RTBG Thursday 12th November 2020

After a hot week we expected a warm day at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) in the Food Garden.  With our recent great weather, weeds are flourishing everywhere in public spaces; the path from the bus stop to the RTBG was on its way to being overgrown.

During the day we remarked on the changing skies. From time to time the clouds were heavily black and promised rain, but this was a furphy.  Nothing of the sort happened and the temperature remained high.

With the exception of Neil we chose to work in less exposed places and in shade where we could. Neil’s contribution was highly visible and took almost all day. After the meticulous weeding of a long stone-wall-edged garden bed, he dug it over.

This garden bed will sit and settle for a week so next Thursday it will be ready for the planting out of a range of summer vegetables.

Meanwhile the rest of us worked closer to and around the olive trees.  Weeding. 

First I tackled the irritating, cunning, and magician-like weed – the Medicago. I have written blog posts about this nasty plant previously describing how it can, at some stages of its growth, masquerade as golden marjoram. Thankfully on Thursday it was full blown green so I could see it easily. But of course its runners above and underground were hellishly difficult to trace.

I did the best I could but I know weeding this will be a perpetual task for me for years to come. Nearby all manner of small weeds were being lifted by my fellow RTBG volunteers and allocated to one of two piles; those weeds that could go to be composted and those for the rubbish bin. Into the latter went the flick weed and the oxalis in particular.

All very satisfying when we surveyed the new cleared gardens.

Once more Tony did a sterling job cutting and collecting produce from the Food Garden ready to give to charity.

Another great day for all of us because now visitors can see more wonderful vegetables and trees without the distraction of weeds!

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Clarence City Council and weed spraying across the community

Recently the Clarence City Council (the local government area in which I live) passed a motion to allow residents to opt out of having their street gutters and pavements sprayed with glyphosate-based products.  Details were provided in the latest Council newsletter and can be read below.

Well done Alderman Beth! Perhaps this will inspire you to talk to your own local government authority to determine which products they use for street weed management.

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My Chickweed Bread

Last week I published a blog post with a link to recipes which inspired me to bake a loaf of Chickweed bread. Despite my best efforts in my garden, chickweed plants lurk under and around so many of my plants. This prolific weed can be added to salads, and now I have a new use as a major component of bread.

To make the bread, I started by dribbling a couple of spoonfuls of golden syrup into a large bowl, added warm water and attempted to dissolve the syrup before pouring dry yeast across the liquid. As for quantities, I didn’t weigh or in any way measure these ingredients – my guide was a relaxed general feeling about what was enough. I set that aside to begin to foam. Meanwhile I had picked that large bowl (pictured) full of chickweed (possibly equivalent to three to four large cups full), meticulously washed each strand and removed the roots.  On the chopping board I cut across the pile of clean chickweed by moving backwards and forwards and across with the knife until I imagined the strands were in short pieces.

On the stove, I sautéed a quarter of a large onion before adding in the pile of chopped chickweed.  It all seemed a little dry so I added some Campbells vegetable stock so the ingredients didn’t stick to the saucepan.

Once the greens were softened I strained off the excess fluid (I drank this tasty liquid later). In the bowl with the foaming yeast mixture I mixed the onion and chickweeds.  Then gradually I added organic wholemeal stoneground flour, and some salt. Over time this came together in a moist but barely sticky ball.

I left it to rise and after almost three hours it had more than doubled in size. I knocked the risen mass down and kneaded it further. This time I shaped the mass to fit into a bread tin, and left it to rise overnight.

Next morning, perhaps because of the cold night, the bread mix hadn’t risen much. Somewhat disappointed but not deterred I placed the tin in a Fan Forced oven at 200 degrees C, let it bake for 25 minutes before turning down the temperature to 180 degrees for a further 20 minutes.

After that time I tapped the bread, and it sounded like it was cooked. Once out of the oven, I turned the loaf onto a cooling rack, tapped it again and felt sure it was cooked – but was it overcooked. Did I have a solid log?  Something uncuttable and inedible?

The proof was in the eating. I took the loaf to the RTBG Food Garden for my fellow volunteers to try out; to be guinea pigs for this new weed based experiment. I was relieved and delighted; it cut well and was delicious. Without a doubt I will be making more chickweed loaves – but in future I will not leave them overnight to rise.

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What a mistake!

For followers who receive an automatic email every time I add a new blog post, you may have noticed that the post I published today was headed RTBG Thursday 29th October 2020 – when it should have been Thursday 5th November 2020.  I have corrected this date online but WordPress does not relay the change to followers. My post was referring to activities by volunteers in the Food Garden three days ago, not last month.

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RTBG – Thursday 5th November 2020

The glorious weather typical of pre -Covid times has returned. Pam kindly collected me and we drove through the morning sunshine, parked outside the RTBG and was abruptly told by an unfriendly policeman not to park where we had or he would write out a fine. ‘I am not going to argue with you’, he told me unasked. That unpleasantness interrupted our relaxed flow – but only for a moment.  Walking along the paths down through the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) is always guaranteed to lift my spirits regardless of weather or events happening elsewhere.  As its own world, the Gardens envelope me and block out my thoughts of before and after a visit.  And so it was on Thursday…

I had brought with me an unusual and special treat so that Coordinator Adam declared it was morning tea time well before 10am. The silver teapot was brought out and a brew of our green tea sat steeping. From my backpack I withdrew a chopping board, knife, bottle of olive oil – the residue of Adam’s three year preserved olives, a spoon and a freshly baked loaf of chickweed bread which still felt warm from the oven.

In my last blog post I displayed information about chickweed, a common garden weed and mentioned that one of the listed websites provided a recipe for chickweed bread. I knew my fellow Food Garden volunteers would be receptive to trying something new, and particularly to eating this weed – probably for the first time. And they were. I was surprised that the  ‘log’ that I thought I might have cooked was soft with a fine hard crust, and very tasty.  Everyone went back for more.  In a future blog post, I will detail the ingredients and explain how I cooked it because I used the website recipe as a guide and didn’t follow it slavishly.

All satisfied, it was time to get to work. After the previous week’s massive tomato planting efforts, last Thursday was devoted to weeding and some mulching.  Around the camellia sinensis (tea bushes) a host of unwanted plants had sprung. Some softly in the mulch and some rooted to the earth.

As usual, small flick weed, brown oxalis and other short and flat weeds hid themselves under the branches so it was slow meticulous work, initially for Pam and I and then later Janet joined us. By early afternoon we had cleared those rows and beneath the plants – but more will return as the days go by. Now that I have been volunteering in the Food Garden for a year and a half, I am constantly reminded that change and growth are the constants in life; there is no such thing as completing a garden task and then never having to repeat it again. Our Food Garden provides wonderful evidence that nobody can hold back time.  All the wishing in the world can’t make things ‘stay the same’.

I think the special mention for the day should go to Sandra who dug and dug deeply hoping to cajole the roots of onion weed from around the jump-over apple trees. Hard work. Unsatisfying work because it is impossible to get down to all bulbs. Like oxalis, onion weed has bulbettes (my word – I don’t know the technical term) from which, if even one breaks off, future plants plural can be expected. Multiplying.

Later, once the area was cleared, a walnut tree was planted.

Janet, Pam and I gently pruned the tea bushes and then set about picking out the tips ready for more green tea to be produced.

Meanwhile Neil methodically cleared the weeds from under the bean frame and spread mulch, while Janet weeded elsewhere. Later he and Sandra hoed the rows of flowering brassicas and other vegetables.

As usual, visitors loved looking at the broad beans. The white flowering beans are already ready for cropping whereas the pink flowering beans, which were planted a fortnight later, will produce their pods in a few week’s time.

When I had finished for the day, I stopped off in the RTBG’s gift shop. I had forgotten how interesting, creative, relatively inexpensive and useful many of their products are. I came away with a suspendible bird/bee bath which now hangs in my garden.

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Chickweed – how many kinds are there?

The wildedible website insists chickweed is edible and delicious. One version of this weed grew rampantly in my garden during early Spring. More recently I noticed another similar plant has more recently bushed out and plumped up – so when I found one of these plants in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens I asked the Coordinator and was informed it was also a chickweed. Despite my not eating my own chickweeds this time around, all the plants have gone – gone to be composted – but next year I will use them regularly in salads. The wildedible site offers an informative video which clearly shows the leaves and flower and size of the chickweed; of the type that sprung madly early in Spring around my home.

The Tasmanian government’s weed handbook contains 41 entries on chickweed. For example there is chickweed (Stellaria media), mouse-eared chickweed (Cerastium fontanum Bauamg. ssp. Vulgare), and sticky mouse-eared chickweed (Cerastium glomeratum Thuill.).  Then there is Montia fontana: ‘the seedling of montia resembles that of chickweed (Stellaria media), the mouse-ear chickweeds (Cerastium glomeratum and C. fontanum spp. vulgare), and scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). Montia is completely hairless, does not have a mid-rib groove on the leaves, and has a broader petiole while chickweed has some hairs on the petiole and often on the base of the leaf, has a distinct groove along the base of the mid-rib, and has a very thin petiole. The mouse-ear chickweeds are distinguished from montia by their hairy leaves. Scarlet pimpernel has a kite-shaped cotyledon with a short merging petiole, and sessile leaves.’

Phew – doesn’t that make identification difficult! It leaves me wondering whether all of these weeds are deemed edible. Eat the Weeds provides a bread recipe for chickweed, and another for a chickweed and bacon pie. Usefully this site gives a list of ways to distinguish chickweeds from their lookalikes – ‘there are some reasonably close look-alikes, but three things separates chickweed from poisonous pretenders. First, it does not have milky sap. Next, it has one line of hairs on its stem that changes sides at each pair of leaves. And if you bend or crease the stem, rotate each end counter with each other, and pull gently the outer part of the stem will separated but the elastic inner part will not and you will have a stretched inner part between the two stem ends.’ The Good Life Revival site contains excellent photos which can also help with identification.

The Key to Tasmanian Vascular Plants shows and describes Chickweed. Pictures and details of the mouse-eared chickweeds can be found here. On this basis, I feel confident to identify my later developing chickweeds as of the mouse-eared variety and most likely to be Cerastium glomeratum- but, as I often say, more research is required.

By the way – I was staggered to learn the chickweed is a member of the carnation family. Apparently the leaves are toxic while the petals of carnations are edible, although the flower base below the petals is unpleasantly bitter so select with care!

Earlier in this blog post I remarked that all my chickweed were gone. Seasoned gardeners must have rolled their eyes in disbelief. Of course their thoughts were correct. Once I had written this post I walked around my garden looking for a chickweed to photograph. I found new and even well-established plants in multiple sites; in my persimmon orchard, in my lawn, around my cherry and almond trees, and elsewhere. Most were, what I deem to be, the Chickweed (Stellaria media).

I feel confident that the plant I lifted from my compost bin is a Sticky Mouse-Eared Chickweed (Cerastium glomeratum).

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RTBG as part of a larger government department

The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) is one part of the large Tasmanian government department, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment – routinely abbreviated to DPIPWE. Last week the Department published an online newsletter heralding the 3500 or so volunteers which work across many areas of the Department’s operation.  Our merry band of  Food Garden volunteers comprise a tiny group amidst that horde. Three of them stood proudly (if not a little wonderfully crazily) for a photo – I wonder if you can spot them in the newsletter.

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From sad news to simply different news.

Previously in this blog I extolled the virtues of Robyn and Andrew’s selfless collection of vegetable and fruit produce that might otherwise have gone to waste, the selling of it then the donation of all the money to a local group in need.

Last week I learnt that, sadly, the Margate market will no longer operate. Robyn and Andrew’s stall always had a steady following and most produce was sold at the end of each Wednesday market. However other stall holders were selling little and disinclined to continue. Just because the market has stopped operating doesn’t mean the vegetables and fruits have stopped growing –  there will always be an excess and no two weeks will be the same in terms of the type and volume of produce that may be obtainable.

It is not surprising that  Robyn and Andrew have been looking for ways in which they can continue to disperse such foodstuffs by sale, so they can continue to make donations across the Huon Channel community.  They are looking for what two people can do effectively, two who are volunteering, without a project taking over their lives. Preparing for and operating their market stall has taken approximately three days out of each week and their other commitments prevent them giving any more time. A few days ago they were looking for ideas to prevent vegetable waste in combination with helping fund needy local groups; I thought you might have ideas.

But nothing holds back this couple. Already they have found and are committed to providing a market stall at Brookfield. Robyn says ‘I went to Brookfield – which is an enterprise located at Margate (the Northern side of town, closer to Hobart) which consists of a cafe/restaurant, Saturday markets, a community garden and second hand shop etc. A lovely community hub. Anyway, I’ve booked a spot for our table from Saturday 14/11As they are not affiliated with Council (as the other market was) it’s more casual, so I just have to let them know each week whether we will be there. It’s a vibrant hub and should have more customers for us.

Perhaps you will see them there on the 14th?

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RTBG Thursday 29 Oct 2020 –what a day!

Thoughtful Pam offered me a lift to the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmania Botanical Gardens, a gift that raised my spirits enormously. I wasted less time in travel and used the opportunity to water my newly planted tomatoes before departure.

Tomatoes were the fruit of the day for us all when we reached the RTBG. In previous weeks, some garden beds had been cleared and lay waiting for a quick weed to remove the occasional interloper before being smothered with a layer of mulching straw.

Then tray after tray after tray of various bush and climbing tomato varieties were placed out.

We dug into the richly composted soil and lowered each healthy plant into their hole. Rocket Fuel pellets were thrown around before Andrew and Janet watered these in using a mix of GoGo Juice. Finally, each tomato plant needed labelling. We recycled old labels using ‘elbow grease’ to scrub with Metho’ and remove names used in the past; dedicated Neil was definitely the best at this.

Clearly these tomatoes were given the best start in life and we have great expectations of dense crops. We knew the RTBG nursery sold 95 varieties at the recent annual tomato sale, and while we didn’t plant all those, a smaller diversity are now growing in the Food Garden. Future comparisons will be interesting.  The bulk of the plants were the KY1 variety. Added to this was a sprinkling of Tasmanian Yellow, Snow White, Wonderlight, Dragon’s ??? and many more – alas, I can’t remember them all. 

I do remember when Robyn and I were preparing to stake three-pronged tepee-style structures for a range of tomatoes on the slope near the tool shed, we were most thoughtful. We considered the colours of each and whether the tomato would be an early, mid or late developer before arranging them across the space. Our hope is for an educational and colourful display which will demonstrate clear incremental changes, and the difference between tomatoes. We have a lot to learn.

Janet, believing it was time I showed up in my posts about the RTBG, took the following photo.

None of this work was difficult but it all took time as everything does when gardening. Finding and selecting old stakes to be the same length was a matter of trial and error. Hammering in each stake was a good TA (trades assistant) job which Pam and I worked hard at. Robyn focused on tying the stakes to ensure a sturdy structure. Then there was the actual planting which took no time at all with four of us on the job.

Elsewhere Neil staked a small garden bed in such a way as to encourage the tomatoes to grow up.  In front of these a line of tiny basil plants has been added.

After lunch Robyn planted three climbing tomatoes in their own bed. We were instructed to create a set-up with three pairs of crossed stakes with a bamboo pole resting across, tied to each in order to link the three. I am left wondering whether we should have dropped lines down from the bamboo pole so the tomatoes can climb – next week I must check on whether that is needed or something similar.

In another bed Andrew planted a dozen or so zucchinis.

When Coordinator Adam was not nearby and we were unclear on the next job, we typically pulled a few weeds.

With our recent weed pulling efforts that job has become more maintenance than mainstream – but they do keep growing, and we cannot let them get away. Our particular concern was through the tealeaf plantation (camellia sinensis) where those pesky flickweeds liked to hide.

The moments when Robyn raked the paths to remove excess leaves and wayward mulching strands, to create Japanese garden style circles were wonderful to watch.

If you want to know how she created such perfect circles then watch this video.

While planting work continued across the Food Garden, Tony worked purposely to cut and harvest vegetables before filling bins to take away for charity which will, in turn, disperse to the needy.

We all loved the high visibility of our achievement during the day. Everywhere beds were mulched and watered and beautiful tomato and other plants stood proudly.

Many visitors wandered around the RTBG during the day; many with tiny children. While the tiny tots looked for ‘hidden’ pictures of teddy bears in order to complete a game spread throughout the entirety of the Gardens, mothers routinely admired the new healthy tomato plants.

It is always interesting talking with visitors who strike up a conversation. In addition, I can always feel their surprise and joy and that doubles my pleasure in volunteering. So it was for all of us on Thursday; that is, a day of great joy. And it worth noting that the weather gods allowed old habits to return for a blue sky, often very warm sunny day.

As I walked off at the end of the day I passed the row of giant pumpkin plants.

The RTBG is open to the public every day of the year and entry is free –if you live in Tasmania, plan to visit, or revisit if time has passed since your last visit.

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Sometimes all I need to see is green to lift my spirits. Two years ago when I sailed to the white of Antarctica, this was something I learnt that I needed. For over 12 days I saw no green natural foliage and I was desperate for it. Everyone knew that when the ship arrived at Ushuaia, my first priority was to jump off the ship and hug a tree.

So, it should not surprise you that, as I passed a house recently I looked down into their yard to see a sea of luxurious juicy green grass. I loved its pattern of partly flattened leaves; the effect of a rainy downpour.

These days this photo sits as the background on my computer, and while it will be replaced from time to time, it is likely to get a few turns when the summer dries out our vegetation and browns and yellows become the prevailing colours.  If you need to see green then ‘lift’ this photo and use to keep you calm.

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