Giant pumpkins obliterated

Last Thursday’s weather forecast offered a range of experiences but, for us who volunteered in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden, we found the shedding of garments was the best for most of us – especially those working in the bright sun. Over lunch my face even got a touch of sunburn and here we are mid-Autumn when, without climate change, we could never normally have expected such radiance. All in all that was a glorious day which made our productivity all the more satisfying.

The main job, which all of us tackled at various times, was the removal of depths of spent leaves blown from the elms and oaks and many more huge deciduous trees elsewhere in the Botanical Gardens. These swathes matted themselves around young leafy plants and, with varying success, we removed and despatched these in buggy loads to the main compost pile at the far end of the Gardens.

Significant weeding and slight hoeing cleared a large lower garden bed in readiness for planting garlic.

The highlight for the day was the removal of the trailing and intertwined threads of leafy growth from the giant pumpkins, then clearing that garden bed.

At the end of the clearing, four small giant pumpkins remained. Mould was visible on the base of two but neither was light enough to lift. With the blade of a spade we slashed through these rotting pumpkins, collected seed for next year’s crop, and disposed of the sodding sometimes liquefied (pure putrification in parts) internal flesh onto the buggy for a trip to the compost pile.

Two pumpkins were light enough for a strong man to roll and these now sit temporarily on cleared soil for the sake of visitor interest – until it’s time to plant that garden bed.

Why were these pumpkins rotting or suffering from stopped growth? When garden visitors have been sitting on them and playing around, the connections of the giant body to the vine were broken or damaged and they couldn’t continue to grow to their full potential. Our massive clearance activity was watched with interest by passing visitors who included a mother who told me her kids played on these pumpkins impressed by their dramatic scale. Try as I might to explain in the nicest of ways that such playing had caused damage, I felt sure she simply couldn’t understand it and that next year her children will be back again. Alas. I am sure I am not the only one who is curious to see how big a giant pumpkin could grow if left undisturbed.

The harvest for the day included silver beet, feijoas and purple congo potatoes (almost black skin with deep purple flesh) and other potatoes.

Seeding basil herb plants were stripped from the ground and I collected a stalk of spent flower heads with tiny black seeds for home propagation, before the remainder went to the compost pile.

It was a day of setting up garden beds for future planting, lifting weeds wherever seen, and clearing pathways and garden beds by gathering autumn leaves.

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Saffron is a spice derived from the dried stigma of the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family Iridaceae. 

A good rule of thumb is to use about 2-3 threads per serving when making a dish for one person — so for a dish that serves 6, you’ll want to use about 15 threads. There are approximately 463 threads per gram of saffron so 1 gram would yield approximately 150 servings – but you usually buy in much smaller quantities because the weight of the stigmas is so light and the spice is expensive.  Note in the photo above, there are three stigma per flower – therefore one flower will be needed to supply the characteristics of saffron to the meal of each person. Each stigma is removed by hand. I think you can understand why this spice is expensive; the number of flowers required and the personalised extraction process are extremely land and labour intensive. I paid around $14.50 at my local supermarket for 100milligrams.

Saffron is characterised by a bitter taste and contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which gives food a rich golden-yellow hue.  This spice has a rich history. It dates back to the Sumerians and ancient Iran and later it spread to other countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, India, Turkey, Thailand, and China. Saffron was used by ancient Persian worshipers as a ritual offering to deities. It was also used as a brilliant yellow dye, a perfume, and a medicine. Thus, saffron threads would be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy.

It should not surprise you that I have tried to grow saffron crocus.

In my garden, abandoned through lack of visible action over the past few years, the bulbs of the saffron flower have languished.  Originally an expensive plant to buy I had shrugged my shoulders at its failure to respond to my general neglect, and considered this was a plant I couldn’t grow to a stage where it flowered, without providing tender loving care.  Without flowers there could be no stigma to harvest so I resigned myself to the occasional purchase of Victorian or Tasmanian grown saffron threads.

But then …

To my surprise …

Very recently …

Beneath the large mildewing leaves of the late self-seeded pumpkin I noticed a blooming saffron crocus flower – just the one.  I could see its three vermillion coloured stigma. Within minutes I had snipped these ready to incorporate into a dish later. In the next photo the fresh stigma are obviously larger than the dried ones in the purchased container.

I noticed that within a short time, the remaining flower hung sadly for the loss of its vital parts.

It is clear to me, when I look at the tall and thin leaf stalks, that the number of bulbs has proliferated over time. Perhaps a little more care and vigilance on my part next year will bring on a bigger crop.  During the wait until next year I will have time to perfect the volume of soaking water and the timing of adding the saffron to a dish to obtain the most richest of yellow colours. If any reader has experience with cooking with saffron I will welcome your tips.

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Passionfruit and silver beet harvest

When I arrived at the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens yesterday, Tony was hard at work stripping the darkened passionfruit from a wall of vines for a terrific passionfruit harvest. During the morning, eggplants, green runner bean and tomatoes were added to the boxes being prepared to donate to the charity Second Bite.

A number of garden beds have flourishing silver beet plants.  The outer leaves of each plant were systematically and carefully cut, allowing the inner leaves to continue to grow. Boxes and boxes later, a wonderful store of silver beet leaves was ready to accompany the remainder of the harvest.  I can only imagine how relieved and pleased people will be when this healthy produce is distributed.

We are working through mid-autumn and, with variable cooling weather, many plants are clearly slowing down into a state of dormancy.  Thankfully this includes some weeds – although like all plants, weeds have their season and a few are now showing their green leaves happily.  Pam, Trixie and Lesley worked patiently to clear the micro level weeds around leafy plants.

Sarah cleared old pumpkin vines and dug a little and, with her and everyone else’s efforts, many garden beds were looking very neat by the end of the day. Deb raked leaves.

Neil weeded and raked. 

I put my hand up to pick the soy beans, remove the old plants, rip down the adjacent green runner bean vines and leave the plot vacant and ready for a future crop. 

In other words it was productive day making sure the Food Garden looked good – and when the garden looks good we know the plants are getting the best chances.

As I left for the day, I checked the early stages of brussel sprout growth, and then marvelled at the brilliance of the autumn toned Persimmon tree leaves.   I was amused to see a staff member in the distance mowing a leaf-strewn lawn and every few moments emptying the catcher into a rubbish bin.  I thought a truck would be a better idea considering the volume of fallen leaves.

Now is a colourful time to visit these Gardens, and to enjoy the serenity and the space.

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Tasmanian Pepperberry Vinegar

The native Tasmanian Pepperberry (Tasmannia lanceolata) has not been a plant that I have managed to grow so it was a delight when blog reader, Lesley, offered some of her pepperberries and asked me to try to pickle them. 

With some fruits and vegetables I check recipes and then make guesses about quantities and ingredients and I have always been satisfied with the result. However I was nervous about working with the pepperberries. Google as I might, I was not able to find one recipe for pickling but I did find some for vinegar.

A little over a month ago I boiled some apple cider vinegar and poured over the berries and sealed the jar. 

The recipe probably suggested a particular vinegar but I had the apple cider variety in the cupboard and that was what I used.  The recipe recommended leaving the mixture for two to three weeks before opening and straining the vinegar off.  I left it for a month and tonight have separated the fluid from the berries.

During the period, the clear apple cider vinegar turned a rich deep purple colour.

The berries did not disintegrate and stayed whole.

The recipe told me to dispose of the berries but that seemed wasteful so I poured virgin olive oil to cover them then sealed in a jar. I imagine I might crush one at a time and use through stir fry.

Of course, in two separate moments, I tasted the vinegar and an individual pepperberry.

A third of a teaspoon of the vinegar offered potent heat that was hard hitting but not sharp. The pepperiness left my lips tingling but it wasn’t a painful heat. Nevertheless I suspect you would hospitalise a person if you forced them to drink a few tablespoon loads. I think half a teaspoon as part of a salad dressing would be sufficient to get the flavour and unique pepperiness.

When I popped the individual pepperberry into my mouth there was a sense of crystalised apple cider vinegar around it. This disappeared quickly and the powerful peppery nature of the berry took over.  The heat and flavour grew on your tongue even once I had swallowed, and kept expanding with powerful pepperiness.  I can only imagine its natural qualities will permeate the olive oil over time and then I might use the oil as a substitute for chilli soaked oil – a different flavour but a sense of similarity.

Thanks Lesley this has been an interesting experiment.  Perhaps some of what I have done might influence you to attempt to invent your own pickling process.  I suspect the power of the Tasmanian Pepperberry will always dominate.

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The power of words

My descriptions of the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, in part have been intended to empower people with knowledge and to help readers value the place that plants have in our world.

In this connection, I want to explore the word ‘liminal’. This word is fashionably used in a number of creative fields but it is not a word I hear used in conversation. Different ways of explaining the meaning of this word include: Liminal means

  • at the threshold, exploring the potential of what can be
  • occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold
  • relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process
  • a state of transition between one stage and the next, especially between major stages in one’s life or during a rite of passage. 

Perhaps we might say that there is a liminal period when a person begins to volunteer in the Food Garden but is still too inexperienced to be confident in all decisions.

As Food Garden volunteers we might experience a liminal feeling. From an emotional perspective, this might describe the time between the ending of one part of a person’s life and the beginning of the next phase. There was a time before I was a gardener while I pottered around stumbling ‘in the dark’, and it wasn’t until I began learning from my Food Garden experiences that a new phase of my life began.  I recall feeling apprehensive before my first day, but also excited – if I understand the word appropriately then this was a liminal feeling, and therefore this word summarises my situation at that time.

As I approach the end of 2022, and the end of three years enduring the uncertainties brought on by Covid changing the world, I feel at a threshold ready to anticipate moving to a new way of living in 2023. I would like to think I will be able to explore ordinary, common, familiar places to find details not often noticed or talked about,  as well as to find places less travelled.

Who else is at a liminal moment in their life and are you transitioning into making personal discoveries in and of the natural world?

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Another stroll on Tasmanian beaches

The word ‘beach’ is mentioned in the title but this story is really about an extended family of bandicoots – of which I didn’t have the time to take a photo.

The temperature was mild, the sky blue, and almost no wind. It is autumn and I was comfortable wearing a short sleeved tee-shirt. My walk started from one end of Howrah Beach, and then onwards through silky soft white sand.

I plodded along the water’s edge then continued up around the headland that separates Howrah from Bellerive Beach.

Sporadically people would appear in front of me walking from Bellerive to Howrah Beach but for most of the time I was alone on the curvy path where others remained out of sight. The path edges a bushy patch before a cliff on the sea side and it passes near to household fences on the inland side. My brain registered movement along the shaded ground beneath the fence. To my delight I watched a native Tasmanian Brown bandicoot scurrying, presumably hoping for a hole beneath the fence to escape from my view.  There wasn’t one and s/he ran back across the path into the bush. I must have been talking to it because when a woman and dog on a lead rounded the corner she was telling me – “there are many here”.  We stopped to talk – in wonder and joy – these balls of shiny healthy browns with their long digging snouts  felt safe in that neighbourhood.  It seems that feral or wandering cats are not causing them any bother.  As the woman and I walked off in different directions, almost immediately I saw another glossy bandicoot fossicking away to be my left; s/he was not disturbed by my footfall. I turned and called to the woman – “there’s another one here”.  She had stopped to watch another.

Despite walking this headland many times, I never seen one bandicoot so it was a treat to see an extended family of bandicoots.  Terrifically encouraging in this day and age where native animals are under great threat from humans and environmental changes.  All the better because those not in the know assume these wonderful animals are rats.

By the time I reached the Bellerive Beach, the tide was very low and fully exposing a shelf of mussels, and I watched wind pushing the water onshore. The sky was dramatic.

At the end of Bellerive Beach I followed a line of seagull footsteps off the beach.

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Colour at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

After I finished my volunteering effort in the Food Garden last Thursday, I walked to the exit via the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden’s Conservatory. This is somewhat like a public art gallery in that the exhibits change frequently and you can never guess what might be on show. Last Thursday the glorious displays of bromeliads, begonias and other colourful flowering plants lifted my spirits even further.

 These flowers are so life affirming that I am using the images as my computer screen background.  I give you permission to lift the image and do the same if this will brighten your life.

Elsewhere, as I took a convoluted path to the exit, I fell in love with the shape, colour and movement of these tall grasses.  They reminded me of cascading fireworks. Delightful!

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Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden’s Food Garden

Sometimes referred to as a Community Garden, the Food Garden within the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens is not for general community consumption – in terms of eating the produce.  Regardless of notices, some visitors think they can take one or more pieces of fruit and vegetable for their own use (please take photos but don’t take produce). Recently the entire large crop of pears was picked and stolen by a person or persons unknown. What’s that about – that’s a commercial take not a personal need! To take such actions is to deny food to people serviced by the charity Second Bite to which all the Food Garden’s produce is sent. To leave people to go hungry is a tragedy.  Nevertheless, the staff and my fellow volunteers continue to dig, plant, nurture and harvest food to help others. Apart from the value of feeding people via Second Bite, seeing the growth patterns of the edible plants is a brilliant educational tool. Before I volunteered that was how I viewed the Food Garden – it was my guide to what to plant when, to understand when a crop should be picked, and to know when to remove or prune plants.  Better than a book!

Last Thursday’s harvest was another wonderful and enormous collection that will feed many people.  The harvest included dozens of kilos of a variety of ripe red and unripe green tomatoes, a bucket of passionfruit, quinces and more than a few pumpkins from an extraordinary proliferation – the orange ones are the Cinderella pumpkins I talked about and showed in blog posts in 2021 and 2022.  Use my blog’s search engine to find those stories if interested.

The next photo shows more, as yet unpicked, pumpkins. Collectively these provide a useful learning experience – the seeds of last year’s Cinderella pumpkins were germinated by the nursery and a variety of shapes, sizes and colours grew. It is a reminder that the bees, which pollinate, may have already been rustling around in the flowers of other pumpkin types in the neighbourhood, flown to my garden and transferred pollen leading to the new looks, styles and flavours.

Elsewhere the giant pumpkins were massive – just for show not for eating.  These are terrific crowd pleasers.

It was a scatty day weather wise, much of which we worked through in drizzle. The weeds still grow. Fertiliser still needs to be applied. Seedlings need to be planted. Mulch needs to be laid and spread. Plant life continues its relentless cycle. There is never a finish date in gardening. My fellow volunteers, and presumably gardeners the world over, relish those evolutions and changes. We continue to be surprised with joy as stems burst through the soil, flowers unfurl, and fruits ripen.

A couple of garden beds were prepared, mulched and then Kale seedlings planted.

Elsewhere beds were weeded before mulching.

So the productive work of the Food Garden continued.

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What a waste of time!

Should I have titled this blog post ‘Don’t believe everything offered by Google’, or ‘Am I suffering from another after-effect of Covid?’

I love the look of chestnuts on their trees.

While I have never eaten one, I’ve been keen to experience what I imagined should be a great sensation. For years I had thought the habit of eating roasted chestnuts, which seems common enough in Great Britain and the USA, must have meant they were ‘good tucker’.

Today, I was gifted two chestnuts. Google instructed me to lay their flat side on the chopping board. This created a first problem in that my chestnuts didn’t have a flat side.

I chose the more curvaceous side and scored a cross – their toughness and mobility in the hand made this very difficult. The instructions were to pass through the outer skin but not into the inner sanctum. I did the best I could.

Into a pan they rolled before entering a preheated oven – at 200 degrees C fan-forced.  For 30 minutes the two chestnuts baked. Once out I covered the tin with foil to allow the steam to soften the outer layer so that peeling would be possible.

Then I fought with the chestnuts to try and get the shell and outer coating off. Ridiculously impossible. The result: each nut was pulled into bits.

Using a teaspoon I tried to scoop out the yellow pulpy flesh.

Its texture was that of squashy cardboard – I haven’t eaten cardboard but imagine what it might be like. The chestnut’s lack of flavour may be related to my loss of taste from Covid. For readers who have eaten chestnuts do they have a flavour? How would you describe the flavour?

Perhaps Google didn’t do me any favours with the instructions. Is there a better way? Is it worth my time to try again? If so, what should I do?

Is there any value in eating chestnuts or are they desperation, survival food?

I have checked their nutritional value – is there sufficient benefit for the effort? Per 100grams: Calories 131
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1.4 g2%
Saturated fat 0.3 g1%
Cholesterol 0 mg0%
Sodium 27 mg1%
Potassium 715 mg20%
Total Carbohydrate 28gm9%
Protein 2 g4%
Vitamin C44%Calcium4%
Iron9%Vitamin D0%
Vitamin B610%Cobalamin0%

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The Food Garden continues to flourish

First I had a book to complete and publish and then I got Covid the day after publication – so my stories of changes in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens came to a halt. Earlier on, when I volunteered on occasional Thursdays, I have photos and stories from those days. Then, through the Covid weeks (yes it’s been a long haul and I am not completely over the aftermath yet), my friends sent me photos and let me know what work had been undertaken. This blog post covers a period of almost two months and, while it doesn’t show and tell the extensive amount of work that has been undertaken during that time, it lets regular readers know produce continues to grow and be harvested.  Of course.

On the 2nd February, deseeding sunflowers was a shared activity.

Meanwhile slender beans, crisp silver beet and plump zuchinnis were harvested.

On the 15th February the harvest of tomatoes had well and truly started, the mulberry tree was chock full of fruit, the artichokes flowered gloriously and the spreading of mulch was an important task.

On the 2nd March our morning cup of tea was enlivened with an orange cake which prompted us to consider compiling a recipe book.

The Food Garden was beautifully layered with compost, the fig tree was laden, and the soy beans continued to grow slowly.

A couple of us dehusked the hazelnuts.

Each week the pumpkins have proliferated and grown, and the food harvest has provided substantial quantities to charities.

Elsewhere in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens other wonders delight the senses. Thanks to Lesley the following photo of blood red lilies can be shared with you.

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