Unexpectedly I woke at 9.10 am. Often, at this time of day, I was already at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG). So my mind was all over the place as I raced to get ready. Then I did the normally unthinkable. I decided to dispense with all the delays of getting to and from and catching two buses. Instead, I Ubered my way to the gardens and arrived on the dot of 10am. The recommended working hours for our group of Food Garden volunteers is 10am to 3pm but that has never stopped any of us starting before or finishing later. There is a wonderfully trusting flexibility with our volunteering roles. So, as I arrived and signed in at the Hub, another fellow volunteer B was just arriving; of course he was oblivious to the fact my head was in turmoil from not proceeding calmly through a morning routine.
We wandered down the pathways noting fresh clipped hedges which were immaculate in the detail of their flat planes.
B went off quickly and returned with a wheelbarrow loaded with the seed heads of giant sunflowers. One of his jobs for the day was to remove the heavy tough stalks and clear that garden patch. In some ways it was a shame they were removed because their size was a magnet for visitors who stood in awe of these large plants with their massive decorative heads.
One plant offered a mutation when it crammed four heads into one awkward shaped larger head.
The picking of tomatoes had started.
Soon after arrival Adam the Co-ordinator told me, ‘I have just the job for you’. R and I were directed to the patch beneath the fruiting olive trees and urged to clear beneath the trees completely. It seems so recently but in fact it was many months ago that I helped to harvest the olives, and then later planted violas and lettuces and rocket across this patch. Since that time I have been back to weed occasionally. But now to be clearing the ground completely– phew – that made me realise I am working up to almost having been volunteering for a year in this garden. There were new lettuce seedlings appearing but I dug them out and along with the purple flowering violas and the weeds they gradually filled a large rubbish bin or two – which we dumped into the composting bins. The established sage plant we left; it looked too healthy.
Our favourite bandicoot was sorry to lose the ground cover of the weeds and disappeared under the rosemary bushes.
N surprised us to show a couple of freshly picked capsicums. Wonderfully healthy specimens.
When we walked back to the tool shed, N and S were hard at work extracting the seeds from the sunflower heads.
When I looked at the large seeds I wondered what variety of sunflower was used to produce the slim seeds which I buy to eat.
So I stood, selected a seed at random, used my finger nail to scrape off the papery thin striped layer – a layer which reminded me of but was thinner than the layer over garlic cloves. The result was a creamy solid seed. I was convinced this had nothing to do with those I eat regularly. Then accidentally I squeezed it along some sort of fault line and it cracked open. Lo and behold inside was a slimline seed exactly like those I eat. Mystery solved. Clearly this was a well evolved plant that had created excellent protection for its seed.
R collected a bucket of blood and bone and while she strewed it liberally around the olive tree patch I emptied buckets and bins and returned tools to the shed.
I watched L with the flaming weed burner working valiantly to scorch the fine weeds growing through the gravel paths.
By then it was lunchtime and we settled into a friendly chattering group; in part we were planning a social lunch for next month. The theme is foraged food and over the next couple of weeks we will all work out what we can offer as part of the meal.
After lunch Adam felt R and I would enjoy digging out the horseradish plants. I didn’t know where they were located and had no idea about the shape or growth of these plants.
I learnt a great deal during the rest of the afternoon. Horseradish plants were best grown in pots if you don’t want a take-over across the ground. In addition because their roots are so long and often thick, it is almost impossible to extract the whole plant from the ground – so any remaining root regrows and a new sprouting of green leaves will eventually emerge. R and I armed ourselves with spades and forks, and bins (for the tops) and trays (for the roots). When Adam demonstrated, it looked easy but clearly removing the whole root without breakage wouldn’t be easy.
A great number of plants needed digging out. I started with the fork. Now I am sure you know the depth of a fork; well the horseradish roots can be twice or three times as long and therefore it was with much pushing and pulling of the fork to loosen the ground that I eventually, but regrettably not frequently enough, could bring out the entire plant with all the root attached. R worked with the spade and like me was surprised at how challenging it was to try and remove the whole plant. The dampness of the soil/the dryness of the soil varied and when the ground was closer to rock hard, this was very physical work. When R muttered ‘perhaps this is a job for the men’, despite my increasing fatigue I was firm: ‘we can do anything the men can do’, I declared as I struggled with one more root. That we were slower than they might have been is not the point. So we soldiered on. I enjoyed the physicality of the work. And the more plants I dug, the better I understood the plant and its roots.
Once the plants were removed we cut the leaves off and gradually began to fill a tray with the roots.
Before I left for the day I wandered around the Food Garden to see what other work had been done or was in progress. Blood and bone was being spread on cleared garden beds.
Edges of beds were being snipped.
Tomato plants were being tied to stakes.
Then I came across a woman who makes gin. She was collecting, with permissions, some fresh hops and a variety of other herbs.
Many visitors were enjoying their discoveries across the RTBG. One asked me whether he could eat the green strips of the onions on the compost bin. I had no idea what was on the compost bin and I had no idea whether the visitor knew his plants – heavens, I thought, he could poison himself. I walked to the bin with him and clearly garlic chives not onions had been cleared from a patch. He walked away happily chewing a handful of chives. I tried a strand and it was refreshingly tasty – especially so because the afternoon was very hot and sunny. This was a good food to nibble on in these circumstances.
Last week I showed you photos of a small and a large pumpkin – these two have grown dramatically since then. First the newly enlarged small one, then the engorged large one.
Before I knew it, 3pm had arrived and others were preparing to leave. I was able to take a few pieces of horseradish root; a piece to plant at home and a couple of small pieces to freeze ready for me to make horseradish cream at some future time (probably to give a kick to potato salad). Then I collected my gear and headed off.
Surprise surprise – I passed a spring bulb in flower – snowdrops (yes, it is February and spring is 6 months away)!