More on the 26th January

Thanks to a blog reader, Anne, I have been reminded that January 26th officially marks the 1788 landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove and the raising of the Union Jack flag by Arthur Phillip following days of exploration of Port Jackson in what was later named New South Wales. That landing occurred in January but there is some variation in the literature about whether it was the 26th or another day around then.  Probably as a matter of convenience the date for our national day was settled on the 26th.  Only since 1994 has this date consistently been scheduled as a public holiday across Australia.

When writing the previous blog post I know I was influenced by discussions I have heard recently amongst aboriginal persons. It seems that for at least some of our nation’s indigenous population, this First Fleet ‘arrival’ was just one more incursion and the contacts made by Captain Cook tend to stand in their memory more indelibly as the start of encroachment on country; of course Cook’s contacts along the east coast of Australia happened on various dates.

Setting a date for our national day where the dates of contacts with colonisers are used as the basis for the event, will continue to arouse protests and discussions each year. I look forward to a day when everyone who lives in Australia is happy to celebrate a national day that celebrates what we are now, and does not reference atrocities of the past.

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Thursday 26 January

Normally we would volunteer today in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens but, because Australia has a gazetted public holiday, this month we could give it a miss or choose another day of the week. For some, the 26th is labelled ‘Australia Day’ to recognise Captain James  (Uncle Jimmy to the indigenous population) Cook’s voyage of discovery nearly 250 years ago when he informed the British government he had found a continent that was ‘terra nullius’. For 3% of Australia’s population, those indigenous peoples whose ancestors have lived across Australia for 60,000 years, and possibly more than half the rest of our nation’s peoples, January 26th was familiarly titled ‘Invasion Day’ and now is represented as ‘Survival Day’.  That we need a celebratory day, which reminds all our people of a positive and happy experience, becomes a much discussed issue each January. Yesterday, my friends and I raised our glasses with a toast to our indigenous peoples, who are part of the longest living civilisation on earth. I look forward to a day when the invitation offered by the Uluru Statement from the Heart is accepted . It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling.

So, this week’s volunteering efforts occurred on Wednesday; a stunningly beautiful summer day with the heat of the sun beaming strongly onto our sun hats and burning into our backs.

Only three weeks ago I pruned the kiwi fruit vines – but there they were, growing again, with their long straggly arms waving up into and out into any space they could find. Eager to grow.

 I set to, and nipped these new protrusions back, leaving two nodules on each stem from which spring growth should flow.  At home I had similarly clipped my kiwi fruit and now, after a fortnight, the searching arms are wrapping themselves higher and higher around my balcony. A tall ladder and secateurs will be called into action soon!  Meanwhile, at the Food Garden, my fellow volunteers neatened up garden beds, by weeding and raking.

I remembered that more shallots were harvested last week and would have been drying off inside the garden shed. It was time to top them and remove flaking skins. Another box was readied for charity.

Then dozens of ‘stem lettuce’ seedlings were brought from the nursery.  These were planted in a bed that contained the scattered plants of self-seeded purslane, coriander and mustard.

Simple pleasures. Happy casual chats with visitors. Simple gardening.  Who needs more than that!

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Shallots and Garlic

The diversity of tasks offered to a gardener, makes gardening perpetually rich and enjoyable. Planting, pruning and harvesting are the three main categories of tasks but, for each, a plethora of mini tasks make up the whole.

Last Thursday in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, three of us became a new version of the Ladies of Shal(l)ott.  One week before, a garden bed had been stripped of its long growing shallots (they take at least 6 months to mature and multiply from one planted bulb). In the intervening seven days they had been spread across open racks in order for their long straggling stems to dry. We loaded them into a basket and brought them to a table for the next stage of work to make them accessible for the charity to which they would be donated.

Our job was to frisk off dry outer layers, cut off most of the stem, and leave at least some of the dried roots.

Visitors watching us at work questioned whether these were onions. Technically, a shallot is a botanical variety of the onion but its characteristics are different from the common brown and the red onions that we all know so well. In particular, onions grow individually whereas shallots grow in clusters somewhat more akin to the way garlic grows. Whereas an onion will show rings when sliced, a shallot will look like a homogeneous clove.

During the morning, another harvest of shallots brought more to the gardening shed to be spread and dried for the coming week.  At the end of the harvest a sizeable number of bulbs will be kept for planting in a few months’ time.  The remainder will all be donated to the charity Second Bite to be distributed to disadvantaged people.

Having completed that task, we collected Lokalen garlic which had been drying for a period, and treated these in a similar fashion. Selected large bulbs with many cloves were set aside for planting later this year.

Ultimately these were ready for despatch.

We repeated the task with Duganski garlic. This time, the entire small crop was retained for planting.

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Pickling walnuts stages 2 and 3

Nine days ago I pierced and soaked green walnuts in a brine solution, stirred them occasionally, and watched a slight fermentation process underway each day. On the fourth day I changed the brine solution because it looked foul. I am not sure if this was appropriate. Perhaps it will change the final texture and flavour in way that is not attractive.  To be determined.

Stage two is simple. Line a tray with baking paper, pour away the brine solution, and roll the walnuts onto the paper. At this stage they are particularly unattractive, by my reckoning.

For the next 24 hours leave the walnuts in strong light and roll them around occasionally with the desire they form an all over, even, deep blackness.  After a day they carry a pleasant sheen; the lustre of burnished black clay or glossy charcoal.

Stage three is also simple.  Collect together your desired pickling ingredients.  For three jars I used a mix of malt vinegar and apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, allspice, salt and ground ginger. For one jar I used apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, allspice, black peppercorns, freshly ground nutmeg, and ground ginger.  I had two walnuts left over that wouldn’t fit in those four jars; my pickling mixture for these was a lazy apple cider vinegar and brown sugar.  Once you have decided on your ingredients pour them all into a pot, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.

In advance prepare/sterilise jars and their lids so they are clean. Dry them. Plop and push as many walnuts as you can into your jars to the brim – green walnuts are large and bulky so small jars won’t work well.

Pour the boiling pickling liquid into each jar to the top.

Screw the lids tightly.

I had two walnuts left so, as an experiment, I sliced then pickled them with the lazy pickling mix.

Don’t forget to label each with a list of ingredients and add the date of bottling.  I have stored the first four jars in a dark cupboard and placed the sliced walnuts in their solution, in the fridge.

 Most recipes suggest you can eat them one month after bottling. I have jars which are one year old and the contents are terrifically tasty – and safe!

Best wishes with pickling your own green walnuts.  Please tell me your stories.

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Orford Conservation Area and Bird Sanctuary

Heading southwards along Raspins Beach I found a series of notice boards that alerted me to the area beyond as the Orford Bird Sanctuary. Fenced along the away was a breeding sanctuary: of course, birds don’t read signs so humans were encouraged to walk only on the hard wet sand closest to the water and not stray into the dunes or grass tussocked sand banks.

Of course the rules indicated no dogs were allowed.

I walked, without a person in sight, until I reached the sandbagged edges of the Prosser River where I watched a boat motor along the channel towards the bridge at Orford. I could see the township spread along the far distant shore line.

My eyes followed the river inland.

The tiniest of other movements caught my vision; like a couple of leaves moving on a delicate breeze. Only by stopping and staring intently did I understand this was pair of the tiniest of birds. I believe the pair might have been Red Necked Stints which apparently breed in Siberia or North Alaska. The strength and endurance of migratory birds always astonishes me. The pair I watched flew and stood on top of a bag – probably impossible for you to see in the following photograph.

From the southern end looking north, I appreciated the generous white sand beach which continued until stopped by pretty sandstone cliffs.

Most of all, I adored the glorious cloudy skies – because the beach provided physical and mental space ‘to be present’ in that environment, and to find pleasure in every aspect. Those skies were full of greys, blues and colourful white tones.

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Raspins Beach

Last February I travelled along the east coast highway and marvelled at the number of Tasmanian beaches that surprised me, seemingly around every corner. Typically, there was never a soul in sight on these beaches. A luxury which Tasmania often offers!

Recently I ‘discovered’ Raspins Beach, within the orbit of the east coast town of Orford, a sandy arc located about an hour’s drive northwards from Hobart. On the day when I walked its length, only a couple of other people were enjoying its freedom.

I hadn’t strolled far when confronted with a series of information boards, weathered by the elements, that had been installed for the benefit of visitors.

At the northern end of the beach a wavy sandstone cliff, with multi-tones of brown, back dropped fallen rocks and edged first the sand and then the water. Maria Island, just off the coast, has well-known sensational ‘painted cliffs’ and I sensed a geological nature shared by the two places. I guessed the sandstone continues under the waves between each location.

A creek empties water, from the hills behind, across the sand and out to sea.

The rich tannins from native plants stain the water.

Mussels were growing naturally on the rocks.

A variety of seaweeds and sea lettuces were drying at the high tide mark.

Looking southwards to Orford the beach seemed to stretch interminably. I had no idea that, in the distance, the deep Prosser River cut across the sand and acted as a barrier to further walking towards the township.

The remnants of child-play remained, as yet undisturbed by high tide.

Another creek attempted to empty into the sea but it died and the water sunk away into the sand.

Provided away from the beach are walking tracks, parking lots, and opportunities for non-sandy picnics. It all depends what you want to do when you visit Raspins Beach.

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Homage to Piet Mondrian

For those who don’t know the name, you may recognise a signature look. Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) was an influential Dutch painter and art theorist especially with his work of the 1920s and 1930s. Excerpts of examples of his work follow.

The power of primary colours offset by the starkness of white and black is instantly memorable. His paintings work to harmonise contrasts.

But what has this artist’s work to do with Tasmania? Wherein lays the ‘tasmanian discovery’?

Travel about 80 kms north-east of Hobart to Orford, on Tasmania’s east coast, to see a home owner/builder embracing the conceptual nature of Mondrian’s work and to appreciate the inherent possibilities for drama and sense of vitality in a home residence. This is not the work of a copier of any one piece of Mondrian’s work; rather the combinations and structure of the colour on the home’s frontage have been designed to reflect the home owner’s appreciation of the general spirit of his work. This configuration and choice of colour are unique and stand clearly as the owners’ intellectual property.

From the vantage point of nearby Raspins Beach, the strong colours attract attention at distance even through tall trees.

The house is beside the north bound highway, and you will drive past it a short while after crossing the Prosser River at Orford when heading towards Triabunna. The brave front of this house is a reminder to us all that we should step away from the familiar and the tried and true, at least in some parts of our lives. In this case, a few cans of paint have been all that was needed to demonstrate an adventurous spirit, and to bring wonderful colour into our lives.

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New plant signage at the Botanical Gardens

Last Thursday, while at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, I was prepared to scrub the cut offs of metal slatted Venetian blinds on which we had written the name of vegetables. They needed to be cleaned for reuse. We use these as identifying stakes in the garden. They do the job perfectly well and provide an incentive for home gardeners to use what is at hand.

Coordinator Adam explained new signs were in production with the expectation these might be ready for the Food Garden later this year. The intent of the organisation is to standardise the look around the many hectares and across the many different plant areas.

Already the section devoted to Tasmanian native plants, on the other side of the Gardens, has its new signs. At the end of my day, I wandered over to have a look.

These are practical and flexible. The stake is separate from the sign, and the curly head of the stake allows for a sign to be threaded on in such a way that strong winds and nosy native animals won’t knock them off.

In addition there are yellow circular signs which provided information about the uses of some plants, using indigenous knowledge.

Directional signs through the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens will help you find the Tasmanian collection of native plants and everything else.

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Normality in the Food Garden

Think Thursday. Think volunteers. Think plants. Think harvests. Think weeding. Think Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Nothing could be more normal than our wonderfully committed voluntary team who plunge their hands into the soil, dig holes, nestle plants into new homes, nip a few branches off bushes and trees, and then enjoy cups of tea and chatty lunches. Idyllic. Reinvigorating for the people as well as for the garden.

Tony had a great deal of harvesting to undertake in order to give healthy fresh produce to charity. Shallots and leeks were pulled by the dozen.

If you are like me and have never grown shallots, you may be surprised. One bulb goes into the ground at planting time and then, over 6-8 months, that multiplies so 6 or more will be ready at harvest time.

Meanwhile others were tackling the bane of all gardens – green oxalis that had probably come in with mulching bales of straw or hay. In the two weeks over the Christmas break, infestations were visible in most garden beds.

By the end of the day the majority had been lifted, along with good soil that harboured the hidden and pesty bulbettes, and been removed for destruction – none would be used in composting bins. Later in the day a Fig tree was planted.

Elsewhere the Kiwi fruit vines were being shorn. These were sprouting long tendrils that waved madly heading upwards towards the sun and outwards to twine with slowly walking visitors. The technique was to take a waving strand, count at least two leaves up from the central stem and cut just above those nodes. This allows new growth to shoot from the remaining couple of nodes and it is on these that a crop of fruit will develop next season.

The leafy tops of two potted Bay trees were roughly halved in size and, what remained was, shaped as a ball on a stick. This process will encourage new growth.

Elsewhere around the Food Garden, exciting growth was visible. The KY1 tomatoes were a picture of health and later in the day were given surrounds of straw to provide a bed for the tomatoes that often stay close to the ground. The first photo shows these tomatoes which had been planted on 3rd November.

The fruits of blueberries were clearly visible although not yet ripe.

Soy bean seeds had been planted and were freshly germinated.

Zuchinnis were flourishing

Healthy potted strawberries will be a tempting sight for visitors once the fruit is ripe; sadly I doubt whether any will remain for charity.

Aa numbers of plants of the Cinderella pumpkin (La Rouge d’Etampes) were spreading, having been germinated from the seeds of those that grew in my garden – with the seed originally from former Food Garden vols, Robyn and Andrew.

Proud sunflowers always attract the visitors and I always admire their grandness.

There is much more to see in the Food Garden so, for the lucky people who live in Hobart I recommend you pop in, have a wander, and go away with clean air in your lungs from the wonderful outgassing of these healthy plants.

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To pickle walnuts

Our Tasmanian climate is perfect for many nuts and grand trees. Around this time one year ago, a friend gifted me a couple of handfuls of green walnuts and I pickled them successfully but kept no record of how I made this happen. 

I have been asked what a green walnut is. This is the complete walnut package. If left on the tree the green outer coating falls away and the next layer hardens as a wooden casing to hold the nut we all love do dearly.  So a green walnut is comprised of three layers and the complete unit is used for pickling.

Yesterday I moved under my friend’s expansive walnut tree and we picked green walnuts from the lower branches. Those that were blown off in recent rough winds can be considered runts and/or may have picked up some bacteria or insects while on the ground, so clearly the task is to pick them fresh, and not believe a few from the ground will be okay.

Today, after checking the internet for a process, my past experience came back to me. 

The ingredients for stage one are water and salt to make brine. In addition to a ceramic or glass container (not metal), essential equipment is a metal skewer and a pair of rubbers gloves.

Alerts all over the internet insist gloves are essential because the juices from the raw walnut will discolour your hands for months. Last time I remember my rubber gloves eventually wore out and were still discoloured to the level of the first day.  After processing half a dozen walnuts today my gloves looked like those in the first photo and the second photo shows the intensity of the yellow brown stain by the time I had pierced two dozen walnuts. 

So be warned: if you are going to pickle walnuts then please protect your hands.

What do you have to do?

Pour salt into your container, add water and dissolve.

With rubber gloves on, use your sharp pointed skewer to pierce holes in each walnut.

I jabbed up to twelve holes around each.  The walnuts are firm but soft enough for you to accidentally pierce straight through, so be careful not to slash your protective gloves. 

Once the walnuts are bathing in the salt solution they need to rest for around 8 days, during which time some fermentation takes place and they begin to turn black. Mine have gone to the laundry to be out of the way and not in direct sunlight. I will be stirring them each day so I can be sure the brine is penetrating through each hole.  I may even freshen up the brine if it looks dodgy.

Stage one is easy and the slowest part is piercing the holes.

Stage two starts after the 8 eight days. I will add a new blog post to show that process.

If you are fortunate to have access to a walnut tree and can pick some green walnuts now, then go to it so you are ready for stage two next week.

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