RTBG Thursday 26th November 2020

Thursday was cloudless; the official temperature reached 22 degrees but felt warmer within the confines of the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG). The achievements of the day were to remove fast growing weeds in the orchard where the trees offered some cover and protection from the hot sun, and to add fresh sawdust and raking of the footpaths.

Thanks to Pam we have a photographic record showing the lushness of the area in which they worked.

The highlight was the resident wallaby who didn’t bound away immediately. Previously we have disturbed a wallaby hidden sleeping for the day under the weeds and plants; on that occasion, s/he bounded away to find a more secure hidey hole. Last Thursday the wallaby didn’t rush away. Can you find the animal in Pam’s photos below?

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Feeding a lawn

Down the back of my place with garden beds along the fence edges and intruding inwards towards a centre but never meeting, I  grow an expanse of greenness in part of the centre. Typically this is labelled a lawn. On close inspection, that greenness is a spread of weeds such as sub clover, buckshorn plantain, cat’s ear, and oxalis with smatterings of grass like weeds and a few others – perhaps some of them are actually lawn grass. It should come as no surprise that I have not tended nor cared for my lawn, with the exception of running the lawn mower over it seldom.

I felt vindicated in this course of action when the gardening guru Peter Cundall I always railed against watering lawns and other care at the expense of useful plants.  Nevertheless I, like many others, enjoy an expanse of green – and so it stays, although the size is gradually reducing. Earlier this year I won a pack of Seasol and other gardening care products which contained three different lawn care containers. In the spirit of waste not want not, I watered in a solution of Yates Weed and Feed and waited wondering which plants (weeds) it would kill and which it would nourish (most reviews of this type of product have reservations about combining two processes in one liquid).

New dying patches of chickweed and another that I am yet to identify pockmark the lawn with pale yellow. Since then, I showered Power Food Lawn Feed across my lawn.

Apparently the dry ‘bits’ in this packet contain microbe technology which are activated when spread across the lawn and watered. Will I have a lush picture perfect, magazine quality lawn after this effort?  I think I may. There is a new lushness about the fine grass strands that are proliferating across the expanse. 

Will I spend and buy more of these products?  Despite the efficiency of the products, probably not because I would rather focus my efforts and dollars on plants that will sustain me. 

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RTBG Thursday 19th November 2020

Last Thursday, while my fellow volunteers were enjoying gardening in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), I had sailed to and was enjoying the wilderness of places such as Port Davey, Bathurst Harbour and Melaleuca in south west Tasmania. Hundreds of photos later and a notebook full of details about that 8 day adventure will be written up and published in this blog in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile I am grateful for notes from Neil and his photos showing their collective achievements last Thursday. This means that for those blog followers who make decisions about planting in their own gardens on the basis of these blog post reports, they need not feel any absence of information. Thanks Neil.

He reportedThe forecast was for 23C on this unusually overcast Thursday and whilst we never saw the sun – much less than the 23C – the humidity was high and physical work brought on the usual sweat. Weeding continued in the golden marjoram fields below the olive trees and when T arrived the harvesting of the first crop of broad beans was undertaken. Egg plants were replanted in this bed once the soil had been dug over and infused with rich compost. Old brassicas were culled from the bed in front of the kiwi fruit and replaced with a variety of beans around the climbing frame and zucchinis in the remainder of the bed. The row with the giant pumpkins was given a light weeding and several loads of compost were deposited.  A variety of corn seed was planted by R & A into these newly composted beds in between the Atlantic Giant pumpkins. Whilst this was being undertaken a team – Janet, Pam & Leslie – worked on the flick weed issue in the citrus forest. Four + hours of weeding cleansed the hairy bittercress from the area and the girls should be proud of their efforts as it is a difficult weed to pull.

Kiwi fruit flower

Weeding in citrus forest

Eggplants & zucchinis to plant

Broad beans slashed

Broad bean harvest

Eggplants in where broad beans stood barely an hour before

Brassicas cleared for beans & zucchinis; onions left in

Same bed with beans around frame and black jack zucchinis’

Legacy corn seedlings ready to plant

Wilt infecting some of the KY1 tomatoes

Please note, it there are mistakes in connecting photos with information, these will be my fault.

Once again, many thanks Neil. I can see a great deal of work was undertaken and much was achieved last week. These will provide crops for the underprivileged and hungry members of our community via the food distribution charity Loaves and Fishes.  Good job everyone!

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Shedding the Silence

The individuals in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus (TSOC) have suffered in various ways through the months of the pandemic lockdown. For some, singing at home was not to the liking of other house occupants so, for those people, a major pleasure in their life came to a halt. All choristers loved coming together to sing as a group (around 80 strong) and make coordinated sounds; it was being part of the collective making wonderful music which, until the pandemic, kept them attending every Tuesday night rehearsal. However during the past months most have realised singing alone or even singing with some of the others in the chorus has not been enough.

Early on Chorus Master, June Tyzack, took small groups for rehearsal via Zoom meetings. Then a while later, when some of Tasmania’s pandemic restrictions were loosened,  small groups would meet at the beach, on a rocky cliff, on a yacht, in all types of weather at sunrise and sing – with their Chorus Master conducting! 

In recent weeks good fortune smiled and the TSOC was able to use the Goods Shed, a disused building on Macquarie Point adjacent to the wharf area of Hobart, for rehearsals. Then it was made available by the Macquarie Point Development Corporation to use for concerts. Recently family members and friends of TSO choristers were invited to one of their two first public concerts since March. 68 choristers performed across the space sometimes singing a capella, and at other times accompanied by a piano or a djembe. Both concerts were fully subscribed.

As my invitation said; ‘Although invisible since March, the TSO choristers have found unique ways to rehearse  throughout the pandemic in the most amazing natural and man-made environments. Experience the irrepressible spirit of the TSO Chorus Shedding the Silence in the vast space of the Goods Shed.’  I will add to this with words such as: Indestructible, Tough, Dedicated, Committed, Passionate, and Enduring.

The numbers of guests was restricted with a maximum of 80 per concert seated in a spaced way to comply with social distancing requirements. This was my first concert where everyone had considerable space around them. I loved it and hope this becomes a permanent feature of future concerts. For the first time I did not hear and was not influenced by the breath, swallowing or snorts of an adjacent audience member. If anyone went hunting for lozenges of other objects in their bags or pockets I did not hear the distracting rustle. If they checked their mobiles for news, I did not see the bright lights. Couples could no longer whisper loudly between themselves. In other words, the musicians and their music was front and centre of my attention throughout.  A pervasive joy.

The choristers now had audience. No longer were they singing for themselves; once again they were able to give to others. At the concert’s conclusion, they heard the applause and tears sprung to many eyes, mine included. Their wonderful voluntary effort was rewarded with a standing ovation from many, and wild calls of bravo and enthusiastic whistles.

Once again, I realise how fortunate I am to live in Tasmania which has escaped (and hopefully it remains so) the intense lockdowns of other places in Australia and around the world. In particular, I am grateful for Hobart’s re-emerging lively cultural scene.  Thank you TSOC.

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Silver beet

How large can a leaf of silver beet grow? 

Months ago I wrote about establishing a hugelkultur garden.  In that space I planted, over time, an assortment of vegetables as an experiment. I am delighted to say the feverfew, garlic, spring onions, rocket, broad beans, mustard and a few other plants have grown strongly after slow starts. But the surprise has been the silver beet. Each leaf has been so huge it could barely support its own weight.

Each leaf almost provides a meal on its own. Texture and taste is great.

Perhaps there was some luck with the seed which I germinated. I had collected the seed from the silver beets last year. This year, I will let some of the plant flower and go to seed, so that I can collect fresh seed from this giant leaf variation.

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Broad beans

I have readers and followers of this blog all over the world and it occurred to me that not everyone might be familiar with broad beans as an easy-to-grow and delicious-to-eat vegetable. This situation was confirmed today when a couple of people came to visit and I asked if they wanted me to pick some of my crop for them to take home for dinner. I found I needed to explain how to prepare and cook these beans. And of course it is all so very simple.

First, here are two photos of some of my broad bean plants enjoying the spring sun . They are the taller grey/green leafed plants with a yellow flowering rose and orange flowering nasturtium on the left of the cluster, and golden calendulas to the right of the group.

These have white flowers which start closer to the ground and gradually bloom higher and higher up the stems. In turn pods containing the beans grow from these flowers, once pollinated. That is, closest to the ground are the fullest pods and those ready for picking to eat the soonest.

I harvested a bowl full.

You do not cook the pods only the large beans inside.  So I set about unpodding the beans. Each bean is attached by something like an umbilical cord to one side of the pod and rests in a soft velvety moist ‘couch’ (my word – not a technical term).

The discarded pods can be added into a composting pile, dug directly into your garden soil, or placed under a layer of mulch as a great nutrient giver.

The beans should be added to a pot of boiling water. Depending on the size and tenderness of the unpodded beans, they may need boiling for between 2 and 5 minutes.  Mine, with their range of sizes, got 3-4 minutes. I drained off the excess fluid – good to drink separately or can be used where vegetable stock is required in a recipe.

While the beans boiled, I poached a small filet of white fish caught in Bass Strait (the body of water which separates Tasmania from mainland Australia), cut it into four small portions, and with liberal grindings of black pepper placed all in a bowl. I stirred through the beans before drizzling a tiny amount of flaxseed oil across.

This fresh, clean meal that used very few products, left me full and satisfied. 

As I type this post I am inclined to repeat the process for dinner this evening! 

Broad beans can be a vegetable to accompany a meat, egg or chicken dish, or be used as part of many vegetable recipes. Terrific in salads. If you have never eaten broad beans (or, as a child, you were forced to eat overcooked beans that had lost their colour and were tasteless and like eating nasty cardboard), then when you see the pods for sale at the market next time, I urge you to buy then try some. The freezers of supermarkets now sell frozen broad beans that have been removed from their shells making them a quick go to for inclusion in evening meals after a busy day.  If you want to grow them, the seeds need to be planted in autumn and they need cold nights to get them going. Let me know how you go.

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Sailing the open seas from Hobart

Soon I will have the privilege of an exciting adventure travelling from Hobart to Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour and return, on a replica of a 19th century sailing ship the Windeward Bound I will traverse seas which, on occasion, can be some of the wildest in the world; as exciting as that seems, I hope for calmer waters so I need not fear being swept overboard!

During the voyage I will take photos and make notes so that, on my return, I can write a report for this blog site.

Over a week ago I visited the Elizabeth Pier hoping to look at the ship but alas it was out of sight and elsewhere, so I assumed it was sailing on the Derwent Harbour for a charter trip leaving its normal berth bare. My assumption was incorrect.

Nearby a similarly aged replica ship, Lady Nelson, was moored and helped me to lift my level of excitement.

Again, I was in the city and down at the wharf but at a different end – and found the Windward Bound near the Brooke St Pier. I had a good look without boarding, and a friendly chat with the captain who, with a colleague, was hard at work preparing the ship to comply with Covid 19 pandemic requirements before our departure.

Seeing the small deck space, as I had imagined, and the staggering amount of rope, which I had not imagined, was all very instructive.  I don’t know whether I will have the opportunity to climb the mast (or whether I will want to once the ship is in motion on the heavy seas) but I did look at the rope ladder I would need to climb (apparently in a harness) and wondered whether I will have the courage to try.

So where am I going?  The ship will leave Hobart port and head down the Derwent Harbour eastwards towards the sea before turning south into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. We will travel past Recherche Bay, where French explorers spent time in the late 1700s, before turning west to power along past the southern wild coast of Tasmania. At one point we will sail between mainland Tasmania and Maatsukyer Island and the other tiny nearby islands, before passing Cox’s Bight, turning the corner of South West Cape and heading northwards. Eventually we will reach and enter Port Davey.

Over subsequent days we will sail or run about in a zodiac along some of the immense inland waterways before progressing to the inland Bathurst Harbour, then down to the settlement of Melaleuca to look at some of the remnants of social history since white settlement.

Friend Marion, herself a sailor, lent me three books about some of the peoples who lived in these remote parts. The maps which each contained are reproduced here to give you some idea of the scale of this enterprise. If you look closely you should be able to identify the key features I mentioned above.

From Janet Fenton’s Win & Clyde come the following maps:

From Christobel Mattingley’s King of the Wilderness come the following maps:

The third book which relates to the area is A History or Port Davey by Tony Fenton.

Your ‘homework’ is to look at a map of Tasmania and learn where Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour are located so that, when my report is written, you are better able to visualise my journey. Only the tiny settlement of Melaleuca is accessible by a very small plane and the rest can be reached only by sea or by walking south from Lake Pedder or  walking west from the eastern side of Tasmania along the South Coast track (five days with a reputation for endless slogging through creeks and mud!). Few Tasmanians have visited the area due to its remoteness and challenging means of access, and I suspect most aren’t quite sure where it is.

Windward Bound has provided me with a large plasticized map, drawn to scale, so I should be able to follow our track and location regardless of weather.

I hope I am taking an ‘easy’ means of travel, albeit with requirements to take my turn on ‘watch’ and perhaps go up the mast.  We will see about that!

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RTBG Thursday 12th November 2020

After a hot week we expected a warm day at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) in the Food Garden.  With our recent great weather, weeds are flourishing everywhere in public spaces; the path from the bus stop to the RTBG was on its way to being overgrown.

During the day we remarked on the changing skies. From time to time the clouds were heavily black and promised rain, but this was a furphy.  Nothing of the sort happened and the temperature remained high.

With the exception of Neil we chose to work in less exposed places and in shade where we could. Neil’s contribution was highly visible and took almost all day. After the meticulous weeding of a long stone-wall-edged garden bed, he dug it over.

This garden bed will sit and settle for a week so next Thursday it will be ready for the planting out of a range of summer vegetables.

Meanwhile the rest of us worked closer to and around the olive trees.  Weeding. 

First I tackled the irritating, cunning, and magician-like weed – the Medicago. I have written blog posts about this nasty plant previously describing how it can, at some stages of its growth, masquerade as golden marjoram. Thankfully on Thursday it was full blown green so I could see it easily. But of course its runners above and underground were hellishly difficult to trace.

I did the best I could but I know weeding this will be a perpetual task for me for years to come. Nearby all manner of small weeds were being lifted by my fellow RTBG volunteers and allocated to one of two piles; those weeds that could go to be composted and those for the rubbish bin. Into the latter went the flick weed and the oxalis in particular.

All very satisfying when we surveyed the new cleared gardens.

Once more Tony did a sterling job cutting and collecting produce from the Food Garden ready to give to charity.

Another great day for all of us because now visitors can see more wonderful vegetables and trees without the distraction of weeds!

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Clarence City Council and weed spraying across the community

Recently the Clarence City Council (the local government area in which I live) passed a motion to allow residents to opt out of having their street gutters and pavements sprayed with glyphosate-based products.  Details were provided in the latest Council newsletter and can be read below.

Well done Alderman Beth! Perhaps this will inspire you to talk to your own local government authority to determine which products they use for street weed management.

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My Chickweed Bread

Last week I published a blog post with a link to recipes which inspired me to bake a loaf of Chickweed bread. Despite my best efforts in my garden, chickweed plants lurk under and around so many of my plants. This prolific weed can be added to salads, and now I have a new use as a major component of bread.

To make the bread, I started by dribbling a couple of spoonfuls of golden syrup into a large bowl, added warm water and attempted to dissolve the syrup before pouring dry yeast across the liquid. As for quantities, I didn’t weigh or in any way measure these ingredients – my guide was a relaxed general feeling about what was enough. I set that aside to begin to foam. Meanwhile I had picked that large bowl (pictured) full of chickweed (possibly equivalent to three to four large cups full), meticulously washed each strand and removed the roots.  On the chopping board I cut across the pile of clean chickweed by moving backwards and forwards and across with the knife until I imagined the strands were in short pieces.

On the stove, I sautéed a quarter of a large onion before adding in the pile of chopped chickweed.  It all seemed a little dry so I added some Campbells vegetable stock so the ingredients didn’t stick to the saucepan.

Once the greens were softened I strained off the excess fluid (I drank this tasty liquid later). In the bowl with the foaming yeast mixture I mixed the onion and chickweeds.  Then gradually I added organic wholemeal stoneground flour, and some salt. Over time this came together in a moist but barely sticky ball.

I left it to rise and after almost three hours it had more than doubled in size. I knocked the risen mass down and kneaded it further. This time I shaped the mass to fit into a bread tin, and left it to rise overnight.

Next morning, perhaps because of the cold night, the bread mix hadn’t risen much. Somewhat disappointed but not deterred I placed the tin in a Fan Forced oven at 200 degrees C, let it bake for 25 minutes before turning down the temperature to 180 degrees for a further 20 minutes.

After that time I tapped the bread, and it sounded like it was cooked. Once out of the oven, I turned the loaf onto a cooling rack, tapped it again and felt sure it was cooked – but was it overcooked. Did I have a solid log?  Something uncuttable and inedible?

The proof was in the eating. I took the loaf to the RTBG Food Garden for my fellow volunteers to try out; to be guinea pigs for this new weed based experiment. I was relieved and delighted; it cut well and was delicious. Without a doubt I will be making more chickweed loaves – but in future I will not leave them overnight to rise.

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