Disaster has struck

Over recent weeks, some blog followers have revelled in watching the growth of the Giant Atlantic pumpkins in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).  Last week I reported that one remained.

Since then, the RTBG has been the location for a Wine Festival.  At some time during the evening of that festival, the pumpkin was left to die. I have assumed, wrongly or rightly, that some smart-arses had a few drinks and decided to see if they could lift the giant beast, to see if they were sufficiently strong.  In the process the umbilical cord was snapped; that is, the pumpkin and its stalk were pulled apart.  Alas, now we will never see the size which this pumpkin could have reached.

What more can I say!

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I presume that gardeners everywhere work on assumptions and habitual practices. For example, in Hobart the prevailing wisdom has always been that tomatoes must not be planted until Show Day in October. For a range of vegetables, a set of months/dates are fixed in mind as the best time to plant – if the best crop is to be grown. But the weather is changing. The climate is changing. So what does this mean for gardeners?

Recently I visited a garden and the host remarked a few times that we need to make new and different decisions based on the changes to our daily temperatures and rainfalls. Somehow I didn’t quite take this in. Then another guest told us that she had planted broad bean seeds a couple of weeks ago – in February. My attention was now seized. Instantly my head spun; in my (limited) experience broadbeans need cool weather and colder soil to germinate; the sort of temperatures that we have always believed were typical of around May each year. To contemplate sowing these so early in the year seemed fool hardy in the extreme. The guest continued talking and explained she lived in a southern Hobart suburb on the side of the hill where the afternoon sun doesn’t reach all corners; already she had noticed some of her soil was now very cool.

The message to me was clear. The time has come for me to really look and think about what has been and is happening to the plants in my garden. That I have spring bulbs already thrusting up their green stalks after a few days of cool weather (in a suburb which I have routinely thought of as one of the warmest suburbs in the Greater Hobart Area) in the first week of March, needs to be taken seriously.

Over the coming months I have the sense I will be learning a new language of the climate changes that are affecting my garden. With the autumn cools arriving earlier than normal, will this mean the high point of Spring might not be late August and September but earlier in the year? Or is there a chance that autumn and winter will extend for a long period causing dormancy in more plants for an extended period? Of course I don’t have the answers.

However I am encouraged to continue the process I have undertaken over the past year. That is to grow plants which love to seed and spread their seed, and then to let whatever germinates wherever it germinates. Vegetables and non-edible plants growing side by side. Currently I have profusion and diversity.

Not only does this mean that lots of ground is covered and weeds are not prolific, the bees have many different varieties of flowers to access, and birds such as the European Goldfinch have an endless supply of food as flowers go to seed. Over the coming months I will sprinkle new seeds here and there, and perhaps germinate a few inside the house before planting out the seedlings. Perhaps this approach will give me a hedge against climate change. What are you doing?

And a final word on change- for now. As I walked along a tree-edged public path that last week was aflush with rich deep green leaves, yesterday the trees were aflame with aging leaves. This was a startling change in a short time; as the day and night temperatures have dropped in the past days the trees have reacted speedily.

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Tasmania’s ‘Overland Track’

As a Tasmanian icon for those who love the bush and wilderness, the walking track between Cradle Mountain in the north of the state and Lake St Clair in the centre of the state, offers a rite of passage. The Tasmanian Touring Co site includes the following map.

When I made my passage at the ripe old age of 54 years, I remember feeling enormously privileged to be able to take this 6 day walk, see very few people, enjoy the details of the landscape, appreciate the extensive stands of leatherwood trees which our bees love, understand a little of the social history of inland Tasmania, and marvel that once up on the higher plateaus I could almost see the east and west coasts of Tasmania – or at least I had a sense they were walkable distances, with the right gear, food, weather and attitude.  Sadly I have never tried this; other distractions have taken the place of this idea.  Here are a selection of photos from my memorable walk.

My memories have been stimulated by the recent treks of two different friends on two different occasions over the past month.  Both have returned with a thrill in their hearts, so glad they did some training in advance (mostly up and down and around our Mt Wellington) so their bodies and feet were prepared for the load on their backs and the hours of walking each day. No amount of explanation afterwards or photos can take you into the atmosphere of the spaces, the track, the trees and other vegetation, the birds, the sky, the clouds – but they do provide a guide.  Hopefully these few words and photos will inspire Tassie blog readers to give this walk serious consideration.

All of us purchased a space with the Tasmanian Walking Company and took the walk ‘the easy way’.  That is, we were not travelling independently with 15-20 kgs of tent, cooking gear, food, sleeping gear and clothes etc on our backs, and needing to pitch a tent every night. Instead we had two or three professional guides with our small groups. These were people who insisted we have the correct gear and checked it before departure, who provided well equipped huts (beds with sleeping bags, hot showers, tasty cooked meals and Tasmanian high quality wine, cooked fresh loaves of bread each morning) and provided a great deal of expertise in walking, and knowledge about the area.  Money well spent – we all thought.  I was always impressed that mid-afternoon one of the guides would race ahead (carrying a 20+ kg pack with fresh vegetables and fruit) and cook up a batch of scones or muffins or other such. So by the time we arrived and showered , refreshing hot cups of coffee and tea and cake were waiting for us.

Artist Chantale Delrue has sent four photos from her walk to share with you. The first photo shows a view across misty Cradle Lake, the second is Pelion Hut, the third is the ‘Japanese garden’ with a wonderful expanse of native cushion bush in the foreground, and the fourth photo presents the sultry power of Cathedral Mountain (further below you will see another shot of the same).

Neil Morrison has sent his photos to share with you.  The first photo was taken on the way from Marion’s Lookout with a spectacular view towards Barn Bluff.

The next photo is looking up through the Gates of Mordor on the climb up Mt Ossa.

The third photo shows the tarn on Mt Ossa plateau known as the Pool of Icarus; surely this location inspired the myriad of infinity pools which accompany contemporary architecture.

The fourth photo which Neil sent presents Cathedral Mountain from the hut at Kia Ora.

If you are a mainlander or from overseas and contemplating this walk, please read all the cautions for this walk. Please. People die on this walk. In recent history people have died because they believe they understand how it will be (‘they know better’ than the experienced experts who provide advice). Too many do not read and listen, and even if they don’t die they have a miserable walk. People get hurt or die because they didn’t heed weather warnings, they did not have all the cold wet weather gear (even in the expected heat of summer a blizzard can come through without warning), they did not wear worn-in ankle-supporting footwear suitable for uneven ground that may be wet and deeply muddy, sometimes be covered in eminently trippable tree roots, or sometimes the long lengths of hard unforgiving duck boards lead to large expanding painful blisters for which they come unprepared. Some walk without at least two litres of water a day and become dehydrated and make mistakes. This ABC story is one where walkers narrowly avoided the ultimate tragedy.

This is, for most, a six day walk with no towns, outposts, marks of civilisation except for the track, and the occasional huts (each about one day’s walk from the next). There are no nearby roads to take you out, if you wish to leave early. Your only way out is to plod one step at a time southwards, day after day after day. For me that is the joy. The simplicity of the experience. No phones, no internet reception, nothing except yourself and nature. Marvellous. Totally and absolutely wonderful.

Having said the Overland Track is generally considered to be a six day walk there is a manic (my word; others might say ‘amazing’) running race competition held once a year. Lean fit runners start early morning at Cradle Mountain and in one long day run the 65 or so kilometres. If they do not reach a particular point within a set time they must turn back because they carry nothing except a little water. Along the way they have friends with backup food and drink or they  collect from strangers, energy bars to eat as they run. On one of the days of my walk I was fortunate to watch athlete after athlete running through. I plodded on the track and here they were springing along the track, their feet hardly touching before lifting off and on. I was super impressed. At their speeds the dangers of falling on the uneven parts of the track would always be uppermost in their minds. Nevertheless the experience would be exhilarating. You can see this year’ winner pictured here. One company  offers a running tour !!!!  If I thought running through the Overland Track was a little crazy, this news item by the ABC  pushes the story up to another level. 

Enjoy whatever way suits your needs and temperament. For me going slowly to see and ingest the atmosphere and the details of the flora and fauna and geology is what is important. It is what makes a walk memorable. And sometimes I enjoy the company of others such as those I walked with including my sister, on the Overland Track. In the photo below she is happy as can be on the summit of Mt Ossa (Tasmania’s highest mountain, an optional extra located about half way through the Overland Track walk) looking towards Mt Pelion East. Sensational day. Sensational weather.

Thanks to everyone who contributed photos – clearly Tasmania’s Overland Track presents stunningly striking landscape vistas. It was a delight to walk this and I recommend you add it to your bucket list of things you must do, if you haven’t already walked this.

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RTBG Thursday 5th March 2021

In the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), the Giant Atlantic pumpkin story is reducing.  Now only one large and growing ‘beast’ remains – not affected by rot on its base or having been moved accidentally by human touch (as if – it would weigh very heavy). One of our Food Garden volunteers especially ‘sat’ for this photo to give a sense of scale – but please note readers, this is not an example of what visitors might do.  The pumpkin might be large and heavy but its existence is precarious and its life vulnerable.

A smaller variety of pumpkins are expanding and, when ready, will make a tasty dish for those who receive the benefits of the charity which disperses produce from this garden.

As usual the first job for the day was harvesting; beans and tomatoes and more were collected for charity.

Then we tackled the two big jobs for the day. Neil and Robyn chose the hard and heavy task of digging out horseradish. I recall doing this in the past and it was hard, hard work because the roots extend deeply and, as well as being impossible to pull, resist being dug out.  I was impressed with their commitment, dedication and then the result – and empty seeming bed.  From experience, we all know that portions of the roots remain down below and before long green shoots will appear back on the surface and keep spreading.  All of this suggests good reasons to plant horseradish in a pot and not directly in the ground!

The rest of us snipped the hellebore plants to ground level below the heavily laden mulberry tree (clearly visitors had helped themselves and the only edible fruit was visible high up away from tall reaching fingers) and dug out the weeds which had been hiding beneath their leaves.

In a couple of joyous interludes we watched a mother duck training her eight ducklings in the pathways of our garden and then heading off towards water.  At times we watched in concern when one adventurous duckling bravely (or foolishly) would get distracted and become separated. The squeaky tweety cheeps from the tiny bird as it navigated through a dense forest of plants,  reached our ears so we felt confident the mother duck knew her recalcitrant child was still around.

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The end of summer in a Lindisfarne garden

On Sunday, members of the Hobart’s Eastern Shore Permaculture Tasmania group visited the fruit and vegetable garden of a couple of our members in the suburb of Lindisfarne. Situated on the other side of a hill from where I live, the destination was easily accessible and our hosts’ garden was off a main road and simple to find.

On arrival I noted many bags of sheep poo lined up along the fence line with a price tag of a more than reasonable $5 a bag – later I left with four fat heavy bags so my garden can expect much improvement when I disperse these. One of my hosts explained how he had personally collected these sheep droppings, and that they had not been collected from broad acre farms which had been seriously sprayed with fungicides and pesticides. Nor had they come from particularly weedy paddocks.

When I walked around the back of the house, an immense feeling of relaxation and joy came over me: I stood in a large open space shaded by spreading deciduous trees with a massive fireplace to one side situated so that sitting outside would be comfortable on cool nights. When another dozen or so people arrived, sanitised, checked in and stood the required social distance apart, our hosts were introduced.

The garden had been 19 years in the making and, as I wandered around, clearly many fruit trees and vines were well established. Interspersed were garden beds with current vegetables. A beehive (the bees are capable of face recognition and are angered by people wearing perfumes) and a chook shed with happy cluckers were integrated within this garden.

Nothing is ever wasted and resources are always kept for future use, such as the rising pile of scrap wood.

One expensively purchased lavender bush has been turned into a small hedge simply by striking pieces of lavender and when roots have grown, planted.

The grapevines have been having an off time and it seems some are for the chop in the future. With no fruit, netting wasn’t needed. Meanwhile the vines lie attractively along a fence line.

An espaliered apple tree was maturing.

Peaches and lemons (“we eat a lot of lemons”) and apples were everywhere.

Tomatoes have been one of my hosts pride and joys for years. Over time the seeds of hundreds of varieties have been collected with a passion. Then each season a selection is made, germinated and then the seedling are planted out. However they were, like most of us, having a bad year with these plants. Some of it surely was to be explained by the irregularity of the weather brought on by climate change – bringing new fungi and pests to the fore, or at least stirring up dormant beasts. Notwithstanding the fact that some of the tomato plants didn’t look 100% they were climbing and fruiting, and the varying structures on which they were growing were instructive. From my dozens of photos here are a selection:

Of course tomatoes without basil is unthinkable.

The plant which intrigued me and most others who were in attendance, was a purple podded climbing bean; with fresh lilac/purple flowers and a purplish tinge to the dark green leaves. Super attractive. Our hosts generously donate the pods and seeds to a migrant group for their cooking lessons.

Splashes of the happy faces of sunflowers were dotted around the garden.

I found it exhilarating to walk around this large suburban block and to see the diversity of plants. For example, flourishing pumpkins spread over all sorts of places. Elsewhere beans scrambled for the sky,  stalks of corn were beginning to show silks, berry fruits were huddling in a covered tunnel, and leafy greens were freshly healthy.

In a seemingly empty tub, red skinned potatoes were multiplying; rich yellow flesh

New plantings were getting established.

The information packed morning concluded with a cup of tea and a demonstration of seed saving for tomatoes. One was a method of which I had not been aware. The process involved removing the seeds from a selected tomato and place in a clear jar. Add water. Close lid and shake for a minute or so then let rest.

The potentially viable seeds drop to the bottom and the useless ones float to the top. Drain the water and then dot each seed out onto towelling paper (see my seed collection process last year which is much the same, on this blog post here).

A separate table was laden with plants, vegetable produce and seeds from members who were giving these away. I brought home the seeds for a plant described as an Ethiopian Kale Cabbage.

Apparently the seeds can be used as a substitute for mustard seeds and the leaves can be used like spinach. In time I will germinate the seeds and grow a plant or two– and record that experiment for a future blog post.

While it can be instructive to look at photos, most of the learnings come from listening to the experiences and knowledge of the others who are present. Always inspirational. Thanks to my hosts and to Permaculture Tasmania garden visit organisers. Much appreciated.

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Thursday 25th February at the RTBG

Last Thursday work doesn’t stop at the Food Garden in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG). Pam provided a ‘gardens update. We stripped the remaining fruit from 3 tomato beds, 2 piles, one coloured and the other green. Pulled out plants & weeded.

Then the rain came, so one went home early (family commitments) & three of us had an early lunch to wait out the weather. It was still a little damp & cool so two of us cleaned up some labels before calling it a day.’ I wait with interest to learn what can be planted in the beds where the tomatoes once grew; which crops will be suitable for those patches.

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Waste not Produce – at Cygnet

Here is the latest report from the intrepid vegetable and fruit produce gatherers and distributors, Robyn and Andrew.

‘WASTE NOT PRODUCE’  CYGNET MARKET 21 FEBRUARY 2021 Today was our first market for the year – and it was fabulous. The 2021 Waste Not Produce bar has been set very high.

It was a busy day in Cygnet – when is it not busy in Cygnet these days? – with our market table set up in the hall and absolutely loaded with donated fresh produce and flowers. We had trouble squeezing in to our allotted corner – we had so many plums, apples, early quinces, colourful flowers, lavender, vegies, rhubarb (yes, Stan’s famous rhubarb featured) and.……zucchinis. It was colourful, and (unlike Andrew after turning hot compost) it smelt good.

We came home this afternoon with some unsold plums and apples (which we have found a home for), a few straggling quinces…. and some zucchinis (we thought there’d be more), but were able to donate $421.50 to a very grateful Raptor Refuge in Kettering.

A humble thanks to all – gardeners, friends, customers, the support is strong. Special thanks to Cygnet Community Hub for their generosity and smooth running of such a vibrant market. Life doesn’t get any better than here in Southern Tassie.

We hope to see you at the next Cygnet Market – Sunday 7th March at 10am – it really is the place to be seen! We’ll be there, trying to jump over that bar…

If you have any excess garden produce at any time – trees loaded with fruit that needs picking, rhubarb threatening to take over, zucchinis that have taken over – please get in touch with us. We are happy to come and harvest with you, or we do accept deliveries at our Woodbridge home. If it is the off-market week, that’s ok, we will harvest/collect and take directly to one of the amazing charities that are working tirelessly in the background for the good of our community. For our own sanity, our harvest/collection days are Friday/Saturday of any week.

We just thank our lucky stars that we are here and can do this. Robyn Payne and Andrew Geddes, Waste Not Produce Ph 0400 998037 (Robyn) or 0419 484010 (Andrew) Email – robyn.miles58@gmail.com

By the way, Robyn has grown a glut of zucchinis this year so that kilos have been pickled and otherwise used. Recently she discovered a tasty recipe for zucchini hommos which you can read here – then make to enjoy.

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Dining on fresh produce

From time to time our Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) Food Garden volunteers meet at one of our homes, wander the garden and look at what is being grown and then share a lunch made with as many fruits and vegetables from our own gardens as we can.  One such event was held recently.

 Our host was growing his tomatoes in very large pots and half wine barrels. He had staked them well and tied the strands so there was air passing through and each plant was cropping well. I was very impressed with how large and healthy the plants were.

He was growing many varieties and offered samples from three different plants. What a joy! To have time and space to taste the difference and to appreciate how extraordinary this fruit is.  What a privilege.

Then the platters of food were spread and we helped ourselves.  The photos below omit the images with meat – barbecued meat never looks as fresh and exciting as food made with fruit and vegetables so I have chosen not to include them here.

Over the remainder of the afternoon we settled into talking about food and planning to grow more, and as usual we were learning from each other.

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Two weeks of volunteering at the RTBG amidst health and goodness

A few readers love reading and looking at my blog posts because they believe they can keep up with some of what I am doing each week, while others love gardens and vegetables. Most are happy to read and to see whatever is on offer here in glorious Tasmania. But right at the moment I am distracted majorly by another passion of mine – researching and writing history and I have not been out and about to experience the summery delights of Hobart and beyond. But I did work in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) last Thursday when we planted shallots and spring onions and cleared the orchard end of weeds in anticipation of Tino Carnevale and the ABC Gardening Australia crew coming this week to film in that section.

I was introduced to a long handled tool called a ‘scratcher’ for use in pulling through the dirt to make a depression in which to lay the shallot and spring onion seedlings, before swiping the soil by hand over the roots. The intent was to create long straight rows.

The evidence of foraging wallabies was everywhere.

The Giant pumpkins continue to expand.

The corn was looking good.

The last of the sunflowers ‘shone’ with a golden glow.

The kiwi fruit are gradually increasing in size and the plants look so healthy.

This Thursday’s effort was given by my fellow volunteers without me and they undertook a very large harvest. Of course there was weeding to be done!  Their reward was a demonstration from the Food Garden co-ordinator, Adam, showing them how to prune a fruit tree. Photos galore have arrived from Robyn and Pam which show a range of fruit and vegetables after harvest at their absolute glossy colourful best. Quite marvellous. The following photos of the harvest ,which is given to charity, are courtesy of Robyn.

Pam sent the following photo –obviously the tomatoes were spectacular in their colour, size and variety.

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Plunge your hands into the soil

Since I started volunteering in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, then in another that keeps an elderly person living on their own property, plus working in my own garden more intensively, I have never felt better.  The easy reason is that I am out in the fresh air, being physically active, have a purpose, constantly learn new information which stimulates my brain, and interact with a range of people. Now I know there is another reason. Science has discovered we can have a helping hand.

When reading a recent issue of Gardening Australia I was enlightened by an article extolling the benefits of Mycobacterium Vaccae. Have you heard of this bacterium?  I hadn’t.

The article might interest you –  it might provide another tool for you to consider when trying to improve all aspects of your health.

For those of us who grew up in times when playing in the dirt as children was normal (even if your mother yelled at you ‘not to get your clothes dirty’), I suspect we might have built up some immunity by coming into contact with the bacterium mentioned in this article. For those who garden, even if only in pots on a balcony or indoor pot plants, I would like to believe all can be beneficial. These days I feel very little stress. Even through the high intensity period associated with Covid 19 I have floated along much more easily than I used to. Whether it is gardening and the contact with that bacterium I don’t know – but something is working for some reason and I am glad of it.  If you are not plunging your hands into the soil from time to time (without gloves), perhaps you will consider it now.

And another thing: Apparently ‘the bacterium was first discovered on the shores of Lake Kyoga in Uganda in the 1970s by immunologist John Stanford after recognizing that people who lived in the area responded better to certain leprosy vaccines. They later realized that the bacterium found in the lakeshore soil had immune-modulating properties that were enhancing the vaccine’s efficacy.’ Read more here. Makes one think! Will the bacterium in our soils enhance the efficacy of any vaccine we might have?  Let’s plunge our hands into the soil.

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