Do the locovotion with me

You’ve probably heard the term ‘locavore’ by now, as it is coming very fashionable to hear about people eating locally grown produce, ie ‘locavores’ – although the word really doesn’t do much for me. The other term often heard in the same breath is ‘food miles’ which is the distance food travels to get to your plate.

I’m reviewing three books which take you to the inspiration behind these clunky tags. Two of the books were what pushed us here at Chez Fork to move from one tomato plant, a few half-hearted chives and an out of control mint bush to the maniacally over zealous veggie gardeners we are today (alright maybe that doesn’t sound like something you want to aspire to). The books are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver et al, The 100 Mile Diet by Smith and MacKinnon and Coming Home to Eat by Gary Paul Nabham. I read the books in that order because that is the order I found them in the local bookstores.

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Kingsolver and Smith and MacKinnon are a ‘year long challenge’ books, already an overdone phenomena, but these are two of the earliest and the best. To make it even more concerning Smith and MacKinnon is a ‘blog into book’ story. Do not let this put you off, these two books are great. Nabham is touted as providing “the first manifesto of the local food movement”, originally published in 2002, this book only made it to our shores in the past year.

Kingsolver’s family move back from Arizona to land owned by her husband’s family in Appalachia and decide to attempt to feed themselves on produce from their own and neighbours farms and other local produce for a year. Thankfully the authors are all good writers. I didn’t realise ’til later that Kingsolver is also a highly acclaimed fiction writer. Kingsolver’s husband Stephen L. Hopp and oldest daughter Camille Kingsolver help with the writing the factual stuff (husband) and food/recipes (daughter). This is a trials and tribulations at the family level account. Youngest daughter Lily who agrees to swear off pop-tarts for the duration turns out to be one of the most economically productive members of the family with her chicken raising and egg production. The carefully-paced story of turkey raising throughout the year culminates in one of the most hilarious episodes in the book. A great read without force-feeding you the hard stuff.

I found Smith and MacKinnon’s story of living in an apartment in Vancouver, Canada and deciding to live on food produced within a 100 mile radius of their home more immediate than the issues at Kingsolver’s family farm.The authors were pretty hard-core in trying to replace everything including sugar and salt in their diets with locally-produced products, but they were living in an apartment, with an allotment covered in snow (at the start of the book) and supermarkets that stocked everything global but bugger all local. They even had dilemmas as their predominantly vegetarian diet had to be modified when they realised that all those lentils they relied on came from overseas. Where their journey took them, both physically and literally was extremely interesting. Off to small ‘pick your own produce farms’ within the city boundaries, local farmers markets and re-discovering a whole history of a diverse local agriculture which had become subsumed by broad acre cropping, were just some of their destinations. So enjoyable that I did actually go back and re-read it from the beginning once I had finished it.

Gary Paul Nabham is your more serious local eating person, not that this means he’s boring to read, far from it. Nabham, who is Lebanese American, lives in the Sonoran Desert and has been actively involved in the seed saving and slow food movements for many years. What Nabham brings to the picture, apart from a great love of food in general is his broader interests in not only local, but indigenous foods. He has good connections with the local Native American communities in his area and has been active in seed saving for their local varities of crops and also in harvesting local wild foods. Nabham has also been involved in some of the political campaigns around food in the US and while these do not dominate the book they do give an insiders view on some of the manoeuvring at top political levels. Nabham is also not afraid to discuss some of the more spiritual aspects of his work particularly with local indigenous groups. Nabham has an engaging style and his long tern background in seed saving brings interesting elements into his story.

All three books/authors have websites so you can follow up what has gone on since they were published: 100 Mile Diet; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Coming Home to Eat

 

Now we are one

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of this blog – a small acheivement in my own universe if not anyone elses.

I’ve looked back at my garden diary entry for that date and can see that we were eating snow peas, onion, bacon and sage, pan fried and tossed with orecciette pasta with a dessert of curd and currant tart.

Over this past year I’ve enjoyed sharing our garden exploits with friends, family and ‘lurking’ readers. You are all welcome!

It’s been great to know that we have contributed, even if in a small part, to encourage people to join us on this gardening path. The over acheiver award in this category has to go to the Fork family member who has gone from just about zero garden to permaculture training, a veggie garden, chooks and now a house cow (with new calf) in under a year!

We have experienced some ‘firsts’:
  • blog (still the only blog)
  • so many new varieties of vegetables to grow
  • so many new recipes to cook
  • visits to Open Garden Scheme gardens
  • guerilla gardening action – site currently undergoing demolition, but plants haven’t been touched as yet
  • spotted pardalote trying to nest in our compost heap
Developed some ‘interesting’ pastimes
  • collecting the office kitchen scraps; not to mention bringing them home by bus
  • ditto shredded office  paper
  • collecting the leaves from nearby parks to build ever larger compost heaps
  • collecting empty loo rolls at the office to use for seed raising (TB that is, not me for once)
Who knows where we will go from here. Wherever it turns out to be we hope you continue to come along with us!

Birthday

Goodbye to the ‘Little Aussie Bleeder’

Alright that title is a quick shuffle down memory lane for those of you who fondly remember the character of Norman Gunston, created by the actor Gary Macdonald in the 1970’s

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(Image courtesy of the ABC)

but like Norman, who was known for his social faux pas, I too must admit to having a problem with that other little Aussie bleeder, the beetroot. I wear it just about every time I eat it.

Now I love my beetroot – no not the tinned stuff we were bought up on – but the home grown variety. Here we like to eat it baked, or preserved in a sweet and spicy pickle or a la your Turkish dip (Pancar Salatasi). I had never really thought that there might be a non-stain inducing method of enjoying beetroot, that is until we harvested our first of the over-wintering beetroots this week.

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The beetroot in question was an Italian variety, Tonda di Chioggia. You may have seen pictures of this variety before, it has a pink and white candy stripe appearance when it is cut.

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We had purchased our seeds from The Italian Gardener, but you may also be able to find similar varieties in Italian delicatessens (Canberrans can try Tutti il Mondo in Mawson which stocks a range of Italian vegetable seeds).

For our first beetroot meal of the season TB made his version of the Turkish beetroot dip. If you want detailed instructions you can follow the version through the link above otherwise here’s TB’s version. Of course this can be made with any variety of beetroot you have.

First bring some water to the boil throw in your beetroot (skin on) and simmer beetroot until it is tender (up to an hour or longer if it is a big one). See how pale this one is on the inside.

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While the beetroot is cooking fry off some thinly sliced leek or onion with some carraway seeds in some olive oil. Once the beetroot is cooked peel the skin off and grate it into the fried leek mix.

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Add several tablespoons of yoghurt to the mix, use your judgement, you don’t want to swamp the beetroot with too much yoghurt

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Mix and its ready to go! We had ours for lunch served on TBs flatbread, or you can have it with toast or as an accompaniment with your meal.

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You can see how pale the resulting salad is. The next day when we gobbled the remainder down the beetroot had turned to the palest shade of blush pink.

Now is a good time to be planting out your beetroot seeds so get on the web or down to your local deli, find some of these babies and get planting. In fact I’m off to do that now.

 

 

Way out West

For the past two weeks TB and I have been travelling in far western NSW. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss, seeing this part of the country after heavy rains over the past few months have broken some 15 years of drought. We were thrilled with all the wild flowers and wildlife that we saw. Our ultimate destination was Mutawintji National Park (you may know it by its former name Mootwingee).  En route we passed incredible displays of Sturt’s Desert Peas

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Lots of emus

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And even emus taking a ‘bath’ in a large puddle in the road!

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We had a great time exploring the walks near the campground. Climbing up on the Byngnano Range and looking into the rugged country beyond.

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What was an even more dramatic experience was the rain storm later in the day that transformed the previously dry Homestead Creek

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into a raging torrent in less than 20 minutes!

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Even as we watched dry channels filled with water …

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These photos were taken 10 minutes apart.

Once the rain had cleared we had this fantastic park to share with only two other campers, both very good company, until the roads were opened again some 4 days later.

The Western Ridge walk turned out to be another stunning experience with incredible views back down to the valley

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and away over the flat western plains.

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Again the flowers were fascinating and in such profusion that I found it hard to keep track of what we were seeing. One of the showier plants was Prostanthera striata or Jockey’s Cap.

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Others just amazed not only by themselves, such as this Ptilotus sp. or Mulla Mulla

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but also through their massed display such as the lower southern slope where these plants had clearly found their perfect niche.

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On our final day we walked into Mutawintji Gorge. We walked through the floodplains which were covered in swathes of pea flowers Psoralea sp.

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and shoulder high daisies.

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Inside the gorge the creek was still running with water which made the going a bit more awkward than usual. At the end of the gorge was a big waterhole. You could hear the sound of the waterfall but it was hidden by a series of narrow passages.

Swimming into the waterhole we followed the narrow passages to be greeted by the sight of a wall covered in dancing reflections of light. (TB put his camera in a plastic bag and swum with it on his head!).

Reflections

A short distance further on and we came to the waterfall itself. The sound of the water was being amplified by the cliff walls.

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We ate a picnic lunch on a bench of rocks across the bottom end of the waterhole. TB chased dragonflies (with the camera)

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and I admired the velvety clumps of Abutilon sp., a native species of the plant called Chinese Lantern, growing in crevices of the deep red cliffs.

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Our time at Mutawintji was over too soon. When we go back we hope to be able to see the fantastic rock art at the historic site, but that will be an experience for another time.

Over the fence

Like most keen gardeners I’m always keen to see what is growing over my neighbours’ fence. Come spring and the upswing in gardens open to the public through the Open Garden Scheme I can indulge myself without fear of legal action.

This past weekend we went and visited a garden full of Australian native plants in Aranda. This garden is 10 years old and has been created on a steeply sloping site.

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The current owners decided early that they would only grow native plants. While they were orginally interested in having a specimen garden, showcasing one off plants such as this Emu Bush…

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and this Scarlet wattle

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they subsequently developed a broader focus on the plants of the Southern Tablelands.

What I always find interesting is how people choose to display their plants. In this case two different coloured Hardenbergias have been displayed as ‘weeping’ forms, rather than the usual way of letting them sprawl over the ground.

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By coincidence, on Gardening Australia this past weekend Sophie Thompson was showing how to train a Hardenbergia as a climbing plant over a fence.

One thing I did admire was the owners’ small bowl of native Greenhood orchids – not an easy plant to grow. I believe I even heard myself saying to the owner “I do envy you your Pterostylis”. (Just the sort of dead posh thing one wants to be able to say to a fellow enthusiast!). Small but perfectly formed as they say.

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The steepness of the front of the block would be a challenge to anyone. After heavy rain the garden kept moving downslope so the owners put in swale drains to slow the water down and provide a slow release of water into the garden.

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It certainly has done this Grevillea sericea (the Pink Spider Flower) the world of good.

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If you are inspired there are plenty of local gardens to suit all tastes and interests on display in Canberra and surrounding districts. You can get an idea from the Open Gardens website (link above) and check out the Visit your state and Special events buttons. Just be warned these are not complete listings, you’ll need the book for that (available from your local newsagent) .

One Open Garden coming up at the end of this month and recommended by TB and myself, is the Allsun Organic Fair, at Gundaroo on 30 and 31 October, which displays not only organic gardening techniques, demonstrations and talks, but has a great range of stalls, including yummy food – allow yourself a good half day.

If you are interested in buying some native plants the Australian Native Plant Society, Canberra Region, is holding one of its plant sales on
Saturday 16 October, 8.30 to 2.00pm or until sold out (our advice – go very early) in the Southern Carpark of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Suck it up!

A long weekend gives you a good opportunity to get stuck into those jobs that take just a little bit longer than a normal weekend will allow. Last weekend I was able to finish off a job which had been in my thoughts for quite a while – a wicking garden bed. I know we have had rain lately but summer is ‘i cumen in’ so I really want some help in keeping those plants growing with a bit less watering labour on my part. Not to mention keeping things alive while you nip off for a week down the coast.

I’d heard about wicking beds earlier this year, a garden bed that actually watered itself. The basic principle is easy enough. You build a garden bed over a water reservoir and the capillary action enables the water from the reservoir to infiltrate the soil keeping it moister longer and reducing the need for watering.

You may have seen the wicking beds that Costa installed at the Tembeleski family home (in the last season of Costa’s Garden Odyssey). You can check out the video if you missed the show. 

Costa’s version looks great and is very straightforward but unfortunately not a cheap option. As Costa commented “All up it cost about $875 to build and plant out one of the three garden beds”.

Thankfully there is a less expensive option. In fact you can go straight back to the source of Costa’s idea by visiting Colin Austin’s website where you can find all the information you need to get a wicking bed happening.

 What you need:

  • Concrete blocks or timber to build the walls of the reservoir
  • Flexible plastic pipe
  • Thick plastic for lining
  • Woodchips for ‘fill’ in the reservoir
  • Shadecloth to form the ‘walls’ of the upper bed and a bit extra to make a permeable barrier between the soil and the woodchip
  • Stakes to fix the shadecloth onto
  • Soil to fill your upper bed

 Now for the manual labour!

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As you can see from the photos I opted to build the water reservoir of my bed from concrete blocks, some we already had and a few more I needed to buy. There are plenty of options for the building the walls of the reservoir such as scrap timber or metal sheeting. I chose the blocks because after our recent encounter with termites I wanted to avoid anything that would encourage their ongoing presence in my garden.

 Having levelled the base of the reservoir – you do need to get this bit right – place your plastic lining inside the walls, Allow a bit extra lining all around. Next take your piece of flexible pipe, again we had some corrugated pipe lying around, and drill some holes along one side (if it doesn’t have some already). This is the access point for your water so make sure at least one end of the pipe is sticking up above the complete height of your bed! With the holes in the pipe facing the bottom put it inside the reservoir. This is to help keep the holes free of debris. You may need to hold the pipe down with a brick or a rock until you can get your fill in place.

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Pre-drill your holes in your stakes (we used thick hardwood garden stakes) to make fixing the shadecloth on them a bit easier. Hammer the stakes in around your reservoir – making sure you don’t hammer them through your lining! Fix your shadecloth onto the stakes. Make sure you allow a bit more slack around the corners to avoid ripping it. Put shadecloth inside the lining.

PS I didn’t do it in this order and just made extra work for myself.

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Fill the reservoir up with woodchips and level them out. I also filled the reservoir with water at this stage to check that the water was coming evenly up all over the bed.

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Place your spare bit of shadecloth over the woodchip to stop too much dirt getting into the reservoir. Fill your bed up to the required height – between 20-30 cms – with soil. I used some garden soil mixed with compost and some mushroom compost.

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Et voila, your bed is ready to plant.

Veggie update

Yes, we are still actually growing veggies at Chez Fork, but our recent major works have tended to overshadow the more routine aspects of gardening. Having finished and planted my wicking bed I got back into starting some more seeds off. Now if, like the rest of us, you never remember what to plant when I would recommend that you print off a copy of the attached PDF, which is Peter Cundall’s guide (everyone genuflect) to planting in cool climates, and make sure you place it somewhere where you see it everday.

Our tomato seedlings have been pampered in their seed tray, going outside during the day and coming back in at night – to avoid death by frost this week. So far the Cherry, Wapsipinicon Peach and my own Front Garden Bed varieties are up and growing. But we are still waiting on the Amish Paste and Siberians. I can’t see us ‘winning’ the tomatoes before Christmas race this year as we did start several weeks late.

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Along with the Purple Podded Climbing Peas in the wicking bed, I’ve also planted out another round of snow peas.More climbing peas have been planted but these will probably go to friends. The Massey Bush Peas planted in Autumn are producing pods now. But still no sign of Broad Bean pods.

Our beetroot, Forono and Little Wonders are starting to sprout so we will have plenty to be getting on with. Their older siblings planted out in Winter are now starting to form their bulbs so not long to wait for a feed from them. Don’t forget that beetroot leaves, the young ones at least, make a nice addition to a salad.

The new seeds I planted this week were parsnip, turnip and edamame (Japanese soy beans). They have all been planted in loo rolls! Sounds tasteful – not, but this is a really good way to plant individual seeds of crops such as root vegetables that do not like their roots disturbed. Once the seedling has reached a good size you plant the seedling, still inside the loo roll, straight into the garden. The cardboard rots down quickly and the plant grows happily on its way.

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Eating joy is being provided by our aspapragus and Purple Sprouting broccoli. While it was slow to get started (seven months from original planting!) the PSB is now in production overload. The more you cut the more it grows back. Plus it just looks great with those purple heads contrasting with the dark green leaves.

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Here is one of this week’s dinners. Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Asparagus with beef, Domburi style.

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