Capsicum

From the plant genus Capsicum (related to potatoes and tomatoes) , the fruits are variously named capsicum, bell pepper, or pepper.

In Australia they are typically called capsicum, and we leave the word ‘pepper’ for the berries from our native Tasmanian Pepperberry tree (Tasmannia lanceolate) and for the black pepper corns from the Piper nigrum vine. As an aside, did you know that white pepper is simply the black pepper corns without their outer skin? 

Late last Spring I planted capsicum seeds into pots hoping they would sprout in the warmth of my sunny front porch.  Three turned into seedlings and eventually I planted these outdoors. I had never grown these plants before and I failed to research their best habitats, and seldom nurtured them with compost. Nevertheless the three survived but didn’t flourish – my poor watering habits are almost guaranteed to have been the reason. They all produced flowers and one plant eventually produced one small capsicum. I tried to remember to water and over time it swelled. I let it age, and finally picked it when a beautiful rich deep red.

The skin was firm but not hard, and its ‘shell’ membrane was juicy and sweet – so that it tasted well in a salad and then sliced on a home-made pizza.  I have retained some of the seed and later, when spring arrives, I will plant with the expectation of growing a crop.

Meanwhile, over a sad and dying ginger plant in a pot in my sunny porch, I threw the soil from pots which contained ungerminated capsicum seed.  Of course, nature worked it’s mysterious ways and up came a seedling. I didn’t pull it out because it didn’t fit with my memory of any weeds. I let what turned out to be a capsicum bush grow, and it has been incredibly productive.

The plant grew stacks of flowers and so I nipped the tops and ends occasionally in the belief the plant would never support so much fruit. Again the fruit was small. Now most are reddening richly.  Because these are small, they are perfect as part of a meal for one so there is no wastage. 

I realise many readers will have grown capsicums reliably and easily and think nothing of their achievement. For me, this is a new success (albeit a very small and fragile success) and is one to be built on in future seasons.  Before then I will gather more information in order to grow more and better capsicums.

Tino Carnevale, during a Gardening Australia broadcast in 2011, shows how he prepared the soil and planted capsicums. Read information here. Watch the video here.

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Using roof spaces for plants

Time and again, news stories and documentaries record people and organisations using the ‘wasted space’ of rooftops to grow plants.  Mostly the stories I hear are associated with edible plants, designed to feed those in the building.

Recently, ABC news reported an installation in Burnie on the north west coast of Tasmania, on the top of a new University of Tasmania building.  You can read the story here. I set out to discover which plants, how many and in which company each plant might live. Unfortunately, the University website does not give the details I was looking for.

I grew up in Burnie. The site, on which the University is building the new campus, was once the location for the Burnie High School where my mother attended. After those old red brick buildings were repurposed as Parklands High School, I attended my first year of high school on the site. Located next to Bass Strait, beside the arc of yellow sanded Burnie beach, adjacent to West Park oval – the ground for football, athletics, bike racing and much more, and smitten by westerly winds, this site can be a cold and unpleasant place, or when the sun is out on a calm day, a welcoming place.  How will the weather and climate affect the exposed plants? That Burnie was innovative in terms of the pulp and paper industry early last century was, I suspect, part of the University’s inspiration to try new ways of building.

I will be interested to visit when I am next in Burnie, particularly because I will be fascinated to learn which plants they have chosen, and how successful their growth is.

If I have any readers in the region, and you know more about this project, then I encourage you to make comments against this blog post so we can all learn more.

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RTBG  Thursday 3rd June 2021

I am not going far these days. Friends seem happy to fly to the mainland and risk being trapped with an unexpected Covid lockdown. That uncertainty and the related risks are not for me. Meanwhile my day to day world stays close to home. The profound excitement I have, every time I visit one of Tasmania’s great treasures, never ceases.  And so it was this morning when I walked into the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).

Now that winter is officially upon us according to the calendar, the gardens are somewhat bare – except for collections of brassicas, sprouting shallots and onions, and silver beet. Nevertheless sufficient produce grows to enable the collection of leaves and more for distribution to charity.

Amidst the plants, various weeds emerge and removing these was one of the tasks for the day.  Mostly we were looking for fine grass weeds trying to stay hidden under straw.  Plants are so clever.

In addition I removed the spent basil, and dug feverishly to rid the bed of nuisance onion weed. The basil removal was a very pleasant task – the lingering smell of the herb on my hands and clothes and now crushing in the rubbish bin was sweet.  However there is nothing good to be said about trying to dig up the bulb at the bottom of an onion plant.

Meanwhile other volunteers were moving loads of beautiful compost to cover the beds beneath the chestnut tree – the one with the yacon, asparagus and other plants. 

During the morning new sawdust paths were spread – gleaming like gold against the dark colours of damp soil, grey trunks and a cloudy sky.

Last week other paths had been reformed with new layers of sawdust, and today the edging gardens were having their weeds plucked.

Later wood chips created thick mulch pathways between the espaliered pears and the convict built red brick wall. 

This is a time of the year when ‘order’ seems possible in the garden; when a profusion of plants (and weeds) is months away. Part of the cleaning up process was clearing the pathways. To this end the last of the leaves from the fruit trees and the kiwi fruit vines were raked into piles.

Neil worried I might jump into and scatter one huge pile he had created. To his great pleasure I didn’t wreck his good work and we toted bin loads to the composting area where they will break down over time in order to provide future sustenance for the plants of spring and beyond.

But I had my childish pleasure after leaving the gardens; walking to the bus, the leaves on the pathway were calf deep in places and I just has to kick and beam with delight as the leaves rose, eddied in the air glad to have their freedom and then fell to earth again – waiting for winds to collect them together again.  Tell me what I am doing wrong!

Before leaving, I wandered around the Food Garden and noted the medlar tree was virtually leafless and lots of fruit was working its way to becoming deliciously soft and mushy.

I looked at the native Tasmanian mint bush and was startled at the ruthless pruning – almost down to stumps.  A good reminder to tackle my expanding bush at home.


Overall, I admired the grand French Hawthorn tree and loved it’s generous spotting with bright red berries.  Altogether colourful and masterful.

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Kayaking, spiders, a synagogue and giant trees

What do these items have in common?

The answer is the Tasmanian Geographic online magazine.  In Issue 54 published last November, four extraordinary exposes introduce you to Tasmanian landscapes, insects, and a way to enjoy the environment. I learnt Tasmania is home to a number of jumping spiders (hmmm), a little of the history of Judaism in Tasmania which casts back to the days when the state was still named Van Diemens Land, and I discovered that our forests are being laser scanned. And please – arachnophobes – have a look.  The spiders are so very beautiful. Their photographs won’t hurt you!

The glorious photographs can be seen and the details can be read here.

Collectively these stories provide one more reminder of the fascination which both locals have about their state, Tasmania, as well as those from ‘foreign lands’.

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RTBG Thursday 20th May 2021

I was there again.  Again in that wonderful Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) last Thursday. Alternating under cloud then under glorious autumn sun, our happy volunteer team worked alongside our Coordinator to remove spent plants, collect edible tubers, dig the plots, then plant selected tubers and roots.

But my day started well when I reverted to the behaviour of a child. After I left the bus and as I walked on the track below Government House, the path was littered deep with autumn leaves. I exploded through these with my legs kicking joyfully to allow leaves to fly high in the air. With no other adults to watch my behaviour, I luxuriated in this nonsense with abandon. That inner child of mine always seeks a way out!

Around the trees in the Food Garden the colours of autumn had rained down and small eddies of leaves waited for relocation. In sight of my friends, I resisted the temptation to create a flurry.

I found onions had been planted.

Where a fortnight ago we had planted beds with garlic and brassicas, the leaves had settled into the channels we had left for walking. Clearly, some human footed donkey had walked across one part of the garlic beds.

The shallots were coming along well and looked very healthy.

When it was time for a morning cuppa. Janet had made a very tasty cake to share.

I was able to share recently discovered information that the silver teapot we use (with such style!), was purchased by my great grandmother who gave it to her daughter as a wedding present in 1933.  Last Thursday, I felt the silvered surface sparkled more than usual.

Our first serious job for the day was to dig out the Yacon tubers, remove their heady green foliage for despatch to the compost pile, break up the tuber collections, then select some for replanting. The remainder were loaded into garbage bins to be taken to another section of the gardens; there the staff and volunteers will prepare them for sale at the Plant Sale that is scheduled for this coming Thursday at RTBG.  Finally that garden bed was clear, a few tubers replanted and the soil remulched.

Nearby rhubarb plants were removed, separated, and some replanted.

Meanwhile Andrew was hard at work moving green waste/composts from bin to bin and into a wheelbarrow for spreading by others across some garden beds.

Every so often we looked up to admire the landscape.  And our lunch break also gave us time to take in various vistas.

Then Neil and I dug out the old corn stalks and, with others, proceeded to weed that bed and through the others nearby.

GFoo

As always, much was achieved and we all felt the spreading glow given by the experience of plunging hands into the soil and breathing the new air produced by those plants. Perfect for our physical and our mental health!

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Bee – lieving in the natural world

Today, 20th May, is World Bee Day.

Established only four years ago, the intention is to draw attention to the valuable work bees undertake to help keep us alive. Yes – keep us alive.

Without them, many plants with edible features would not be pollinated. Without pollination, fruits and seeds would not form and we would go hungry. Simple really. Yet, each year, more landscape is covered in concrete or bitumen (how much of your property is covered so?) which means less plants can grow, and therefore there is less food for the bees to feed on.

A while back, I made contact with a local bee society offering any beekeeper space to place one or more bee hives on my block of land, but there has been no action. I don’t use more than about a litre or so of honey a year so I was not looking for a freebie. My garden has flowers all year around, and there are always flowers in my neighbourhood so it seemed like a worthwhile place for bees to enjoy a feed. Some readers might now urge me to buy and set up my own hive. However, because I don’t have a car and don’t drive it isn’t easy to get equipment and supplies when they are either heavy or bulky. Besides, what would I do with all the honey?

Perhaps you can have more success. What can you do to support our bees?

Meanwhile I plant to ensure the garden always has flowers.

In the May issue of Gardening Australia magazine a short reminder story was published.

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RTBG Thursday 6th May 2021

Weeks have passed since my last posting to this blog, partly because arthritis has struck my hands and wrists from ‘too much weeding’!!!!! Alas. Incredibly disappointing, frustrating, and inconvenient. Thanks to all my readers who made contact to check I was okay – yes I was, but…

Yesterday, I decided the hands and wrists had settled somewhat, and being eager volunteer in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) again, off I went. I determined to start slowly and not to overdo things – for a great deal of the time, I took photos hoping that would help. Despite the care, today my hands are telling me they did some work. I won’t be deterred. I want to show you the activity and the achievements of that wonderful Food Garden.

The sky was blue with barely a cloud to be seen, the air was clean, and the vegetation sparkled in the autumn sun. Spectacular.

On arrival, already two volunteers were hard at work separating garlic heads into cloves in readiness for us all to plant. Two varieties were made ready: Dunganski and Lokalen.

Waiting for dispersal to the needy were two crates of freshly picked Feijoa fruits. For morning tea, I found a soft one, peeled it, and sunk my teeth into the juicy flesh with its flavour hints of kiwi fruit and, as another person suggested, musk stick lollies. The tree still has Feijoa fruit ready for picking – a bumper crop!

So much time had passed since my last visit, so I walked around the garden beds to investigate the changes, and found the gardens were flourishing with many new vegetables. Two or three week old Kale was standing tall.

The delicate fronds of purple leafed Mizuna were almost camouflaged in the early morning shade.

The evidence of a couple of rows of radishes was in the small green leaves just popping out from the soil.

Medlar fruit continue to age on their tree.

I admired the cropped hedge of Chilean Guava, and the rich autumn colours on the persimmon tree.

While I have been away, many fruit trees have been pruned. I had looked forward to learning more about their pruning but I missed out … there is always next year! I grow a greengage plum in my own back garden so when I saw the results of, what I would describe as a ‘savage’ prune given in the Food Garden, I realised that I need not be so delicate when pruning my greengage – and it is now much needed having sprung up high over the past 6 or more months.

Then it was time for me to get involved and start doing some work. Two large garden beds at the bottom of the garden slope were ‘designed’. After lines were marked across the patches, walking tracks were shovelled from the dirt creating raised beds either side.

Then each garlic clove was pushed into the soil about knuckle deep with each planted bout 15 cm apart. Later the beds were softly raked to ‘fill’ those depressions.

In the first bed, we planted Dunganski and in the second we planted Lokelan garlic.

Elsewhere Neil was planting left over garlic cloves in other smaller garden beds.

Again I wandered; the Food Garden is a large space with seemingly endless beds and plants. A few spring onions, sprightly shallots, a healthy crop of purslane, chard with their colourful stalks, and purple mustard were some of the sights.

The leaves of the tall hop bush were changing to show end-of-life autumn colours.

One job for the day was the removal of the eggplants which could no longer contribute – except to the compost pile.

The blackberries and other cane fruits had been beautifully pruned.

While strips of the bottom garden beds were planted with garlic, the large spaces were filled with other vegetables during the afternoon – maybe brassicas? I must wait until next week to see.

What a glorious experience it was volunteering in the Food Garden yesterday, as always. As usual it was an enormous privilege to be there. Those spirit lifting moments had been missing from my life.

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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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Change

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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