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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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The Garden In February


After a steady bout of humidity there's been many excuses to green up but with that, the constraints of fungi. Some plants just can't cut the mustard and I've lost plenty to  too much wetness.

But what you lose on the swings you make up on the slides....

More promise than actual harvest the garden has recovered from the dry spell of late last year and has taken off along with its surfeit of weediness. Some plants, like the Russian cucumber has been space greedy but my other cukes have been fungi brutalised.Peppers doing well as are the tubers. 

I haven't generated as much shade as I had planned ...yet, but the substance is there in growth mode.


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Cheap and easy way to make yogurt -- in a rice cooker

I've been making my own yogurt for years and have developed my technique with easy DIY in mind.Home made yogurt is so much cheaper than store bought stuff as all you need is milk and a little starter (left over from a previous batch).
EQUIPMENT:
  • Cooking thermometer: make sure you use one with a long stem and easy to read (very large) numbers.
  • Rice cooker with a glass lid: if you don't have one of these, get a second hand one from an Op shop...and learn to cook your rice on the stovetop using the steaming method.
  • Insulated bag.
COMBO
Make sure the steam hole in the rice cooker lid is of a wide enough diameter to allow the insertion of the thermometer stem. (Or that your thermometer arm is narrow enough to pass through the cooker lid eyelet).
My cooker takes 3 litres of milk...and makes 3 litres of yogurt. It lasts us a week. I used to make larger quantities but fresh yogurt will start to 'go off' after 10-14 days. Best to treat it like milk with a limited shelf life.
METHOD
  • Fill the rice cooker with full cream milk, insert the thermometer through the eyelet hole in the lid and turn on the machine. 
  • Heat milk to 82 degrees Celsius (180F)
There is no need to stir. Just keep checking back to monitor the temperature as it rises.
  • Turn off rice cooker as soon as the milk warms to  82 degrees, remove milk filled bowl, with lid still on and thermometer inserted, and place in an airy spot to cool.
  • Allow warmed milk to cool to 43/44 Celsius (110/111F)
  • When cooled, spoon in 2 tablespoons of store bought Greek yogurt  or yogurt from an earlier batch.No need to stir it in. Just plop.
Chris' Yogurt is good ...so too is Dairy Farmers Greek Yogurt. "Pot set" yogurts are all good. So long as you like the taste. What you want is a reliable culture that's still very much alive. You can also add any probiotic strain you may have if you want -- such as from a probiotic supplement (just screw open the capsule).But remember, once you've done one batch, it can be used to inoculate the next. Over time the bug mix will be specific to your kitchen just as sour dough strains are.
  • Replace the lid, then place the cooled and inoculated milk in an insulted bag.
I use 'Hot Bags' I got from South Africa...but if you wrap up your rice cooker bowl in a beach towel and placed it in an insulated shopping bag you'll get the same effect.
  • Leave the yogurt to ferment overnight or for 12 hours at least. 
  • Refrigerate your yogurt in the container you made it in: the rice cooker bowl. 
You can decant your yogurt but it can be a messy and wasteful business. It also fosters contamination.The Easiyo insulated yogurt maker containers you can get in the supermarkets are too tall for easy fridge storage...and the lids aren't secure. A rice cooker bowel fits in my refrigerator OK. I recommend that you store as you cook.
  • As you come towards the end of each batch, set aside (in a clean glass jar) a couple of tablespoons to inoculate the next.Don't rely on bottom scrapings.
Bon appetit!

The mistakes you can make with yogurt making are straightforward:

  • Burning the milk. Some caking on the bottom is OK but don't lift that layer up so that it mixes with the milk above.With the rice cooker method, burning has not been an issue.
  • Not keeping to the temperature parameters. Don't add the inoculant above or below the recommended temperature. You'll still get yogurt but much less of it as the ferment will be very milky.
  • Ferment times. I ferment for  about 12 hours (overnight). The longer you ferment the tarty-er the yogurt flavour
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Turning the corner...in production mode

'Tis a niggling habit plants have of not doing what you expect them to. You plant with a template in mind -- a projection on how the garden will grow....
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
..and the  all hell breaks loose! Maybe in temperate climates...maybe in the cooler months here... there's predictability -- but this time of year it's every seed for itself. 

"But it's the seasons!" I hear someone shout. Sure. Seasonal is what it is -- but what seasons?

My inclination is to presume that I have two gardens. A hot and humid one...and a cool and dry habitat. Between the two are x number of months of transition. 

So my ruling is that I have two seasons -- each conducive to a different horticulture -- with linking bits.

I'm not such a grand master of my patch that I can confidently matchmake seed with season any and every time. My head is still caught up in my long ago existence in the temperate zones and I still think like ye olde English cottager. 

It's a green thumb's dead hand....

But really my  greenery kith and kin live elsewhere, leastways this time of year. I've moved north just as in a few months I'll move south again. 

Of course this is precisely what is happening curtesy of the sun and the axis of the earth. For one part of the year I get to play giardiniere and for another I'm in the tropics, caught in a sort of Monsoon mode.

Two modes. Two different kitchen gardens.  Each requiring a different headspace.

Under monocultural precepts this ebb and flow  is simply dealt with through engineering and an annual harvest. But the more polycultural your mix the more complex the practice required.

For a town not noted historically for its kitchen gardens -- what constitutes the Brisbane garden mix? A choko  vine and a mango tree?

I'm not saying I can rule on this but I'm thinking it is still an open agenda. We may be constrained by culinary habits and expectations  but the disconcerting fact is that we are so located by dint of latitude, that -- either in season A or B -- we could grow almost anything, any annual.

In this I'm much  taken with Jerry Coleby-Williams habit to divide his garden according to production.
  • Edible roots
  • Edible leaves
  • Edible seed
  • Edible petals
  • Fruit
  • Medicinal/spices  
His  In Production lists are always awesome.I think it's a great way top keep ontop of your gardening ways and means because it does keenly measure how productive your patch is at any one time.

Jerry Coleby-Williams lists his produce monthly. Here's his list for last January...so I took his and made up my own. In way of inspiration, the items in  green are what I'd like to grow now (if only I'd thought ahead)

Underlined are what I've been harvesting this month.

Edible roots
Arrowroot, Canna edulis
Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus 
Potato (sprouting again despite harvest)
Radish, Raphanus sativus ‘French Breakfast’
Sweet potato
Turnip, Brassica rapa ‘Gold Ball’
Yam, Winged, Dioscorea alata
Yam, African (Discorea)

Edible leaves
Aibika, Abelmoschus manihot
Aztec Spinach (Huauzontle)
Basil,Thai and Large leaf
Taro
Chinese celery, aka smallage, Apium graveolens
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
Dill, Anethum graveolens
Egyptian Spinach,Corchorus olitorius
Endive, Cichorium endiva ‘Green Bowl’
Florence fennel
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum
Amaranth,
Japanese parsley, Cryptotaenia japonica
Kale
Kangkong, Ipomoea aquatica
Katuk
Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus
Mint (common garden)
Moringa oleifera
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus
Parsley, Petroselenium crispum ‘Italian flat-leaved’
Pigface
Purslane, Wild, Portulaca oleracea
Purslane, Golden, Portulaca oleracea var. sativa
Radicchio, Cichorium intybus
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca sativa
Samphire
Sweet potato
Vietnamese mint, Persicaria odorata
Welsh onion, aka spring onion
Warrigal greens, Tetragonia tetragonioides

Edible petals
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca sativa

Edible pods
Madagascar  Bean
Snake  bean (Red Dragon)
Winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus),

Fruit
Capsicum
Chilli
Choko
Cucumber (Russian, Lebanese...)
Dragon fruit
Globe Eggplant
Lemon,  ‘Meyer’
Lime, West Indian
Mouse melon, Melothria scabra
Mulberry
Okra
Passionfruit
Pawpaw
Pepino
Rosella
Tomato, cherry

Medicinal / Spices
Aloe Vera
Ginger, Zingiber officinalis  
Rosemary
Turmeric, Curcuma longa
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Is it 'safe'? Starch my innards.

Over most of last year I shifted my diet away from low carbohydrate high fat  to lowish carbohydrate high fat + safe starches.

The notion of 'safe' starch may seem weird unless you have been steeped in low carb Paleo diet lore. 

Therein lies a debate...
...which I don't want to get into.

Nor am I going to bring you up to speed. You can Google 'safe starches' yourself.

But I will give you my anecdotal 2 bob's worth:
  1. Much of this Paleo thing misrepresents the eating habits of 'ancestral' peoples -- ye olde hunter gatherers.To presume that 'their' diet was overwhelmingly low carb etcetera is not correct. Traditional diets certainly varied between environments but they were not exclusively as the Paleo-ists argue.
  2. That said there are some problem foods in the transition out of hunter gatherer-dom -- foods like milk and grains (and more recently -- sugar and vegetable oils). As Vanessa Haynes points out:"The idea behind it is that our DNA profile determines that we should live in that way because for 190,000 years we were hunter gatherers. .... The modern diet, especially in the United States, is not probably the healthiest and probably not in Australia either. So educating children about eating naturally, I have no problem with that. Whether it should be the paleo diet, I think we have to be careful of that because we have had 10,000 years of adaptation to agriculture. Have we adapted to grains? Because the true hunter gatherer can't eat grains either. They have not adapted to drinking milk. But yet most Europeans have adapted to drinking milk. So we've got to take these adaptations into consideration."
  3. While eating low carb (under 100 grams/day) I found that on those occasions I didn't (ie: ate more) my blood sugar spiked. You may think that's to be expected and while that may be presumed, the fact that the whole insulin response system wasn't being challenged meant that when it was it tended to over-react.So more carbs routinely rather than much less is probably a good thing -- for me anyway.
  4. Because I was routinely taking blood glucose readings after meals I discovered that I could tolerate some carbs more than others...and the ones I'm tolerating the most are -- that's right -- the ones often referred to as 'safe' starches. I'm a bit touchy with rice but potatoes, sweet potatoes and the like come in under blood sugar budget. That is, so long as I don't pig out.
  5. So I'm back eating these starches. Potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Yams. Oca (New Zealand Yam).  Rice ...and any  other, often exotic, starchy vegetable I can find and tolerate. But no bread. No sugar. No wheat. No pasta. No dried legumes. Since I can grow a lot of these veg, I'm on a great culinary and horticultural journey.
  6. But the trick is in the mix. Starches plus....vinegar or yogurt or fats or pickles or some other acid or oil. No vegetable oils. A few nuts. Any other veg. I don't eat much fruit -- more from habit rather than preference.
  7. And it's all good. I have more energy. I put on weight initially but now it is coming off. My gut is happier and my gastronomical universe has expanded.I'm eating about 400-500 grams of  these starches each day.My menu planning is easier and I've learnt to respect the nutritional value of these starchy foods -- not so much white rice, but the tubers are nutritionally rich.
  8. I eat other veg of course -- especially colourful root vegetables, cucurbits, greens and herbs -- and meat (mainly lamb as it's my passion), fish and eggs. Steamed or boiled chicken. A little bit of pork. 
  9. Blood sugars: doing fine. Occasionally pass my target threshold of 6.7 mmol one hour after meals but well within acceptable frequencies for a person with Type II Diabetes.
  10. So all good...and I love these starches! It's like I've broken a fast. When you move away from a dependence on wheat flours and corn ... and base your meals on these other starches the menu is very different.
  11. My regret is that I've drifted some way from my preferred Arab and Mediterranean culinary preferences as I'm now locating my menu hunting in the great tuber growing cultures of the world. But there are adaptions. The Koreans, for instance, make an awesome noodle out of sweet potato starch -- dangmyeon. And then there is the big wide world of rice noodles....
  12. You can do a lot with tubers....
  13. I don't drink much pure milk -- except a dash in tea -- but yogurt I indulge in.Yogurt is the primary solution to 'adapting' to milk...that and cheeses. 
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Vegetative processes outside of my control

I think my patch of vegetative nutrition has turned the corner and any reason I may have had for a Xmas suicide has passed.

I've got my garden back.

I've had to put my market gardening on hold  and did not run a local stall this month at the community markets. The scheduled date was a few days after the November 27th Storm Cells butchered Brisbane and lacerated my own garden.

I was humbled by nature....

Chastised and with lessons learnt, the rejig I've planted is surviving and it even looks like Summer may be kinder -- to plants -- than expected. As a consequence I've turned sharply away from a preference for generic 'vegetables' and embraced plants that suit my growing conditions.

'My' growing conditions mean what I'm up against NOW -- this week, this day --  as the garden' s meteorological and Edaphological conditions  changes over time.
NEW WORD:Edaphology (from Greek ἔδαφος, edaphos, "ground", and -λογία, -logia) is one of two main divisions of soil science, the other being pedology. Edaphology is concerned with the influence of soils on living things, particularly plants. The term is also applied to the study of how soil influences humankind's use of land for plant growth as well as man's overall use of the land.
The business of remaking the garden was hard work and very intensive.I spent hours -- day in day out -- making paper pots and sowing seeds.  I felt like a god shaping life.  And when I planted out I had to deal with the loss of some of my seedlings as the temperature roared up.

Shade up.

While I had begun to mulch the beds again -- after getting resupplied with the mowed stuff -- it became very clear that the extended day lengths was too much direct sun for many species I'd planted. The temperate climate gardening books miss this key sub trop gardening factor: shade rules. Indeed, it is disconcerting how early the shade imperative kicks in.

With record annual and monthly average temperatures under Climate Change protocols  the suffering at your feet is hard to bear. I have a shade plan -- but that rests on my frangipani forest, and these darlings haven't as yet got to a  height where their shadows can be relied upon.So I've had to make do. Be very opportunistic. 
NOTE TO SELF: Shade early rather than late.
I've become obsessed with the arc of the sun in the sky as I calculate how much of sunshine falls directly on any square metre of garden. This time of year the sun beats down from the south east, east, north, west and south west....for 13 hot hours. I don't go out in the heat of the day so you have to sympathise with the plants who have no options.The soil warms up. Stresses increase....

And a little bit of shade can do wonders. 

So them's the magnificent obsessions of these gardening times : heat and shade. (And I thought it was really only about water and rain!) 

I'm sure there's a trick to it. I've planted out vines and sunflowers to assist me in my quest. In the past I've relied on choko vines for shading but this year chokoes have not thrived where I have planted them. I used to drown in choko -- my garden was chock full of chokoes... I even celebrated their crusade:

Click on image for enlarged view.

But this year's growing conditions have sabotaged the narrative.

In similar mode, I guess I'm impatient with what actually is growing. "When can I start harvesting?"  I say to myself.

It's like watching a pot boil....

It's not so much about having a feed but yearning for an affirmation that you're doing it right. Waiting. Waiting. The irony being that now that I'm mulched up and there's water in the tank, there's the frustration that there is less gardening to do. It's sort of out-of-my-hands...I'm being held hostage to vegetative processes beyond my control.

Grow dammit!

I guess it's an ego thing.

Three Sisters Companion Planting

I don't grow corn (because I don't eat it) and my beans, this time of year, are tropical varieties ... but the more I contemplate The Three Sisters method of companion planting the more  relevant it seems to what I do. It's not so much the species -- corn+beans+squash -- but the tier-ing, the hierarchy.Interplanting of understory and overstory crops is a traditional gardening method, that was even pursued by the ancient Romans...

The task is to adapt it to my situation.  When you start viewing your garden beds  from soil to  2 metres up -- your own height approximately -- it's  a novel exercise. It's like filling a picture with plants.

While I'm using frangipanis  as my 'tree' overstory my main objection  to food forest gardening is that it isn't flexible enough.I want to rule the amount of shade that falls on the understory during any months of the year. I don't want to be victimised by trees. So food foresting isn't the same as 'Three Sisters' gardening -- which I like to refer to as:
Understory/overstory cropping
...
is companion planting ruled by height designed to harvest or shade sunshine where the understory also serves as a living mulch.
It may seem simple to say that, but go outback and try to practice it. If you are relying on annuals (as I do) the subtle and complex interplay  of plant height and plant roots  is a sharp learning curve. Traditional cottage gardens rely on temperate species to develop the layering, but when you move away from Europe  the interplay isn't self evident. The options  may be  explored in Permaculture literature --but there they are usually reliant on perennial plants to establish 'overstory'.

What I'm saying is that you can learn a lot from sunflowers....and from your mistakes. Some overstory/middlestory plants like tomatoes will throw too much shade for most of the year. Indeed it's not just the plant -- its height and growth habit --  but also how close it is planted one t'other that can determine effective layering. Then there is the time of year: how much shade you need when. Some months you don't want any. Other months you want  a lot.

I'm only saying this as a statement of principle...because I'm still learning. But you get my drift? The polyculture I'm trying to pursue is over and under...
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Recovery

Finally we are getting decent rain....albeit with a price tag.

My garden was devastated by the October/November heat  and lack of moisture and little mulch to be had. So I started replanting and rejigging. Changing the plan.Engineering for the heat and the dry.

Unfortunately, last week's storm cells hit us hard and my seedlings were shredded by golf ball sized hail.

So the rain does come at a price...

What survived  and what I've planted since is beginning to add promise to  the rejig.I'm looking at the garden from 2 metres down to the soil and across the beds as a sort of complete entity, rather than just looking at the soil.

Planted out are jicama, winged and snake beans; more chokoes and strategically located Arrowroot, Indian shot (Indica) Cannas and sunflowers for  Summer shade (and a mulch resource). And everywhere I've planted pigface cuttings -- mainly  Carpobrotus glaucescens (Eastern Pigface) -- but also the southern variety, Carpobrotus rossii, as well as PurslanePortulaca oleracea. They're my ground cover living mulch. Leastways that's the plan: a carpet  of succulents.

So shade above via climbers,  and succulents below, with mulch and shade  serving stuff in between. In sync, my frangipanis have come back to life -- so I'm hoping they grow fast over the period of hot weather to come.

In the mix I've tripled my Katuk plantings with hedges of the bushes running every which way in the shadier spots. You can never have too much Katuk.

My cucumbers are coming on -- now occupying my mounds which grew such a great crop of spuds this year. I'm hoping the  contour won't require me to trellis them.In the mnix: anew plat out of zuchinis.

In a succession of 'containers' the KangKong is growing well -- just so long as I hand remove an infestation of 24 spot ladybirds almost daily. And my Jerusalem artichokes are doing fine: spreading out and now more than a metre tall.

Also 'contained': I planted out sweet potato in an old bathtub after it was clear that I couldn't keep the water up to the plants in  garden beds.

I suspect there are more spuds to harvest but I didn't mark all the spots where  I originally planted seed potatoes so I'm still discovering nuggets  in the earth.I'm also growing a 'yam', that has taken off in several spots -- but I've forgotten its species. That's a surprise for later.

Of the standard veg fare what's growing is limited to chilli peppers --both hot and sweet -- rocket, basils, the parsleys are surviving, and chicories. Still delightfully confident in their growth are my forests of curly leaf kale. 

Like the Purslane, I'm finding that the edible hibiscus -- Aibika -- is easily struck from cuttings and , as far as my stomach is concerned, is a tasty little number.So there's another plant that I'm planning to spread around a lot by parking it in the beds.

the garden still looks dreary -- as though it has suffered -- the pain shows.But give it time...
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