Traversing Tasmania

For Tasmanian bushwalkers, and any mainlanders willing to risk being shut out of their state through new lockdowns, there are many tracks to follow, and maps to guide your way in the unsettled parts of this state. I have noticed over the past year or so, while people have been less comfortable about travelling to the mainland to join with a wandering virus, that more blogs, Facebook and other online records have reported in words and photographs some of our state’s natural treasures.

Amongst the offerings, recently I discovered the stories of Becca Lunnon in the latest issue of Tasmanian Geographic, an online magazine that publishes occasionally throughout the year. In particular, she reported on her crossing of the Du Cane Range in Tasmania’s remarkable central area.  You can read the story here.

I am including one of Becca’s superb photos to whet your appetite for more.

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In turn, this article led me to her blogsite, rockmonkeyadventures which I know you will love. On the right hand side of the screen you will see a list of Categories. These represent the remote places she has walked and from which she has created an informative and colourful blog post.

Perhaps her enthusiasm and her adventures will inspire other Tasmanians to tackle easy or more challenging walks. But overall, I hope it will offer encouragement to get out of the house, forget about work, and wallow in the winter gorgeousness of our landscape.

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Crab apple tree

Many parts of Tasmania have a perfect climate for growing crab apple trees.

Depending on the choice of crab apple type, the climate and the soil, variously these trees will be superb for their flowers, for their autumn leaves and/or their fruit.

The crab apple tree growing in my front garden was labelled Malus Gorgeous and gorgeousness is what grows and stuns me and visitors every year. When purchased as a bare rooted tree some years ago, I hoped mine would be gorgeous in all three aspects. While I love the flowers they are comparatively ordinary, the green leaves in spring are always fresh and healthy and the autumn leaves – well they are hardly noticeable. The reason is simple: the fruit is exceptional for its rich red coloured skin, it’s juicy yellow flesh, and its gigantic size. In addition, the volume of fruit that is happy to grow and hang together is excessive.

Early on in this crab apple tree’s life, when the branches grew vigorously and wanted to head for the skies, I weighted each down with a rock to gently persuade them to have a horizontal and well as vertical habit. From time to time, I have trimmed the top off the verticals, and have trimmed within the centre to ensure sufficient airflow passes through the centre of the tree. The ground is always deeply covered with rough gum bark mulch. Other than that, the tree has been easy to grow and requires no further efforts.

When asked if I make crab apple jelly, eat them as a fruit (because they are so large) or find some other culinary use for them, my answer has always been a resounding no. Around the end of July and into August, from my office window, each year I love to watch yellow beaked Common Blackbirds feasting. It is the colours that persuade me to let them have their fill: black feathers, yellow bill, red skin, yellow flesh – dramatic rich pure contrasts. Besides, each bird eats a whole apple at a time and there is no pecking around and nibbling of apples. And when a bird eats a whole apple at one feeding, it does not drop any part of the apple on the ground. No half eaten apples. No pecked apples, No rotting apples. Just glorious technicolour when the tree is laden with apples, and as a blackbird settles to feed. The crab tree offers gloriousness in winter before the yellow trumpets of daffodils burst forth!

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RTBG Thursday 1st July 2021

I was delighted that the blue clear skies, which were once typical of every Thursday when volunteering in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens(RTBG), returned for us last Thursday.  A sparkling sensational day to look at and live through.

Many people were visiting including travellers who had escaped lockdowns on mainland states. I chatted with many amiably as they remembered their own gardens back home and queried some of what we were growing in the Food Garden. The persistent tranquil nature of the gardens, the beauty of the plants at whatever their stage of growth, and the singing magpie birds embraces, enthrals and enlightens everyone, whatever age. A visit to RTBG is always memorable in a gentle quiet way.

Anything that is growing in these months is doing so in tiny increments. And so it is with weeds in the vegetable garden beds and the fruit orchard.  Thankfully. But it always behoves us to remove the tiniest of blades before they burst forth under enduring days of winter sun.

When I arrived, narrow furrows were being drawn across the vacant patches next to the garlic we had planted a few weeks ago.  Into these, the finest strands of onion seedlings were being planted about 6cm apart by two volunteers.

I set to work painstakingly removing the tiniest of weeds beginning to cover the adjacent garlic patches. There were four patches and I took all day to complete three, with a hardworking bee of others completing the weeding of the fourth garlic path.

In October 2019, Coordinator Adam and fellow volunteers commenced creating a new outdoor area, which eventually included establishing a flat lawn area, a curved gabion wall, and adding a variety of plants  (refer to past blog posts which include the ones here and here).  A couple of fellow volunteers weeded around those plants.

For the shape of the plant, the colour of the leaves and the nature of its flowering, I am rather in love with the Marlborough Rock Daisy from New Zealand in that garden bed behind the gabion wall (Pachystegia rufa).

Tony collected various vegetable leaves for donating to Second Bite for distribution to disadvantaged people.

During the morning Adam had been helping in the Japanese Garden because the ponds had been emptied. He was digging out the silt cover that was building up, and cleaning the pump etc. After lunch we all walked over to see what was being done.  I had only seen the ponds and waterfalls when full and operational and I found the scale changed dramatically without the fill of water.

I appreciated the work required to design, install and establish this water system with huge rocks – so many normally under water, and many growing aged lichens to add authenticity. The construction, to look natural, was a major engineering feat. When the ponds are filled and the water flows this is a place of calm and beauty, with all the characteristics of Japanese Gardens.  A sensual delight!

Mid-afternoon as I walked to the bus stop, the sun was lowering but sparkling across the Derwent River most attractively.  The view gave me a spring in my step: after a day of work, conversations, and the best of fresh air I felt I could achieve anything. That’s the power of volunteering and that is also the power of soil and plants.

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Try not to kill yourself

This tale relates my failure to listen and remember, and my practice of habitually cooking vegetables often in the same way to my detriment.

One vegetable from our wonderful selection of Australian native foods is Warrigal Greens. That site notes ‘the leaves are rich in oxalates, so should be blanched or cooked before eating’.

The website for Taste Australia notes ‘caution should be taken with Warrigal Greens, as the leaves do contain toxic oxates, which can be harmful if consumed in large quantities. To remove the oxates, blanch the leaves for 3 minutes or so, then rinse the leaves in cold water before using them in salads or for cooking.’

While some websites claim tiny young leaves can be eaten raw without negative consequences, I would be nervous after the experience I outline below.

It is not all bad, the vegetable has useful characteristics and can be an important addition to a diet if handled correctly. It is high in fibre, vitamin C and healthy antioxidants.

Before my friend left a bag stuffed with Warrigal Greens for me, she had explained the process that I should use before eating. It was almost as if the information went in one ear and out from the other.

When I was in a rush to make a vegetable soupy stew for an early dinner, I decided to use some of that gift of Warrigal Greens. In a pot with vegetable stock, I sliced freshly harvested potatoes from my garden, chopped crisp celery stalks and cut small button mushrooms. Through this mixture I stirred a teaspoon of sambal olek and another small dab of leatherwood honey. Over this concoction I sprinkled frozen corn kernels. Meanwhile I had removed the large older leaves from many stalks of Warrigal Greens and sliced them. I added a huge pile (in the understanding that leaves of silver beet, chard and similar plants wilt to nothing much at all) to the top of the other ingredients and cooked the soupy stew until the potatoes fell apart. Then I loved eating every mouthful. Wonderful.

An hour or so later I noticed my vision was blurring. It was something similar to a painless migraine with aura, but it was stronger and more than that. A sort of headache ensued and overlapped with the seriously blurring vision. I felt weak, almost collapsible, and somewhat dizzy. My heart was pounding, my stomach felt most unsettled and waves of nausea passed over me, and urination was frequent. As the day progressed into the evening I felt very ill and wondered if the Warrigal Greens were the problem (although at that moment I wasn’t remembering their toxic oxates). Alternatively, so many symptoms were similar to those who get a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis after the first injection of an AstraZeneca vaccination. My mind was still functioning to some extent, so I googled treatments for such a clot, and learned fluids and anticoagulants were the means to help the condition. From then on I drank a glass of water every ten or 15 minutes. On the other hand, I realised that if the Warrigal Greens were doing me harm, then flushing them out was a wise manoeuvre.

Feeling very very ill, and having made the decision not to ring a friend or the ambulance (which I can imagine some readers will think was foolish of me if I was having a stroke – yes I agree), I went to bed. If I didn’t wake up next morning I wouldn’t know. If I did wake up, then I would hope to have improved. Next morning I woke with a slight headache and slight nausea, and feeling very dry so I continued the excessive water intake.

About 24 hours after consuming the well wilted Warrigal Greens and the fluids in which they had been cooked, I suddenly felt normal. It seems I had flushed out the poisons.

This has been a significant lesson to me – to stay alert and to keep thinking about all the decisions I make.

If you haven’t cooked Warrigal Greens then I hope my story will be a lesson for you. Cook separately, then rinse and drain and don’t drink the oxalic acid loaded fluids – dispose of that fluid. Otherwise you could be in big trouble if you don’t take care. As this site notes ‘Oxalic acid is toxic because of its acidic and chelating properties. It may cause burns, nausea, severe gastroenteritis and vomiting, shock and convulsions. It is especially toxic when ingested. As little as 5 to 15 grams (71 mg/kg) may be fatal to humans. Ulcerations of the mouth (which formed a day later in my mouth), vomiting of blood, and rapid appearance of shock, convulsions, twitching and cardiovascular collapse may occur following ingestion of oxalic acid or its soluble salts. Oxalic acid can bind calcium from the blood to form calcium oxalate, which can precipitate in the kidney tubules and the brain. Renal damage may result as evidenced by bloody urine. Hypocalcemia secondary to calcium oxalate formation might disturb the function of the heart and nerves.’

Please don’t let this stop you enjoying your vegetables, and especially those of Australian native origins!

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Helen’s tropical swimming fish drink

Always inventing and trying new things, sometime back in the 1990s in hot sweaty central Queensland I needed a refreshing drink and checked the grog offerings to see what I could concoct.

To hand were bottles of Blue Curacao and Vodka (Gin can be a substitute). Nearby, a Sodastream device offered sparkling water in an instant. In my fruit bowl rested a bauble of wrinkling passionfruit.

Combining these ingredients led me to create a tasty not-too-sweet drink which was fun (yes I had a couple at the time) and appeared immensely appealing. When the drink is stirred, the passionfruit seeds in their yellow flesh, race around and seem like fish swimming in beautiful tropical waters.

Today, in my fruit bowl sat the last of my home grown passion fruits and I felt it would be a tragedy to waste it on normal eating.

My recipe for the Tropical Swimming Fish drink is inexact: a splash of Blue Curacao to cover the bottom of the glass and a bit more. The equivalent amount of Vodka before filling the glass with soda water (I no longer own a Sodastream).

Cut open the passion fruit and scoop out the fruit – if a large fruit that will be sufficient for two drinks. Today I emptied all the seeds from one passionfruit into my drink.

See the ‘fish’ swim here. In wintery Hobart this was a perfect tonic. Now that we have passed the winter solstice, summer is on the way!

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Bromeliads – for the lovers

A while back I posted a blog about two almost dead bromeliads that I had been given.  Since then, I have noticed that this blog post gets lots of attention.

On the basis the subject is of interest to many readers, I wish to alert you to the June 2021 issue of Gardening Australia magazine.  If it too late to purchase a copy, and for some reason you cannot access it online, then go to your local public library and read/borrow their copy. From page 24 to page 33, extensive coverage of bromeliads is provided.  Glorious photos of many varieties and detailed information about many aspects.

Meanwhile there is no good news about my bromeliads; they have had too little care from me, but they haven’t died – so that’s a relief.

Happy gardening!

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RTBG Thursday 24th June 2021

I can’t believe that on a glorious blue sky winter day, none of my photos included the sky. But trust me, it was wonderful that a sun-filled Thursday returned. The day was sensational, so much so that our team of volunteers and Coordinator basked comfortably in the sun, when eating lunch in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).

It was a simple day of weeding and planting, and eight of us laboured on these tasks – it almost sounds like a spiritual uplifting when I say we did it with joy in our hearts. The clear clean air, the general garden atmosphere and the easy team work which we undertook, created an experience that was profoundly rewarding. As usual.

M and I commenced our morning clearing the weeds around a self-sown parsley patch. An excitement occurred when a streaked brown object leapt from beneath the canopy into full view. It seems so long since I have seen a frog so this was a delight; camouflaged not with the parsley greens rather with the rotting foliage covering exposed soil.

I have tried to identify the frog from photos and guess it may be a Brown Tree Frog (Litoria ewingi) – taking my lead from a Tasmanian government website. What do you think? ‘Our’ frog was mostly shades of grey rather than brown and was located beneath a very large spreading cedar tree where perhaps it lives moving up and down the greyish bark on the trunk.

N was successful in planting Kale topped Swedes from seed produced by Peter Cundall, the original Food Garden guru.

P weeded the brassicas, and J did a sterling job removing tiny weeds from around the tiny fronds of baby carrot tops.

L and M went deep into the artichoke plants and removed dead stalks and hunted for hidden weeds.

Cauliflowers seedlings were planted out.

R planted mustard plants before settling them in with a good soaking.

Meanwhile Coordinator Adam strewed fine gravel over old paths and swept and raked and generally made the walking areas exceptionally smart.

I enjoyed wandering around the garden beds to see the changes. It was inspiring to see the garlic bulbs had sprouted and green growth was pushing up high into the air. The future crop looks very promising.

If you have the good fortune to visit the Food Garden, please remember the produce is not for your consumption. Rather it will be collected for Second Bite, a charity which distributes food to disadvantaged families. If you have friends or relatives who plan to visit, please tell them this fact so they do not believe that the produce can be picked and eaten by them – then hungry people miss out. I am sure they will understand once they know this approach is different from other community gardens found elsewhere in Tasmania.

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Early days in this year’s olive production

Once again I have been blessed with the gift of a windfall of early season ripe olives.

Long term blog followers may remember my experiments with brining and salting fresh olives over time. You can read past reports here and here, for example. If you conduct a search on www.tasmaniandiscoveries.com using the word ‘olive’, many more blog posts can be found on this topic, if you want to read more.

Today, with a new crop, I have removed stray stalks, unwanted leaves, and dusty dirt from a pile of freshly collected olives (from the ground), and poured them into a cotton pillow case. 

Then I have emptied a huge quantity of salt into the bag, and tied off the bag so spiders and other creepy crawlies won’t be able to find their way in.

Now the bag hangs below where there is good airflow – the thought of moulding olives is not appealing!

In my calendar I have scheduled a massage for the bag each week to ensure the salt mixes liberally through the olives and doesn’t settle at the bottom of the bag. The idea is for the salt to extract excess moisture from the olives, along with any bitterness. Eventually, I expect a moist salt encrustation will form on the outside of the pillow case. When I see that in a few weeks’ time, I will be confident the process is working.

After six weeks, I will empty the bag and rinse, rinse and rinse again all the olives to remove salt. In addition, I will leave them in a basin of still water for at least a few hours if not overnight to further encourage excess salt to dissipate. By this time they will have shrunk a little from loss of fluid and won’t be particularly attractive.

Only once those processes are complete, will I store the olives by covering them in olive oil in air-tight glass jars. These will become my latest experiment in two year preserved olives. Those prepared in 2019 are due for tasting later this year in August. The story will continue!

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No Spray Register – instead kill your own weeds if you must

The Clarence City Council, which manages the area in which I live, has taken the initiative to allow residents to opt out of their weed spraying program which routinely patrols the suburban streets and sprays weeds to kill. 

I don’t know they products they use, but I know my methods are clean and hazard free.  Therefore, I have taken up their offer to opt out and, instead, I will control my own weeds on the footpath and road edge.

If you live on the eastern shore of the Greater Hobart Area, then you must apply before next Wednesday 30th June to be considered.  Go to: www.ccc.tas.gov.au/nospray

There is an online application form on which you must explain how you will manage the weeds. My techniques are manual and simple: boiling water or, after rainfall when plants and their roots can be extracted easily and in one piece, I will pull those weeds.  I wait with interest to learn whether my application has been accepted.

There is an opportunity to add a photo showing exactly where you will manage the weeds.  I used the ‘snipping tool’ that comes as an accessory with MS WORD and created a JPEG. Then, before uploading onto the application, I opened the image in MS PAINT and drew a thick red line around the space that I am happy to take responsibility for.

If you are going to take my lead, there is only one obstacle to be faced. The online form requires the PID or Property number and claims this is on your rates notice. Alas. This was not something I could find. From a phone call, I can tell you the number to use is at the bottom of the rates notice and is next to the words: BPAY View Registration no:  And please don’t ask me why.

If your local government does not offer this wonderful service then I recommend you strongly urge them to undertake a similar process.  If each of us can help to stop fungicides and pesticides and other chemicals entering our water system, then that is to the benefit of the planet and ultimately to each of us.

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Persimmon

In 2020, my astringent Persimmon tree produced yet again another bumper crop of fruit – so much so, that people came from far and wide to gather some and take away. 

This year the strangest thing happened.  Only one fruit grew.  The leaves had turned shades of red and yellow and all had fallen; the sole orange orb remained. Until today. Today was harvest day!

In the past I have written and shown these fruits and you can read more here. If you search on this blog you will find other blog posts about persimmons.

In the past I have needed to describe to friends how to eat the astringent version of persimmons. Firstly you should not pick them until they are so soft as to almost squelch apart in your hands when you take them off the branches. Then I cut across the fruit, before scooping the nectar teaspoon by teaspoon from the fruit. The skin is edible but not as delectable as the gooey insides.

Persimmon

What goes wrong if you eat them before they are softly mushy? The drying astringency of the fruit will stick to the roof of your mouth and generally be very unpleasant. It is possible to pick these and, then inside the house, let them stand in a bowl for a few more days. The worst thing that can happen is that the skin will discolour and the fruit will look unpleasant. However, inside the gooiness will have developed and become even more delicious and palatable.

This website gives nutrient values:

One persimmon (168 grams) contains:

  • Calories: 118
  • Carbs: 31 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0.3 grams
  • Fibre: 6 grams
  • Vitamin A: 55% of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 22% of the RDI
  • Vitamin E: 6% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 5% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): 8% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 8% of the RDI
  • Copper: 9% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDI

Persimmons are a good source of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), folate, magnesium and phosphorus. .Just one persimmon contains over half the recommended intake of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin critical for immune function, vision and foetal development. Aside from vitamins and minerals, persimmons contain a wide array of plant compounds, including tannins, flavonoids and carotenoids, which can positively impact your health.

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