Sunday 28 February 2010


The Indian Government has banned genetically engineered (GE) eggplant after the ex-Director of Monsanto India admitted the corporation provided 'fake scientific data' to regulators. In announcing the moratorium on GE eggplant, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, said there was not enough evidence that GE foods were safe to eat and that they didn't harm the environment.

Do we need any more proof than this that Monsanto is up to no good? Those who think GE foods will save the world should be shot. There is no such thing as a free lunch.... we cannot bypass nature in the quest for profits. Congratulations India! In many ways the Indian government is far ahead of ours. Kevin Rudd should get off his high horse and take a look outside, in the real world.

Saturday 27 February 2010


There you have it.... and it was obvious all along but I just couldn't put my finger on the link.... I must be getting old....or something!

Monoculture means growing one thing, usually on a massive scale and killing everything that dares interfere with that one thing, with chemicals.

Then there was organic but often it came to mean growing one thing, on a massive scale and killing everything that interferes with it, with chemicals made from natural substances.

In the organic vegetable garden I always encourage people to make use of every little microclimate, interplanting tall things with short to get shade in the heat of summer; always having flowers and seedlings and mature plants in the same bed; feeding the soil and the plants will feed themselves..... but still I was not quite sure what to say when asked "How can we feed the world this way?"

But then there was "Fresh" the movie.... and I have the answer... its all about food being nutritious and the loop....

Monoculture is like a huge field of wheat; when the crop is taken, there is nothing left. The farmer must get the land ready for next year by fertilising, spraying for pest and weeds, fixing machinery and buying seed. He spends many thousands of dollars on inputs from all over the world, which are trucked and shipped and give me a headache thinking about. Lets say that after expenses, he makes $100 / acre for his wheat crop if it is a good crop and if prices are good.

Then lets look at the kind of farmer shown in "Fresh" who has several fields of mixed grasses which soon self seed every year. First he puts cows on the field. Cows eat grass and grow big. Every few days he moves the cows to the next field, then the next and so on around the property. As the cows go along they fertilise the grasses but they also attract flies which lay their eggs in the dung, and flies carry diseases which can quickly spread through the cows when they come back to this pasture. Eventually he sells the cows for meat, to a local butcher. It is organic and of excellent quality and he might get $100 / acre. His cows had calves and so his next generation is produced.

Second,  3 days after the cows are taken off he lets in the chickens to the first field. The fly and other insect eggs have hatched and the chickens are in rapturous delight and gorge themselves, laying big, healthy, nutritious eggs for the farmer to sell. From these large, organic eggs the farmer receives $100 / acre from the local organic food shop or from the farm gate. Some of the eggs are allowed to hatch and become the next generation.

Third, in come a host of meat birds that eat a different selection of grasses to the cows and the chickens. Once these birds such as geese and turkeys have been through all the fields, they are sold for meat. They are healthy and strong and organic and he might get $100 / acre, sold direct to local shops. These also reproduce themselves.

Fourth, the grass is now well fertilised by cows, chickens and other birds and grows fast. The cows are allowed back in again before the grass dries and goes to seed. Now the farmer cuts it for hay. He uses some for the bedding and winter feed for his animals and sells the rest. He might receive $100 / acre from local people direct from the farm. The grasses self-seed and come up again next spring.

Moreover, some of the fields of the sustainable farmer produce a variety of vegetables at various times and some may have fruit trees under which the chickens graze in their rotation. The system is flexible and is a closed loop, with few inputs from beyond the farm. All his produce is sold locally.

Even with this simplistic view, you can see that he is producing many times the volume of more nutritious food for human consumption than the wheat farmer, whose crop is shipped around the world where it is processed and made into white flour which ends up as items wrapped in plastic bags in supermarkets thousands of kilometres away, adding little but carbohydrate to the diet to those that eat it. And it seems, from the documentary, that the multi-cultural farmer reaps the rewards financially too.

The multi-cultural farmer needs workers to help. He creates employment for locals. Those who may otherwise be driving trucks or ships of wheat, stay home and work on this farm and themselves learn the value of nutrition, raising healthy children who take their message to school and help start a school vegetable garden..... and so the effects go on and on, rippling through every avenue of society.

In this way we not only feed the world but it is sustainable, reducing greenhouse gases, climate change, pollution, medical expenses, unemployment  etc etc etc and generally making the world a happier place for everyone.

Watch a trailer, join the movement, find a screening here. It is American, and I am always sceptical of American things (sorry Pattie!) but this is genuinely good and farmer whatsit who lets his chickens be chickens and develop their chicken-ness is fabulous..... as is the big, ex-basketballer turned urban farmer.

Thursday 25 February 2010



"The trouble with eating Italian food is that

five or six days later you’re hungry again."

~ George Miller

There are more and more blogs in Italy and some about Italian food. This quote and photo came from Aglio, Olio & Peperoncini and some ideas for polenta that make me go straight to the cupboard to start cooking lunch, before it is even 8am!

My favourite blog in Italy is Path to Self Sufficiency.... obviously not by an Italian but here is a lovely snippet from a recent post by Heiko ( a Dutchman, who was brought up in Germany and has lived in the UK for a long time and who now lives in Italy on the border between Liguria and Tuscany):


.......To put it quite simply, I really do not understand the concept of money. I mean it, I don't. I can just about follow why they invented it in the first place. Back in the days when humans just roamed the countryside, life maybe wasn't exactly easy, but it was simple. All you needed to sort out was who went foraging for berries and roots and who did the hunting. In the evening they all met up again and shared their spoils.

When they invented culture you could still manage quite easily. You hunted an extra wild boar or deer, picked a few more berries and invited the guy with the interesting metal contraption from the other valley to bring along some pina colada and the other chap who manages to extract those strange sounds out of an old goat skin to join your feast and hey, you had a party!
But once people started settling down people started to specialise. There was the cabbage farmer, the goat herder, the medicine man, the carpenter and the plumber. Once the cabbage farmer got himself yet another acre of land he needed a bit of help. But soon his workmen got bored being paid in cabbages, there's only so much you can do with them. So they needed to come up with some sort of currency, some sort of token with a value they all agreed on.....
read on...

It gets better and better and is a great little story!

Wednesday 24 February 2010


If you have been following the story of my son Hugh's garden, you will know that he started with a yard FULL to the brim with concrete about 18 months ago. I got the phone call to please come and help start a garden one morning and was told to bring wheelbarrow,tools and compost! Of course I was keen to see him start to grow vegetables so of course I obliged and by the end of the day he had a little area about the size of 2 dining room tables to plant into. For some months I received frequent phone calls from an excited Hugh telling me his first tomato was ripe or his lettuce was being eaten by goblins at night or asking was it the right time of the year to plant beetroot or bananas! Every evening after work he would sit out beside his patch while having a beer and gaze in wonder, like a father with a baby. It was not a big enough area for two people to sit next to easily, and one day I had another phone call. When I arrived, this first photo shows what we had to tackle to make a second bed. This is the story of the evolution of this bed....


April 2009.... oh hell !! It was a rough delivery for the second baby but sand is, at least, easy to dig!
Leaves flourished and Hugh was proud... 
February 2010...a new plan hatches one fine summer's morning... construct an edible water garden, with style...




This very morning we finished it and I must say it is a wonder to behold and a delight to sit beside and music to my ears to hear the tinkle of water trickling off the rocks into a pond planted with watercress I originally received from Deb and water chestnuts originally from Cath.

The edges will be filled with lettuces and herbs and you can see a few young amaranth on the left which will give shade in the late afternoon when they grow. There are some tubers of cardamon behind the rocks, and although they don't flower here, the leaves can be used to wrap fish or vegetables, for a fragrance like lemony cinnamon.

The water is still murky as we had only just retrieved one of the large rocks that toppled into the pond while we were adjusting the water pipe!

It certainly goes to show that gardening is all about observation, inspiration and determination!

Tuesday 23 February 2010


Indian poster from Sunita Oh how wonderful it would be to be able to go to this. If there are any readers who are nearby, please go, and take some photos to show us. Sunita is a board member of Kitchen Gardeners International. Click on the poster to read.

Dear friends,

The Malnad Mela is back in Bangalore for the third year running!
Come and join us in this celebration of produce and local art from the Western Ghats. Explore the importance of seed biodiversity and supporting conservation oriented livelihoods that seek to preserve and enhance age-old practices. Take home traditional seed varieties and enjoy fresh vegetables from your very own home garden.

Date:     February 27-28,  2010  (Saturday & Sunday)
Time:    10 am to 6 pm
Venue:  4, Ashley Road, Off Brunton Rd (behind Hotel Ajantha on M.G. Rd),  
             Bangalore: 560025


Some of the produce and products from the forest home gardens this year include

  • indigenous seeds
  • wild forest foods
  • traditional snacks and preserves
  • spices
  • honey
  • dairy and poultry products
  • kokam butter balm
  • mud paintings
  • vegetable hair dyes
  • hand-sewn patchwork pieces
  • yoga mats
  • soap-nut scrub
  • natural incense
  • areca leaf plates
  • seed jewellery
  • herbal oils
  • seed murals
  • natural insect repellents ……and more.

We will also have products from the Concerned for Working Children (CWC), Kundapur and Himjoli, Himalayas.
This last year has been ecologically eventful with wayward weather (blame it all on climate change we are told!), failing crops, rising food prices, insane development plans, and the threat of having Bt Brinjal seeds on the market (fortunately thwarted for the moment thanks to people’s pressure). The hope is that our modest effort will help with seeking saner alternatives and pro-active responses to the current dismal state of affairs.
Thank you all for your encouragement and support. Please do pass this mail on to others you know or e-groups. Print out the attached poster if you can, to put up in your neighbourhood store, office, school, college or other place.
We look forward to seeing you again over the last weekend of February!
Sunita Rao
94802 99200
Founder Trustee - Vanastree

Friday 19 February 2010

Markets & Other Gardening Related Events in Adelaide


We as Adelaide Hills and Plains Seedsavers  get many of requests for information on gardening, seed saving, seedlings and plants.
So it is great to pass on any event I think you may be interested in.

Here are a few events which all sound fantastic.

Food Connect was officially launched on Saturday, 13 February 2010, at the Plains to Plate convergence.
Soon you will be able to fill in your subscription form on Food Connect's website to get your box of predominantly local and predominantly organic fruit and vegetables. Produce direct from the farmers. The first box delivery is not far away! Get excited! Become part of the Food Connect community.  Food Connect will also have a stall at the Uraidla Sustainability Fair & Show this Saturday the 20 February 2010.  Do pop in and say hello. The friendly team will be able to answer any of your questions. (Or so we hope.)

Markets and Garden related events. Please check the details for your self.

This Sunday there is an Aboriginal Food & Plant Trail guided tour at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. This is a free and very interesting tour.Meet at the Schomburgk Pavilion at 11 am. Check there website and events calender for more details.

Sunday the 28th February there is a Family Fun Day at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens from 2pm to 4pm. It is called "drawing on nature" and mentions you can do a watercolor painting and drawing to take home.
Meet at the Schomburgk Pavilion. Check there website and events calender for more details

Fullarton Park Community Centre Market is held on the 4th Saturday of each month, Heather Welsh sells lots of unusual herbs, there is great citrus available from Dave and Joy Schulz as well as many other plant and produce stalls.

Diana and Jen will be selling organic seedlings at Stirling Market which is the 4th Sunday of the month.

Urrbrae High Barn Market is always the first Saturday Morning of the Month.

I have heard there is a great Car Boot Sale twice a month at Brighton High front oval.

The Mount Barker and Adelaide Farmers Markets are very popular and have a huge variety of fresh organic produce.Check out there websites for the details of the growers who will be attending each week.

There is a Music? Art? Exotic Market, Summer of love 2010, Free Festival tomorrow at Macclesfield, Davenport Square from 2 to 8pm as part of the Fringe Festival.

Warp on the Wild Side, a contemporary basketry exhibition in historic Urrbrae House.This exhibition reflects a diverse range of techniques displaying intricate patterns, flowing lines & sculptural forms using plant fibres found in Waite Arboretum. Guided walks in the Arboretum on Sundays.

Urrbrae House - University Of Adelaide, Waite Campus, Fullarton Road, Urrbrae. 27-28Feb, 1-8Mar, 11am - 4pm.

There are heaps of  wonderful exhibitions for the Fringe Festival which opens with the Fringe Parade tonight near Rundle Street.

Keep Cool!
And please check the details of any event event as I only get my info from leaflets prepared many months before

Wednesday 17 February 2010


  imageBy now our summer vegetables are all established and should be producing well but with another heatwave looming down on us, it is hard to stay positive about gardening in summer, in South Australia. I think a covering of the white 50% shade cloth is the answer to keeping leaves and other soft vegetables going well. To a human the white does not seem to provide a sense of shade but to the plants it is the perfect solution as they need to keep photosynthesising to survive and only the white shade cloth allows the full range of sunlight through, but cuts the intensity by 50%. In my little shade house made of this fabric, lettuce and other leaves flourish and nothing is as uplifting as walking in and seeing such happy plants, even though temperatures may be in the 40's. Have a look at Scarecrow's garden for ideas on how to erect the white shade cloth.

image At Hugh's he has developed a different approach, as we have had the time to toss ideas about together and time for him to learn little by little by direct experience. Living in a rented house with a yard completely covered in concrete has made him learn to be creative and to adapt to what is cheap, easy and possible. For example, he has lettuce and other leaves growing under the tall amaranthus, making a perfect microclimate. After the accidental success of the bok choy planted around the bird bath, Hugh has put a large pot of water amongst the amaranthus to raise the humidity and on hot days this certainly seems to work, as amaranthus in other places tend to get burnt edges on the leaves. It is amazing how fast this water evaporates in our searingly dry heat.

The floor of the tomato bed is covered in herbs such as the Laksa herb, garlic chives, various basils and tarragon. The capsicums are planted so as to be shaded in the late afternoon only; galangal, beetroot and beans receive afternoon shade from the neighbour's gum tree while sweet potatoes and purslane creep between the eggplants. There is no shade cloth,other than the little shade house only careful planning and, despite the abominable mass of concrete, the garden is flourishing like an oasis.

imageOf course there have been casualties! The biggest problem that is very hard to alleviate is the wind which rips through everything, bouncing off fences and rattling even the seemingly most protected areas of the yard. Luckily tomatoes love wind and it keeps away diseases but a week of dead calm has seen the arrival of some mites..... now we are hoping again for the wind to return! Whether it was the wind or something in the soil we don't know but the corn was a disaster, after starting strong and magnificent and everything planted in that bed has failed to thrive..... cucumbers, beans, even zucchinis. But the idea was good.... the tall corn was to protect the cucumbers and the beans were to climb up the corn and everything was supposed to be one big happyimage family!

Before Hugh became interested in growing fruit and vegetables, a lovely old apricot tree died of neglect. Hugh has sown his tallest beans around the dead tree and this is fast becoming a bean tree. Underneath are also marigolds and echinacea and there is a single comfrey plant establishing itself and hopefully soon it will form a clump from which Hugh can harvest the nutrients said to be inside those magical leaves.

There is a dreadful little walled section of garden just wide enough to cook the soil in summer so into it we planted native sand dune plants from this area as well as some okra which loves extreme heat and dry soil. At one end some established spring oniony things are doing fabulously too.


The water from the rain water tank is used to water those things that suffer most from our salty mains water..... tubs of fruit trees and the salad garden, purposely planted right next to the tank because neither of us believe we should be using pumps... that is something I have written about before and no doubt will again. In the '50's when this house was built, people did sensible things like putting the tank up on a stand to give some head or pressure; today this seems to be all forgotten and people use pumps and make pollution in order to save water !!! To make most use of the vertical space and to keep the tank water cool, Hugh has just planted 3 different passionfruit in tubs, after covering the tank in chicken wire for them to climb up..... what terrible English this is but I am running out of time and need to get ready to go to Wednesday gardening at Sally's!!

Everything is thought through here and lessons learned, as best we can, for next year. It is amazing what you can do, no matter what your constraints. All you need is observation, imagination and ..... oh, please find the word that eludes me to go here..... it means effort/to bother/.....oh yes... determination! These 3, as my old school passage from the bible goes, but the greatest of these is observation !

Monday 15 February 2010

Zucchini & Basil Fritters


There seems to be a bit of a blogger’s contest here in Australia to show off our culinary uses of the humble courgette or zucchini.

I reckon the best way to cook zucchinis is to grate them, salt them for 1/2 an hour, squeeze out the juice, add a little besan or other flour, some freshly chopped basil, parsley, chilli and onion, add 3 beaten eggs and fry the fritters in a small amount of oil.

  Here is a picture of our lunch today, usually we serve them with yoghurt to which we add chopped garlic and mint.

What is your favourite way to prepare zucchinis?

Friday 12 February 2010

A Beautiful Summer Evening in Adelaide

Niki and I have been sitting out in the veggie garden listening to the myriad of birds in the neighbourhood trees  settle down for the night.

We have enjoying the cool breeze rustling through the trees.

We have had a hot week in Adelaide, so it is wonderful to have a cool day, to walk the dogs, do a bit of gardening, play with water outside with my grandson and then go for a walk and practice bird calls, we can do crows really well.

We are still practicing kookaburras, although we can hop like kangaroos really well.

The tomatoes and capsicums are ripening slowly.

We are picking cucumbers, chillies and basil each day.

It is hot and dry in South Australia, hard to grow some veggies in summer but we put up shade cloth on hot days and we are able to grow most summer veggies.

I have even managed to make a variety of pickles, chutneys and relishes!

Comfrey and watercress and a cancer theory



There is a lovely Australian website and blog for lovers of all things herbal. It is Isabell Shipard's Herbs Are Special. It explores every herb I have ever heard of and lots more, in depth, and son Hugh sent me a link to the page about comfrey, which has from time to time been given a rough trot. Maybe, like many another theory, comfrey is about to have its name cleared and become the latest wonder herb, as it once was. Being a lover of leaves and knowing how easy it is to grow comfrey I would love to start eating it too....well, actually I put it in last night's dinner. I know chooks love it and I have fed it to mine for years. It would be interesting to know what readers think.

....Read the book, ‘World without cancer, the story of vitamin B17’ by Edward Griffin, which reveals how science has been subverted to protect entrenched commercial and political interests. The book explores the revolutionary concept that cancer is a deficiency disease, the substance missing being B17 (also called laetrile), discovered by German chemist Leibig in1830, and further researched by Dr. Ernst Krebs and others.

Another Australian, who valued the HDRA research, was Foster Savage, who I mentioned earlier. I had the opportunity to know him, personally, when he settled in Nambour to farm (and later Cooroy); and, I knew you would guess, he grew lots of comfrey! Wilted comfrey was fed to his animals in large amounts. Why did he allow it to wilt? He told me that animals could eat much more, each day, when it was wilted! He often had groups and private people visit and he would, freely, share his knowledge of comfrey and how it benefited his land, animals and his family (note, he had 13 children). When legislation placed comfrey on the poisons schedule in Australia, and newspapers highlighted the ban, he wrote a letter to the Sunshine Coast Daily, in defense of comfrey, saying:

"I was perhaps responsible for 95% of the comfrey in Australia, having introduced the plant to this country in 1954, and having used the plant in great quantities, since then; I am, perhaps, competent to speak about it and to make a few comments on the …remarks about comfrey made by the CSIRO scientist …"To say that two leaves, eaten daily - over a couple of years - will cause serious disease, is simply not true. In our house, we have eaten 70 leaves, or thereabouts, daily, for 24 years: in the form of comfrey tea, liquidised in a vitamiser as a green drink, and in salads. I also fed comfrey to my farm animals.

Knowing the power of comfrey to restore a worn out animal quickly, and make her milk again, I once bought an old cow at the Dandenong Market, when farming in Victoria. It had been discarded by some farmer, as worn out. I put her on comfrey, giving her 90 lbs of wilted comfrey (wilted to increase the cow’s intake of comfrey’s extraordinary nutrients), and 90 lbs made a pretty big heap, about 4 feet high. This poor, old, creature took to the comfrey, without hesitation … she was starving for minerals and her instincts gave her a craving for comfrey. When she began to eat, she would eat off the heap of leaves for a couple of hours, then sit down for an hour or so. Later, she would continue eating, until every leaf was gone. If Dr. Culvenor’s words were true, imagine the poison she would be taking into her body, with this quantity of comfrey daily. If comfrey attacked the liver, then this cow would have died, because she was in a worn out condition. Instead, she doubled her milk output, within a week, and in a fortnight, trebled it. The remarkable thing, was that the cream that settled overnight, was some 3/4 inch thick and the separation of cream from the milk was so perfect, that the cream could be lifted off, with none remaining. I fed comfrey to calves, as much as they could eat, again with only gratifying results. I fed pigs, entirely on comfrey and grain, as much comfrey as they could eat, and the quality of those pigs was legendary, in the district.

The fame of comfrey spread far and wide, for my farm was visited by 6,000 farmers from around Australia and from overseas. Finally, I well remember the enthusiastic remarks of the butcher who regularly killed our comfrey-fed calves. He told us that he had never before, seen such healthy livers … that, mind you, after being reared on a herb that was supposed to cause liver diseases!"

 Watercress is one of my favourite salad additions and the information on this website about its properties makes me glad it is also very easy to grow in a tub of water. You can give it a haircut daily and it seems to grow back overnight in summer!

You can buy herbs, vegetables and fruit trees and seeds from them too.... I will put their link in the side bar, under seed companies.

Picking Herbs To UseYou can visit the Shipard's Herb Farm, which is in Queensland:

139 Windsor Rd., Nambour.
(on right, past Sunshine Coast Institute of TAFE)

Open hours -
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday - from 10:00am till 2:00pm.

If you would like to come at any other time, please phone during open hours a day or more in advance to confirm a time when you would like to visit.

Phone No. -
(07) 5441 1101

Fax No. -
(07) 5471 6430

email -

There are no blog entries after 2008..... shame... but you can subscribe to email updates from Isabell.

Thursday 11 February 2010


Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots often writes of the lack of meaning for the word organic in Europe these days, as regulations are loose and agribusiness continues to rely on monoculture. Here in Australia things are, thankfully, quite a bit different and I think we can be reasonably confident that biodiversity is an integral part of organic certification. Here is an excerpt of the latest edition of the Biological Farmers of Australia free online newsletter:

Biodiversity and biological farming; a natural partnership

.............Major independent studies have confirmed organic farming actively contributes to better levels of biodiversity at every level of the food chain than non-organic systems. Organic agriculture is proving that we not only must, but can, have our environmental cake and eat it too.

A major pillar of organic production, and the vanguard of biodiversity protection, is maintaining a rich diversity of plant and animal life as the basis for the health of crops, farmed animals, the environment and the community, which are all inextricably linked.

Under the Organic Standard, management decisions must take into account impact on native flora and fauna and hydrological considerations, embracing protection of shelter belts, corridors, wetlands and remnant vegetation protection.

All forms of environmental pollution – chemical, genetic and physical – must be minimised and non-renewable resources must be conserved.

Rob Bauer, a fourth - generation farmer on his Queensland property in the Lockyer Valley, inherited land that the original European settlers had been obliged to clear – and keep clear of regrowth – by government dictates.

Rob converted the property to organic farmland thirty years ago and since then he has seen a marked change in the diversity and populations of native animals and vegetation on his land.

Repair of much of the existing environmental damage was assisted by an ongoing co-operative venture between Rob and Landcare which began in 1985. On a demonstration block in a previously degraded area more than two hundred rare, endangered and “interesting” native trees were planted. Rob carried the concept through the whole farm, which now has, interspersed with the cultivated fields, flourishing native bushland which is home to innumerable native animals, birds and insects, as well as providing shade, shelter and fodder for farmed animals.....

I also thought this comparison was interesting:

Australian organic avoids elitist attitude

A slow in the growth of organic sales in the UK has prompted prominent organic certifier and charity organisation, the Soil Association, to voice concerns consumers now see organic as a high-brow and expensive alternative.

.........However, an organic choice for many Australian organic consumers is not only about money - it’s about understanding and appreciating inherent value. Organic food represents environmentally-friendly food production, without synthetic chemicals or genetically modified ingredients, a focus on animal welfare,  etc and those are values more people are taking an interest in and willing to support, regardless of their socio-economic status..........

Read more of these articles by subscribing to the monthly Organic Advantage E-zine.

Wednesday 10 February 2010


image A couple of months ago I suggested you sow amaranthus..... so.... did you?

If not then you won't be looking daily in awe at this beautiful, tall, elegant, hardy, colourful, nutritious, tasty, versatile plant now beginning to wave wonderful, vibrant flower heads in the breeze! And, unless you buy it from the Asian stalls in the Central Market, you probably won't get a chance to have it for dinner until next year.... or if you are in the northern hemisphere, you'd better get some seeds and start sowing.

I am addicted to leaves; I have written about it before several times. Raw or cooked leaves are almost always a part of my meals. In summer this means lots of variety in my salads.... every kind and colour of lettuce, peppery watercress, fiery or mild rocket, nasturtium flowers and leaves, sweet potato leaves, herbs like basil and various mints, young beetroot leaves, baby spinch, Asian greens of dozens of sorts and new leaves of amaranthus, etc etc. For cooking I use the older leaves of all these plants, plus kales, brassica leaves and rainbow chard. I even adore lettuce soup which is so much nicer than it sounds!

Tonight I made a quick meal with onions, zuccini slices, tomatoes,celery, fennel seeds ( another passion of mine), olives, tinned chick peas, basil, watercress and some left over liquid from a small jar of artichokes I ate for lunch.

Most of these ingredients were eaten within half an hour of being picked....I call food gardens health insurance.


image image image
How could you NOT want these in your garden? Just chop some of the leaves and add to anything... the flavour is mild And don't forget to have a tub of watercress to pick from too.


FlippyOh... did I mention that I felt so great after that dinner that I made myself an incy wincy little fluffy, banana pancake for dessert and topped it with lashings of maple syrup, a dusting of coconut and a good squeeze of lemon? I cooked it and ate it before I remembered to take a photo... so I thought I'd let this little dude show you how its done!

Life is good.... enjoy it while you can!

Tuesday 9 February 2010

To every season there is a meaning!

Today I was spending time with my beautiful grandson who is just learning to talk.

He started to dance and say turn, turn, turn and I immediately thought of the song written by Pete Seeger.

We goggled Pete singing his song and then telling why he wrote this song and danced and had a party.

This song  brought back many memories for me. Google why he wrote this song.

I hope you enjoy this song and that the seasons you are experiencing in your lives and gardens are fun and  alive and turning and turning!

Have fun, Maggie

Friday 5 February 2010


As we all know, different parts of the world have different plants, animals, weather, soil and water conditions. For millions of years creatures of the earth developed characteristics that best adapted them to these conditions. Those that did not have the genes to adapt to the slow but constant heating and cooling of the planet died out; those that could survive the changes went on to flourish. Humans began to collect the seeds of those flourishing plants and sowed them closer to home, allowing them to stay in one place and so gradually the nomadic lifestyle died out in many parts of the world, starting about 10,000 years ago. They also herded animals together, built barriers to keep them in and so began rudimentary farming.

Every season the peoples of the mountains and valleys and plains of the Middle East, Africa and Asia sowed their seeds, grew their food and saved some of the resulting seeds for next year. Travellers in ships, on camels and on foot started to swap their seeds and produce and so to introduce new vegetables and fruits to each other. The people in the new lands would try to grow the new crops and sometimes succeeded, sometimes not but always they saved their own seeds from year to year and in this way the new crops adapted to the new lands and so, over the centuries, different varieties became suited to very different conditions. This is called conserving the processes of evolution and adaptation.

These days seeds are sold in packets in supermarkets, garden centres, hardware shops and nurseries. Mostly we have no idea where they come from. In South Australia, for example, there are no seed companies growing seeds suitable for our climate. Every year lots of people buy the same seed, and do not save the seed from their previous crops. As the climate changes, our seeds are therefore not adapting because they come from somewhere else. Soon we begin to find that fewer and fewer seeds are working for us in our gardens because they simply are not suited to our climate. People try adapting to the seeds by covering everything with shadecloth or using more water or adding things to the soil or spraying for pests which like to eat the sick plants. We have stopped conserving the processes of evolution and adaptation.

People who save seeds are saving the genes of adaptation and allowing evolution to continue so that no matter what happens to our climate, our seeds will have adapted year by year to those changes. There is a lot of fear about climate change and food security but all we need to do is allow our seeds to adapt season by season; always saving the seed from the best plants to sow next year. Buying seed from seed companies far from your home will not work, as our climate changes faster, and artificially genetically modifying the seeds is a pointless task and only seeks to make money for seed companies, destroying the processes of evolution and adaptation forever, leading ultimately to the destruction of our food chain.

So that is why we must save seeds. If you don't feel competent to do it alone, join a local seedsavers group where others can help you get started. You can find one here in Australia, but there are people saving seeds in every corner of the world. In our Hills and Plains Seedsavers group, we swap seeds between ourselves and give them away to friends. This way you don't have to save all your own seeds, just a few to share and soon you will find you have lots of different seeds to try and that these seeds will be adapted to your growing conditions.

Please read more about agricultural ecosystems here.

Thursday 4 February 2010


Map image

On the 18th of January, I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania to stay with my friend Erica and her family for a couple of weeks, looking after their house and dogs and one lovely daughter for one of the weeks while the rest were away on holidays. Well,they have now returned and I am into the 3rd week, hanging around like a bad smell perhaps.... but I have been so enjoying Hobart and surrounds that I have gone and bought a house here!


When you buy a house you need to have a few things in your mind that are so important to you that if just one of them is not right, then you must not go ahead. To me these were:




  • The main rooms must be filled with light all year round
  • At least 1 acre of land (4,000 m2), already cultivated to some extent, and private
  • Quiet..... no road or other noise
  • Fertile soil
  • Mains water inside and plenty of water for the garden
  • Large kitchen
  • Energy efficient heating /cooling, including a slow combustion heater
  • House in sound condition
  • Broadband internet available
  • Not too far from a city (less than 1 hour's drive)
  • Walking track suitable for taking a dog off the lead
  • A nice setting and outlook.... water or hills views
  • Flattish land

After these, there are some things that are preferable:

  • Mains sewer, not septic
  • Insulation
  • A house with character and history
  • Established fruit trees
  • No tall trees on the northern side of the house or garden
  • A verandah like Deb's... now I cannot find the photo to show you why!
  • Solar panels / solar hot water heating
  • Down to earth community
  • Doesn't have things I don't want, that make it expensive for all the wrong reasons, like extra bathrooms, fancy kitchen
  • Large building suitable for future Bed and Breakfast maybe

And here are some dreams:

  • A creek
  • A spring
  • An established organic veg garden
  • Cheap
  • Within walking distance to some shops and a cafe
  • By the sea

Built in or before 1910. Weatherboard.
A little dam fed by a winter creek. 1 acre
Excellent condition
 image Big, light kitchen; big, gas stove.  image
Location, location, location! But cheap!
Quirky with creek
Sheltered veg garden and fruit trees
Walk to shops and community garden
Sunny verandah

This gorgeous little house in Cygnet, Tasmania, has all of the "must have" requirements and most of the rest as well. There are a couple of extras that I am so excited about..... no water meters and mains water from the Huon River area which comes from the rain forests of wild south west Tasmania.... read that word.... RAIN forests! It has a creek and associated easement running diagonally through it which makes it impossible to sub-divide in the future which means it is much cheaper than other, similar properties. The local GP has a permaculture property rather than a fancy city house. There are blueberry and other berry and fruit farms, and even some organic ones. It is 5 minutes walk to the sea and it has never ever been 40 C .....!! And every few years it snows.... oh is this paradise or what?



Like Pattie, I thought I would have a competition  "Who will be the first blog-reader to come and visit me?"

Here is a photo of the future B and B..... but, as you can see, its not ready to use yet so you can sleep inside the house..... or in the quirky, old ship's wheelhouse in the garden !

There are more photos here.

Is anyone else having trouble with photos on Live writer?


Wednesday 3 February 2010


A lot of vegetable gardening authorities, whatever that means, suggest planting vegetables on raised beds but in South Australia and a lot of other Mediterranean zones, this, to me is madness. In places where summer water is oh so precious, we do not need to provide drainage, we need to be preserving every drop of water for the plants. If you look at raised garden beds, you often find the paths, which are lower than the beds, grow lush crops of weeds and grasses!

Jude Fanton has found these beautiful gardens in the arid zone of western Rajasthan, India, which show what can be achieved when we look at our own environments and not those of people on gardening shows in other climates, even in the same country as ourselves.

I don't know if you remember my terracotta pots idea, but it comes from looking at my own situation and works wonderfully well in doing several things to help plants get through our extreme summer heat.

First, unsealed, unglazed terracotta is simply fired clay and is porous so the water moves very slowly out through the pot into the soil, keeping plants such as lettuce and bush beans turgid and fresh even in the full sun on days over 40C.

Secondly and probably equally as important, the water in the clay pot, covered with a tile, keeps the surrounding soil temperature from rising too high. It is high soil temperatures which damages the roots of plants and causes them to burn off, in extreme heat, and stop the roots sucking up water even if it is available.

For more on this experiment see these updates:

Kate and the Beanstalk

Using tank water without a pump

Olives and Artichokes

Recently I experimented with another similar idea, where I put an open, plastic bowl full of water in the middle of a large, shallow tyre-pot and surrounded it with tiny, caterpillar-eaten bok choy seedlings. I could not believe the speed of their growth compared to seedlings I planted elsewhere and they were ready to eat in 21 days! I am not sure why it worked, maybe the water heated during the day and kept the soil temperature warmer over night..... maybe it was the humidity provided by the water..... maybe both.

Tuesday 2 February 2010


I think I watched every episode of Gardening Australia while Peter Cundall was on it and I came to really like that pom enough to almost accept his advice. What I like most about him still is his determination to stop woodchipping Tasmania's old growth forests and to stand up and be arrested, at 82, for the cause. He also single-handedly brought organics into the homes of every Australian TV gardener, making purchasers of chemicals quiver in their boots, with his outspoken criticism of chemical agriculture and horticulture.


image Yesterday I visited the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, where Pete's Patch from Scratch began. Cleverly, placing this in a botanic gardens gives it credibility somehow and also ensures that it continues to inspire people long after Peter has left Gardening Australia and hopefully long after Gardening Australia has finished too. I knew I was approaching "his" vegetable garden because the use of vegetables as garden features seemed to have leaked out and spread into surrounding garden areas, as good ideas are wont to do. In this photo, left, of the conservatory garden, a narrow, stone wall raised bed is filled with silver beet (foreground) and each corner of the square is punctuated with a teepee of scarlet runner beans in their full flowering glory. Herbs and more vegetables form 90% of this entire beautiful garden, including the centrepieces of the 4 lawns filled with sweetcorn and rainbow chard (right).



The vegetable garden was of course lovely but what I loved most was the ecology of it all.... like I am always going on about.... surround your vegetables and fruit with herbs and flowers and native plants and you will gain on every level.... few pests, more variety to pick, whether food or flowers, and the sheer joy of seeing such abundance flourish so effortlessly as a result. And the earth will gain too, in too many ways to go into again here. There were bees and butterflies and birds and all things wise and wonderful in this beautiful border of herbs and perennials which formed the backdrop of the vegetable garden.



At the very back you can just see a corner of a massivimagee, old, brick wall which provides a much needed warmer microclimate for some of the fruit trees which are thriving here in less than ordinarily ideal conditions. There are citrus and tamarillos and passionfruit to name a few.

Scarlet runner beans grow to enormous heights here, as you can see in this photo and beans in general seem to produce incredible crops right through summer.

In the glass house were some tropical herbs like lemongrass.

All in all it was a wonderful, lush, productive garden full to overflowing with fruit and vegetables, all grown without chemicals of any sort.

"I guess that's your bloomin' lot".... as Peter would say .... "but you'll be absolutely blown away by the rest of the Botanic Garden that I will write about soon."

I will upload some more photos here soon. In the meantime, you can read about this beautiful garden here.

Monday 1 February 2010



Every day brings a new adventure, here in Hobart, Tasmania. On Saturday I went to the Salamanca market and I could not believe my eyes; this was probably the biggest market I have ever been to! Considering Hobart is a city of only 150,000 that is quite a feat. It is beautifully set between lawns on one side, the cafes and interesting shops of Salamanaca Place on the other and a backdrop of mountains. Erica and I arrived soon after 9am and wandered along, buying lots of excellent, local organic vegetables and breads.

The food stalls included a group of Asian growers with everything one could want for some Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese cooking. The breads were quite different from Adelaide artisan breads. In particular, the organic, sour dough rye loaf I bought has a deliciously soft and chewy crust instead of being as hard as Paolo's or The Rustica I often buy in the central market in Adelaide.

Most of the stalls are not selling food, but crafts, clothes and jewelry.

"Oh" I hear you say, "One of those tacky, glitzy, awful markets."

"No! Most definitely not!" I answer.

image People here are obviously very talented in their crafts because I could have bought enough beautiful, interesting, reasonably priced things to fill a house... which I may well need to do soon! There are a lot of beautiful woods in Tasmania and people do such creative and interesting things with them. The market was very busy and I was not able to get many clear shots of the stalls but I will go earlier next Saturday and take more time wandering and photographing.

I did, however, find a new Tasmanian seed company, Southern Harvest, based right here, on 5 acres on the edge of Hobart.They offer seed for kitchen, cottage and native gardens. I talked to Claire who owns the business with her husband. They have plans to produce more and more seed themselves but still are relying on some seed from the mainland to supplement their own. I asked Claire if she knew of a local seedsavers group and she said lots of people ask her that but as yet there doesn't seem to be one, although there is mention of one on the Seedsavers Network site but no action has occurred since 2008.


Erica and I had a lovely time talking with Helen Cushing and her daughter Pippa at one of the many cafes that line Salamanca Place. Helen writes for Tasmanian Life and had just returned from a visit to rosarian and octagenerian Susan Irvine and has written about her fabulous garden and life dedicated to Alister Clark roses. Helen also told us of a new bookshop which sells only books by Tasmanian authors and I think this deserves a visit soon.

All too soon it was time to leave as Erica had to get back and pack for her family's trip to Sydney, while I stay at her house and look after things there. Erica did not see the gleam in my eye when she mentioned on the way home that the jasmine is overgrowing the scarlet runner beans and needs pruning back. You see, Jasmine and I do not get on. I am passionate about plants; I love to sow their seeds, watch them come to life and be a part of their lives but ..... I draw the line at Jasmine and its disgusting aroma which makes me cough and sneeze. Touching the leaves makes my skin itch and tingle and its invasive habit is so obnoxious I cannot understand why people grow it on purpose!image

So, dressed for gardening, I stood at the gate waving goodbye to the family on Sunday, secateurs in my pocket at the ready! If I'd had my way, that Jasmine would have been cut off at the ground but I tried to be calm..... after all, this was not my garden! It tried to get the better of me by being securely attached to the beans but secateurs are a wonderful tool and those nasty strands were soon severed with glee. An hour later, after hacking and pulling and talking unkindly to it, I had it subdued..... and celebrated with a cup of coffee and a couple of the beans that had been overgrown by the jasmine.

The rest of Erica's vegetable garden has a beautiful view..... no wonder it all looks so happy!