the queen of the cooked, red cabbage and Ian from A Kitchen Garden In France pickles the raw, red leaves and has them with his lunch. In France I also discovered the blanched endive for cooking and the magnificent, dark red endive for eating raw (as in the photo). These became my favourite winter leaves.

Peter Cundall from ABC's Gardening Australia told us all about kale and how he says it is what has kept him young, at 80. So I grew that and loved it and found that Diana had some other kales besides cavolo nero, and so my experience of kale grew and grew. Next I discovered you could eat sweet potato leaves, when I read a book from the library about Eastern European vegetable gardeners in Melbourne. That became my favourite summer salad leaf only last year and probably still would be if mine hadn't died this year.

Asian greens are so easy to grow and self-sow everywhere. There is a particular bok choy-type called Ching Chiang Pai Tsai.... crazy name, great plant.... it has such a beautiful curvy shape and is compact and so quick to grow. There are so many Asian greens.... another favourite of mine is the edible chrysanthemum, originally from the Mediterranean, evidently.

image Then I started the water garden and now I have water spinach as a cut and come again salad leaf. The hollow stems are also lovely and crisp and sweet and this is my new favourite for 2009. Also in the water garden is cress, which has a good bite to it and which makes a great soup, topped with a poached egg, as in a TV programme I saw on the BBC, and subsequently cooked.

Oh no.... what's this got to do with lunch? Well, apart from the yellow cornos capsicum and Tony's red pimento capsicum and Deb's Seemore carrot, I had a stack of water spinach for lunch. No dressing, just the long, thin leaves attached still to the stems, rinsed with rain water and shaken off. So lush, so good...... I just sat there smiling and eating.

And now is the perfect time to sow and plant lots of leaves for winter.

And what did I find on the beach today? image  image


A perfect crab skeleton, a perfect abalone shell  and I am including in the photo something I found some time ago, a perfect skeleton of a leafy sea-dragon.







The colours and textures of these creatures are so rich and detailed; quite awe-inspiring I think.image



There are more photos here.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Penola Heritage Herb Garden

DSCN0077 The small township of Penola lies on the edge of South Australia’s famous Coonawarra wine-grape district in the (wetter) south-east corner of the state. A 30-year old Irish boot-maker built the first cottage in the town in 1850 for his 15-year old bride, the daughter of a local shepherd. They went on to have 15 children in two slab-and-shingle cottages that are still standing today, preserved by the Penola historical society.





‘Granny’ Sharam died in that cottage in Petticoat Lane in 1910, and the whole township turned out for her funeral. Apart from all the kids, she’d been famous for her quince and pear jams, and the produce of her fruit, vegetable and herb garden.

DSCN0069 That garden – down the back of the cottages – had also been preserved up until a few years ago, went it ran to wrack and ruin. Then along came Kate Spencer (photo, with Claudia) who was the chef at the very fine Cobb and Co restaurant for many years. Kate, now retired from the kitchen, took over the garden and runs it as a rather interesting sort of community garden. The chefs of this iconic wine growing area got together and donated $1000 to the local historical trust specifically for the cottage garden, with the proviso that they could come in and pick fresh herbs for their kitchens whenever they like. And they do!

DSCN0041 So do other townsfolk, making a donation for any surplus fruit or vegetables that are in season and available. Kate also saves seeds from year-to-year from her garden. Penola also has its own veggie garden group, who met recently in the garden and shared food and produce.

DSCN0058 Some unusual features of the garden have a definite country flavour; sheep’s wool mulch, sheep manure on the chives and tobacco plants grown to be dried and crumbled around plants as a snail killer (nicotine is bad for snails as well as humans, it seems). The quince, loquat, walnut and fig trees are reminiscent of a bye-gone era when backyard fruit trees were valued for their taste and produce, and the fruit needed to travel no further than up to the kitchen.




DSCN0004 DSCN0006











Monday 23 March 2009


image This time of the year in South Australia the sun becomes less intense and the nights are cool, making it the perfect time to sow seeds and plant seedlings for autumn and winter. With a bit of luck, there will be some rain soon and the earth will be able to relax and breathe again. People consult vegetable gardening books and catalogues to decide what to plant but don't forget there are lots of other edible and useful plants that are often ignored by authors of books designed specifically for vegetable growing.

image If you observe the birds and the seasons and the insects and the weather you will see that the more diverse your garden is in flora, the more diverse it will be in fauna. Rather than keeping out pests we need to encourage all life in, and allow it to keep an equilibrium by itself. It is in this mimicry of nature that we can best reach a point where our gardens are in tune with the life within it.

Insects "see" in various ways. I read about this once and it changed the way I plant my vegetables, from neat rows, to organised chaos! Some insects fly over, looking for patterns of colour or texture, for example a patch of green lettuce or just-hearting cabbages. Others are attracted by scent, and others crawl along the soil and just come across a whole row of young seedlings which can be demolished in one night.

image Nature is not orderly and rarely is one species decimated in whole area of bushland, so this is how I grow my vegetables too, as if it were all a self-sown field. I mix up the plants, some grow fast and some slow, some are dark green, others pale, some are staked and left to flower while new seedlings are planted below. All this higglety-pigglety patchwork confuses the patterns that insects are looking for. Added to this I grow some herbs and flowers in the mix too, and some nearby for the beneficial insects and the birds. The food gardens at my place are surrounded with native plants and trees, to attract the biggest range of life possible. Then I leave them to it. The only thing I do use are the snail pellets made from iron, made by Multiguard, at the time of planting out new seedlings.image

There are lots of plants you can use in and around the vegetable garden that have more than one function. And this is another important method I use, as I first read about in my discovery of permaculture. Every plant choice I make should have several reasons for its inclusion in the garden. For example, I love flowers but instead of just choosing a plant for its flowers I make sure it is either also edible, has leaves suitable for making tea, provides habitat or feed for birds or insects, provides shade for something else, creeps along the ground and stops weeds, can be picked and dried and placed inside cupboards, attracts bees, benefits the soil in some way, self-sows or has runners for easy propagation etc etc.

image There are lots of plants that fit these categories and salvias is one that I love. They come in so many colours, the nectar-eating birds love them, they are drought hardy, some have edible leaves or leaves for tea, they attract bees, the seeds can be eaten by birds. Some have leaves, flowers and seeds that can be eaten. They can be pruned hard, the prunings run over with the lawn mower and provide compost-making material or kept for lighting winter fires..... the list goes on and on.

In the March/April 2009 edition of the ABC's Organic Gardener magazine there is a comprehensive list of salvias and their useful properties. This is what gave me the idea to write about the natural habitat vegetable garden. Salvias are not native to Australia but there are salvias suitable for every garden in Australia. Native birds and insects love them as much as we do and now is the perfect time to be thinking about planting some in or near your vegetable and fruit gardens.

Saturday 21 March 2009


Look what Roger Doiron from Kitchen Gardeners International has done with his amazing persistence and dedication to the cause of home food growing. He needs enormous thanks from all of us for setting the stage for America to lead the world into a bright future. Lets hope the Obama's and the people of the American government take up the opportunity and not fritter it away and bow to the pressures of agri-business.

Thankyou, Roger, for your enormous efforts over the last couple of years and your foresight in attempting to do the seemingly impossible. I wish I could have been strong enough to join in with a similar Australian campaign but it all just seemed to hard. Maybe now, though, gardeners in other nations will have a less difficult job to do in reaching the leaders of their own countries and encouraging them to follow the Obamas.

Wednesday 18 March 2009


I suggested Barb write something and put some photos of her garden on the blog. She stood there next to her mandarin tree, with her hands on her hips, waving her arm across the backyard, and said " Look at it.... it's a mess.... and there's hardly a thing growing now anyway." She looked at me as though I was mad. So here is what I saw when I looked around me, see what you think.....

image First, there is the nursery and all the lush herbs in pots by the kitchen door....
basil, parsley, coriander, Vietnamese mint, oregano, and so many more I can't remember them all......
There is a whole section full to overflowing with capsicums, eggplants, carrots, silverbeet, beetroot, purple beans, chillis, zuccinis, etc etc and things left to go to seed like lettuce, and flowers for the bees, like yarrow and a comfrey hedge for the chooks and for compost...... image

Then there is the area below the new stone wall, with yacon, pineapple sage, arrowroot, asparagus, perenial spring onions and, at the end, the entrance to the chook run.

And above the wall is a garden full of native plants where I saw various honey- eaters and other birds and lots of bees and other insects. As well there are fruit trees espaliered on the chook run fences and others in tubs, including a mandarin laden with fruit, a guava, a fig, more stone fruits and citrus....



Barb, there are about 6 billion people who would love to have the diversity of your garden. Sure, there is "stuff" here and there but without buckets and bins and piles of this and that, the garden would just be a showpiece. Your garden has vibes, beautiful vibes, that sing out to me and make me feel welcome and relaxed. Considering it is all less than 2 years old, some less than 1 year old, it is a masterpiece. I remember it before, Barb, and I wish I had before and after shots like they do on TV..... not an edible thing in sight..... and now look....

This is a little message to all our Hills and Plains Seedsavers members, please take some photos of your patch of earth and share them with us. Or tell us about what you plan to plant in autumn. Tell us you are still there and have not given up because of the summer heat. Or send me an email and get me to come and see you and your garden and help you to see what you have, not what you have not and lets share our successes and failures, on the blog.

There are more photos here.

Monday 16 March 2009

H&PSS ‘Garden Visit and Harvest Storage’ afternoon



When we all met last at Kath and Bob’s place for our ‘Seed Savers Savour Sunday Seed Swap’, we decided we should do it again once harvest time came around, which is about now.

I’ve offered to have it at our place, as the garden is big enough to get lost in. Maggie will email  you with my address and phone number.

So Sunday afternoon, April 5th, 2009 at 2pm. Bring food and drink to share.

It won’t be a ‘seed swap’, though all seeds and cuttings are welcome. Rather, Maggie and Claudia and anyone else willing to speak will talk about their preserving methods as we deal with the summer harvest. You might care to ask Claudia for the egg-plant casserole recipe she invented to deal with the garden flood (below). Or the recipes for rocket salad, or peach chutney, or bean casserole or beet kvass or…


Some of those harvest storage problems (‘Green Everlasting Shallots’) come by the barrow-load!


Saturday 14 March 2009

Happiness = Cook + Gardener

The cook has returned to Australia (her Mum in Germany is on the road to recovery) to inspect the gardener’s work, and so summer crops are being harvesting while winter plantings continue. Here’s a few things that the garden has rewarded us with: -


Eggplants get so heavy on the bush that the plants need to be supported by strips of old cotton sheets back to a horizontal bamboo frame supported on star droppers. These eggplants will be pickled or roasted for dips, casseroles and antipasto.


Beans filled several boxes, and some of these have been pickled in jars of salty water for eating during winter. This is only the ‘bush bean’ crop, consisting of ‘Gourmet’s Delight’, ‘Redland Pioneer’, ‘Windsor Long-Pod’ (did poorly in the heat) and ‘Strike’.

‘Lazy Wife’ climbing beans crop for longer and are eaten fresh; they are yet to be harvested.

‘Beet Kvass’ is made by ‘lacto-fermenting’ cut-up ‘Bulls-Blood’ beetroot in bottles of salt, whey and water. This makes a healthy pre-meal drink the colour of raspberry cordial. Beetroot leaves are fed to the chooks or used in salads while young.


Not all beans are harvested by the cook; the gardener marks off some plants for drying and seed collection; these are ‘Low’s Champion Bush Bean’ seeds.


‘Purple Congo Potatoes’ can be boiled then fried to make colourful ‘chips’ (Australian for ‘fries’). Once you’ve got these in the garden, they grow like weeds from tubers missed during previous harvests. These ones are the progeny of a small handful of tubers received at a Seed Savers meeting over a decade ago.


Carrots are easy to grow once established, but are tricky to start. I use the ‘Peter Bennet’ method, where the fine tilth of the seed bed is covered with ‘underfelt’ for the first week until the seeds germinate; one can then just water the top surface of the underfelt with a watering can without washing the seeds away. The small carrot seeds don’t dry out this way.

This is a shorter carrot variety called ‘Nantes’ suitable for our heavy clay soils. Poorly dug soil or too much nitrogen cause ‘forking’. We use the carrot tops with broccoli and chicken stock in a delicious soup.


‘Tommy Toe’ cherry tomatoes have been awarded the ‘tastiest’ tomato prize in a Digger’s Club taste-a-thon, and we’ve found them easy to grow in our Adelaide climate. Cherry tomatoes (both red and yellow) seem less prone to disease and heat stress than larger varieties. They look good in salads (cut in half) and on omelettes.


‘Green Cos’ lettuce (left and right) bolts to seed too quickly in summer conditions; I’ll switch this variety back to autumn and winter lettuce crops where it is reasonably frost-hardy. ‘Royal Oak-Leaf’ lettuce (centre) is a better summer lettuce, and is more delicate in flavour and texture. ‘Red Cos’ lettuces (below) fall midway between the two, but are the most splendid of the lettuce family to look at.


So here’s a ‘Red Cos’ lettuce (bottom right) for the humans in front of ‘Rainbow Chard’ (top centre) used mainly for chook food.


‘Purple-Top Turnips’ did surprisingly well over summer. Now we’re going to have to search the recipe book to figure out how to eat them!


Bill Hankin gave us the white squashes from his kitchen garden; he can’t remember what they’re called, but does recall buying the seed from The Digger’s Club. Anyone know?


‘Lebanese cucumbers’ are a popular Australian home-garden favourite; they go well in salads. These ones are grown on a galvanised-steel mesh held up on star-droppers. They are rather poor at hooking onto the mesh, so more cotton strips are used to support them. The yellow flowers are pretty and attract bees.


And finally, here again are those bees who’ve been doing such a great job of pollinating the veggie garden, photographed on the flowers of the ‘common mint’. We use the young leaves of the mint in cooking, but a sprig in black tea also makes a refreshing ‘Moroccan Tea’. Letting the mint run to seed benefits the bees, but mint generally spreads by root extension and budding rather than by seed fall.