RTBG Thursday 17 October 2019

When I looked from my window, Mt Wellington and the sky were missing; cloud obliterated the city and the landscape features on the western side of the Derwent River, and grey puffiness was overhead. Yikes!  I shook my head in puzzlement. Isn’t this Thursday, the volunteering day at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) when the weather is always gorgeous.  Of course it is, I told myself.  What I am seeing is simply nature’s way of cleaning itself before the sun shines.  Be patient, I counselled myself.  This will change. And change it did. Of course.  Not much later, blue patches appeared above and sun sparkled through. The day turned into another spectacular Thursday.

This was the first of two days of plant sales offered to the public by RTBG; it was the annual tomato plants sale that is well known to locals. K was determined to arrive early to select plants before they best were snapped up and the queues of would-be purchasers grew too long.  But there was no shortage of plants.IMG_1702.JPG

Later, at my house we looked at the bag and boxes of purchases.IMG_7750.JPG

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My selection consisted of three plants:  a ‘Sweet Stuff’ capsicum,IMG_7766.JPG

a ‘Gardeners Delight’ tomatoIMG_7767.JPG

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and a ‘Hurma Ukraine’ tomato.IMG_7765.JPG

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Now you have read the plant descriptions above,  which had been thoughtfully prepared by RTBG Nursery volunteers and staff, you may have the following question.  What is a Determinate, Indeterminate  and Semi-Determinate Tomato?  Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period, usually about 2 weeks. Once this first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to diminish in vigour and will set little to no new fruit. On the other hand, semi-determinate tomatoes are those plants which are more compact than indeterminate types but are also capable of producing fruit throughout the season. Determinate tomato varieties are often referred to as “bush” tomatoes because they do not continue growing in length throughout the growing season. They are generally smaller plants than indeterminate tomatoes, with most growing to a compact 4-5 ft. tall.  I have to say I don’t remember seeing a tomato plant that crops almost fully in a very short period. Besides, I have become so used to my self-seeding cherry tomatoes which fruit for around 5 months.

Anyway these plants were robust, richly green, in pots with beautiful soil and they held the promise of great crops.

After the rush of the tomato sales it was time to volunteer;  stone work on the gabion wall required care and effort.  Thanks to K, I have photos to show.  And you will see Mother Duck was showing her ducklings the efforts as well.IMG_1722.JPG

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You might recall from an earlier post that I showed images of the formwork under construction.  K gave me the following photo showing me having a sticky beak at progress.IMG_1676.JPG

There are other visual records of the travels of the duck family.  IMG_1719.JPG

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Garden patches were being dug in preparation for planting, while hoeing and weeding proceeded in other garden beds.IMG_1715 crop.JPG

R was back picking tea leaves in the tea plantation.FullSizeRender.jpg

K had photos of me picking tea leaves. And she produced the most instructive photo of the tips that needed picking.  IMG_1678.JPG

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K has experimented with producing green tea at home from the tea leaves that we picked. She has tried three different ways and we will make a brew from each, one Thursday soon.  IMG_1726.JPG

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This was the day B brought in his home made Brie and Camembert cheese for all to taste.  I love the generosity of spirit of everyone. I am delighted to work with clever people who are passionate about all things natural, and particularly about the life of vegetation.IMG_1724.JPG

Thanks to K and R for their photos.

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Hugelkultur in my back yard

When K talked about hugelkultur as she built her garden beds (refer here) I googled and read more. My understanding is that a mound is built with layers of vegetation which will gradually deteriorate and provide nutrients for plants above. Good top soil covers the mound. Seems like a smart idea; nutrients galore for the long term not just the short term.

I built one as follows:

I ordered a metre of top soil mixed with cow manure to be delivered.

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I cleared the drying cosmos and tomato plants from the chosen garden bed.

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I cleared the composting mulch and some depth of soil from the centre of the garden bed, leaving feverfew, marigolds and geranium plants at the edges.

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Over the years as I pruned a tall fuchsia tree, I retained the more or less straight stems to use as part of climbing trellises for beans; I had many and used few.  These I hoped were perfect as the base. I used most of this store of very weathered ‘poles’ by laying them on the uncovered earth.

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I had been given a bin of used coffee grounds and these were spread across.

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I spread a small amount straw that had been collected from a chicken coop.

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I sprinkled unused ground coffee around and then, over this, I laid seaweed that was collected weeks ago (refer here).

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On top I piled weeds, dead and dying plants, old roots and leaves from around the garden.

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Then I returned the dirt dug out at the beginning of the build, and the composted mulch.  A mound appears.

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Finally wheel-barrow loads of top soil were spread over the mound.

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I watered and let it rest for a day. Then returned the next morning and barrow loaded more soil across the mound.

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This is my version of a hugelkultur ready for planting.

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Walking on the mountain

Recently, fellow RTBG Food Garden volunteer N was delighted that walking on tracks on Mt Wellington above Hobart was permissible again, as isolation restrictions have been relaxed.

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With relief and excitement he set out on a combination cycle and walking trek and here is his record.

‘We were walking to Wellington Falls after cycling along the pipeline track from Neika (opposite Morphett’s road).’ Refer here for more information

‘It was just over 6.5kms to the start of the walk and there’s a couple of bike racks there. It was crazy busy on the mountain all the way from South Hobart to Neika – cars everywhere, people walking, cycling and running so that maintaining social distancing was a challenge. The walk itself is only just over 2kms but reasonably steep – it took us 30 minutes (sign said 40 minutes one way). It was quite cool most of the way as we were in shade until the Falls.

The photos below look towards Wellington Falls from the Lookout

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Below, the photo shows an area before the Falls. ‘Not sure if there is an area you can observe the falls from the bottom but there didn’t seem to be a path anywhere handy and it was quite steep’.

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We then started up the other side of the Falls walking towards Mount Montagu. About the next photo N says ‘this is me looking lost trying to use GPS watch to see how far off the track we were on our way to Mount Montagu’.

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‘The next photo is that of the river – North West Bay River(?) after we’d crossed it and had started to climb looking for the track to Mount Montagu.’

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N concluded his email information with ‘My friend had done this walk some many years ago so we thought we’d see what it was like. The going was fairly hard with the track not easy to follow, some steep rock hopping and it was fairly overgrown so after an hour of bush bashing we realised that it was perhaps a trip for another day when we might take in Cathedral Rock etc. All up we walked just over 6kms for 2.5 hours so effectively the 2kms of bush bashing took us 1.5 hours which speaks to the challenging nature of the terrain and the difficulty of just finding the track in places. Cycling back was reasonably quick as all downhill – the greatest difficulty was in dodging the hordes of people walking on the pipeline track.

Thanks N. Your story and the glorious photos inspire me to get out there again. Please keep your walking stories coming!

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Salted walnuts

The find of the century! Yesterday morning I decanted the walnuts which had soaked in a brine solution for over a week. I rinsed the walnuts then spread these on paper to air dry.  Even wet they tasted super sweet from the combination of the infused salt and the natural sweetness of the nutty fruit. I wanted to devour them all.  All at once. Now. Nevertheless I restrained myself and left them to dry.

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I wondered whether salt crystals would form or whether there might be any other evidence these walnuts had been sitting in brine.

The nuts are now dry and they look as if they have popped straight from their wooden shells.  There is no salt to be seen anywhere anyhow. To eat they are no harder or softer than when first shelled.  But the flavour has been seriously enhanced.  Seriously.

A friend arrived during the drying process and tasted them. She loved them. When she told me her husband had a history of pickling green walnuts in the past, naturally  I gave her some of these salted walnuts for him to try.

If a commercial producer was to offer salted walnuts I know the nuts would have been dusted/stirred within a quantity of salt and at the bottom of any packet would be a residue of salt. Not so with this method.

Next season if friend F gives me a large bag load again, I will be mass-producing salted walnuts. The sample few made this time will be eaten in a flash. I know I won’t be able to spread them out to last over winter.

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Pickling walnuts

The Honest Food site tells me ‘There may be few foods that are more English than pickled walnuts’. Apparently they make for wonderful eating when munched along with cheddar cheese and ploughman’s lunches. In Australia pickled walnuts are not a common food – in fact I have never seen or eaten them.

With a glut of walnuts, and on the prompting of a friend,  I felt compelled to try pickling.  But … alas … I learned that unripe green shelled walnuts are needed.  Mine were too far gone. They have dried and aged with the fruits now covered in hard wooden shells.

Not to be deterred, I decided to create a new version of pickled walnuts by removing the fruit from their shells. Then I determined my pickling ingredients would be water, salt, apple cider vinegar, cracked black pepper, allspice, raw sugar, and an inch of fresh ginger.

But what should the process be? In consulting online for green walnut pickling recipes, the fruits were always immersed for a week or even months in brine. I know that when preparing olives, they need to be salted initially with the intention to draw out the bitterness. Well that is what I think is the purpose of that process. Perhaps the green walnuts are bitter without treatment and since I am using ripe sweet walnuts maybe the brining stage is probably not necessary.

I could not find one recipe to pickle ripe walnuts so I am not sure if something tasty can be created.  Nevertheless I proceeded. I decided to create two different batches; one that would be soaked for a week or so and one that would be prepared immediately without salting. After cracking a seemingly endless pile of walnuts, I divided them into two bowls.

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For one lot I soaked the walnuts in a salt and water mix – and left them in the comparative dark of my laundry to soak for a week and (apparently) to encourage some fermentation. Online I noted the advice that, because this solution will stain your hands for weeks, wearing rubber gloves is essential.

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In a week’s time I will strain off the brine solution, and lay the nuts out on a tray in full sun for a couple of days hoping to dry and blacken them (this is part of the process for pickling green walnuts). Then I will boil them in a mix of the pickling ingredients, and seal the contents in jars for storage.

To prepare the second bowl of opened nuts, I heated the vinegar, pepper, allspice, sugar and finely chopped ginger to boiling point before adding the walnuts.

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I let the pot simmer for 7 minutes having no idea what I was doing and no scientific way of pursuing this part of the process. Once the stove was off, I  poured the hot concoction of walnuts and pickling juice into glass jars leaving very little headspace. Then sealed the jars.

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They looked most unattractive. The ‘water’ was dirty with the powder of allspice and black pepper. The walnuts were a creamy but dirty sludge brown.  Not the most appealing food for the future.

I have stored the jars in a dark cupboard and will leave them for a while. I don’t know when to open and eat but imagine they will remain edible for at least a year.  By making plans as I go, I wonder if the walnuts are already pickled or whether letting them sit in the fluid will create the pickle. I will be waiting to see which, if any, version of the pickling process causes the pickled walnuts to improve with age –I will open one jar of each (the salted and the not salted) in a few months and then the second much later on.

Brimming with confidence they will be edible, if not a little strange, I expect to use the walnuts by straining off the liquid and scattering them across fresh salads.

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Walnuts

Many grand walnut trees grow around Hobart. Recently a friend F moved from one property to another; from one with a walnut to another. Both have been prolific and this year’s harvest was no exception. ‘Would I like a bag?’, she asked. ‘Of course’, I replied. Then, taking our cues from the needs for social distancing, she dropped off a very large bag outside my house.

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I remember my first experiences of walnuts. They were special items in a Christmas gift given to my father each year when I was a child: they came in a mass-produced small box with a variety of seeds still in their shells. Since then I have not seen a Brazil nut in its odd shaped shell. Back then, I was fascinated and remember all the shells were way too hard for me to crack open, despite my best efforts. Dad would enjoy wrestling with the nut cracker until shells flew and the seeds were revealed; meanwhile Mum hastily grabbed the dustpan and broom and swept up the detritus whining ‘try not to make a mess’.

So it occurs to me that some of my readers might not be familiar with the hard wooden casing of walnuts, and only familiar with the broken pieces of walnut flesh from Californian trees that are packaged for our supermarkets (despite Australian farmers growing these trees for market).

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The walnut fits within a shell of two parts; there is a seam around the girth and this is the weakest point. This is where you need to apply pressure with your nut cracker. Crunch too hard and you crush the fruit inside and will have difficulty separating out the wood. Crunch too little and you crack part of the shell and the walnut inside can’t be released. I have no idea how the mass producers make the crack and the separation considering the difficulties I experience despite the care I take.

What do you get if you crack open the shell perfectly? You get an undamaged walnut which has a slim wooden membrane down through its brain-like folds, which was attached to the outer shell.

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If you carefully pull the walnut in half you can lift off this membrane.

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Then you can eat. I have been inventing more walnut based pestos to mix with my vegetables. There will be no waste. But I have a long way to go before this bag load will be used.

Medical News Today explains ‘they are a good source of healthful fats, protein, and fibre. They may enhance heart and bone health and help in weight management. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, 1 cup of unbranded, organic walnuts (30 grams) contains:

  • Energy: 200 calories 
  • Carbohydrate 89 grams (g)
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Fibre: 2 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Calcium: 20 milligrams (mg)
  • Iron: 0.72 mg
  • Sodium: 0 mg

Walnuts are also a good source of:

  • manganese
  • copper
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • vitamin B6
  • iron

They are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a good source of protein. Nuts have a reputation for being a high-calorie and high-fat food. However, they are dense in nutrients and provide heart-healthy fats.’

As a vegan, walnuts help to provide me with a balanced diet. So this was a wonderful gift.

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Thursday at the RTBG

Yesterday was Thursday. Long term blog followers will know the day is always glorious if I am (we the Food Garden volunteers are) going to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).  And we did. And it was.

Earlier in the day, from near home, I had taken a few photos of Mt Wellington in its crisp clear glory.

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A few days ago fellow gardener R contacted us all and suggested we lunch together – albeit keeping our distance. And so it came about yesterday; six of us joined Food Garden Co-ordinator Adam.

We wandered around the garden marvelling at the autumn changes, the harvests to come, the garden beds with their flourishing plants, and with warmth and good humour we redeveloped our contacts with each other.

First up I noticed the pumpkin – perhaps 150 kgs now; two to three months ago it was so much smaller. Read more here.

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The healthy beetroot plants.

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Glossy silver beet, and Chinese broccoli.

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A thriving lemonade tree; combination lemon and mandarin

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The tall leafy plants of the Yakon and mulched asparagus garden.

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Small balls of ripening kiwi fruit

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The bobbles of Brussel Sprouts; okay bobbles isn’t a technical term!

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Fresh new growth on the artichokes

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Olives maturing; about a month before they can be ready for harvest.

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The pears neatly espaliered.

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The now established new lawned and planted area looked smart and welcoming.

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We talked and walked with wide smiles and generous laughter. Then spread ourselves around as we settled on the boarded area near the Tool Shed and brought out our lunches and the foods we had brought to share.

The sun shone strongly and I realised I should have taken a sunhat rather than a beanie and should have slathered the sunscreen over my face. But I didn’t care. The life giving air emanating from the old trees and all the other healthy vegetation was totally revitalising. I welcomed the company of gardening friends not seen in over two months.

Would I do this again? Would we do it again?  The answer: in a flash same time, same place, next week … but subject to weather and virus circumstances.

I will leave you with this image of a colourful ‘carpet’ of the drops of leaves and berries on another fabulous day at the RTBG.

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Crocus for saffron

This will be a story in two parts; first the planting and then much later on, the harvest.

Genuine saffron costs a fortune for so little. Yet the colour and flavour it gives to meals is second to none.

Last year I purchased a Crocus Sativus plant with the intention of letting this proliferate so that I could obtain a useful crop of saffron over the years.  It grew, I never saw it flower and eventually it withered away. Once the leaves had died I dug up over half a dozen corms and stored them in a glass jar – in the dark of my garage.  But nothing is truly dark around my place so when I went to get the jar a couple of weeks ago, long white stems had pushed out from the corms and were tipping against the lid.  Often there were up to 4 strands curling and lengthening out from each bulb – each obviously desperate to get to the light and desperate to create a viable plant.

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On the 4th May I planted most in a shallow bowl, placed this on the garden and the remainder I planted in the ground surrounding the bowl. The day was overcast and the temperature was around 15 degrees. I hoped the stronger light wouldn’t frighten them off growing. I suspect not: I am sure the urge to reproduce will be too strong.

Having seen their willingness to shoot, next year I will be planting the bulbs earlier – perhaps around the end of the third week in April.

Since planting the Crocus I have read here that ‘Saffron flowers are produced in autumn, and in Australia this begins anytime from the last week of March to mid-April, and may extend into May. The crop will flower for 30–40 days, depending on the weather; with each plant typically producing two or more flowers over a 15-day period.’ It seems my bulbs should have been planted ages ago.

This website tells me ‘Saffron produces flowers in autumn/fall with a beautiful light purple flower, which lasts a few weeks. The leaves only appear after flowering.’

Another site tells me that ‘Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) create quick jewel-toned flowers in the fall garden in about 6-10 weeks (sometimes as little as 4-6 weeks) after being planted.‘

I am watching my plants closely to follow their progress and wishing for a small crop. Here’s hoping.

PS Two weeks on the shoots are green, twice as high and sometimes forked.   I would say this is a positive indication I might get flowers and therefore be able to pick the saffron stems – in some weeks’ time.

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