Critters in the garden 31st March 2022

Thanks to Pam I can share photographs of a couple of garden critters that were disturbed when working in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).  One of the jobs that the volunteer team tackled this week, was to remove rotting wooden edges to a garden bed.  Within these a Christmas Beetle and a Wolf spider had made their home. When disturbed, the spider ran up a wall to stay and watch proceedings, presumably hoping all would settle down soon and that s/he could return to the ‘home’ spot where a ready feast of smaller insects roamed.

The Wolf Spider from the family, Lycosidae and species, Tasmanicosa godeffroyi has a bite that is poisonous but not lethal to humans. Although non-aggressive, they bite freely if provoked and should be considered dangerous to humans. The bite may be very painful. First aid and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible, particularly for children or the elderly. But it is encouraging to know that wolf spiders don’t jump on humans to attack them. In fact, wolf spiders  are quite scared of humans and will only bite them if they’re intimidated or if you come too close to them. Needless to say the Food Garden volunteers were relaxed and were comfortable as the Wolf Spider ran off and stayed still, once watching from the camouflaging patterns on a wall. 

Characteristically the spider is a long-legged and hairy with males growing to 2.0 cm and females to 3.5 cm.  It relies on good eyesight to catch prey, and has three rows of eyes, two at the back, two in the centre and four in the front. Wolf spiders are robust, agile, fast-moving ground hunters that chase down or ambush prey. They live anywhere they can find insects to eat and are one measure of a healthy garden.

Tasmania’s Christmas Beetle, the Lamprima aurata, is a bright green and gold stag beetle, although the colours vary from place to place; on the coast, the beetles can be dark purple or bronze and no-one knows why. It has been suggested the colour differences might be associated with the chemical content of the soil. This beetle is otherwise known as a scarab beetle of the anoplognathus species. 

Fewer examples of these beetles have been seen in recent years and the reason for their absence is unknown.

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Sequel to the Cinderella pumpkin story

Wedges of my first Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkin are now spread across Hobart. 

Most friends told me they will make pumpkin soup so I decided to pass on one of my standard but very different recipes: a meal I make fairly regularly. The star ingredient is in this case, of course, the Cinderella pumpkin. With washed skin on, a wedge of pumpkin is cut into pieces. In a pot with some water, the pumpkin is boiled for up to 10 minutes – the time depends on the size of the pieces.

The second component is a pesto.  Each time I make this I use different nuts, herbs, and/or spices. No two mixes are ever the same which makes the meal forever interesting. Today’s pesto was a crush of almonds, rock salt, powdered cumin and turmeric and cayenne pepper, one or two cloves of garlic, chopped parsley and a splash of high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Once the pumpkin is cooked it is poured into a bowl already containing the pesto and then partly crushed while mixing with the pesto.

Now what?  Simply start eating this Pesto’d Pumpkin. It adds sunshine to a wonderful Tasmanian autumn.

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Cinderella’s carriage

I save seed from the fruits of vegetables and herbs and so do others.

Early last year I enjoyed eating a wedge of Robyn and Andrew’s Golden Nugget pumpkins and around that time accepted pumpkin seed from them. When I germinated those seeds at the end of last year I had visions of gorgeous bright orange balls across the straw in my gardens. However, what I planted grew and grew and then some. When I sent photos to Robyn she laughed and said no – those seeds were not from smallish Golden Nuggets. Instead I was growing a French heirloom variety known as Rouge Vif d’Entampes, and the pumpkins would be large!

Their seed had originally been purchased from ‘Seed Freaks’, a Huon-based company producing open-pollinated organically grown seeds from pumpkins grown  in 2020. I was informed that the blurb on the seed packet stated these pumpkins were ‘The model for Cinderella’s carriage and that this French heirloom grows well in a cooler climate and produces large fruits which are full flavoured, good for roasts/soups’.

I googled to find out more. This cucurbita maxima is known as the ‘Cinderella’ pumpkin because of its stunning, bright-orange colour and shape – it looks like the carriage in the fairy tale that takes the girl to the ball where she meets her prince. Etampes is an ancient commune near Paris, and the pumpkins were said to be popular in Paris’s Central Market in the 1880s. Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkin seeds were first offered commercially in America by W. Atlee Burpee in 1883. And now here they are in Tasmania.

While “Rouge vif” translates as “vivid red”, my pumpkins are a soft orange colour with a flattish shape looking something like a cheese wheel. Apparently the maximum size of the fruits average 10–15 lb or 9kg (20lb) depending on which source of information you read.  Well surprise, surprise – something in my soil and mulching practices has produced monsters roughly three times that weight!  Yesterday I picked the smallest one of many and that pumpkin weighed 16Kgs. Yes 16Kgs. I weighed it three times to be sure.

Curious to see whether I picked the pumpkin too early, and to generally see what the interior looked like, I cut into this beauty.  Gold!  Gold! Gold!

And lots of seeds.  Anyone want to collect some from me?

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A holiday in the Horseradish 24th March 2022

Always early to arrive in the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), fellow volunteer Neil was hard at work clearing the expanding forests of horseradish plants – just the tops, not digging down for their tasty roots. Not yet. Another time. Trust me, none of this is any holiday!

As wonderful as the root is for sauces and to add zest and spice to a meal, the plant is desperate to grow deep and explore more and more ground and can become a nuisance. Once you have a horseradish plant in the ground, it is almost impossible to contain or to remove. The roots are deep and resist lifting in their entirety.  They are always determined to leave a little piece of themselves to start anew. One that I was growing in a pot at home, let it’s root leave through the hole in the pot’s bottom and off it went.  When I lifted the pot with great difficulty, I was astonished how far the root had spread. With repetitive effort I have stopped the spread. The pot now sits on a barren rock and, right now, the plant is looking a little unwell – it wants more space, it wants to spread. For the time being, I will do what happened to the RTBG Food Garden horseradish plants – nip off the leaves and stalks to ground level.

While the Food Garden’s store of horseradish was being brought to ground, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchinis, quinces and more were harvested ready to take to charity.

Elsewhere, in a small garden bed, a couple of us looked in awe at two weeks growth of lettuces from the recent thrashing.

Over time we relocated a selection of those plants to their own bed giving them space to grow. They will provide a ground cover to protect the soil from drying out too much and a harvestable crop (if the wallabies don’t chew them down overnight) for charity in a few weeks’ time. After watering in, handfuls of blood and bone were distributed around the garden edge and across the bed – as a smelly deterrent to the wallabies and to provide nourishment for the plants.

Meanwhile a couple of others carried five tray loads of silver beet plants and gave them a new home.

Once these jobs were finished, a buggy load of compost was brought to the Food Garden and then shovelled across the horseradish beds, and raked.

During the afternoon we tackled the fresh growth of weeds in the tea plantation: irritating flick weed, devious brown oxalis, occasional purslane, and a few other less frequent varieties. Our amiable chatter, in the warm autumn sun, was a fitting conclusion to a productive work day. I felt revitalised with a spring in my step as I headed off to catch the bus home. Back home, I looked around my garden and felt inspired again.

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Shaking the lettuce 10th March 2022

Two weeks ago in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), our wonderful volunteer team made some simple but important advances.  As usual, and extremely importantly, Tony harvested produce for charity and, being that time of the year, the boxes were filled with tomatoes – with a mixed collection of varieties.

Elsewhere through the Garden, some vegetables were colour coordinated with their leaves or they were almost hidden beneath their plant canopies.

An extensive exercise to rid the soil of the weed (a plant that is out of place and not wanted in it’s current position) known as Purslane (which is wonderfully edible in salads and stir fries and other dishes) was a tricky proposition around the basil and mustards.

These flattish, ground covering plants hide beautifully and are a challenge to remove without lifting out the wanted plants. Unfortunately Purslane is not wanted by the charitable food organisations (well it is a weed, isn’t it! – that is, most people don’t know it as an edible vegetable), so it was either to be piled into the rubbish bins (not for composting because it is difficult to kill) or I could choose to take it home. Now I have plants establishing themselves throughout my garden. If our Australian food security is a fragile situation and if the cost of vegetables soars as anticipated, as the result of the substantial floods in southern Qld and along most of the coast of New South Wales, then knowing I will always have a green food source at hand is some comfort.  Containing its spread will be my greatest challenge.

Back to the Food Garden – the highlight for the day started when we uprooted lettuces which had gone to seed. Large heads of fluffing seeds were waiting to find a new home. Thrashing these on clear ground released thousands of seeds, and was a wonderfully satisfying process.

Watch this video.

At the end of the day I walked away past the freshly clipped hedge that frames the (comparatively) new raised garden bed.  A spectacular sky lighted the landscape in that moment!

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Rediscovering Freycinet part 7 of 7

Time to head home. We pointed the car southwards and started the journey.

During the Wineglass Bay Cruise the crew shucked fresh oysters for us. On enquiry they were not from the local Freycinet Oyster farm rather from further south near the settlement of Dolphin Sands. We listened to directions and on our return trip to Hobart called into the Melshell Oyster Shack. The owner explained that, apart from selling to the casual visitor, they sold their oysters only to four restaurants in the Freycinet area and to Pennicott’s Wineglass Bay Cruise. This was not a glamorous site developed for mass tourism. It was a simple set up but one where I felt very comfortable. Pleasantly sitting in the sun, we shared a dozen fresh-shucked oysters, and took home an extra dozen each. Delicious. I feel so sorry for those who have never acquired a taste for these tempting morsels. Tasmania has a number of oyster farms scattered around the state and the oysters from each are discernibly different.

As we left Melshell, we took one last look at the mountains of the Freycinet Peninsula in the distance.

From time to time we stopped and, after stepping from the car, enjoyed the sea air and the immense spaces. Such a place was at the top of the hill from Spiky Beach.

The east coast is blessed with dozens of beaches, usually without a soul walking along them for most of the day. All perfect for a swim, a picnic or a stroll. Some with camping sites nearby. In future I will be happier to explore more of these than to visit mass tourism sites.

I named this blog post series with ‘Freycinet’ but that downplays the beauty and value of the whole trek along the east coast, the extraordinary views from outstanding vantage points above the water and down at beach and rock level. The destination was the Freycinet peninsula, but it was the journey there and back as well as the Freycinet experiences that enriched this holiday.

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Rediscovering Freycinet part 6 of 7

After breakfast on day three, our next destination was the track to the Wineglass Bay Lookout. Neither my friend or I had any serious inclination to clamber up to the Lookout – we had both made the walk before although a long while ago. We were simply curious to see ‘developments’. And developments we did see! Acres of car parks layered with bitumen and painted lines to indicate parking spots for cars and camper vans. This was a site developed for massive tourism. An extensive array of information boards preceded the new fine gravel track.

I was entranced by the large metal sculpture representing a whale. This was a reminder that the early Europeans culled whales by the hundreds in the nineteenth century. Wineglass Bay was a centre for such activity, so much so that the Bay was coloured like a glass of red wine. Think back to my photos of that summery aqua green water that is typically to be seen in the Bay these days.

We set off on foot towards Wineglass Bay.

We walked along the track in wonder. Perfectly suitable for prams and wheelchairs. A veritable ‘highway’ for tourist ‘bushwalkers’.

With increasing elevation grander and grander views were spread before us.

The native Tea trees were flowering and young bottlebrush flowers stood tall.

The sheer volume of people was astounding – this is still the Covid era when many locals and nationals are not yet travelling often, and the impact of allowing international tourists into Australia was yet unknown. It was impossible to stop for five minutes and listen for birds or quietly enjoy the landscape; a constant stream of people were plodding or rushing past, albeit with friendly hellos. The day was bright bringing out the pleasant social character of all. After  the gentle rise of the path we reached the start of the steeper section. We started walking up the well-built granite stone stairs but, like the images of lines heading up Mt Everest in mind, I looked at feet in front of me and felt heavy breathing from behind and knew I was not interested in ‘discovering’ this new track to the top. Jeanette’s photo below shows some customised steps – for a moment without people.

In turning back, I realised I was glad to have seen this new creation. However because I prefer immersing myself in landscapes where few if anyone else is around, I won’t be returning although I recognise that this level of comfort and safety is what many crave.

Back to the carpark. Now where to go? Having seen the Cape Tourville lighthouse from the boat during the cruise, we set off to approach it from land.

The road was well signposted and the carpark smaller, with fewer tourists in sight.

Once on the top of the Cape, I had a sense of immense space. After the claustrophobia of our eco cabin set within a tight Tea tree (melaleuca) forest, and then too many people on the Wineglass Bay Lookout track, I relaxed into the pleasure of clear views to Wineglass Bay, Mt Graham and Mt Freycinet at the southern end of the Peninsula, and then who knows how far I was seeing to the north.

All around were more sensationally dramatic cliffs, and a big wide sea under a massive blue sky.

The locked lighthouse was introduced by an information board.

With time to wander the paths leisurely and quietly, large fat native lizards ran across the dry stony ground, and could be examined closely.

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Rediscovering Freycinet part 5 of 7

The third morning the day started with a stroll along Richardson’s Beach, a sandy arc that extends between Coles Bay and the Freycinet Lodge.

Across the sand was evidence that thousands of crabs had burrowed into the sand at the edge of the high tide water line.

Over time middens have been exposed by weather and people. These are the ‘rubbish’ tips containing the shell refuse after indigenous people had collected crustaceans as an important food source, that were created before European settlement. Oyster shells were clearly in sight.

Before leaving the Freycinet Lodge domain, but on the way to the start of the track leading to The Lookout (at the top of a ridge between Mt Amos and Mt Mawson), my view included three of the boulder shaped peaks of the Freycinet Peninsula.

Another gorgeous day.

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Rediscovering Freycinet part 4 of 7

I had booked a 5 or so hour trip on one of Pennicott’s Wilderness Journeys, the Wineglass Bay Cruise. The upstairs Sky Lounge option was chosen with the expectation of the best of service from staff, and their expert knowledge about the flora, fauna and social and geological history of the Peninsula and Schouten Island. That we would imbibe some of the best of Tasmania’s wines and fresh produce would be a bonus. And so it was. Faultless. Fascinating. First class. Fundamentally fantastic. It is trip for those who prefer a comparatively sedate, sanitised and less adventurous travel process – contrast this with the raw thrilling trips by the Pennicott team to Tasman Island and on the east coast of Bruny Island. However there is room in my world for both types of excursions, and this cruise to Wineglass Bay and more, remains a different but specially remembered adventure.

We set off from Coles Bay and motored over to the Freycinet Lodge jetty to collect more passengers.

Once everyone was on board, the Cruiser headed off southwards with rich silver clouds throwing a strong light across the sea.

A rocky outcrop offered a safe resting place for dozens of Pied Cormorants. In the surrounding waters we watched these birds straighten their necks before diving deep for fish.

To our right, Schouten Island loomed larger every moment, so that I realised what a huge land mass this island was. We motored through the gap between the island and the bulk of the Freycinet Peninsula.

On our left, small beaches could be seen from time to time.

Then the captain drove close to shore in order to point out an enormous white sea eagle’s nest high up in a tree half way up the hill (refer the dark shape within the red circle that I have drawn is the nest in the next photo). Elsewhere, a similar nest has been created for tourists to gain some understanding of the large size of these nests.

The coastline, with its dramatic granite boulders and edifices, was stunning. My photos show rocks, but what I saw was tempered with salty smells, the cries of gulls, the swish of the water, and the light which changed from moment to moment. This was theatre in its most majestic form.

Imagine you can feel the warmth of the sun and how, despite your polarised glasses, you have to flinch and squint against the power of the light on the sparkling sea. Feel yourself swaying a little as the boat lurches forward; as you grab a rail or unexpectedly catch the arm of a fellow passenger while he tries to save his glass of bubbly from washing over the lip of the glass. Feel your head swivelling as you want to look up and down and from side to side but the changes are all too fast; there is too much to see and you know you can’t process it all. You alternate between desperately trying to cram in each split second of the experience so you can revisit later, and languidly letting the experience wash over you. At times you glaze over under the effects of fresh air and the intoxication of a few too many glasses of sparkling wine. Then someone alerts you to a low flying albatross so your peer across the ocean and see it dip and rise with the air currents. And you feel glad to be alive.

Seals ahead! We motored towards a low lying rocky islet to see big fat sleeping giants humped up onto the warm rocks. Others re-positioned themselves or slipped into the ocean to swim amidst the long strands of tough kelp.

After passing beneath the Cape Tourville lighthouse, we turned southwards again and anchored in the clear waters of Wineglass Bay. Lunch was passed around. The next two photos show myy vegan plus seafood dish first then the regular dish with meat and real cheese etc. All fresh and way too much to eat. But appreciated.

While eating the sumptuous lunch, I watched tourists and walkers discovering the clean white sand along the sweeping arc of the beach. In the distance I could see Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham on the southern end of the Peninsula.

Understandably this beach and landscape is a drawcard to locals and travellers alike. A number of yachts were at anchor in the Bay.

The drop between Mt Mawson and Mt Amos is the ridge where the famed Wineglass Bay Lookout waits for walkers: 650 steps up from the far side and 1000 steps down to the beach.

Initially the cruiser moved us southwards from the township of Coles Bay and through the gap from Schouten Island before heading out into the open sea. We turned northwards late in the morning, continued past Wineglass Bay until we reached Cape Tourville. We turned around, travelled southward to Wineglass then, after lunch, motored back to Coles Bay to arrive mid-afternoon.

As the light and angles changed I had fresh new views of the cliffs and inlets and seals and other birds seen earlier in the day. On at least three occasions pods of common dolphins playfully entertained us either side of the boat, leaving us when presumably they felt bored by our ‘slow’ craft. We were no fun to race. Despite our cruiser shooting along at a fast pace, the dolphins are always faster. It doesn’t matter how many times I see dolphins I remain in awe of their intelligence, understanding  and skills.

Although a gusty westerly wind blew white tops from the waves (next photo courtesy of Jeanette) as we returned to Coles Bay at the end of the day, and the boat rocked and rolled, no one was ill. For me it was the perfect end to a terrific trip – just a wee bit of drama in the seascape.

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Rediscovering Freycinet part 3 of 7

From our accommodation in the Freycinet National Park, we drove to the tiny township of Coles Bay. Time and again we looked back to the mountain-littered skyline in the distance and, for a while, we sat and marvelled at the crispness of the morning and the drama of the landscape. Below where we rested, a cluster of kayakers set out for a paddle.

Orange coloured lichen covered many rocks. In the distance we spotted the cruiser which would take us out to sea and around the Peninsula.

The rippling on the water was defined by the sunlight. Playful. Placid.

After filling in time and genuinely loving the early morning, we headed off to board a Cruiser.

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