Summer Fizz

With the warm weather thoughts are turning to cooling summer drinks. So far TB has brewed some Apple with a mild fizz – the first batch of which was pleasant and the second which had fizz but seemed to have gone off. A brew of traditional ginger beer and a more exploratory brew of chicory root are also in production. You can blame the latter on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall whose brewing exploits on his most recent River Cottage series have proved inspirational. As we had some very large chicory roots it seemed like a good idea to try a brew of them (on the left of the photo). The first taste prior to fermentation seems more promising than scary. However we will have to wait and see what the final outcome is as the brew is still ticking over.

At a friend’s place yesterday for a BBQ dinner we tried her ginger beer. Made with a traditional ginger beer plant, she had first thought that it hadn’t worked as no fizz seemed to develop. However a check two weeks later revealed some activity. In all it turned out to be a very pleasant ‘dry’ drink.

Tonight we tried our first taste of Warrigal Greens or Tetragon (Tetragonia tetragonoides) as it is called in our recipe book Tukka: Real Australian Food, by Jean-Paul Bruneau (Angus & Robertson, 1996). This is one of only two native bush tucker foods we grow at our place, the other being Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia). I had nursed three very small Warrigal Green seedlings through the winter, tucked in a pot and placed under my garden seat to avoid the worst of the frost. I succeeded until I left them out one early spring evening when we had a frost. Two succumbed and one survived. I transplanted the last seedling into one of the garden beds in late October and since then it has galloped away. In fact it grew so rapidly that it started to over-shadow the edamame planted next to it. So we cut the plant back and transferred the Warrigal Greens to a space where it could spread out a bit more.

Bruneau recounts that Warrigal Greens wasn’t a food that was used much by Aboriginal people, possibly because of the high salt content of the leaves. When Captain Cook visited New Zealand in 1769 the leaves were collected and eaten. Subsequently Banks and Solander recognised the same plant in Sting-rays Harbour (later called Botany Bay). I made a side dish of Creamed Tetragon. You give the leaves a quick blanch in boiling water. Fry off some onions and garlic (but do not brown them) in butter and pepper, add the leaves cook for two minutes then add sour cream and cook another two minutes. It made a tasty side dish with our sausages, however the sour cream somewhat overwhelmed the whole dish so next time I might leave it out. Bruneau describes the taste as more green bean than spinach but I couldn’t form an opinion from that dish. It certainly tasted good enough for me to keep on with some of the other recipes he provides including a Tetragon pesto and a macadamia ,bunya nut and Tetragon pesto.

Tomato update
I was pleased to see that both the Mortgage Lifter and the Roma are now bearing fruit. We gave one of our friends some Siberian seedlings and they are also in fruit, just out in the normal garden bed. Don’t forget to give your tomatoes a side dressing of potash to encourage flowering. Lime should have been added to your bed as part of the treatment to combat blossom end rot. Otherwise add some calcium. Leslie Land suggests crushing up your egg shells and adding them to the soil. This is a nice idea, but unless you go through a lot more eggs than we do in a week your tomatoes will be dead and gone before you have enough for several plants.


Tuesday Musings

Most evenings over the last week I’ve been dipping into a book that I bought TB for last Christmas. It’s called Fields of Plenty: A farmer’s journey in search of real food and the people who grow it, by Michael Abelman who currently farms in British Columbia (Canada) but who had previously also farmed in California. He and his son visit farms and farmers across the whole of the US to see what they are doing and examine a wide range of issues as they go, not to mention taking great photographs and collecting some really nice recipes along the way.

There was a comment by Abelman that caught my attention last night. He was talking about his search to buy some agricultural land in California. He says “Most of the places we looked at had a home and some land. Without exception, the homes were well cared for and maintained, but the land always seemed to be under some sort of assault, either through erosion, overgrazing, compaction, use of poisons, cutting of native brush and trees, or accumulation of junk or trash. I realized then that most people understand how to take care of a building but have never been mentored or taught how to nurture a piece of land, soil, trees or the wild things and the watershed. Many folks hold title to land but are disconnected from it and seldom leave it better for their tenure. I wonder out loud if all private ownership should come with a contract or a commitment to the land requiring that the owner take a class, pass an exam and fulfil certain stewardship requirements.”

Yesterday I did some stewardship of my own, but of individual plants. I planted into the garden my second lot of radishes and later pricked out some Mustard Green seedlings into bigger pots. The latter were looking rather sad as I had been sucked in by our scant 3mms of rain and hadn’t watered them for two days – bad move the soil was completely dry around the roots. Thankfully after a very good soaking they have come good today. I also potted up some self sewn tomatoes – parentage uncertain – which have come up in the middle of our beetroots and egg plants. I have already secured homes for some of them and I’m sure my work colleagues will take any spares.

Speaking of progress with planting I see that Variegated ( has made further in-roads with their planting. Looking good!

I really had lots of energy yesterday so I also cooked dinner which was largely home produced. In the photo you can see on the left a big bowl of salad, lettuce (cos and mignonette), beetroot leaves, fennel leaves and chive flowers, on the yellow plate TB’s homemade pork and fennel sausages and at the rear a rather ‘bijoux’ dish of broadbeans with mint and garlic (courtesy of Week-in, Week-Out by Simon Hopkinson) and radish salad with herb mayonnaise (Modern Vegetarian Cookery by Walter and Jenny Fliess). I must admit I used Stephanie Alexander’s mayonnaise recipe as the one the Fliess’ included, rather strangely to my mind, flour to lighten it. If I’m making homemade mayonnaise then I’m going the whole hog! In the mayonnaise we had tarragon, chives, parsley and garlic chives.

I also realised that, with the exception of the yellow plate, all the other serving bowls were also ‘local’ produce. The large rose coloured bowl is by Bison Homewares (Pialligo) and the two small bowls were two of those I bought at the Bev Hogg sale.


Around Canberra by Kurrajong

Well we had a busy Sunday, largely out of our garden. Our first stop was Bev Hogg’s Studio Sale, which was as ever a great event. Fantastic ceramics, catching up with lots of friends, great food and seeing Bev (whizzing by) with the help of her family and friends to get everything organised. What I really like about Bev’s annual sale, apart from her opening up her studio to all and sundry is her generosity in opening her wonderful garden for us to enjoy.

The garden is a complex mix of productive (veggies and chooks) and decorative (flowers and other plants), which are combined with Bev’s ceramics to create an engaging space. Thanks to Bev for letting me take some photos of her garden and her artwork. There are also some views (front and back) of the bowls that I bought at Bev’s. We are always on the lookout for fantastic plates and bowls to serve our food – it makes eating a much greater pleasure.

Next we headed off to Queanbeyan on the way we passed ‘Kurrajong’, the meeting rooms for Canberra Spinners and Weavers ( where the Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneum) in the front garden is flowering very heavily. Do you know the Kurrajong – it is one of my favourite trees and in my opinion is one of our most ‘unknown’ native plants. The tree has bright green foliage which often has three lobes (the colour is quite a contrast to the grey/green of eucalypts). In spring it has creamy bell shaped flowers which are delicately freckled with maroon. I’ve added some photos of the tree at the Canberra Spinners and Weavers rooms. As we drove along Limestone Ave the Kurrajongs planted as street trees in the median strip were also all in bloom.

Our next stop was The Q at Queanbeyan for the Collectors Fair. While there were fewer stalls than I had hoped, the quality of the offerings was good. There were also interesting displays of people’s collections. The one that caught my eye was the collection of American Depression era quilts made of feed sacks. I’ve only seen these quilts in books so it was great to see the real thing.

As we were waiting to turn out of Crawford St on our way back to Canberra, we had to wait at the traffic lights. As we sat there the car was showered with the blossoms of yet another Kurrajong tree! To top a great morning off we saw the two Wedgetail Eagles that are resident over Mt Waniassa.

For the record the Kurrajong tree is common in the ACT (and also in Victoria, NSW and Queensland) and can be found growing on “rocky slopes and low hills below 2500 feet” (Flora of the ACT, Burbidge and Grey 1979 ANU Press). Apart from our streets it can often be seen growing on the hills in the Canberra Nature Park.


Saturday Catch-up

Saturday catch-up

Great news! We are with tomato fruit! Not surprisingly the Siberians are leading the way and one of the Cherry tomatoes has also started fruiting. (Photographic evidence included below). The Brandywines seem to be starting to grow a bit but are nowhere near big enough to even flower as yet.

We have been out this morning putting some shredded paper mulch on the potatoes. I know I only mulched last weekend but they have outstripped their last covering and have grown overall between 15-20cms this week. I’ve also dug up some potatoes that have sprouted in inconvenient places to pass on to a work colleague.

As far as the paper mulch goes it gets used for various things around the garden. Mainly we put it is as a dry component for our compost bin. We have an old plastic bin with the shreddings next to the compost, so when the kitchen waste goes in the bin a few handfuls of paper go in after it. We are also using the paper to put in the bottom of our waste bucket to stop it from getting too disgusting. As a direct mulch you need to be a bit more careful. If you put it on too thickly it can clag down into one solid mass of pulp and no water will get through. Because the paper is high in carbon it will use up soil nitrogen when it is breaking down so always try and throw some blood and bone or chook poo on it when you put it out.

I actually bought my own shredder – a fairly sturdy model from the office supply shop. I had had enough of chucking out what I considered to be usable paper that seems to arrive in our house in ever increasing amounts. I consider it to be one of the most useful purchases I’ve made in a long time.

Apart from that we have also harvested the first of our China Rose Radishes this morning (see the photo). These were planted as seeds on 5 October, transplanted to their growing bed on 15 October and picked today. 7 weeks from go to whoa. We are planning on eating our first radishes, along with our lettuce on flatbread with kofta-style lamb meatballs for lunch.

We also picked some garlic, planted somewhat earlier this year (March from what we can tell – we keep a fairly detailed garden diary but it isn’t always as detailed as we would like). We have certainly got a better crop and bulbs that were much bigger than any we had last year.

I’ve also included a photo of our seedling nursery, aka several Styrofoam containers with re-cycled coffee cups. And thank you to all my work colleagues who so generously force themselves to drink coffee every day to ensure that our seedlings have a pot to be planted in.

TB was watching one of the recent River Cottage episodes last night and has decided to make Rillons of Pork Belly – the smell of cooking pork is driving me to distraction! Here is the link if you would like to experience the aroma!…

PS you might also like to drop over to Variegated’s blog and see what they are up to with a new courtyard garden


Back to the garden

About time we caught up on some serious gardening again!

TB harvested great armfulls of thyme and only slightly smaller amounts of tarragon over the weekend. It’s a good idea to do this now and let the plants grow back again to enable a second harvest at the end of summer. You don’t need any fancy drying equipment to dry herbs. For small amounts you can tie them up and hang them upside down in an airy corner to dry – you might want to loosley enclose them in a paper bag to catch any stray bits. For big amounts you can still air dry but make it easy on yourself by getting one of those old multi-drawer plastic-coated wire storage units – they can be found at Revolve in large numbers, just check for soundness before you buy. If they have the wire drawers with them you have a good find. Either put some fly wire or even some loosely woven fabric in the bottom of the wire drawer. If there isn’t a drawer its pretty easy to knock up a frame and staple some fly wire over it and then just lay your herbs out to dry. Again a dry corner where they won’t be disturbed is necessary – we use our shed.

You can also use this method for drying fruit later in the year but some sort of covering to keep the flying insects off will be necessary. For fruit drying you will also need to turn the pieces over regularly to assist in even drying and (hopefully) avoid mould growth (sticking the drying rack near your ordinary fan will also help the process). For some reason it’s hard to conjure up the prospect of moist air today!

Carrots, what can I say. Our first lot shrivelled up in the early part of this month. It only took one day of hot weather and a failure to water, for the poor little things to dry up and die. Thankfully more dilligent watering, with the watercan on non-watering days, has ensured that our second crop has now reached the stage where they are putting out recognisable carrot leaves. The second lot are also positioned where they get some shade in the late afternoon.

My Coles Proloific Broadbeans are living up to their name and will shortly overtake the Red-flowered broad beans in production (although to be honest this isn’t much of a challenge). I think ‘ll take the advice on using the Red-flowered variety more for a green manure crop in future years. Apparently the best time to dig them in is when they flower. I’ll be waiting until a bit later as the braoadbeans are only second to that other wonderful legume the Sweet Pea in terms of having a sweet scent. The other tip is to run over your green manure crop, whatever it may be, with the lawn mower as this is, apparently, the easiest way to chop your crop into small enough pieces to rot down easily. BTW all green manures are best dug in when they are wet to encourage breakdown of plant material. So wait for a rainy day or water well before digging in.

The corn in our front garden is leaping ahead and is now a good half a metre tall. It’s just under a month since I planted them (October 24 to be precise). My big dillema since i mounded the soil up around them and gave them some chook pellets to be getting on with is the rapid development of side shoots. Last year we grew corn and left the side shoots but I was thinking that this may not be beneficial to production. I’ve checked my usual sources but there was nothing forthcoming on this point. I can, however, rely on the good old interweb to provide the answer. Good ole Purdue University has provided the answer It says “Research has shown that removal of corn side shoots (suckers or tillers) not only offers no advantage, it may actually reduce yields.” So now I know. We’ve also planted Blue and Starwberry Corn, a different species Zea mays everta – a popcorn (rather than Sweet Corn Zea mays saccharata). These two types were planted at the same time, side by side. The Blue Corn is nearly twice as tall as the Strawberry Corn. While both are meant to be popping corns I’ll be trying to grind the blue corn as there is a Mexicam staple of Blue Corn tortillas. You can check this out on they really are blue!

Queanbeyan Happenings

A friend has kindly sent me some information on events in our twin city, gardening and other items, that might be of interest.

The Queanbeyan City Sustainability Initiative (QUEST) is working to establish more community gardens, help people grow more food at home, source local and regional produce and reduce food wastage. If you would like to get involved phone the convenor on (02) 6284 4113. Quest is supported by Queanbeyan Landcare.

Since The Q exhibition space has opened Queanbeyan’s very lively arts scene has gained a great new venue. Two events coming up are:

  • Collectors Fair this Sunday 22 November, 11.00am to 3.00pm in The Q foyer – “from the functional to the funky, necessity to novelty, Victorian to retro.”
  • Local Presents – cash and carry exhibition from 8-19 December. Locally produced arts and crafts that can be taken as you pay for them. All items under $300. Opening night Tuesday 8 December 6.00pm

Where do you go??? The Q Exhibition Space, rear of 253 Crawford St, Queanbeyan, Mon to Fri 10-4, Sat 10-3

Speaking of funky and retro check out my ‘new’ sunglasses – original 1950’s frames with new lenses fitted (my Panda volunteered to model them for you). Now I’ll just need to find some daisy earrings to match the look.

Don’t forget if you are out and about this Sunday don’t miss out on going to the Bev Hogg ceramic sale (hit the tag on the right to get the details).


Long Distance Communities .

While I may know some of the people who read my ramblings in this blog there are others who I have never met. Some readers are in Canberra and family members from interstate also check in (if I keep prodding them) to keep up with what’s happening here. I was somewhat amused by the latest subscriber to this blog – from the US. Alas when I looked him up it turns out that this blog is but one of some 34,000 others that he has subscribed to. I think its safe to conclude that he is not really interested in gardening in Canberra.

One of the more interesting gardening relationships over a long distance that I am aware of is the exchange between an American food writer and gardener, Leslie Land and a British gardener, mushroom specialist and garden writer Roger Phillips. This exchange was first written about in a book The 3,000 Mile Garden: An Exchange of Letters Between Two Eccentric Gourmet Gardeners. Subsequently it became a TV series. The TV series was filmed in 1995-96 and was shown here, if memory serves me correctly, on Sunday afternoons on the ABC. The 3,000 Miles of the title was the Atlantic Ocean stretching between Leslie’s garden in Cushing, Maine and Roger’s home in Ecclestone Square, London where he was the curator/overseer of the Ecclestone Square Private garden.

From what I can see the book still appears to be readily available but there doesn’t appear to be a DVD available of the series. This is a real shame because not only are the food and gardens interesting but Roger and Leslie are very entertaining people. Every so often I drag out my daggy old tapes and re-watch it.

What brought on all this reminiscing was the arrival at our house of three Brandywine tomato plants. Now those of you who did manage to see the series will know that these were the Leslie’s favourite tomato. She sent some seeds to Roger to try out in the UK (no quarantine problems there!). Ours came from one of TB’s work colleagues who had no idea why he was thrilled to try some of these plants out. The seedlings are in the ground but are still finding their roots, as it were. They are growing but not at any great rate.

I decided to do the old internet search and had no trouble finding links to the two gardeners. Leslie is writing a blog on both food and gardening – I just read her bio and found out that she was one of the ‘opening’ chefs at Chez Panisse – so that’s one heck of a recommendation there.

Roger continues his epic task of compiling as he says “the greatest illustrated encyclopaedia of native and garden plants the world has ever seen. This gigantic project is based on more than 25 years work by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, the authors of more than 30 illustrated guides to the whole plant flora.” Check it out.

Talking up Veg . .

Per usual the weekend is when we are busiest in the garden and this time of the year even more so. TB managed to plant out a whole stack of seedlings, leeks, broccoli, Tongue of Fire beans and some chrysanthemum (for leaves to eat – I have no idea what colour or size flowers these will produce). I was on the fertilising and covering potatoes detail. This was great except when the easterly blew in yesterday evening we were assailed with eau de chook poo!

While planting the seedlings out TB used a tip we saw on gardening Australia this week. A visit to Lolo Houbein’s garden (a transcript is available if you missed the show where she was using offcuts of poly pipe to act as a physical barriers to slugs and snails. As an extra she would cut the bottom out of a large yoghurt container and also stick this inside the poly tube to provide a warm growing habitat to get the seedling off to a good start. I’ve included some pictures – we’ve only done stage one so far.

Thank heavens for the tank. We have enough slope and a tank that, for the moment at least is still full enough to gravity feed our drip irrigation system. Not only is this good for our plants and the water situation in general, but the local wildlife are taking advantage as well. I glanced outside the other morning to see a Currawong having a drink from the drips coming out of the pipes. Clever bird.

Advanced notice that the episode of gardening Australia for the coming weekend, 21 November, is featuring a Canberra Garden.

Gardening for Canberra: John Patrick explores a garden designed to
thrive in Canberra’s extreme climate, provide local fauna habitat
and contribute to a carbon neutral household.

One of my friends recently reminded me that the ABC ‘s Radio National recently devoted one of their Friday talkback’s to the grow your own veg movement. The main guests were Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, chef and writer and Michael Mobbs Sustainability Consultant. I thought that Michael’s contribution was most interesting as he has started a local movement to plant gardens on the roadsides in his suburb of Chippendale (Sydney). The link to his website where you can find more info is:

One of the other areas which several callers spoke about was just the visual pleasure of looking at their gardens. I agree wholeheartedly. There is a great enjoyment to be found not only in watching you garden grow but in all the small details. I’ve added some photos taken in our plot which I hope will share some of this beauty with you. Beautiful onion domes with enough ribbing and detail to make any Tsar jealous. Surprisingly detailed composite heads of the carrots – we’ve never had carrots go to seed before so how would we know? A Grey Butcherbird who has taken up residence in our garden over the past few weeks. You can always tell when this fellow is around because of his warbling call (although one birding friend tells me that he thinks the call sounds somewhat hysterical!).

You can still listen to the episode by downloading the show at the Lifematters website Talkback: vegging out, 23 October 2009


Reading at Random .

I spent a pleasant evening during the week reading a friend’s blog (An Odd Assortment and was reminded of how the internet has changed our reading habits, both virtual and the real page. Yeah, yeah, we all know how you follow a link and end up just about anywhere on the web and the world but just think about the places and things you have read about which you may never have seen otherwise.

Before the web we’d chat to a friend and share ideas on what was a good book to read or read a review in the paper, or trawl the shelves of the library. It worked but the chances of finding something really off your radar were limited. Chances were that the good book wasn’t on the shelf you looked at in the library, or it was in another branch of the library.

It’s not just the web that has helped. Even the greater accessibility of the library computer’s search facility can do wonders – I’m reading such a book now. Avid readers of this blog (I know I can only dream) will know that I was going to look up the biography of Janet Ross, the author of Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen. So I did a search just using Janet Ross’ name. Now I did find the book and I am on the waiting list to read it, but the next book listed also caught my eye. This was an autobiography of a person I’d never heard of one Gardner Botsford, a writer and editor with the New Yorker. The title caught my eye, A Life of Priveledge, Mostly and so it is as he was born to wealthy parents, but apart from being a journo and editor, he was also at the Omaha Beach Landing on D Day and a few other interesting places in between. I decided to give it a go and I’m enjoying this book that I doubt I would ever have known anything about otherwise.

Similarly I ended up reading I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), first published in installments in a Japanese journal and then as a single volume in 1911 in Japan. Now of course I’m a sucker for things Japanese, not to mention cats so this was a lay down misere for me (thankfully this is a translated edition as my Japanese is not that good). This was not the book I was searching for. I was looking for I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter (a book about identity – what do we mean when we say ‘I’), this was recommended to me by a friend. However once in the library searching system I got seduced by the very long list of books whose titles began with ‘I am ….’. I came up with a list of some 100 titles + which when printed out read like some early 20th century poetry experiment. Try the exercise yourself and see what you find.

So what else has come up of interest? Here are two things I’ve come across recently:

  •   Channeling Elizabeth Zimmerman: Recreating a Family Heirloom…. For Knitters this is a must read and if you’re a knitter and you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Zimmerman, shame on you.

  • Contemporary Japanese Folding Screens, the work of *Motoko Maio, . Take the time to click on one of the screen images at the bottom of the page. Once the image comes full size hold your cursor over one of the arrows and glide past the detail of one of these exquisite works until you reach an image of the full screen. These works are in pairs so if you do the same with the other arrow you will see the partner of the screen you have just seen.