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A kitchen garden for a cook who gardens


Since I've recently been negotiating a period on intense gardening indulgence which have qualitatively improved my engagement with da dirt,  I want to rule off on the intensity with some peripheral thoughts.

All gardens are different one from t'other. ..and all gardens vary in their purpose.

I say this because at the school garden we've rebooted, it's amazing how the project presents so many different opportunities. Since I act as a sort of manager and gofer, working with the various stake holders -- children, teaching staff, groundsman, P&C, the bistro we supply with produce, and volunteers you have to learn to respect the different POV. Not that consensus is hard to attain, but comprehending  the likely trajectory and engineering it  is not as simple as it is in your own backyard.

But this 'issue' has made me reflect on my own out-back gardening experience: What sort of garden am I growing? What's its identity?

POLYCULTURE

I think the first feature of my gardening indulgence is that mine is a polyculture. That can suggest a range of methods but mine is intensely mixed polyculture. It's a rainbow of different annual plants -- in ones and twos -- growing next to one another in the same bed (and having sex). I may have over ten different species sharing the same space.

As they grow this mix and match may make  harvest difficult. I have to find the plant in order to harvest from it. That means I need to be intimately familiar with each plant: I must know where it is and at what stage its growth is at. That presumes an intense level of engagement...and I'm finding that hand watering -- often daily -- facilitates that.

The other key feature of polyculture is that it sponsors companion planting. I'm not great shakes about which plant pairs with another, but I do know I don't have many problems with insect infestation or disease.

Touch wood.

And when I do have an outbreak I tend to ignore it because I have other plants, other species, I can turn to. What I may lose on the swings I gain on the slides. This means I don't fret over any single plant. I'd like to. It seems callous not to. But I suffer from a perspective that doesn't focus on  individual species because I have so many planted out.And besides,  the whole is greater than the sum of its plants.

KITCHEN GARDENING

This leads into the key concept that rules my patch: I'm gardening for the kitchen. It may not seem that simple or that direct, but when you garden to feed the house on a daily basis, you don't want surpluses -- you want a supermarket in the soil you can pick and choose from as required.

This is also why the polycultural mix and match makes sense. It's all about what's on hand -- and some plants, like herbs,  you want more 'on hand'    than others.

This is also why depending on cut-and-come-again is my preferred method of harvest. I want fresh food daily. Not weekly or when a harvest is due.

COTTAGE & POTAGER GARDENING

I'll own up to being ruled by my early experience growing cottage gardens. It was my parents' obsession.
The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylised versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.
I want to emphasize this orientation because I'm dedicated to growing annual plants -- not perennials. That may seems a superfluous statement but in the context of the current vogue for Permaculture, I'm consciously rejecting food foresting and a reliance on perennial species. 

The French Jardin Potager tradition -- while often presumed to be based on very formal design -- is really in the same sync as  cottager. It serves the same purpose.And like the cottager form, the potager is driven by planting annual seeds. 

Cottage gardens , despite their seemingly quaint attributes, were working class in origin and based in towns, villages and cities. They weren't pretentious 'designs' but functional places that grew food to eat in order to supplement the family food budget. And when the land wasn't there, allotments were utilised.
And therein hangs a tale: allotments in modern times had to be fought for as a direct response to the enclosure acts of the 19th century. Local authorities  in Britain must maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. By 1945 there were 1.5 million allotments in Britain. Indeed, further back, a  1732 engraving of Birmingham shows the town encircled by allotments.
We are not in temperate England or France and our gardening traditions suffer from an unfamiliarity with various kitchen garden habits across the sub tropical and tropical planet. Outfits like Kitchen Gardens International try to address that ignorance but in my experience there is still a lack of information about the various ways many cultures garden for the kitchen. Commercial and peasant agriculture of primary crops is more often studied...as is the anthropology of gardening among indigenous communities.

The other feature often over looked is that the kitchen garden must be polycultural. Indeed that's the point. You grow a mix of vegetables for the family pot...and if we weren't growing mixes we wouldn't have vegetables like we do today because aside from core staples each family's food, once-upon-a time, was grown in kitchen gardens or it had to be  bought from the local market. 

In that sense the whole kitchen garden dynamic is related to the business of farmers markets as some kitchen gardeners either sold their surplus, or switched over to growing the produce full time --assuming they could get access to land. I think this is evident in Australian history if you consider the impact gardeners of Chinese and Italian origin  have had on the country's diet.  Even the Gold Fields of the 1860s were paired with Chinese Market Gardens. 

It's an irony of Australian urban history that the large size 'quarter acre' suburban house block wasn't  usually turned into a vegetable garden. Whereas the post war wave of migrants, especially those of Greek or Italian origin, keenly converted even much smaller patches of real estate into vegetable gardens.

AND THE POINT IS?

My grandfather had 5 children but his whole suburban backyard  was a vegetable garden. It was a steep upward slope and over the years he tiered it layer by layer and you had to use stepping stones to get around the patch. Everything was a mix. There wasn't so much garden beds but you stepped between the plants and  each row were narrow like a staircase

He wasn't my favorite human being but he certainly has a novel approach to gardening.

So I guess, through my own parents, I'm channeling him. 

I've had many other gardens in my life in the various places I've lived in but this is my first opportunity to truly indulge my passion and cash in on my own experiences. And when I look back I see how often I was a victim of  then current gardening fads. It's like not seeing the wood for the trees. 

It may seem self evident to say it, but gardening is about food.  Well, it is for me, anyway. That's the primary point. And in growing food for yourself and family you tap into all these other benefits. 

I'm a cook who gardens. Food is a major part of  my life. So my garden begins in the kitchen and is  ruled by my culinary needs and aspirations. 

It is a kitchen garden.There: I've said it.


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The Garden in June: many surprizes


My garden appeared dull and stressed. Not much rain. Above average 'Autumn' temps. What's a plant to do?

But on closer inspection there are many surprizes. It may not look keenly verdant but hither and yon some delights are consolidating.
  • Achocha: aka Bolivian cucumber -- these crunchy morsels are carried aloft by a keen climbing plant of which I have 3. I think this plant is a great discovery. The small cucumber-like fruits are easy to grow and the skyward bent suits my preference for climbers. You may have to fossick a bit to find the Aladdin's slipper shaped morsels among the leaves but the crunch is worth it.
  • Jicama: aka Yam Bean. Yesiree my Jicamas have taken! And I loves the bulbous tuber these crispy apple like creatures put out. Versaite in the kitchen. Great in salsa. Keeps well. Another crunch for the gob.
  • Choko: aka Chayote.I may be suffering from a Choko glut but let's say, that outback I can always get a meal. They're big now and have enough weight in them to cause a few of my jute lines to break. I thought this was going to be a problem, but like ripe fruits falling from a tree, when my lines break it's a single that harvest is ready. Even though I've used a light gauge the twine system for climbers has performed wonderfully so far. I need more bamboo poles than I have in order to support the lines running all over, but I'm delighted with my aerial garden.
  • Allium: aka garlic, leek and onion. Since I have decided to embrace a noble quest, this year is the year dedicated to the Allium family  at maison d'ave and I'm determined to master the business of growing onions, leeks, chives, and scallions. If I'm gonna be allowed an obsession that's it. I won't share with you my multitudinous frustrations with onions  but without going into detail, I'm beginning to learn the Allium trade through an apprenticeship in my own dirt. There are so many bulbs and stalks out there in the big wide world of soil that I want to try them all.  Growing (and surviving) I have a range of perennial onions -- Rakkyo, Potato and Tree -- and three types of garlic as well as my regular supply of spring onion seedlings. I've yet to master the DIY transition from seed sowing of Allium at home...but it is still early days in this quest.
  • Dill: Finally by dint of experiment I can grow dill (touch wood). Coriander I mastered long ago and can grow in my finger nail.
  • Huauzontle: aka Aztec Spinach. Thus far all I can say is that I can grow this exotic...but the complication is that mine looks like Quinoa ( a close relative) rather than the green spinach head it was reputed to produce.I guess I need to do more homework...and try to do green next time by at least checking my seed library with greater diligence.
  • Arrowroot: aka Queensland Arrowroot. This was a surprize. I grew arrowroot in the poor soil sections of my garden and it prospered. So I divided it and planted it out in a few extra places. Now I have a harvest coming on. The plant did much better than the Cassava I had in. Soon I hope to get my hands on some West Indian Arrowroot which is probably much more versatile in the kitchen.
  • Okinawan Spinach: I grow several 'spinaches'  and I admit to not liking some. But loving most.  My loves are: New Zealand S, Egyptian S, Brazilian S, Betel Leaf....but I am not so keen on their glutinous cousins like Abika. In my soil are the still culinarily untested Mushroom Plant and Surinam Spinach. Okinawan Spinach is something else again -- I delight in its texture and unique taste although I haven't explored it much in the kitchen. So I'm looking forward to a bigger harvest. While I hesitate with the Abika, the size of the leaf makes it a great substitute for grape vine leaves when I next make dolmades.  The Betel Leaf I'm saving up to wrap ground meat in as the Vietnamese do. But I'll do it kofta style....
  • Serpent Gourd: Grown from seed(quite a feat) and still an unknown. While I wait, I've planted out more New Guinea  Bean -- aka cucuzzi . These climbers do much better in my garden than Zuchini.
  • Oca:aka New Zealand Yam. I did plant out some Oca I lovingly collected  but not all of it has taken. I guess the good news is that some of what I planted has grown....but next time I'm planning on seriously investing in this tuber. This year it's novel horticulture; and an experiment. But if I do as well with Oca as I've done with Jeruslaem artichokes/Sunchokes I'm gonna be thrilled.
  • Miscellany: Among all this, I planted out some spuds and am waiting for the bulk of these to come up. I also secured a supply line of Purple Sweet Potato (Hawaiian Gold) which I'm keen to focus on as a home grown veg. I have a few other sweet potato varieties planted but the purple is my culinary passion. Tomatoes coming up all over, many self sown. I'm drowning in chillies and have a supply line available of banana (sweet) peppers --although I've learnt to harvest these early as they keenly rot on the stem. The  'Nopoles' Prickly Pear has taken -- mine is a variety not classed as a weed and (talking of weediness) the Horney Melons are growing (what have I done!?). Poor harvest of Tumeric...but then the soil wasn't so good in that spot. I have two varieties of pumpkins in -- Butternut and Kabocha -- and while I'm getting a small number of butternuts the plants suffer like my zuchinis and cucumbers and never do well. Root veg struggle terribly, even radishes -- so I  persevere and angst over them. I gotta da radishes, carrots, turnips and beetroot planted all about and it's all 'touch wood!' as far as I'm concerned.
Unfortunately a bush turkey visits my garden every day and the avian beast and I are at war...
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PHD: note to self

The design of a Perfect Health Diet  meal is found in the body of the apple. Assuming two meals a day, the recipe is to combine:
  • A safe starch (roughly 230 grams, which translates to 150 to 300 carb calories);
  • A meat, fish, or egg (110-230 grams);
  • A sauce made up of fats and acids such as lemon juice or vinegar;
  • Vegetables, preferably including fermented vegetables with their healthy acids;
  • (Optionally) some dairy or a glass of wine.
This is precisely the recipe which science has found minimizes the elevation of blood glucose after meals.
It seems reasonable to expect that a meal designed in this fashion will have a glycemic index around 30. The odds of 200 carb calories with a glycemic index of 30 generating blood sugar levels that are dangerous – 140 mg/dl (7.7 mmol) or higher – in healthy people is very low. Even in diabetics, it may be uncommon.
So, yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus, and you can eat safe starches and avoid hyperglycemia too!
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The Garden in May

Click on image to enlarge view 


A visual record this month.

I wanted to start focusing on individual plants rather than the garden as a whole.

In the montage mix, note the Jerusalem Artichoke harvest from one plant! And in part shade!

The Prickly Pear has taken off . Maybe that's not a surprize in Queensland --given the past infestation -- but its rootedness ensures I can look forward to nopales.--especially  for salsa.

And I'm so pleased that after a year of so much frustration with cucumbers my Achocha plantings have decided to settle and grow. Mouse Melons are still indifferent...

...and my Samphire survives. I haven't grown it from seed with any success but cuttings are a maybe.I have nibbled and can vouch for the taste and texture...So I'm keen to persevere.

The Katuk does well. A most generous plant. The leaves in Autumn have a deeper, less sweet,  flavour but there are more of them.

In the air I'm being over run with chokoes and, not far behind, Butternut Pumpkins/Squash. Beans coming on. Plenty of greens in da spinach mode: Egyptian, Okinawan, Brazilian...and the Vietnamese Pepper/Betel Leaf.
I had this dish when I was recently in Melbourne -- Bo la lot – Betel Leaf Wrapped Minced Beef(or Lamb) -- and it was stunning.

ADDENDUM:
Much as I want to grow my Cannas I've planted Indian Shot Canna (Canna Indica) as a mulch resource (note the small crimson flower in images) and my Queensland arrowroot (Canna edulis) is doing famously. I'm planning on adding a large range of flowering Cannas not only for the flowers but as a mulch resource. At the moment I'm relying on Lemon Grass to supplement my mulch reserves in the hard , mulch scarce, months of August to November and have also planted Vetiver Grass with that coverage in mind.
Since I'm burning wood to create ash (as a soil addition)  I'm looking forward to any cut backs and trimmings both at home or in the neighborhood.
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A wave of soil with floating pots: mound gardening with knolls

Since I've seriously begun to zero in on what I want,  the sense of what I'm doing becomes clearer -- at least to me.

My template is mixed vegetable gardening -- cropping a large number of different vegetables  in the same space.

To do this in the sub tropics and be imbued with the design logic of cottage gardening isn't a straight forward exercise because I'm growing a lot of unknowns.  If I was simply planting standard kitchen garden  fare I'd have some idea of what any one plant will or should do, but when you chase an eclectic mix of exotics --with many of them being vines --  the medley is sure to be a surprise. 

In the traditional cottage garden, you layer and mix the plants by height. But in our warmer climate such certainties are undermined because of my preference for climbers, creepers, ramblers and tubers. I'm not into look -- despite the flowers -- so much as cohabitation. Planting and growing is about pushing and exploring the envelope.

En route you lose some of your soldiers...

But with each success -- and with each disaster -- the garden speaks to you.

Let us not presume that I am in control. Nor am I so smug to answer in the affirmative the question, "are we there yet?"  The truth is that I have no real idea where I'm going.

It's improvisation -- a layering of what seems to be a succession of good ideas at the time.

This means I don't so much have one garden but several. Last year's. Last season's. Last month's. This week's...

While I've pursued many projects in this kitchen garden in way of experimentation, the overriding handicap of  building it on sterile sand has forced me to be relentless in pursuit of moisture. If I had my time again, I'd start off differently by digging long trenches and filling them with manures before building the garden beds on top. Hindsight is useful like that, but once you are away you make the best out of what you've got....5 years later on. 

MULCH SPONGES

But I keep returning to past activities and tweaking and re-applying them. Of late I've seriously gone back to harnessing my garden paths as mulch sponges. I keep layering paper and cardboard on the paths and throwing cut stuff on top, so that they become squishy. I may walk along each path only occasionally so it's not as though they're thoroughfares for traffic.

The irony is that rather than build up the beds, I dug down the paths. In sand you can do that.

While there is no pressing drainage need warranting raised beds -- I'm thinking that I should revisit the option. I'm not planning to raise the beds so much as add mounds to them.This is a Melanesian gardening habit, and the logic is beginning to register with me.

KNOLLS

If I add mounds to the beds -- knolls -- I increase my ground surface area, and engineer an inclined plain down which plants can tumble or ramble without necessarily wallowing in damp. I'm finding that many of the plants I'm growing don't so so well on a flat surface. I've also worked out that if I locate a terracotta watering pot in  the core of the knoll (like a volcano's vent) I can more efficiently irrigate the knoll than I  would be able to do a flat garden bed.

According to the above graphic, this works. It works on paper....

So, in a sense, I'm thinking of raising up my terracotta pots as though they've been elevated by a wave of soil -- upon which they'll float.

I hate to say this as it seems bizarre, but my experience with  mound gardening, thus far,  suggests that plants have more choices. They can go up or down. Drink by going deeper or chasing the falling contour of the soil surface. Fruiting bodies resting on the sides of each knoll are less prone to fungal infection and rotting. Inside -- within the knoll/mound -- there is more room for tubers to grow and/or go deeper.And like a box of choclates, you can invest your knoll with different centres: rotting wood, manures, kitchen scraps, dead and buried cane toads.

While the mounds will work by dint of contour design alone, the embedded terracotta pots make for a stunning hardware addition. As a centerpiece, the pots' moisture offerings are more accessible to more plants  so that their irrigating area increases.

The troughs between the knolls also serve to collect water as they function as gulleys. And running the length of each bed are the moisture retaining mulch sponge paths.

Now all I have to do is find -- or make -- the 'soil' to make these knolls happen....in places they have not existed before.One garden bed at a time.






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The Garden in April: the Month of the Triffids


After a desultory Summer, the garden has re-invented itself as a garden of Triffids.

Plants that move! Clamber relentlessly. That twirl and twine and choke and crawl...That drag themselves tendril by tendril.

Plants that cannot be stopped!

Vines.

Outback, taking over, are African Yams, Chokos, Russian Cucumbers and New Guinea Beans. In the mix are Snake Beans, Yam Beans, and Bolivian Cucumbers (Achocha) Sweet Potato, Butternut and Kobacha Pumpkins...

Triffid
With so many climbers and creepers I had to install lifts. So as the garden grew up and crawled I started feeding it jute twine and began running feeder lines hither and yon like a aerial circus or a spider on acid.

Who would have thought that the air could be so occupied and verdant when the soil is so far away?

I wish I had a plan for this macrame but its all impulsive twisting and tie-ing as I try to keep ahead of the tendrils. Nonetheless, it's a novel garden now. I ran an old hose from the huge Silky Oak to an overhanging Dawson River Bottle Brush so that the future aerial activity has more freeway.

It's detente. I'm trying my hand at plant husbandry. A plant trainer. 

Without my trusty roll of twine....they'd take over. 

The irony is that despite employing such a simple tool, the climbing plants are thriving. They must like the exercise and the journeying, even though I set the route.And nothing has traction like twine. It's ladder for plants.

Unlike the Permies' penchant to 'design' a garden from the getgo, this one comes together on the fly.
For more discussion on this climbing adventure, check out this link for a comments thread about my experience using twine for climbing plants.
But I do have other plants growing closer to the ground, and, with the cooling of the weather, have been madly planting out and sowing seed. Seeds I had planted before that did not take over Summer, are now sprouting on my second try. 

I've improved my sowing routine and embraced a different relationship with...weeds.

Weeds?

Over Summer the weeds got away from me. It was a great season for weeds and given that I was so often ill, the weeds freely grew without challenge. So where they grew I let them be...

Then I smothered them! And those I did not smother in their beds I harvested for mulch.

And a fine thing too. I kept laying down and moving about weed mat on the paths between the garden beds and any weediness underneath died. Why pull a weed when you can darken  it to death? If I don't keep the mulch up I get weeds because my mulch is chockers with grass seeds (because it is cut grass). 
But surprisingly on the beds I get few weeds...
Despite that I seldom weed...so long as the mulch keeps a'coming.

To then be able to turn weeds into much -- by throwing them atop cardboard, packaging and newsprint on the garden paths -- is a delightful irony.But it works just fine. And given that harnessing a creeper is a simple snip snip with a pair of scissors -- both jute twine and plant  is keenly laid to rest on the very same paths. I recycle the dead.

So I smother the weeds with weed mat and then blanket them with paper and mulches.

Plants.

I've ratcheted up my exotic penchant with my recent seedings. Among the  more interesting plants I've sown are:
These plants may be growing but not all are thriving...not yet anyway.

I  guess my major oversight was to not plant out enough flowers...for blooming at the moment. I've rectified that with another sunflower indulgence and a keen insertion of some classic cottage garden  standards  like Hollyhocks, Lupines and such.

But vegetable or flower, I'm still learning how to handle each plant so that it grows to maturity. It's been a great Summer for peppers after the bad times of the past. But cucumbers -- the ready fruiting thereof -- still alludes me, so maybe I'll be cross pollinating with a feather next time around.

And talking of peppers...and many of my plants in fact: I've been trying to rectify their habit to hall over. My soil is so sandy and the much I use so friable, that plants struggle for anchorage , especially when they get larger or bear fruits. So I've run a 'hand rail' the length of each bed on which I can rest sticks and such to support the plants underneath. Even inserting stick does not suffice as they too fall over so the sticks often need to be supported. Thus my hand rail...chest high: bamboo canes running parallel to the soil.



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Culinary Adventures

I'm dedicated to cooking. For me it has always been a life saver. The evening meal is my special time. 

Everyday it comes around and every day, for me, what-to-cook is an adventure.

So I get to explore different ingredients and different cuisines; pursue passions; indulge in foodish dilettantism...and eat.

I prefer to cook for others...but if I'm doing meal-for-one, I can sneak in the foods that others  may be distrustful of. 

Like offal. 

Cooking got me feeding 2 kids and rests as the baseline of achievement for those days that I'm ill. I may spend the good part of a day recumbent, but for me , being able to get up and cook an evening meal is an obsession.It is a register of worthwhile things done in a day that may have little else to show for it.

So everyday, come tea time, my habit is to experiment...

Consequently I'm grounded in a few culinary traditions.Over the years my core passion has been Middle Eastern foods but of late I deflected to an interest in Turkish tucker which is different again.

More recently I'm in East Asia, in Malaysia and Korea, with taste beds  half way to Latin America.

That may seem a strange mix but consider the core anthropological fact that so many vegetables, so popular in Asia, emanate from Central and Latin America. Preparing  them is both different and similar, each side of the Pacific Ocean.

But in this mix -- after decades of cooking meals -- I'm alighting on a 'style' -- a cuisine -- that has a certain dietary logic that, at least, suits me.

Its constituent parts are:

  • Meze : small side dishes which I'm familiar with via so many Arab menus.And while I've put in the hard yards, making and growing Mediterranean style side salads, my passion today, meze-wise, is the way the Latinos create salsas. While 'salsa' means 'sauce' it doesn't have to be wet and runny, nor does it always include tomatoes or chillies.Salsas, like meze, can be made of many things...and I mean many things you may not realize can be served together in the same bowl.Similarly, the Malay tradition of sambals is a Occidental version of  the salsa. In Korea the side dish habit is referred to as Banchan. Indeed, in all these traditions your local menu is formatted by these small side dishes.They maketh the meal.
  • Starch: Since embracing the family curse -- Diabetes II -- I've been following a low carbohydrate diet. It works and my blood sugars are stable.But recently I've been fascinated by what's being referred to as safe starches. These are the non-grain starches/bulk foods like spuds, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, plantains...and rice(although that's a grain). I keenly grow 'em if I can and I cook 'em. Despite the carb quotient. I explore their nutrient qualities, food traditions and attributes. En route I've become a sweet potato junkie and embraced an addiction to sweet potato noodles (called dangmyeon, Korean: 당면). 
  • Yogurt and pickles: While I used to make sauerkraut I now limit my lactobaccilus indulgences to home made yogurt and the Melbourne Celto-greek in me wants to have yogurt at every meal. I've gone beyond Tzatziki (greek yogurt and cucumber, a Greek national obsession) and are now in free form Cacik mode. Cacik is 'yogurt and...'[insert vegetable here]. Wonderfully creative it is too -- region by region. Also from the Turks -- the Ottomans -- I leant to respect pickles. By that I mean   pickles per se, that aren't necessarily fermented. Indeed, pickles like this are really a salad as they are cut with vinegar in mind. A similar pickle tradition exists in Korea (say no more than kimchi) and Japan -- all very meze, very banchan , salsa-like. While the taste may be a fav, the underlying logic is that you eat an acid with your meal. Indeed research shows that acids consumed via yogurts, pickles our sourdough fermented breads impact on the metabolism of the carbohydrates eaten at the same meal.
Perhaps you are wondering, what all this has to do with gardening.As it turns out: a lot. The KITCHEN GARDEN lends itself to growing a range of different herbs and veges that can be employed as meze, table starch, or pickles. In all this: fresh is best. 

If you move away from 'salad' thinking or the melange of separated vegetables mono-culturally prepared as accompaniments to whatever,  you are stepping into a sort of trans-global mix of ingredients and food traditions that can be fed by your garden habit by dint of the adage: 'a little bit of this and that.'
And since I've recently planted some yam bean/Jicama I gotta say that Jicama salsa is a quintessential convergence of what this approach can generate: starch + vegetables + acid. 
That's the clincher you see: small dishes. Eclectic blend of what the garden delivers: served up as pickles, sambals, salsa....with a starch passion sponsored by what's gown out back.
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The Garden in March

The Garden in March, 2015. Hopefully the Summer heat and humidity is in the past and seedlings get a better start in life. Despite the wet Summer, the garden looks bedraggled and unsure of itself.It hasn't quite decided which plant will rule the soil or the air. 

African Yams, chokoes, Russian cucumber and Sweet Potato have taken to the sky trails along jute trellises strung like spider webs this way and that. The Frangipanis have settled in, and while as yet not much use for shade, many of the trees are beginning to keenly  flower. The pawpaws, after a lacklustre existence thus far, are fruiting forth.The Jerusalem Artichokes are flowering preliminary to die back...and last season's white potato leftovers (the spuds that missed my fossicking)  have sprouted and broken through the earth's surface.

I've invested in an early planting of seed potatoes -- Nicola and Sebago -- with the plan to later add other varieties to the soil. This has been my best year for peppers but, like tomatoes, I get ready die off as ripening approaches. Sometimes the whole plant dies.So I have to pick early if I want  fruits for the table.

I'm hesitant about planting out my next batch of seedlings because I have lost so many over Summer. Heat, relentless sun...the soil's incapacity to hang onto water: all these elements make the beds are brutal kindergarten.

For now, there's not much to harvest. The very last of the parsley, plenty of basil, lemon grass is thriving, the 'greens' are limited to exotics, the spring onions have all been pulled. My much yearned for cucumbers don't do so well. My many katuk bushes have been feeding me but they haven't bushed up as yet so when harvesting I have to be gentle.The kangkong -- water spinach -- has recovered from its desultory habit and infestations and is now harvestable.

Ready to amaze are more New Guinea Beans that I'll know what to do with. This time of year, its' well worth growing as a Zuchini substitute . But then Winged Beans have not done much at all, although I keep trying and Snake Beans are placement fickle.

Achievements:


The skytrails are the most exciting Summer invention. Jute twine strung above ground in patterns or on impulse has proven a great method of trellising that nonetheless holds up to stormy weather. When I cut back the vines, the whole lot -- string and all -- can be deployed as mulch. I haven't solved the upright challenge as yet, mainly because the bamboo canes I've been using are  slippery perches. Even when they get pulled to the side by the twine, so that they rise up like leaning towers, they still 'work' and allow for fiddling and customising. 

My best work was the shade lean-to I strung off the back veranda against the late afternoon sun. The native legume I used quickly embraced the trellis system. Unfortunately I'll be crying when I have to cut it back for the darker and cooler days of Winter.

The plan was to use choko but the choko vines have been desultory over Summer, only now taking off.

The Summer may have been wetter than expected, but the soil temp was still high.Mulch was harder to come by and my shade options have not, as yet, consolidated. I've now planted out with growing-more-of-my-own mulch in mind. More lemon grasses, Cannas, Vetiver....and I now deploy branch trimmings, cardboard and newspapers as carpeting for the garden paths.

Where the weedy grasses have taken off I lay down weed mat to starve them of sunshine. This works extremely well, and I plan to use the same mat option to cover fallow beds.So have weed mat/will travel. Very useful stuff.

It was a great season for weeds, and since I use very weedy grass clippings as mulch, they got away from me in places -- more so than previous years. So 'grasses' are mixed up with my pigface beds, despite the initially laying down of wet newspapers. I've learnt -- leastways I think I have -- to be patient, and this weedy infestation will spend itself so long as I keep a careful eye on management and sponsor other plants to overrule the infestation.

I don't normally weed. I think it's a mug's game to be out there pulling weeds every other week. I do it a couple of times each year because I have to, but I'm a keen supporter of autocratic suppression  and even if my mulch is the source of the weediness, more mulch also serves to smother opportunistic growth. You can never have too much mulch. Layer upon layer until you reach a point where the beds are no longer weed prone.

In the offing -- hallelujah from on high! -- when my frangipanis are closer to  heaven  than they are now, I'll have more therapeutic shade to play with and manipulate. I can't wait for the Plumeria to grow UP more....

Got no choice. Gotta wait.



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Urine as fertiliser

There's a lot of info available online on the subject of human urine as fertiliser
This is a good introduction:
Aside from the associated water saving -- flushing less -- advantage, there is a scientific case that urine  may be the answer to a looming global shortage of phosphorus, a key component in fertilisers.
Despite the  'yuk' factor, human urine is actually a relatively clean substance. It should be sterile when produced at the body  factory. Compared to other sources of  manure fertiliser -- cow, horse, sheep, chicken -- it carries much less chance of contamination by pathogens. 

Indeed, in-house human urine -- rather than the other solid stuff -- is where most of the good nutrients are at. 

The downside is the smell. However, if urine is diluted and spread on soil or mulch within 24 hours of its production, the odour issue won't register significantly in the process. Although some commercial  system do -- the preferred domestic management approach rule should be don't store your urine: use it fresh.

In situations of drought or water restrictions, recycling urine can save a significant amount of water. Even low-flow toilets use approx 6 litres   per flush (as opposed to 13.2 litres for the full) so that a visit to pee on average 5 times per day will use up a daily quotient of 30 litres of water.

After working as a nurse for many years, especially in geriatric facilities,  urine doesn't scare me at all.  I also recall the time before sewerage connections were installed in houses and folk relied on outback 'can' toilets and under bed 'potties' -- just like kids' toilet training hardware-- to get them through the night without en suites

 I've been experimenting. So far so good. While it takes some dedication to collect and distribute human urine -- production is easy -- compared to other exotic gardening activities, like making manure teas and composting, it has its efficacy merits.

Why bother with pee, you ask? 

I think the core advantage with urine harvesting is that it can contribute to your water budget by reducing  usage. It won't impact on your water bill much given the way the utilities currently charge, but each week you could be saving 300 litres of drinkable water from being flushed away. Scandinavians  are building townships that recycle urine as a form of sustainable sewerage management.

Is the effort  worth it for the plants?

Hypothetically you'll save on input costs as you won't be importing fertilisers.Aside from the phosphorus advantage, research is very supportive:
Indeed if you were  feeling a bit low on any day  and feeling a tad worthless as a human being , you can take heart from the fact that  you  could supply enough urine to fertilize roughly 6,300 tomato plants a year.

There's power in pee!

THIS POST set off an extensive and very useful discussion here on Brisbane Local Food.
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Broomhood: Straw broom Zen

Maybe it was because my father used to remind us of his business acumen thus: "I started out sweeping the floor at Reeds"(a Prahran department store) -- that I have a penchant for brooms.

The Presentation nuns at primary school first taught me the gentle art of using a single sheet of newspaper to pick up dirt from the floor by sweeping your catch onto it. Nuns were big on sweeping and highly skilled practitioners of the traditional broom arts. Every spick and speck was ferry-ed to the bin every day.

It was god's work -- an AMDG thing:Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

Later, when working as a store man I used to push 'no dust' -- sawdust -- around the underground storeroom of Buckleys and Nunns at the end of each shift, just as I would sweep with water and broad bristle brush strokes, the floor at a meat packing plant a few years later.

Even dead bits of animals were no match for my broom skills.

I've swept community halls and pathways; brushed rugs and ceilings , street gutters and verandas.

Put a broom in my hand and I'm a happy man. I find it my version of Zen(and-the-art-of-sweeping).

But try to hand me a vacuum cleaner and I will vociferously resist...

Brooms are tools conducive to renewal. They are a physical embodiment to the metaphysical and meditative properties contained in the everyday layering of dust, dirt and detritus. An quintessential communing with nature....scraping back to reincarnate the days gone before.

Of the brooms, the straw broom is the one most conducive to spiritual fulfilment. Its organic meadow-harvested fibres are adaptive to so many surfaces. On rugs, they are unequal.In time they mould to the users sweeping habits.Brooms become their masters, masters become their broom.

With very frequent use, a trans-substantiation is possible:
People who spend most of their natural lives sweeping get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their straw broom as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them. In this world the number of people who are nearly half people and half straw broom would amaze you...

In deference to my own habits, let me say that my straw broom and I are merely going about together.
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