K and I arrived bright and early around 9.30 at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) ready for work in the Food Garden. While the sky was overcast there was no rain –I am delighted to tell you I will never again mention the rainy weather of last week because we were ‘back to normal’ yesterday. Quite soon the sun was out and, despite the occasional blue grey presence above, it was a glorious sunny day in the gardens. The ‘typical’ Thursday had returned.
I was all set to weed but Adam offered me the job of digging a particular garden patch, fertilising it and then planting. In all my volunteering days in the Food Garden this was super exciting because I had never dug a whole patch (even though small) and finished the whole process alone.
So I started with a patch in which a few flowering chives clumped along some edges.
Everything was new to me and, as usual, I learnt new information. The prong end of the fork with which I dug was virtually straight up and down, whereas my home fork prongs came with a slight curve. So using that RTBG tool had a strange feel and worked slightly differently. Then I realised that I have not dug a whole plot at home for yonks and usually I only dig in spots as required. Therefore the methodical systematic coverage of a piece of land was relatively foreign to me. And the soil was so different from the sandier soil of my home garden. This patch was very moist, and actually wet in some places, so that the soil clumped together indicating it was comprised of some clay. So digging was heavier going than I expected. But healthy worms were everywhere providing a marker of great soil health. Nevertheless it didn’t take long to turn over the soil. I strewed Rocket Fuel fertiliser pellets across the ground once dug, then collected the tray of potted plants. Chinese Celery. Coordinator Adam had never planted or eaten Chinese Celery so this planting is an experiment. We guessed they should be planted roughly 20 cm apart, and to spread them across the patch. Time will tell if this is a good idea.
In Googling this vegetable I have learnt that ‘Small, leafy, and aromatic, Chinese celery grows in a rosette stemming from the base of its roots. Fragrant, this ancient Asian vegetable-herb has hollow, thin crispy stems and delicate wispy leaves. Rarely eaten raw, its flavour is pungent and slightly peppery. Cooking sweetens and tames its taste, while softening its texture. Native to Northern Asia where it grew wild, Ancient Greeks enjoyed Chinese celery as a potherb while the Romans used it in their decorative garlands. Also known as khuen chai, kan-tsai, kin-tsai, kun choy, qin cai and kinchay, today this plant thrives at high elevations in the tropics and in temperate regions. Growing ten to fifteen inches tall, Chinese celery prefers a cool climate and shade when grown in the warm summer season. Fairly cold hardy, the plants require fertile soil and adequate moisture. Slow starting but once established, Chinese celery is ready to cut in about six weeks. ’ I ate a leaf and could taste the celery but there were other unidentifiable flavours coming through – not quite parsley and not quite coriander.
Others were off doing their own jobs. K was weeding in preparation for planting, then dug up an adjacent patch.
R and A had the run of clearing some startlingly robust weeds amidst strawberries, and L was de-weeding elsewhere.
N cleared a strip of garden so that the continually flowering violas now have pride of place while leaving room for newly planted capsicums and already established peas.
And he planted the following vegetable – what was that?
D and T harvested leaves, roots, bulbs and fruits ready for Second Bite (Rescue food to help people). These vegetables looked fresh and healthy and I hope the recipients really enjoy eating them once cooked or otherwise prepared.
I was amazed how, in one week, some of the pea plants had shot out and up; their direction somewhat shaped by recent gusty winds.
I noted that some of the tomatoes planted last week seemed to have windburn, and the rocket planted last week was looking a little sad. This weather is perhaps currently being too extreme for them.
Lunch was a chatty affair sitting in the sun. This time we tried out the next lot of green tea prepared by K using RTBG Food Garden tea leaves; this lot had been steamed and partly mushed. We liked the flavour and, although delicate, we deemed it stronger and much tastier than the brew we drank last week. The experiments will continue.
During the afternoon we shared in the exacting task of removing weeds in the orchard. It was a community effort and the happy communal feel kept us focused for a good couple of hours.
Much was achieved. Much is yet to be achieved. But parts of the area and sawdust paths are now clearer and more admirable.
During this time a few self-seeded River Mint (Mentha Australis) plants needed removal. Rather than toss them into the compost bin, R and I each brought home a plant; hopefully it will thrive in both our gardens.
This was from the Tasmanian Edible Garden, now cleared of creeping and monstrous weeds.
Suddenly N called us; there is something moving in the plants beneath this tree he said. His first thought was that the movement was caused by a foraging blackbird but he realised that blackbirds don’t normally disappear under a depth of foliage to find their meals. It had to be some sort of animal. We thought a native rat might be there or some other tiny marsupial. Adam said it’s probably a bandicoot; there is a family of three of them roaming the gardens.
We stood and watched, mesmerised by the movement. There was a sense of darting about beneath the leaves. And then s/he came out from under the Hyssop.
The one in my garden earlier this year was twice the size of this bandicoot, but the one that appeared to us was equally as glossy and healthy. And seemingly without fear. I was so surprised about how unfazed s/he was by a group of gawking people standing watching.
Then s/he darted out into the open (that is my shoe at the bottom of the photo) so you can see how comfortable the bandicoot seemed to be. S/he continued to run around; dance around – light on his/her feet – into and out of the vegetation and then, with a fast dart, headed off into the distance.
What a treat!
The Food Garden never ceases to deliver delights. I finished the day munching on a small handful of melt-in-the-mouth broad beans and purple and green podded peas that had somehow been left over from the earlier pickings. Waste not want not we thought as we munched and packed up for the day.
I walked off to the bus stop under the sunshine; profoundly happy again.