Back to work!

This week we’ve had to put recollections of Tasmania to one side as we tackle the overgrown jungle that is our garden. I’m thrilled with the plenitude of peas and bounty of broadbeans we are currently harvesting, but the broccoli is going to seed and most of the tomatoes are still in their pots. And as for the green manure crop ….


well rampant just doesn’t begin to describe it. So much for digging the plants in before they flower – some of the peas even had pods! Not much we could do but start digging it in and hope for the best.

We were good, we started with spades but it only took a few minutes before TB sensibly reverted to the lawn mower and we finally got the bed into some sort of order.


After this there was plenty of hard slog turning the green mass into the soil. Normally I’d put some fertiliser (chook pellets etc) on the surface, put down a layer of newspaper and heavily mulch the whole thing for several weeks before planting into it, but my tomatoes were calling. There are some tomatoes in the garden already, planted on spec, before we left, but the remainder were growing in an elongated fashion in the polyhouse. It was definitely time to get them in the ground.

So in the tomatoes went. I planted them well down in the ground as they will put out roots along their otherwise spindly stems.  I surrounded them with damp newspaper,


and then mulched the bed with pea straw. I’m hoping that the decomposing green manure won’t delay the growth of the tomato seedlings too much.


This morning I interplanted the tomatoes with their regular companion, sweet basil. Lets hope some of the basil survives the snail onslaught!

The rest of the morning was spent trying to give the front garden bed its late spring make-over. All bar one of the purple sprouting broccoli plants (one is being kept for seed) have been pulled out, along with the remains of the purple-podded peas and a whole stack of weeds! What was left of my beetroots came out as well. They have failed to thrive in a most complete fashion. Not one of them is more than 6 cm long and most are even smaller. I’m not sure of the reason why they grew so poorly, perhaps a lack of trace elements. Anyway I’ve bought some more beetroot seedlings and planted them in a different part of the front garden and hope they do somewhat better.


Cygnet & surrounds

Some areas of Tasmania seem to focus on promoting locally produced food more than others. Cygnet and Bruny Island (that will be another post), both close to Hobart, are good places to start.

If you are travelling down to Cygnet from Hobart it is well worth a side trip to Bridges Bay to visit Grandewe a sheep’s cheese producer.


Here are some of the breeding stock coming up from the paddock. The sheep are a mix of the East Friesland and Awassi breeds. The cheesery produce several soft cheeses, from fresh curds with basil to washed rinds and strong ‘blue’ cheeses.


It’s also well worth stopping for a bite at their cafe where you can have a very well-made ‘ewecino’ and some great sheep’s milk icecream. I tried the wattleseed and macadamia, very nice, but it was definitely outshone by the Belgium chocolate icecream. If you are feeling more adventurous they also make a whey-based liqueur. It tastes quite good, indeed it tastes strangely like an alcoholic version of the milky-chew lollies I liked as a child – weird but good.

Arriving in Cygnet its worth taking a walk up and down the main street to check out the cafes, galleries and providores. The town obviously takes it’s food seriously as can be seen by the ’emergency butcher’ contact number! although I’m not quite sure what an ’emergency’ butcher is. I expect its nothing to do with calling up for an extra few chops because the rellies have dropped in unexpectedly.


There are at least two well known eateries in town to consider for a meal – The Red Velvet Lounge and the Lotus Eaters Cafe (I’ve since heard of another but don’t recall seeing it when we were there). We were contemplating a meal at the former establishment when a large party of lycra-clad bike tourers arrived, so not surprisingly we decided to try the Lotus Eaters instead.

Friend M had been suffering a certain degree of stirring about the accuracy (or not) of her Rough Guide to Tasmania and on this occasion we were debating whether the signature dish of wild mushroom pie would be on the menu (as it wasn’t mushroom season), however on this occasion she was proved correct. The pie was available, but made with cultivated rather than wild fungi. Not that it made too great a difference – the meal was fantastic!


The pie included among other ingredients, mushrooms, both fresh and dried, truffle oil, almond meal, cream and sage leaves on top. It was properly moist without any trace of the rubbery texture that often occurs in a quiche-like dish. The meal also included some lovely fresh and interesting salads. To wash it down we tried the locally brewed Ginger Chilli Beer and Raspberry with a touch of chilli. Great flavours and the labels are fun as well.


Last but not least we wandered into Cygneture a lovely chocolate shop. We interupted proprietor Gillian Ryan while she and her staff were catching a quick bite of lunch, however she quickly leapt up to take us on a tour around her case of chocolate delights. We selected Rhubarb and Fig, Gum and Blueberry, Rose Petal and Gooseberry chocloates. Now I only have a photo of what was left when we got back from Tassie and both rose petal choccies are missing. (Please note that any apparent problems with the chocolate is a result of our lugging them round Tasmania for nearly two weeks and doesn’t reflect their condition when we bought them).


If you can’t travel down to Cygnet you may be lucky enough to find Gillian at the Salamanca Market in Hobart on a Saturday.

The Lotus Eaters is open Thursday to Monday 9.00am to 4.00pm and provides breakfasts and lunch.

Eating local in Tassie

When we decided to travel around Tasmania one of the things that interested me most was getting the opportunity to taste lots of local produce. But it turned out to be not quite as easy as it seemed.

In Tasmania there is lots of food marketted at tourists, but it is not always what you want and is often sold at ‘tourist’ prices. My best tip for the travelling ‘foodie’ is to check out your local IGA. Yes, I’m serious. We consistently found more good Tasmanian produce at these supermarkets, at a reasonable price, than any other location.

Take the Queenstown IGA for example. Here we found a kilo of leatherwood honey for $7.50 (compared to about $15 for 750gms in a fancy tin – the same tin sells for over $20 in Canberra), wallaby sausages, duck and venison sausages and also lots of Tasmanian jams and preserves. The IGA in Salamanca Place Hobart, also has a great range of produce. Our friends found their favourite Tasmanian quince jam there and TB outdid his previous best effort on leatherwood honey by securing a 4 kilo tin for $32! At the IGA next to the caravan park at Hadspen (outside of Launceston) we found King Island beef and salted and un-salted cultured butter from the nearby Meander Valley.

Apart from supermarkets there are lists of food and other community markets available online and there is also a printed guide to the farm gate stalls around the country (most useful in summer and autumn).

We only made it to one farmers market, the one in Hobart called the Tasmanian Farm Gate market. Its open from 9.00am to 1.00pm, every Sunday, at the Melville St carpark in Hobart.


While the market is physically smaller than ours in Canberra (it’s just celebrated its 2nd birthday), we found the quality of produce and variety of stalls to be very high.


I was heartened to see that as well as all the fresh produce and product that there was a big queue at the stall selling vegetable seedlings. Taswegians appear to be very keen veggie growers.


My first stop apart from doing a big circle around all the stalls was to buy some goats cheese from Yondover Farm House Cheese. I picked their Fresh Chevre, which won a gold medal at the 2011 Hobart Fine Food Awards. They have subsequently been invited to show at a prestigious competition early in 2012. Good luck! its a truly wonderful young cheese.


We couldn’t ignore the tasty treats from Little Missy Muffin, who were not only selling their delicious pastries and biscuits, but were actually cooking as they went in a small portable oven.


After that it was down to the serious business of buying vegetables for a soup for dinner that night (we had all been indulging in too many holiday treats!). The veggies were just fantastic.


TB bought baby leeks, broccoli and potatoes for the soup. In the interim, friend M and her partner (who we were travelling with) had discovered something completely new to me, Silver Hill Fisch salmon sausages. In this case they were flavoured with ginger and lemon myrtle and proved to be a great second course for our dinner that evening.


So if you have access to a good camp kitchen or your own campfire you too can eat well and locally while travelling in Tassie.



Recent Travels

I read recently that late October and early November are about the worst time you can pick to be away from the veggie garden – shame about that because we’ve just had three weeks holiday in Tasmania.

TB prepared the garden by devising his most intricate watering system yet. Sprays in the polyhouse and under the tree where our citrus have over-wintered and drippers for the remaining beds. The timing system worked perfectly, we’d tested it for a week before we left. That is it worked perfectly until one afternoon, when we were conveniently located on the top of The Nut (just about the only place in the vicinity of Stanley where we could get a mobile phone signal), our neighbour called to say that the timer had decided to run the system for random long periods of time. Thankfully they stepped in and manually ran the system for us until we returned.

As a result we returned to a very green and productive garden, with the only failure being our very young carrot crop. Of course there was also a rampant ‘lawn’ which TB attacked the day after we returned.


I was most excited to see a massive crop of purple podded peas and a very tall crop of broadbeans. Last year I only got a few purple podded peas in the ground quite late in the season. My early planting of them this year has really paid off. This year the broadbeans have reached nearly 180cms (or 6′ in the old money). Now we just have to harvest and eat them all.

Not surprisingly our first meal back at home was a pasta primavera featuring our snow peas and some ‘wet’ garlic (young and not fully grown cloves).


Early Days – caring for seedlings

Having grown your seeds or bought some seedlings from a nursery you’ll be wanting to get them out of their pots and into the ground. Before planting get the ground ready and make sure the seedling pots are thoroughly watered. this will help the roots settle in their new home and lessen any potential damage in getting the plants out of the pot. Gently remove the seedlings from their pots and if there are several in one pot carefully tease the plants apart. Try not to damage the roots. If you have bought seedlings from a nursery check the packaging for the distance needed between each plant. A rule of thumb for many veg is to leave 20 cms between plants, but allow more space for plants that grow big and bushy. Try not to leave seedlings sitting around in the sun while you are planting them as they will dry out very quickly.


Young chicory and lettuce seedlings

Most seedlings will wilt after being transplanted. We always give our seedlings a drink of weak weed or comfrey ‘tea’ (the standard description is that your liquid mix should be mixed with enough water to a very pale brown colour like a cup of very weak tea). If you don’t have vats of this smelly stuff hidden in your garden you can use a very dilute solution of Charlie Carp or a seaweed tonic. This will help get your plants off to a good start. Its important to make sure that you water your seedlings in well and then give them a top up drink every day for the next few days after planting. They should start standing upright very quickly. Look for new shoots and leaves as a sign that your plant has fully settled in.

Now there is nothing that snails and even slaters like to eat so much as tender young seedlings. Whether you use snail bait or not is up to you (if you do, follow the safety instructions and use as sparingly as possible). One of the things we do to help our young plants is make a barrier around our seedlings. We make these by cutting milk cartons or even the plastic milk containers into sections. While this will not stop a determined snail they do seem to work remarkable well in most cases. These barriers also act as a mini windbreak and help produce a ‘micro-climate’ that gives seedlings a bit more of a chance. Once the plants have grown a bit larger – they are less attractive to snails as they grow up – you can easily remove the barrier.


An Italian squash seedling from the variety called “wrinkled from Friuli”

A final step we take is to mulch the surface of the garden beds, using either sugar cane mulch or pea straw (which we get from the nursery). I would generally not use grass clippings unless they were completely dry, because when they are wet they will rot down and are likely to take nutrients away from your plants. Having bare soil around seedlings is a throwback to older Australian (read European) gardening practices which really aren’t relevant to gardening in our climate. Just make sure you keep the mulch away from direct contact with your plants. This will help avoid any potential fungal problems, but for my money also it makes it more difficult for snails and slaters to sneak up on your plants.