All the signs …

Spring is nearly here, just under two weeks to go until the official start of the ‘growing’ season. The wattle is flowering, the chickens are laying more consistently (well at least two of them are), the days are getting longer and most incontrovertible of all, I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nursery and spend up big on any plant I see.

Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.
Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.

I’ve found it all so hard to resist. We gave in last week and bought a few punnets of plants, pak choy and lettuces, that will be able to survive in the current low temperatures and will survive the inevitable frosts. And yes, at the back, that is a tray of pea seeds that I planted in their traditional loo roll tubes, yesterday. By the time they are up they will be well able to cope with the outside temperatures. Parsley, at the front, was transplanted from tidying up in the front veggie garden. Most of these are destined for give-aways to friends and neighbours.

I am also trying to be a bit more logical in assessing what we have in the garden and what we need to source for the garden. A case in point are the strawberries. Our current crop are well past their use-by date as can be seen in the spotty, virus laden foliage. These have to be rooted out, quite literally and replaced.

Bad strawberry!
Bad strawberry!

I have some previous years runners in pots, but I still have to check whether they are clear of viruses. I did buy four new plants of the strawberry variety Hokowase, which originated in Japan and friend M says she will give me some of her runners. So once I wrestle with digging out the old plants, tossing them in the bin to avoid any further infection and replacing the soil in the brick niches I will be able to replant.

I’m working off, or perhaps working up, my spring gardening urges by reading gardening books and listening to gardening podcasts. Top of the reading list at the moment is A Year at Otter Farm, by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury Press 2014).

A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.
A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Yes, I was sucked in by Andrew Lyons’ beautiful cover illustration, but equally so by the fact that Mark has a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke cake. Anyone who grows these yummy tubers will know that, like zucchinis, you can never have too many recipes for using them all up! This book ticks all my boxes. It’s seasonal, the recipes are sorted by main ingredient and the recipes are sensibly listed on the page where the vegetable is discussed. Such an obvious idea and yet I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Mark is also growing some of the less common veggies and it’s great to get his growing tips and learn from his experience. While Mark is living in the UK it is easy enough to follow the seasons through the book by simply ignoring the month listed at the chapter heading.

I’m also going overseas for my favourite podcast over at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail’s blog (Gayla is based in Toronto, Canada) was one of the first gardening blogs I found all those years ago. I must say that I had not been catching up with it recently so I was pleasantly surprised when I dropped by the other day to see that she is now podcasting. Her podcasts go under the title of What’cha Growin. I like what she is doing – I’ve listened to four podcats so far – Gayla has some really interesting guests. Some are experienced, others raw beginners from both rural and really urban gardens – have you ever had a gunshot victim laid in your garden while waiting for the ambulance? I’ve been really disciplined starting from her first podcast, but I’m building up to episode 7, when she interviews Alys Fowler, one of the UK’s leading veggie garden promoters.

Bring spring on, I’m ready!




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.


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


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.

Why the name?

The name I’ve chosen for this blog comes from a concept used by author Michael Pollan (In Defence of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilema etc), and no doubt by many other people, heard on a podcast Pollan advocates ‘voting with our forks’, demonstrating what type of food we want to eat by choosing for ourselves, buying local, buying organic, buying from farmers market, growing your own or all or any of the above. This, of course, in the face of the industrialisation of our food production to the detriment of our health and well being. Pollan also commented in the same podcast that we should “shop strategically and be prepared to cook …!”

Of course this is where we come in. We’ve always gardened and cooked (and the Beloved can really cook), but several years ago we started to take this rather more seriously. Pollan we’d been reading since his fist books came out, A Place of My Own and Second Nature. Then I got into Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver et al; Living the Good Life: How one family changed their world from their own backyard by Linda Cockburn – for an Australian perspective; and the 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon. (For Canberra locals the first two can be found in the public library but they don’t seem to have a copy of the third – but I’ll suggest they get it.) I found the ideas to be very exciting then and still do and all are entertaining reads to boot. Having read what they had to say it was a bit of a no-brainer to get a lot more serious about producing our own food.

We are not trying for complete self sufficiency but what we have done is provide a fair slab of our vegetables – converted into a major portion of our main meals each week. While we still shop at the supermarket for things we don’t produce and other household items and we shop at the farmers market we now find that we have made a significant change in our buying patterns and eating habits. But that’s a tale for another post.