RTBG – 17 and 19th December 2019

What’s this, you may think?  When you notice two dates in one week, you may wonder what this means.  Remember the last post; it was about my new seed-sweeping experience. That was on a Tuesday.  Okay – so now you think you have it worked out that I went seed-sweeping on Tuesday and undertook my normal Food Garden volunteering at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) on Thursday. You are correct but there is more.  On Thursday I started the morning seed-sweeping before continuing on to the Food Garden. So it’s been a big week.

As I walked to my first visit of the week, I was enthralled watching galahs hunting for seeds and insects in the shade – they know how to protect themselves.

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Once into the RTBG, I observed a squawk of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos feasting up high on nuts.

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On Tuesday I partnered with volunteer D and showed him the ropes literally as we untied each bay ready to sweep the seeds of the Philotecha freyciana plant, one of the endangered species from the east coast of Tasmania.

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The short frayed ropes annoyed me; at  home I knew I had a roll of unused rope and enquired if I could bring it in and use to replace the bay ties. So on Thursday, after Y and I had swept each bay, I decked each bay with bright red (Christmassy coloured) twine and large bows which should make opening and closing each bay tightly that much easier.

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I loved the way that the native Tasmanian Trigger Plant has self seeded and now seeking the light from beneath the bays.

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Regrettably between Tuesday and Thursday birds had found a way in to the enclosed area; apparently someone on work experience had been watering and not secured the enclosure tightly. Across the mesh around plants in their pots, and strewn across the bay floors were the remnants of seeds, plus bird poop.  It was a great shame.  Nevertheless we swept it all, including some seeds.  The aim is to collect 10,000 seeds and the misfortune of bird entry and their feasting, changes expectations. Nevertheless seeds were swept and undoubtedly more will be swept but the total harvest over the next few weeks might be reduced.  I will return in the new year for more seed-sweeping and I hope the seed fall won’t be over before then.

In the Community Food Garden there were two changes of note.

The most dramatic development can be seen in the area behind the Facility buildings.  Over the weeks I have shown you photos of concrete being removed, gabion walls being built, curved edges being cut and tester soil and plants being added. On Tuesday I was delighted to see a smooth surface of new soil.  The area was taking shape and I could imagine the smart and relaxing space this will become.

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Then on Thursday I was delighted to see turf had been laid and cut in to the curves by, I am told, a Bali machete!

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Now it is being watered in to allow the roots to join that soil underlay. I expect further planting to occur on the upper level – perhaps that will wait until the hot weather passes.   I will be curious to learn what is the best way of managing that area.  Overall, I imagining that this will soon be ready for public access.  A small sanctuary rather hidden away.  Should be a delightful surprise to all.

The left over turf was planned for elsewhere.

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Nearby, fresh picked shallots were drying.  Coordinator Adam explained that they were not yet ready to give away to charity. Without drying somewhat these bulbs won’t store well; with their outer high moisture content they would rot in storage.  Of course home gardeners might only be harvesting one or two as needed for cooking and then drying isn’t necessary.  However, if a larger crop was harvested, then simply resting them where fresh dry air can pass around them will be best for their longer term preservation.

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The other change in the Food Garden will not surprise you; weeds had grown and needed plucking. With the Christmas holiday break, our volunteer team is not required again until the second week of January.  Therefore it was imperative we cleaned up the main garden patches so that they will look as good as possible for visitors during the coming weeks. We all realise that in three week’s time our main job again will be weeding. I love the fact that this represents life and the unstoppable force of nature.

With R and later R, I took on the job of weeding the long garlic patch.

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Occasionally a tomato or a potato had self-seeded into healthy plants and I let them stay. Suddenly I was stung (I seldom wear gloves when I weed so that I can feel the root and get all the plant); I mused. It had to be.  It was a healthy stinging nettle.  You would think that since I picked nettles and made nettle soup recently that something would have passed through my eyes to my brain so I would have known. But I reflected as I shook my tingling hand, that when weeding I am only grasping anything that is different and for much of the time I am not identifying particular interlopers.

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A great deal was achieved across the patches. Examples include the following:

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I had missed attending for the past two weeks and so it was terrifically comfortable once again to enjoy the spirit of comradery that permeates our wonderful volunteering team.  Thanks to R we enjoyed the treat of homemade hummus as we sat in the shade of a spreading tree during lunch.

This was Thursday – and what was the weather like – hint above. I said ‘shade’. Of course it was a gloriously sunny day but increasingly rather too warm – let’s say hot – to work out in the sun.  I left earlier in the afternoon than I had intended and others wandered off around then as well – the searing sun made gardening a challenge that we didn’t feel we needed to meet.

Thanks to a question from a visitor, now I will recognise a walnut tree with its early developing green seed pod; only by enlarging the following photo are you likely to find the small green balls amidst the canopy.

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As I walked off to catch the bus, I was impressed to see a trio laying left-over turf; admittedly they were working between a couple of very large trees so I imagine they stepped aside from time to time to enjoy the shade. Meanwhile a ship load of visitors buzzed slowly around the extensive gardens smiling and looking relaxed.

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The RTBG seems to have a calming effect on everyone and it is probably the best place to be during these hectic days leading to the Christmas and New Year week.  Until 2020 my friendly followers – best wishes for the season!

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RTBG Tuesday 10 December 2019

Tuesday you see in the title and probably furrow a puzzling brow.

Isn’t Thursday my day for volunteering at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) you think?

In a far distant blog post I told you that the RTBG has volunteers for different garden functions and sections; this means non-Food Garden volunteers may be in attendance on any of the other six days of the week.

Recently a mass email was sent to all RTBG volunteers asking for short term ‘seed sweepers’. I had no idea what this meant but, being eager to learn, I expressed an interest.

Days later I was sent information and an invitation to attend an induction session. This was held yesterday. Then, not only did I learn what to do, I was able to spend an hour actually doing the seed sweeping. So, what is the story?

I arrived at the RTBG on a gorgeous blue sky day dusted with high level wispy clouds.

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And walked past the Food Garden observing progress (and sometimes the devastating effect of recent winds) in some of the vegetable patches.

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Then I walked on – onto my new and additional volunteering opportunity.

The new volunteer job is to help with seed harvesting in the Philotheca freyciana seed orchard in the RTBG nursery. This is a critically endangered plant endemic to Tasmania’s east coast and located in a very limited area on the Freycinet peninsula. Further information is available here; if you scroll down a little and click on Listing Statement, you will access a detailed pdf and can understand more extensively why this plant needs to have its seed collected.

Yesterday morning Lorraine, the Curator of the nursery collections met me and three others. We were introduced to reasons for hygiene protocols. In advance we had been given the following information: ‘In order to reduce the risk of any pathogens, ie particularly fungal diseases entering the Nursery facility, we are asking all visitors to adhere to the hygiene protocols we have put in place to mitigate against an incursion into our Nursery and Conservation Collections. The most important point is that you do not to bring any plant material with you into the Gardens. We would also ask that clothing/shoes need to have been laundered/cleaned thoroughly if worn recently in garden centres, interstate or up in the northern regions of Tasmania (particularly in regards to jackets and hats), any camera equipment has been cleaned/wiped down (including tripods, and equipment you use for your sketching/drawing.)’ A major consideration is that the plants being grown in the seed orchard usually grow slowly over years, are often difficult to germinate from seed or even to grow, and have a rarity which makes their existence in the seed orchard very precious. Should a disease or pest infiltrate, then years of hard work could be over in hours or days.

Then we were shown a number of different sets of plants in the seed orchard, shown where the sweeping equipment could be found, and shown where to deposit the seeds once collected – in a marked paper bag in the drying room.

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Finally we returned to the seed orchard to a raised nursery curtained off from the world. Inside were many pots of the Freycinet waxflower (Philotheca freyciana).The process for seed sweeping was demonstrated, two volunteers left and two of us remained to make a harvest.

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The screening is simply to prevent sparrows and other birds gobbling up the seed as it pops from the dried flowers. It was impressed upon us that when we opened each section to harvest the seeds, we should not walk away and leave the opening for any reason because the birds would fly in as soon as we left.

So the process of seed harvesting or seed collecting from this plant, is seed sweeping, and some handpicking. When two of us were at work, we opened each bay from both sides. Then we moved the pots to one end and began sweeping the tiny glossy slippery back seeds along with any leaf litter. Our job was not to sort the leaf litter from the seeds.

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Our job was to sweep under the screening fabric and extract as many seeds as we could and load them into a bucket.

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Each plant had a mesh cover across the soil and seeds dropped there. Our job was also to sift through the leaf litter and handpick these to add to the bucket.

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This was fiddly work. I didn’t want to snap off any of the seemingly fragile branches of the plants as I fossicked around and tried to pick up these seeds; having some fingernail length would be an advantage.

Once all the seeds were collected from the floor and the pots of each bay, the pots were moved back and the bay was sealed. Then we moved onto the next bay, and then the next etc. Not difficult but exacting work requiring care.

Some plants were flowering; a seemingly simple five petalled white flower

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The most challenging part of this work was reconnecting the screens tightly so that birds would not get in. My fellow worker and I were particularly vigilant and we felt sure that we left this seed orchard secured from marauding birds.

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Then we took our buckets of seeds (and leaf litter), deposited them into the appropriate bag, then stored them in the drying room.

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Once sufficiently dried the seeds will be separated from the leaf litter using scientifically created sieves.

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Finally, the seeds will be frozen within a particular ‘cold’ range for safe keeping.

Without a doubt this is a remarkable undertaking. A vitally important scientific process. In all, it forms one small part of the larger understanding of how our Earth works. The value of gathering such information and resources before mankind destroys the life in our environment cannot be underestimated. You can read more about the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre, housed in the RTBG, here.

A team of five of us have been rostered on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next month. I look forward to each new experience – and then to recording what I did and how I felt about it.

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Was I nettled? No

I was bound to collect weeds. I had a weed soup to make. Most of my fellow Food Garden volunteers were nervous about consuming weeds; ‘are they okay to eat’, was the frequent question.  And some are.  But which is edible we weren’t sure.  ‘There are some stinging nettles up the back’, Coordinator Adam said.  Ah yes. We had all heard that nettles when cooked can be eaten.  I felt relieved. That will be the perfect weed for us to eat.  Cooking neutralises the toxic components and the stinging mechanisms are lost.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica or urens) remind you they exist when you try to pull them out or are nipping a few leaf tips.  Yesterday I pulled all the scattered nettles, roots and all, hidden from public view behind a shed in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. I didn’t wear my gardening gloves and found the stems do not have stinging hairs. So when I went down to ground level to gently pull them by the stem, the process went smoothly and pleasantly. Only on the taller lanky plants did they make contact with my skin. As I loaded them into my plastic bag, sometimes the leaves swept across my arm or the upper side of my hand. They stung, but it wasn’t debilitating. Just a reminder to be slow and careful.

But a soup needs more than one ingredient. I collected a few left over pulled onions, a garlic was pulled for me, I collected a few young Sorrel leaves, and the flowering heads of chives.  I also collected another weed, the name of which I didn’t know, and about which I was unsure of its edibility.

Back at home I separated the produce and washed them.  Then I turned to the internet to find nettle soup recipes.  There were many and I soon realised that the soups usually either contain white rice or potato. I opted to use half a dozen of my medium-sized home grown potatoes (remembering Sunday’s lunch for the Food Garden’s volunteers was meant to include dishes by us containing produce from our own garden).  With a box of Campbells Vegetable Stock, and some fine cold-pressed Extra Virgin oil I was set to create a weed soup.

We know that the nettles are weeds in Tasmania but what about the other ingredients for my soup.

What about onions; were they ever weeds?  From archaeology has come the belief that onions originated in central Asia, were originally eaten from the wild and were eventually cultivated in Iran and West Pakistan.  Perhaps they still grow wild in some places but certainly we no longer consider them a weed, as distinct from the nasty onion weed.

What about garlic; was that ever a weed?  Doubtful. Garlic is thought to be a native of Central and South Asia or even southwestern Siberia . Its culinary and other uses seem to have spread to Egypt, Pakistan, India and China before the crusaders brought garlic back to Europe and the Spanish, French and Portuguese introduced garlic into the Americas.

Potatoes. Surely they are not weeds. The potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru and north western Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BC. The potato does not seem to have been considered a weed but another quite different plant known as  Potato Weed is.

How about Sorrel; is that a weed? Sorrel is a weed that can cause severe yield reductions due to competition. It interferes with cultivation because the extensive root system blocks tyned machines; is spread by cultivation. It is a weed of crops, pastures, orchards, gardens, vineyards, vegetables, roadsides, wetlands, bushland, streams, granite outcrops and disturbed areas. Has a high oxalate content which may cause oxalate poisoning in stock. Breeding ewes are the most sensitive. Sorrel also has a very high vitamin C content, which was a reason it was used as a preventative measure by humans for scurvy. Not only is sorrel good to eat for humans, it also has medicinal properties.

The first starter ingredients; the garlic and the onions

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I chopped one onion and the delicately flavoured garlic finely and sweated them in a saucepan with olive oil.

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Then I cut the washed but unpeeled potatoes into small chunks, added them to the pan, and stirred the ingredients.

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Time to add the vegetable stock; I poured in three quarters of a litre.

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While waiting for that to boil and cook the potatoes, for the next ten or so minutes I painstakingly picked the fine leaves of the stinging nettle. With wet hands and washed wet nettles I was not stung. Interesting. Then I chopped the small pile roughly. So it changed from its initial seemingly large supply to a tiny mound.

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I turned off the heat from the saucepan and floated the pile of nettles on top. Then I grabbed the sorrel leaves, gave them a rough chop and added them on top of the soup.

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Then I realised I had wanted a green soup, but there was too little green material in the soup to give a clean colour.  Out I went into my garden and returned with three varieties of chard; the normal white stemmed silver beet, a red stem and a yellow stem. It was only fitting these join the soup pot because I had brought the plants home from the RTBG as discards that weren’t expected to amount to anything. Well perhaps their home here was kind and they have certainly grown, been beautiful to look at, and a joy to eat one or two leaves at a time.

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I turned the heat back on and let the new ingredients soften for a minute or so.  Then it was time to blend.  The result is a sensationally tasty green soup (and I haven’t keeled over yet so all ingredients must be safe).  In the following photo you can see a container ready to compost into the garden. In addition, you can observed that I did not use three of the four onions nor the unidentified weed – so fellow volunteers, you can relax and not imagine I have snuck in something you do not know about.

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Last but not least, I have cleaned and washed the chive flowering heads ready to garnish the soup.

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Now all we need is the taste test by others.  I say it is terrific but what will others say later today when they have their ‘shot’.

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RTBG Thursday 28 November 2019 – post 2 of 2

After lunch next to the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG), I was surprised to see the developments in the area where previously concrete had been removed and a gabion wall had been built.  Now soil covered a slope, and steel sheets were waiting to be placed to cover the background logs then to be left to rust gently and fit into the landscape. Adam was giving a new soil a test run with a few plants. In the third photo below, the plant on the right with it’s compact of tight glossy green leaves is a Tatsoi. I chewed a leaf and realised it would do very well in a salad mix.

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I took myself off for a wander to see how other Food Garden plants were flourishing. First I looked at the Red Currant with most of it’s fruit still green.

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I could see the plumping fruits on the fig tree.

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The blueberries hadn’t been plucked by black birds like mine have at home.

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The quinces were growing.

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Chives with their purple pom poms grew in lots of places.

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A Lemon Thyme ground cover was blessed with a carpet of pinky purple bee-attracting flowers.

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For the first time I looked closely at the Sweet Chestnut tree and was surprised by the serrated edge of the glossy leaves.

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IMG_8057.JPGThe asparagus was still shooting skywards.

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Then I went back to the tomato bed I planted last week and was relieved to see the heat hadn’t killed them off. However they didn’t show much sign of growth.

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Two weeks ago I helped M with the planting of the wild rocket. I couldn’t help remarking how much they looked like weeds.

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For the remainder of the afternoon I was directed to clear the Medieval Garden of it’s dying blue borage plants, trim the Sorrel of it’s seeding heads, silver beet that has shot up towards the heavens, and given the option to remove the Calendulas or dead head them. I was surprised how prickly the hairs were on the borage leaves. Later S potted a couple of mini self sown borage plants growing under the white borage.  Previously we had tried to collect seed with great difficulty – so now we hope these are self sown white and not the more common blue flowering borage.

When I had finished, new growths of blue borage, white borage, trimmed  Sorrel, and a swathe of orange and yellow flowering Calendulas remained.  For some reason I took no photographs of this garden before or after the clearing.  Alas.

Before leaving RTBG, I grabbed a plastic bag from my backpack and set off foraging; into the bag went a couple of onions that were not being used elsewhere, a fresh pulled garlic not yet divided into cloves, a few young Sorrel leaves, all the stinging nettles I could find, and lots of flowering chive heads. Why? It’s my job to make a weed soup for Sunday. We have played with the idea of soup ‘shots’ to be drunk through the chive heads. Could be fun!

After six hours in the Food Garden, I walked off to the bus stop again feeling very satisfied. Very calm. Very grateful for another superb day. Thankfully, there were few travellers on the bus and their smells weren’t unpleasant. Besides my mind was geared to arriving home and making the soup from all the fresh produce.  I will let you know how things turn out.

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RTBG Thursday 28 November 2019 – post 1 of 2

Do I need to tell you what the weather was like today?  For Hobartians we know it was gorgeous. For blog readers elsewhere – I can confirm it was another sunny rain-free glorious day down here near the bottom of Tasmania. Why?  Because it was volunteering day in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG).

I didn’t set the alarm happy to wake whenever. But I woke earlier enough to arrive at RTBG a few minutes after  9 am following 25 minutes of walking and two buses. Our scheduled start time is 10am so I wondered if anyone else would have arrived. But of course N beat me there by a mile. He had arrived at 7.45 and straight away started clearing weeds.  Ah the commitment. Ah the love we all have for our work there;  our love of the experiences and learning there; just being there. Salve for the spirit. Balm for the heart.

As I stepped through the RTBG gates, within seconds the level of the noise of the highway dropped many decibels and a sense of profound calm descended.  I spotted two ducks tucked asleep like small rocks beneath a tree. Almost unnoticeable in the dapple of the shade.

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Then I passed a plant which earlier this year I had photographed in different stages of flowering growth. Now in its full cloak of green leaves it looked rather ordinary.

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Healthy as, but not sensational like when it had flowered.  Let me remind you with an example of a photo I took months ago of the Chinese Paper Bush.

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I continued along to the Food Garden and realised that over the past few weeks collectively we have begun to tame the spring growth. Of course, weeds were still proliferating and other plants were expanding or changing in different ways.  However, some sort of order seemed to be beginning to prevail.

Of course weeds grew again around the long bed of shallots and garlic.  Overhanging in patches were the spiky canes of berry fruits.  I asked Coordinator Adam whether they should be trimmed. ‘You like pruning don’t you’, he remarked. Probably my whole face beamed. Yep!  ‘What I want you to do is to cut on both sides of the ‘fence’; cut off the fruitless meandering canes and especially those encroaching onto the walkway. They won’t go into the compost. I will take them away.’

He handed me his own personal secateurs. I grabbed a large rubbish bin.  Where to start first. There was a lot to do along this row of three large berry ‘bushes’ –  boysenberry, loganberry, and thornless blackberry.

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The fact these had been trained along a framework of uprights and horizontal wires, had kept in check much of their boisterous growth behaviours.  Nevertheless, the canes were in entwined density at the base of each plant where I tried to clip the unneeded canes.  Two had thorns which required concentration to avoid.

In addition there were self- seeded new plants everywhere along this part of the garden. Some had grown from the seed of fallen fruit last season and others had put down roots after laying across the soil from the mother plant.  These unplanted additions needed to be removed.  After almost three hours, these berry canes were tamed.  However, I know that with a little water and more sun, they will begin to arc and extend almost immediately.

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Meanwhile other volunteers had arrived and much was achieved by them. R was denuding a bed of dying coriander and trying to collect some seeds. Later Adam remarked these might still be too green to keep for next year and the best that could be done would be to cook with them now. On their way to the compost bin, it was clear these plants had grown tall.

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Later, after the clearing the patch, R dug it over, layered fresh compost across and prepared to plant tomatoes. These were tied to encourage them to follow a frame as they grow.  By the time R finished, zucchinis and eggplants were also in that patch.  A very good morning’s work!

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Meanwhile N had weeded and dug a patch, and was planting. He was following the method of making a hole for the plant, soaking in water, then unpotting the plant into the hole, before mulching with straw.  Then more watering.  This is in contrast to only watering after the plant is in the ground.

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L persisted with weeding around  leafy shallots.

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Elsewhere, D and T harvested produce for SecondBite, I think R and A weeded in the orchard, and S was hard at work – now what was that work.  So sorry S – I can’t remember.  But you are a dedicated and hard worker so whatever you did would have made a substantial difference.

We all sat companionably around the potting shed over lunch and chatted about garden related matters. This included a discussion involving R and A’s invitation for us Food Garden volunteers to come to lunch this Sunday;  we will all being trying to bring a dish using produce from our own gardens, and are looking forward to seeing their garden – apparently a work in progress. Heavens! Aren’t they all.

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RTBG Thursday 23 November 2019

On Wednesday, the day before my normal jaunt to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast a maximum of 30 degrees for the Thursday. At that stage I considered going to volunteer at  RTBG early and leaving early.  Then I woke fresh on Thursday morning , ready for the day and checked the forecast; hmmm, now expected to be a maximum of 33 degrees. My first priority was my own garden so I spent over an hour watering every nook and cranny; already it was 24 degrees and the warmth was increasing.  My energy levels were low and I contemplated missing a day, but I decided not to wimp out and set off much later than I wanted.  I arrived about 9.40 and it was already very very warm in the Food Garden. The sheltering which the convict brick walls give against the cold also means the area holds in the heat.

Coordinator Adam set me to work planting. There were trays of tomatoes and other vegetables to plant – already the window of opportunity to plant these was passing so getting them in today was a high priority. The past couple of weeks have been so extreme; a fortnight ago unusual torrential rains poured off and on and then, last week, the wind was unforgiving.

My job was to plant well established tomato plants about 30 cm apart, stake the rows, connect the stakes with string, attach the tomatoes to these strings for support and give some water. N grabbed a handful of Sulphate of Potash and sprinkled around each plant to promote good fruit growth.  Meanwhile I drank water by the litre to stave off the feelings of heat exhaustion.

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Apparently this Wapsipinicon Peach tomato has a furry skin – I will be very interested to see this.

At one point, I told Adam that when I finished planting that garden I wouldn’t be doing anything more under the direct sun.  Of course he told me that I didnt have to finish this, and could go straight to the shade if I wanted. No way, I said.  Suck it up I told myself.  I will finish this.  Later the in-ground watering system was activated to try and give these plants the best hope.

A few other volunteers were already hard at work harvesting onions and leaves for the charity SecondBite.

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Someone said it’s reached 33 and soon after another remarked it is now 34 degrees. Nevertheless a lot was achieved by all the volunteers.  However,  by mid-morning I was helping to move the unplanted trays of plants into a shadier position – they wouldn’t be planted today.

A few volunteers stayed out in the sun clearing spent pea plants and silver beet, digging and hilling up potatoes, and planting more tomatoes.    IMG_8011.JPG

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The rest of us found shady nooks and tackled the extraction of weeds.  I finished the morning weeding around a ring of assorted herbs that had been planted at the end of winter before the overarching tree had sprung it’s new leaves.IMG_8017.JPG

All volunteers (and staff) have the choice. We were not forced to work in the sun. We were not asked to work at all. But we love the place. We love working in the Food Garden. So we all rose to the occasion and did what we could.

Eventually we stopped for lunch and sat amiably in the shade. By then the temperature had peaked at 36 plus in Hobart city and nearly 38 at Hobart airport. As we sat munching and yarning, suddenly we felt the expected easterly wind bringing change. Within half an hour, the temperature had dropped to the late 20s so we all felt much more comfortable.

But I was spent and called it a day, leaving the few remaining volunteers (there was an attrition rate as the morning passed) to work through the afternoon. Wonderful hardy souls!  I was very impressed.

And yes of course, it was another glorious Thursday.

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RTBG 15 November 2019

K and I arrived bright and early around 9.30 at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) ready for work in the Food Garden. While the sky was overcast there was no rain –I am delighted to tell you I will never again mention the rainy weather of last week because we were ‘back to normal’  yesterday.  Quite soon the sun was out and, despite the occasional blue grey presence above, it was a glorious sunny day in the gardens.  The ‘typical’ Thursday had returned.IMG_7947.JPG

I was all set to weed but Adam offered me the job of digging a particular garden patch, fertilising it and then planting.  In all my volunteering days in the Food Garden this was super exciting because I had never dug a whole patch (even though small) and finished the whole process alone.

So I started with a patch in which a few flowering chives clumped along some edges.IMG_7924.JPG

Everything was new to me and, as usual, I learnt new information. The prong end of the fork with which I dug was virtually straight up and down, whereas my home fork prongs came with a slight curve.  So using that RTBG tool had a strange feel and worked slightly differently. Then I realised that I have not dug a whole plot at home for yonks and usually I only dig in spots as required.  Therefore the methodical systematic coverage of a piece of land was relatively foreign to me.  And the soil was so different from the sandier soil of my home garden.  This patch was very moist, and actually wet in some places, so that the soil clumped together indicating it was comprised of some clay. So digging was heavier going than I expected. But healthy worms were everywhere providing a marker of great soil health.  Nevertheless it didn’t take long to turn over the soil.  I strewed Rocket Fuel fertiliser pellets across the ground once dug, then collected the tray of potted plants.  Chinese Celery.  Coordinator Adam had never planted or eaten Chinese Celery so this planting is an experiment. We guessed they should be planted roughly 20 cm apart, and to spread them across the patch.  Time will tell if this is a good idea.IMG_7937.JPG

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In Googling this vegetable I have learnt that ‘Small, leafy, and aromatic, Chinese celery grows in a rosette stemming from the base of its roots. Fragrant, this ancient Asian vegetable-herb has hollow, thin crispy stems and delicate wispy leaves. Rarely eaten raw, its flavour is pungent and slightly peppery. Cooking sweetens and tames its taste, while softening its texture. Native to Northern Asia where it grew wild, Ancient Greeks enjoyed Chinese celery as a potherb while the Romans used it in their decorative garlands. Also known as khuen chai, kan-tsai, kin-tsai, kun choy, qin cai and kinchay, today this plant thrives at high elevations in the tropics and in temperate regions. Growing ten to fifteen inches tall, Chinese celery prefers a cool climate and shade when grown in the warm summer season. Fairly cold hardy, the plants require fertile soil and adequate moisture. Slow starting but once established, Chinese celery is ready to cut in about six weeks. ’ I ate a leaf and could taste the celery but there were other unidentifiable flavours coming through – not quite parsley and not quite coriander.

Others were off doing their own jobs. K was weeding in preparation for planting, then dug up an adjacent patch.IMG_7926.JPG

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R and A had the run of clearing some startlingly robust weeds amidst strawberries, and L was de-weeding elsewhere.IMG_7940.JPG

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N cleared a strip of garden so that the continually flowering violas now have pride of place while leaving room for newly planted capsicums and already established peas.IMG_7930.JPG

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And he planted the following vegetable – what was that?IMG_7932.JPG

D and T harvested leaves, roots, bulbs and fruits ready for Second Bite (Rescue food to help people).  These vegetables looked fresh and healthy and I hope the recipients really enjoy eating them once cooked or otherwise prepared.IMG_7929.JPG

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I was amazed how, in one week, some of the pea plants had shot out and up; their direction somewhat shaped by recent gusty winds.IMG_7944.JPG

I noted that some of the tomatoes planted last week seemed to have windburn, and the rocket planted last week was looking a little sad. This weather is perhaps currently being too extreme for them.

Lunch was a chatty affair sitting in the sun.  This time we tried out the next lot of green tea prepared by K using RTBG Food Garden tea leaves; this lot had been steamed and partly mushed. We liked the flavour and, although delicate, we deemed it stronger and much tastier than the brew we drank last week. The experiments will continue.

During the afternoon we shared in the exacting task of removing weeds in the orchard. It was a community effort and the happy communal feel kept us focused for a good couple of hours.IMG_7953.JPG

Much was achieved. Much is yet to be achieved. But parts of the area and sawdust paths are now clearer and more admirable.IMG_7952.JPG

During this time a few self-seeded River Mint (Mentha Australis) plants needed removal.  Rather than toss them into the compost bin, R and I each brought home a plant; hopefully it will thrive in both our gardens.IMG_7948.JPG

This was from the Tasmanian Edible Garden, now cleared of creeping and monstrous weeds.IMG_7951.JPG

Suddenly N called us; there is something moving in the plants beneath this tree he said. His first thought was that the movement was caused by a foraging blackbird but he realised that blackbirds don’t normally disappear under a depth of foliage to find their meals.  It had to be some sort of animal. We thought a native rat might be there or some other tiny marsupial. Adam said it’s probably a bandicoot; there is a family of three of them roaming the gardens.

We stood and watched, mesmerised by the movement. There was a sense of darting about beneath the leaves.  And then s/he came out from under the Hyssop.IMG_7956.JPG

The one in my garden earlier this year was twice the size of this bandicoot, but the one that appeared to us was equally as glossy and healthy. And seemingly without fear. I was so surprised about how unfazed s/he was by a group of gawking people standing watching.

Then s/he darted out into the open (that is my shoe at the bottom of the photo) so you can see how comfortable the bandicoot seemed to be.  S/he continued to run around; dance around – light on his/her feet – into and out of the vegetation and then, with a fast dart, headed off into the distance.IMG_7957.JPG

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What a treat!

The Food Garden never ceases to deliver delights.  I finished the day munching on a small handful of melt-in-the-mouth broad beans and purple and green podded peas that had somehow been left over from the earlier pickings. Waste not want not we thought as we munched and packed up for the day.

I walked off to the bus stop under the sunshine; profoundly happy again.

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