With a great team of volunteers, a great deal of work gets done each Thursday in the Community Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. At this time of the year with much pruning completed, and weeds less inclined to grow in cold soil and cool to cold days, as I approached the Gardens I wondered whether there would be much to do.
Yesterday, when I arrived, Coordinator Adam indicated as much – there might not be a great deal to do. Then strangely, the day was filled with much activity and we were all busy working in the garden throughout our time there. For me and the rest of our volunteers nothing is too little or too much. We take on every task with gusto and delight. For me, I always learn new things and gain a deeper appreciation of plants. We are persistently faced with our ignorance, and even though we share knowledge from our own home gardening practices and Adam provides us with new knowledge, endless questions remain about the whats and the whys of plants and their habits.
My first job for the day was to water the grove of Tamarillos that I had been part of the planting team a fortnight ago. In the intervening period, carpets of white frost had coloured the RTBG grounds and, like a hoar frost, had extended up some of the plants. In consequence the leaves on the top of the Tamarillos had been damaged or destroyed. Extraordinary. This is the stuff of cold places like Canberra and inland New South Wales.
The watering system had been turned off for a few weeks in this slow growing time, so a good soak was needed to help keep these plants alive. On a morning that was still 5 degrees at 10am, and with an applied temperature apparently of minus 2 (I was so well layered that it didn’t feel that cold), I connected up the hose and gave the Tamarillos a good drink. With wet gloves at the end , it is true to say there was something of a cooling of my fingers. Later in the day, the weak sun moved from behind thin clouds and a glorious blue sky day helped to warm these and the other plants in the Gardens.
Earlier in the day on the way to the garden shed, I had noticed that the patch of mustard greens, another area which I was connected with from previous days, was suffering from trampled plants. Adjacent was a potting shed which recently was used as a gin drinks dispersing home during the festive evenings of Dark Mofo incursions into RTBG. Happy walkers from the city had obviously decided they needed somewhere to sit and enjoy their drinks. By walking through the patch with the mustard greens they could reach a low wall which was perfect for sitting. In the comparative dark, avoiding the plants would have been an impossibility. However not all plants had perished and I was asked to remove the clutter of leaves blown in from elsewhere, the dead and dying plants, the new growth of tiny weeds and generally clean up the space.Once I had finished that area I joined another volunteer and helped her to pick Kalamata olives.
Pressing against the lower branches of the olive tree were thickets of aromatic rosemary plants. The perfume pervaded our clothes; her jumper and my beanie – so for the remainder of the day we smelt very strongly; very pleasantly. The olives on the higher branches eluded us, but those lower down but above us were often difficult to pick – that is, we were were looking for the dark reddish black ripe olives but the part ripe olives which had a still slightly greenish end, seemed black in colour when looking up. We did the best we could and picked a reasonable quantity.What was Coordinator Adam planning to do with these, we asked. Prepare them for eating was the answer and he explained two methods.
One method was to soak the olives in brine for 6 weeks, renewing the brine solution every week, and then store them permanently in brine. The other method was to surround the olives with salt and dry pack them in a muslin bag, hang the bag up for 6 weeks to allow the salt to extract the moisture from the olives (and expect to see salt encrusted on the outside of the bag at the end), then finally wash and wash and wash thoroughly before storing in olive oil. Adam allowed us to taste some which had been prepared by the second method and were two years old. I have never tasted an olive so exquisitely prepared. Despite the olive sitting and looking firmly plump, the texture of this prepared olive in my mouth was almost like mush, melting in the mouth, hardly salty. Nectar of the gods. I and the others agreed this was inspiring. We have to have more. Later I was offered some of our picked olives to take home, an offer which I gratefully accepted. Back home I started the processes – read tomorrow’s blog post to see what I have done, so far.
From the olive tree I was directed to the asparagus garden to help lift the elusive strands of weeds that had woven their ways through a packing of straw mulch. A simple task, but in the shade of a brick wall this was a much cooler job.
After a time, I noticed food garden volunteers beginning to gravitate towards a sunlit bench and realised lunchtime had arrived. Once ‘my’ patch was weeded, I joined the others companionably.
As I settled into pouring hot soup from my thermos, I watched a Magpie hop into view and begin to walk towards us, looking up meaningfully into my eyes.
Within moments an adolescent bird had arrived, then another maggie then another adolescent.Shamelessly they walked around us, and were not distracted when we moved around.Then the plump grey feathered adolescent began to talk. Clearly asking for food. Not asking. Begging. No! Demanding. All of this surprised me. I know Magpies can befriend people and remember individuals but for a family group to walk fearlessly into a group of strangers, was not something I had experienced before. Of course we explained to them they could not find a better garden in which worms travelled close to the surface, and that worm food was better for them than what we were eating. What a joy it was to see these Magpies up close and so confident of their safety with us. Later, I heard their musical warbles in the trees above Government House nearby.
By this point in the day, I had only been removing things: weeds, squashed plants, leaves, olives. Following lunch it was time to add something back. Trays and trays and more punnets of different varieties and colours of tiny Viola plants were laid out ready to plant.
We were given the freedom to plant how we wanted across a couple of large beds with mustard green and pea plants and spent the next hour or so adding pops of colour to these gardens.
Before I left for the day, I noticed fresh budding growth on an almond tree and on the currant bushes, noted the few leaves on the Yakon (a tuber of which I have planted in my own backyard), and marvelled at the freshness of the Wasabi plant.
Perhaps you feel my vitally alive spirit through this blog post. You can be sure this was another marvellous day working in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens!
Be prepared to read a new post tomorrow for my olive preparation adventures.