Tuesday 30 June 2009

Better Late Than Never Musical Gnome


The Mad Gnomes have a great mad give away, today is the last day.

Check out Friday the 12th of June too see some really cute gnomes.

My Musical gnome has just arrived home from being on the road playing at all sorts of gigs around the country.

So here is my entry, I would love a copy of The Silver Spoon book or an Italian cookbook or some seeds to give away or Kiva gift.

I don’t know why more gnomes have not shown up, but maybe they are all over at Gavin’s with his clucky chicken shed gnome making cheese or beer!

Happy last day of June from Mad Maggie.


It was a fun evening meeting Jude and Michel Fanton, who started the Seedsavers Foundation in 1986, and watching the film they have made for the future survival of food and seeds in Polynesia, Melanesia and Papua New Guinea.

imageIt was a delight to learn that they see seed saving a little differently these days, after experiencing such a diversity of cultures. In these villages scattered around hundreds of small islands, people don't fuss with names for different vegetable varieties and rarely try to keep seeds pure. If they happen across a different variety of something from another island, they are happy to try it out, let it cross  and evolve in a small area and see what happens. After all is said and done, these people are growing food because there is no choice for them. All they need is a range of foods to grow and if they produce well, are resilient and tasty then who cares what its name is or where it came from?

image This is the way we have tended to do things in our seedsavers group, mostly because we are not purists and often we forget the names for things and have tended to say "here is some seed from the cos lettuce I got from Joy"...... and this soon becomes "Joy's cos lettuce" and everyone knows what we are talking about in our group. I have containers of seeds labelled in this way, such as  Kath's broccoli, Deb's carrots, Barb's snake beans, Cath's yellow capsicums and so on. If they cross a bit it introduces more genetic diversity and this may or may not be good.

imageMy version of Kath's broccoli crossed with my own cavolo nero (kale) and the result is that some grows as kale and some as sprouting broccoli, but I have lost the good broccoli heads so I will have to hope someone else has that seed still and try to stop that happening next time. Or do as I do with Joy's cos lettuce and that is just get fresh seed from Joy, as she always saves plenty.

So, within a group of people it is possible to have unique names circulating, things crossing and evolving for better and worse and at the same time, some pure varieties becoming more and more adapted to our own conditions, like with Deb's carrots. I have never been much good with carrots until Deb gave me some seeds from a variety she has been growing for 20 years. Since that is now the only one I grow, and I always have success with it, I am set for carrots. But I would like to mix my seeds in with hers now and again to maintain the genetic diversity to keep them robust.


People of these Pacific islands are often naive about western ways and think it must be better to follow these persuasive salesmen who seem to be offering them a better life. This research of Jude and Michel's, culminating in this film, shows the pitfalls of losing their traditional methods and the dangers involved in changing to chemical agribusiness. It gently encourages them by showing the joy and community involvement in their current lives compared to the solitary and dangerous existence of broad acre crops, based on chemicals and hybrids and GM seeds. Thanks , Jude and Michel, for giving so much of your time and your stories to all those who came on Friday night.


See more photos of the evening here. 





The film makes me want to spread the word not of any god but of the spirit of the seed knowing that as long as we have biodiversity, we have everything we need for a healthy and spiritual life. It really is that simple.


Tuesday 23 June 2009


My friend Kathy sent me this story......

An old Italian lived alone in New Jersey .  He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.

His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,

I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won't be able to plant
my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up
a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be
over..  I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.

Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Pop,

Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.


At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.
That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Pop,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love you,


Monday 22 June 2009


There is something special about the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide. Or maybe it is all Botanic Gardens; I don't know. Being in the city centre probably makes it seem more of a sanctuary that if it were elsewhere and this is the essence of it perhaps.  I arrive by car, and the moment I turn into Planetree Drive and cruise slowly down the one way lane, I am immediately transported to a world of big, old, shady trees and an era when things moved a little more slowly and gracefully than today's hurly burly existence.

imageFor once I was early to one of our regular get togethers so I had time to wander, absorbing the peace, and of course taking some photos.This first photo could be almost anywhere remote and serene, with the shadows hiding the banks and the winter sun just catching the bend in the river..... but it is only a few paces from the centre of the city.





Did I get lost and end up in the elephant's enclosure at the zoo, with an eye peering at my lens? No, this is the cork tree.... They do a fantastic job with making micro-climates in these gardens because one moment I am looking at a grove of banana palms, complete with ripening bananas and around the next corner is a scene reminiscent of Monet's garden.....followed by plants suited to the the hot, dry Mediterranean gardens of the world.




It is all so beautiful, especially now we have had some rain and everything is looking so lush. The cycads are producing huge, weird looking fruits, many of the Australian shrubs and trees are flowering and there are some curious signs such as this one in the Mediterranean garden....  about what I have always thought was a very attractive native South Australian tree!



There is the magnificent and quite awe-inspiring Schlomberg Pavilion,below, which is made entirely of glass and is a Victorian example of total extravagance .... something sadly lacking in our economic rationalist world today.






Everywhere were reflections and sometimes, like in the Amazon Lily house, it was hard to tell which way was up!image



This beautiful, old shade house, below, is made of brush from south eastern Australia and caught my breath as I walked towards it because I grew up with brush houses in my father's nursery but have not seen one for years. The thing about this one is that when the trees grow taller than the roof, they just grow right through.


But to see a photo of that and oh so many more photos you will have to click on the web album here.

You see, we did not go to the Botanic Gardens to see all this though. We went to see the Harvest Exhibition and the newly renovated hall in which it is held. But now you will have to wait until I have written about that to see what we saw. In the meantime, check out what Christie and Mary brought for us to have with coffee...the lemon slice was the best I have ever had..... and see us enjoying the sun after the recent rain.




Monday 15 June 2009


So (as Pattie would say)  it is now a race for the who's who to get a vegetable garden going and next it's The Queen's turn! Buckingham Palace is not just getting a vegetable garden but is going to grow 6 endangered, historical vegetables from Garden Organic's heritage seed library.

"For the first time since the Second World War, Buckingham Palace will grow beans, lettuce and tomatoes, from rare seeds and..... it's good to know that in this corner of the Buckingham Palace grounds The Queen is not just growing her own, but also helping protect the diversity of our plant heritage.”

Surrounded by sage, other crops already in situ include Beefsteak and Sun Baby tomatoes, runner beans, Stuttgarter onions, Musselburgh leeks, Fly Away carrots, Red Ace beetroot, broad beans, chard and sweetcorn and the first strawberries from the 30ft by 13ft plot have already hit the Royal kitchens.

The Queen’s produce will feed several hundred palace workers and will be served up at formal state banquets.

The Queen's Veg Patch The Queen's Veg Patch2

When is the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd going to call a spade a spade and get his fine fingers in the soil? Or will it be his wife, as is the case with the Obama's at The White House...or not at all? Gavin over at "The Greening of Gavin"  and a few others are working on getting a vegie patch happening at the Rudd's place. Please get behind this idea all you can and follow the suggestions on his blog about how you can help.

The movement is growing.... times they are achanging......

Saturday 13 June 2009


Daphne's gardenWhat a nice way to spend a little time, wandering about in a garden you hadn't taken enough notice of before. You can peek over the fence and see all kinds of things you know and don't know, when you go by yourself with plenty of time. I saw a few black aphids on the borage but then noticed the eggs of the predator lacewing and I knew Daphne's ecosystem was working to keep things in balance.

Her beans are very robust and may outgrow the corn that they are climbing on..... I look forward to seeing what happens there. And since I have visited her garden there has been quite a bit of rain to keep things looking fresh and growing well.

I had a lovely time at Daphne's, while she was out somewhere and I hope you will drop by too. She says we are always welcome, anytime. Here is her address. And here is the post that I took the photo from, all about her garden in June. Thanks Daphne.


 In the Toads Garden  is about growing food and seed saving in DenmarkIn the toads garden

There is always so much interesting stuff in the toad's garden and I always learn something every time I go there. I just can't keep up with it all and find it fascinating that people can grow such a diverse range of vegetables even in very cold climates, such as Denmark.

......Red Russian is a different kale. The classic kale is deep green with curly leaves, whereas this variety has feathered leaves. Color is somewhat different, with a notable silvery shine. Taste is sweet, and raw leaves are crisp to the bite.

A villager probably recognise the colors from the swedes/rutabagas. Red Russian belong to the same species, whereas most other kales belong to same species as cabbage. When saving seeds it’s important to isolate from swedes/rutabagas and from other kales of this species, like the russian, siberian and baltic kales, as well as the north german scheerkohls. Read more about this here.

Thanks Skrubtudsen....


Peggy's allotment

It being the self-proclaimed "International day of vegetable garden blogs" I thought I'd take a little trip to Ireland, to Blarney, and see how Peggy is going with her allotment.

She has made a wonderful discovery....I collected 2 bags of compost from our municipal composter which I only found out about recently even though it is very near me!All green waste can be taken there and the finished compost is free to take away. Read more of this post here...


(There used to be a place like that in my council area until some idiotic neighbour complained and now it is a carpark! I hope they like it. Sorry Paggy, some things make my blood boil....)

Peggy's latest post talks about their allotment's open day On June 20th....I'd love to come Peggy, maybe next year!

Our Open Day is on Sat 20th June and this year we are going all out to have a super day with all of the new plot holders. Everyone can bring friends and family to view their own and others plots and we will be on hand to answer any questions. We spent the morning painting in glorious sunshine. Zwena has lots of old farm implements stored in the barn and outhouses so they are all being cleaned and painted and being put out on display as it has been a working farm for many years and the machinery tells the history of the place.

Her blog is called Organic Growing Pains. Thanks Peggy....


Wednesday 10 June 2009


Some of us are going to the Botanic Gardens to see the wonderful exhibition called "Harvest" at the Museum of Economic Botany. Come and join us and bring your own sandwich for lunch. We will meet on Tuesday June 16th, at 11am outside the door to the museum. If you are late wander in and find us.

The Adelaide Botanic Gardens has several beautiful old buildings and one which has been recently restored is the Museum of Economic Botany. It was featured the other night on "Postcards" and here is an excerpt from the show, with a link below:

Botanic Museum of Economic Botany: Keith browses this the collection in the Adelaide City region of South Australia

In the middle of the Botanic Garden on North Terrace there is a beautiful little cluster of attractions. The Mediterranean Garden is coming along very nicely, the lotus pond now has its own glass palace around it and now the third development completes the set - the Museum of Economic Botany has been beautifully restored.

It's an imposing Greek revival temple smack bang in the middle of the soft swathe of green. And a temple of sorts to Doctor Richard Schomburgk, the garden's second and perhaps most influential Director.

Peter Emmett, Project Director: "This is a brilliant 19th century space. The late Victorians had a great sense of theatre. We're talking about 1881, pre-cinema obviously so the theatricality of these public spaces is pretty amazing."

Doctor Schomburgk saw part of the Botanic Garden's role as educating about botanic diversity particularly the agriculture sector. So, at a cost of 3-thousand pounds he commissioned the museum to showcase his ever-expanding collection. One hundred and twenty eight years later it's still doing just that!

Peter Emmett: "Schomburgk in particular is really strong about crop diversity - so he was trying to encourage farmers to grow fruits and sorghum and try all these different sorts of things and not just have this monoculture of wheat."

After a huge restoration job, which included peeling away a 1940s coat of 'hospital grey' paint - the museum has been returned to its former glory… and many of the original items collected by Schomburgk himself are back on display, arranged in the very showcases he designed.

Read more here: http://www.postcards.sa.com.au/features2009/botanic_museum.html

Tuesday 9 June 2009


Water is a serious problem here in South Australia but one local council is doing something about it. In fact, they are leading the world in storm water treatment and re-use. Many years ago they began to use some dry and dusty land as a series of holding ponds for storm water runoff. It was then a rough and ready arrangement which has now grown to be a showcase for water conservation.

Stormwater is water that runs off surfaces such as roofs, roads, footpaths and driveways when it rains. Much of this water flows into stormwater drains and then into creeks and rivers, eventually making its way into the sea. About 160,000 million litres of polluted stormwater was being released into Gulf St Vincent each year, much of it into the Barker Inlet.

In the 1990's the City of Salisbury defined a vision that it would seek to eliminate the flow of polluted water into the marine environment of the Barker Inlet of Gulf St. Vincent. The Barker Inlet is a delicate marine environment of mangroves and sea grass meadows serving as a nursery for a majority of the State's fishing industry. However, years of neglect and polluted inflows have reduced the Barker Inlet to a delicate state.

The creation of wetlands to cleanse stormwater was Salisbury's key strategy to help the ecological rehabilitation of the Barker Inlet while providing cheaper water to local industry and other users. Nutrient and pollutant loads are typically reduced by up to 90 per cent and the treated water salinity is less than 250 mg/L. The system is designed to hold stormwater for around 10 days to ensure optimal treatment efficiency.

Stormwater is treated and harnessed in a series of more than 30 wetlands along urban stormwater paths to slow the flow and allow pollution to settle out. The wetlands cover an area of 260 hectares enhancing the landscape and creating habitat diversity.

All the wetland plants are propagated at the Council's nursery and they play an important role in the treatment of polluted stormwater. The nursery has developed a high level of expertise in propagating various wetland species, and it sells wetland plants to users all around Australia.

As drought hit our state, demands for water also increased and the council researched storing cleaned stormwater underground in aquifers for re-use later. Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) is the process of injecting water into a suitable underground aquifer for storage and later reuse, and it can be a means of artificially recharging depleted underground water supplies.

ASR is a modification of the natural system that has been occurring for millions of years. Natural recharge occurs by filtration of rainwater through the soil profile, past the vegetation root zone and down to permeable rocks known as aquifers.Aquifers can store large quantities of water without losses from evaporation and with reduced risk of contamination, both of which are problems associated with surface water storage areas such as reservoir.

In March there was an excellent talk given at the Rare Fruits Meeting, by Colin Pitman, the Director of Projects at the Salisbury Council. He explained that they have now mapped the whole of Adelaide and made plans for supplying enough water to Adelaide to make it independent of the River Murray. The wetlands and aquifer system is suited to Adelaide's winter rainfall and underground geology and can hold the best solution for all our water needs, relatively cheaply and will return a profit, as it does for the Salisbury Council. I would be very happy to dispense with our current, antiquated water authority and buy my water directly from such a system as this.

I have a CD of the talk which is inspiring and full of information. If anyone would like to borrow it please email me.

Last week I went for a walk at what is now called the Greenfields Wetlands and found it to be not only useful but full of wildlife and photo opportunities! It is amazing to think that what once a dry, barren and awful part of the outskirts of Adelaide, in a triangle between 2 major roads, is now home to thousands of birds, frogs, lizards and insects. It is worth the drive.... go and look for yourself. 

more photos here


image There are many bridges through the Melaleucas
image image image
image You can see the oxygenating of the water happening here as nature cleans the water
image If I had binoculars, I could see my house on the top of one of those hills, from here.

Friday 5 June 2009

WED World Environment Day 2009

Today Friday the 5th of June is World Environment Day.

Check out their site.

We also had our 50,000 visitor to this blog last night.

Congratulations Kate and everyone else who has added so many interesting articles to this blog.

It is fun to see that someone on the far side of the globe has googled something we have written about.

The suns out and its a beautiful day, we had rain overnight, wow a great day to be in the garden.

Cheers Maggie.

Thursday 4 June 2009


I just watched a wonderful episode of Australian Story and this time it was about Dr. Maarten Stapper, a soil scientist who has transformed the way many farmers see their land. He has given them the ability to understand that their soil degradation, ever increasing reliance on chemicals, reduced yields and poor quality grains are happening because they are killing their soils.

He explains that the earth has a skin from which all life grows and depends. Without soil life and a healthy skin, there is no life. When the soil crumbles and becomes saline and when chemicals are applied over and over again the skin begins to die and no amount of genetic modification of the crop is going to save the soil life beneath. It is a nice analogy, and I think it is his way of explaining his approach that is part of his success with farmers. It is all very well to have knowledge but being able to impart is just as important.

He goes on to say that what the soil needs is rejuvenating with the microbes and humus which occur naturally but have been so reduced in numbers over the years that they have become ineffective. It is simply returning the soils to their natural state and maintaining that state into the future. Dr. Stapper teaches farmers to not only apply but also to grow the microbes and make the humus they require. This is similar to some of the biodynamic methods, it seems to me.

The results are staggering. Moreover, farmers are becoming advocates of good, clean food and are taking a look at their whole lives and seeing in a new light. It was a wonderful example of the energy people with a passion can harness and a very good representation of an optimistic future available today, to all farmers worldwide and in fact to all of us.

This is not about organic certification and I don't think the word organic was used even once. It is viewed from the farmers' and his daughter's perspectives and is about Maarten Stapper, the man.

Worrying however was the fact that he worked for CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.... actually I never knew that before!) for many years but left when it became clear his views on biological farming were incompatible with the CSIRO.Increasingly, even here in clean, green Australia, funding comes from business. Now he travels Australia talking with farmer groups and inspiring hope and giving the power to provide clean, green, whole foods back to the farmers and away from the chemical companies.

I am sorry there are no photos but it seems impossible to use any of the images on the ABC TV website. Please go and have a look yourself.... Australian Story: Maarten Stapper

Wednesday 3 June 2009




Why wouldn't you grow food when you can pick this for dinner on a cold winter's evening? As I wandered around the garden with my basket and knife, after the rain had washed all the vegetables for me, I was thinking of all the things I could do to make these vegetables into meals for the next few days....





  • "spinach" and fetta pie.... I use any leaves not just spinach
  • sorrel soup
  • dip the capsicums into lima bean puree
  • stir fry
  • salads of baby fennel bulb thinnings and flowers,  capsicums, sorrel, mizuna
  • my favouite Turkish "spinach"  soup
  • leftovers on toast for breakfast


Can you believe the colour of the stems of that red chard? image

And the chicory has gone nearly black  and oh so shiny.... I just love those cornos capsicums which are as sweet and as crisp as apples.... and the blue/green of the Russian kale contrasts superbly....

Don't you just want to eat it all? How lucky are we to have the chance to grow all this.... I cannot imagine buying food from the supermarket.... I have a funny story about that....

I visited my mother and we were talking about me visiting her next week on a different day. She likes to give me lunch when I come.

imageI said "Maybe I could come on Tuesday.... after you get home from the supermarket. That way you would have something for us to have for lunch."

She looked at me, with her jaw hanging open, and said " Don't be ridiculous! You can't get FOOD at the supermarket!"

We both realised what she has said.... both of us who grow food and buy the rest at markets.... and laughed and laughed....

I saw a stupid advertisement on TV last night... only one?, you ask!.... well this one was a sportswoman saying she wanted to give her children healthy snacks so she gives them such and such a fruit bar because "it contains a whole piece of fruit".... I said out loud to myself "Well then why not just give them the whole piece of fruit you crazy woman??" Honestly, how ridiculous but I do so love telling the radio and TV and various other appliances what I think of them....

So, who are all those people that think food comes from supermarkets? And would they feel as excited as I do if they too had all these vegetables growing in their back yards? Maybe not unless they were all packaged into things that claim to contain "a whole leaf of spinach" in every bite!

Tuesday 2 June 2009



The main road north from Adelaide takes you past Virginia, where much of the state's vegetables are grown and further on still, around the Two Wells area, are ever-increasing numbers of olive groves. So it was with great delight that I saw advertised in the Rare Fruit Society newsletter, a field trip to one of the oldest of these olive groves. Nick and his family, originally from Cyprus and Greece, have been running Verdale Olive Estate since the 1970's; 20 acres and 1500 olive trees, producing about 30 tonnes of olives a year. Together with some other growers they grow 3 main varieties of olives, mostly for eating but also some oil. They are kalamata, manzanillo and liguria. I like the liguria or wild olives best, like those that grow wild on the hillsides around Adelaide.

My main interest was to see how they preserve the olives and if they use any horrid chemicals, there or in the growing of the trees. Why it is that I am always the one asking these curly questions to innocent people who have so generously given their time for free, worries me not in the least and I have some very pleasant things to report about Verdale and especially about Nick's own growing and processing methods.image

A few years ago Nick was having problems with salt in the soil on his farm and after a soil test, found his soil was in a bad state. He decided the only thing to do was to go organic and he is very pleased with the results, if not with the certification process, but that's another story. Nick himself prefaced his answers by saying he is on the whole not into organics and all that kind of stuff, so it is inspiring to think he has found a natural way forward through the maze of chemical solutions on offer.


image If, like me, you imagine a big enterprise like this being full of shiny stainless steel and people in white coats then, like me you would have been surprised and oh so happy to see hundreds of pickle barrels outside in yards here, there and everywhere, with the chooks scratching around them, and a pallet of ordinary salt ready to be used in the next batch. Of course there are shiny machines for pitting and sorting and so on but then out they go into the barrels in a solution of 3% salt for a month. And that is when the lacto-fermentation starts to take place....( like Claudia was telling us about.). See the white stuff in the photo below.....

 image Nick processes the olives from all the farms he sources the olives from and every barrel is labelled as such so the origins of every olive is known from start to finish. Nick was so generous and gave us cuttings and fruit from his favourite pomegranate trees, as well as directing us into his on-site cafe and giving us tastings of the olives, dips, oils and other condiments they make there. The coffee I must say was excellent, the pizzas made in the wood oven delicious and the olives were really tasty. Those of us who stayed to the end were lucky enough to receive some vegetables from the garden, some semi-dried olives and a flagon of oil which was from olives picked and pressed yesterday, at a very good price. You should see the colour and oh the aroma is heavenly!

The cafe is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm.

Verdale Olive Estate, 27 Bailey Road East, Two Wells. Although it is right near Pt. Wakefield Rd, you can't enter Bailey Road from there and must take another route.



Out the back Nick has this little pineapple growing.... aren't they the weirdest things, growing up on a spike like that? And he also had a piece of sugarcane growing too.


The dogs were gorgeous  and there were tiny puppies too...



Thanks so much Nick.