RTBG – new visit

A couple of fellow Food Garden volunteers, R and A, visited the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) last week and have forwarded their photos for this blog.  The panorama shot below encompasses some of the end of the Food Garden near the pavilion and tool shed.

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R and A were excited about seeing ‘the patch’ again.  ‘It is looking great – Adam tells us he has been getting help from other staff and he seems to be able to get more done because of the lack of garden visitors. We commented on how good everything looked – lots of produce – he said a big difference is that there isn’t anything being taken, as there usually is when the gardens are open. The Second Bite charity is coming to the RTBG front gate and collecting produce from Adam through the week. He’s very much looking forward to having us back, although he doesn’t know when that might be. We asked what our first job might be – thinking weeding, which there is plenty of – he said first thing will be a long cuppa and a chat. He does miss us. The Gardens were super busy – it was actually hard to get a park – there were plenty of people picnicking etc, definitely not there just for ‘exercise’. It’s so heartening to see that for many people in the community, the gardens are a much loved part of their lives.’

Below you can see Brussel Sprouts growing proudly. I can see various brassicas in the garden bed where the garlic used to grow.

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Clearly autumn is here.

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I am delighted to see that produce continues to flourish. As the days pass, surely we must be getting closer to returning to volunteer there.

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Hey presto it is pesto

While this was never intended to become a fresh produce blog and then a food blog, this particular post might have you wondering. A few years ago I stopped over in Abu Dhabi for a day and experienced an exceptional tasty pesto that formed part of my lunch in the very grand gilt edged Emirates Palace Hotel. I asked for the ingredients and learnt it was a concoction based on walnuts then tomatoes and more. A couple of years ago I decided to experiment with creating pestos using different nuts, herbs and spices and I recall a luncheon party where I prepared six dishes with six different pestos. Since then, and because as a vegan I need to include protein in my meals, regularly I create nutty pestos. Mention the word and most think immediately of basil leaves and pine nuts. Seldom do I use either.

Recently I was fortunate to be given a pile of Hobart grown hazelnuts. What to do with them? The decision was easy. Pestos of course, and in past weeks I have tried out a few combinations. Let me take you through the latest mix.

Shelling the hazelnuts with the nut cracker wasn’t easy. Some nuts were crushed in the process and needed to be used immediately. These were the base ingredient that I poured into my stone mortar.

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The other ingredients added to the mortar were rock salt, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, flat leaf parsley, small hot chillies which I had preserved in extra virgin olive oil, and a sachet of tomato paste.

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With the pestle I crushed and crushed and crushed until I had a course paste.

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How did I use this pesto and where? On cooked slices of  zucchini, halved mini squashes and green beans.

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I boiled a portion of brown rice to accompany these vegetables. In all, this perfectly balanced meal was incredibly filling and tasty.

To be fair, while this pesto gave a pleasant contrasting texture and was wonderfully flavoursome, the natural flavour of the hazelnuts was lost.

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Danger in the suburbs

During the corona virus lockdown, regularly my cul de sac neighbours and I would drag our deck chairs to the edges of our driveways. Sometimes there would be small table as well. And then something to drink. Coming from a system of waves and smiles and not much more than a ‘gday’, this gave us all the opportunity to get to know each other, to have a laugh, and to feel a little bit more normal.

It was on one such afternoon that the conversation meandered to the Norfolk Pine tree growing in the property below one of my neighbour’s house. Dangerous they declared. Then another agreed. ‘Why?’, I asked. ‘It is their cast offs’, they told me. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘They’re lethal’. Everyone nodded. The most affected neighbour rose and charged down to his backyard to bring up an example so I would be able to agree as well.

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He brought back a long stem, one edged with woody hard ‘leaves’ that were directed away from where the stem would have joined the tree; they were directed towards the tip end, each with a point that would pierce thin skin. Those many points were so very sharp. To hold, I had to be exceptionally gentle. It was impossible to grab. Simply I let it rest evenly across my hand and I applied no pressure at all. This was the only means of ‘handling’ it.  IMG_9542

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Architecturally it was a marvel. A masterpiece. I had to admire its construction.

We live in an environment where it rains seldom but it is often very windy. I now understood. The thought of such a missile flying through the air in 40 or 60 km an hour winds or the gusts that far exceed these numbers, was frightening. It would become a weapon to rip and cause great damage if it caught hold of a person or animal as it passed.

I suspect this is an old tree perhaps with an interesting social history from decades past. Would I advocate for the tree to be removed? I agree its cast offs are shockingly sharp and could cause appalling damage, but since I do not have to make a decision I will sit on the fence for this one.

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Collecting seeds – an RTBG story

Previously I have talked about my meagre seed collecting thrills with cosmos, lettuce, tomatoes, silver beet, chard, paper daisies, calendulas and parsley. These pale into existence compared to some grand seed collecting expeditions. Earlier this month friend J (thanks) sent me the link to an inspiring ABC news story.  You can read it here.

One of my fellow Food Garden volunteers at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) was booked to join this walk for the seed collection. However once the virus hit and we went into lockdown, the trek with half a dozen people was cancelled because they would not, as a group, have been able to keep the necessary social distance in all aspects of the travel. He was gutted of course and hopes to do the walk another time; and to help with seed collection in this precious national park if he can.

I admire James Wood and his remarkable dedication; this would have been an extremely challenging walk because the weather has cooled dramatically in recent weeks and in the centre of Tasmania on some of those open plains the weather would have been bitter.  And to say the rain would have dampened spirits is probably an understatement. But obviously James Wood persisted.

This sort of seed collecting of our Tasmanian native species is essential. As dramatic hot bushfires become the norm, having seeds ready to regenerate forests will provide necessary protection from loss of species. In the summer of 2019 major fires rampaged across the north western part of the west coast of Tasmania and razed the landscape to the ground in places around Couta Rocks and elsewhere. The Guardian introduced this fiasco. Early reports were later amended as new information arrived and it was found that multi acres of native forests were lost.

There will always be fires (from electrical storms or human intervention) so what James Wood and others are doing must continue. ‘Why?’- some do ask. Because plants existed before animals; they are the glue (that we understand so little) that binds the operation of the world together. Without them we don’t breathe – and that’s just for starters.

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RTBG Thursday 16th May 2019 – remembering

For my first week volunteering at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) you can read about eggplant, garlic and feijoa here.

In my second week, I picked olives, planted two different kinds of mustard under the olive trees, cleared out some dying tomato plants, weeded brassica beds, planted Kale and tasted Yakon. Read more here.

In my third week, weeding oxalis was my main job. During the day I learnt a great deal about compost thanks to fellow volunteer A. Read about that experience here.

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Weed graffiti

Some people define a weed as ‘a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time’. This is a reminder that all plants have value. When we add the idea that many so called weeds have medicinal or food value, clearly it is time we all reconsidered our attitude to weeds. It is time we learnt more.

I must put my hand up and declare my ignorance. Only gradually over the past few years have I come to know the value of a few weeds; very few, starting with dandelions. But I did nothing about it; my problem was that there are a number of weeds with similar flowers and I was never sure which plant was genuinely a dandelion. I was afraid I might poison myself. There are lots of options (see here and here) and clearly none of these are poisonous. Even so, I feel nervous – possibly showing signs of my upbringing to be suspicious of any plant other than the mainstream; those which sell in shops. It is time I learnt more and broke free.

One way to begin to treat weeds as serious contenders for food or medicinal purposes is to name them. From that can come more knowledge. To that end a group of enterprising weed enthusiasts have been adding to the landscape. You can read their story about naming here.

I am going (post virus) to buy some chalk! In the mean time I need to learn more weed names, and begin to understand their value better. Friend C, who has studied herbs for years, has promised to allow me to join her when she forages for herbs (these might be called weeds by others) and I very much look forward to learning from her.

Meanwhile if you are a weed enthusiast, please send me your weed photos with their names. That will be a great help in my self-education – please email me at newtyzack@gmail.com

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Working with weeds

I have made note of a new book which I think will be usefully informative: Working With Weeds A Practical Guide to Understanding, Managing and Using Weeds written by Kate Wall. Published late last year, this 220 page book seems like it will be a terrific reference book – especially considering my current fascination with weeds.

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The Booktopia online site details tell me ‘Where there are people, there are weeds. And where there are weeds, people are trying to get rid of them. By looking more closely at what types of weeds are growing where, we can learn so much about the growing conditions in our gardens, giving us valuable insight into what is happening in our soil. This information can then be translated into what needs to be done to make the garden less conducive to weeds and more suitable for the plants we want to grow. When we know a bit about our weeds, we can control them organically, more effectively and more permanently, allowing us to create much more satisfying gardens. Some weeds we may even decide not to get rid of as we discover how useful they are as food, medicine, habitat or soil improvers. Weeds have something to teach us. They can make us better gardeners, better environmental custodians, and they can make us healthier. All we have to do is to look at them a little differently. Kate Wall teaches us how to do just that in this insightful book. Kate helps us learn to read the weeds, how to use the weeds, and how to garden without weeds.’

Kate has her own website. She is a professional gardener with a background in environmental science. On that site she says ‘Weeds present an opportunity to learn about our soil, our garden and our environment, if only we will listen. They provide important soil care, critical insect habitat and even delicious and nutritious free food.’

Hopefully my order is in the mail!

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