Food Rule #19: If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
Michael Pollan, Food Rules

28 May 2015

We're into the last official days of Autumn (seeing as our silly calendar says that winter starts on 1st June) (but we know that's just a convenient construct, don't we?) and its felt wintery for quite a while now. Although the cold and damp and dark mornings make getting up a bit harder, sometimes we're rewarded with such gorgeous cold, sunny, still days. Its important to notice these and celebrate them!
Despite the shortening days and cold conditions, many plants are still growing well, including this brave (foodhardy?) jonquil in my front yard. Its very early, but beautifully perfumed and welcome. And the artichokes in the background seem to go from strength to strength in these challenging times. I'm going to dig out a few clusters where there are many small suckers, and divide and plant them down at the farm (well protected from wallabies). They love a good dose of worm wee on transplanting, and with luck will produce their first beautiful edible flowers this coming Spring. Many fantastic perennials can be divided like this.
Rhubarb is one, and asparagus crowns too. Although asparagus plants don't like being divided very often - its best to have a nursery patch of two and three year old plants, and leave your main croppers undisturbed. Yay for hardy perennials.

'Allo, Aloe

Yes, that's a cliche often used when talking about aloe vera, that juicy and useful plant. Its just hard to resist the tag! The photo above is of a small plant sliced across the base. I love this photo - so rhythmic. I found the plant in the compost heap, where I'd thrown it ages before, thinking it was dead. When I turned the heap I found it green and growing. So after the photo shoot I potted it up, and now its had babies!

The fact that it was growing while buried in the compost gives you a clue to its preferences: not too sunny! Sometimes the leaves will turn purple or burn at the tips if the plant is getting too much light. So a position with just morning sun is perfect.
I like having some aloe vera around the place, as its incomparably good as first aid for minor burns (especially on the fingers from careless oven or wood stove handling). I've used the larger leaves, sliced longways, as a salve on sunburned shoulders too. You probably all have heard miracle stories about its healing properties, and most of them are likely true. Jackie French says she carries a bit around in her handbag, for emergencies, wrapped in clingwrap.
Its very easy to propagate aloes (and  other succulents too). Simply look for the small "pups" at the base of a mature plant. In the photo at right you can see some young ones. I'll cover them with some potting mix while they're still attached to the mother plant, so they start to grow their own roots. When they have some roots, water well the day before pulling them apart, and keep the young potted pups in the shade until established.
Apart from aloe vera, I've never had much interest in succulents. But in the last year I've become a bit intrigued by them, starting with a few bits pulled off some plants at my dear friend Cindy's place. She gave me the sound advice that although they will survive with sheer neglect, they will thrive if given a bit of attention (= water and occasional feeding). So now I've got a small collection, garnered randomly from gardens around Hobart as I visit for FIMBY consultations. The ultimate souvenir!

The generosity of gardeners

I've been reflecting on the generosity of gardeners lately. I had a warm response from my request to find tazziberry and pepperberry plants for propagation, thanks Rose, Ruth, Noelene, Fin, Bridget, Peter (well, thanks for the rosemary anyway!).

Its also lovely when people take the trouble to write and say that they enjoy reading the newsletters, and affirming what FIMBY is all about. I love hearing about people's adventures in their own gardens. It's humbling, and very much appreciated!
And I've been the lucky recipient of some white borage seed from Rachel, and Ruth . . . they're a bit precious so I'm growing them in punnets to start with, and hope to establish a wild self seeding population in the garden.
Thankyou generous people. Its very common for me to come home after a few FIMBY jobs feeling like I've scored big time - with a cutting or two, some special seed, a rich conversation about bees or family recipes or great uncle so-and-so's brilliant garden tip. Or a hot tip for some free resources!

FREE Horse Poo!

Nice seguey, huh?! I was contacted recently by a lovely FIMBY newsletter subscriber who I've never met in person. Linda (I think it was Linda, please forgive me if I've got that wrong) said that she had heard about a load of horse poo that is going for free, and wondered if I would be interested. YES THANKYOU!
I'll be recruiting a friend with a truck, and next week taking as much as I can down to the farm. There I will stockpile it for some serious worm farming. I never put horse manure directly on the garden, as it can be full of weed seeds. Its not particularly high analysis in terms of nutrients either, but valuable organic matter all the same. And worms LOVE it! So my preferred use is as worm food, or added to hot compost. Or used deep in the layers of a lasagna style no dig setup.
One caution is that if the horses have been wormed recently, the remnant vermifuge that comes out in their poo will kill earthworms. Its safe if you compost it before putting on the garden, or stockpile it for some weeks to let the chemicals break down. Fin, our local worm wrangler extraordinaire, suggested that if you're not sure, you can put some in a bucket with some worms, and see how they're doing in a day or two. Kathy, who's horses are generating this particular poo pile, worms her horses regularly, but is happy to set aside 'contaminated' poo.
So: who would like to share in this bounty? There are probably around 12 ute and trailer loads at least, and the pile is on private property, and Kathy would like it removed as soon as possible. I am going with a ute and trailer on Saturday morning for a modest load, and then will take all that remains next week. If you'd like to come and get a trailer full, or bag some up to put in the back or your car, let me know and we can meet on Saturday morning. The directions and access are a bit tricky, so my preference is to meet on the East Derwent Highway, just before the Otago Bay Road turnoff. There is a large gravel roadside area where the vegie man often parks to sell his vegies. From this muster point we can go in convoy to the booty. See the map below if that helps. That's the Bowen Bridge that you can see crossing the river. Wave to Fimbarista's David and Penelope as you go past Cleburne Homestead!
Muster time is 10am this Saturday 30 May. Let me know if you're coming.
Once the current pile is removed, Kathy would like to make an arrangement with a regular poo collector. Interested? Lets talk. She can fill a trailer (that you supply) through the week for you, or bag the poo for easy collection. The main requirement is someone who is reliable for taking it away before a pile builds up again.

Book review

This one is more of a coffee table book than most of what's on my shelf. But its more than just a pretty face. Kitchen Gardens of Australia by Kate Herd is brimming with beautiful photos of 18 productive gardens, from all over Australia as the title promises. Each section has pictures, a schematic of the layout of the garden, and a summary of the size, climate, soil type, rainfall and a heap of other useful information.
I really enjoyed browsing through the photos, and often take it along when we do design consultations with clients. Its great for showing people ideas of pathway materials, bed layout options, and different garden styles.

The story of each garden, and the gardeners who created them, is beautifully written. There are a few Tasmanian gardens featured, and I was glad to see that "Slugs and snails" were listed as one of the biggest challenges for at least one of the Tassie gardens. I am not alone!

In praise of cauliflower

This time of year is when the brassicas begin to be the star of farmer's markets and good grocery shops. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and soon brussel sprouts are lolling around looking seductive all over the place. These guys are the quintessential winter veg, getting sweeter as the frosts hit (the plants turn some of the starches to sugary compounds as anti-freeze, or something like that).

Its hard to pick a favorite brassica. Steamed broccoli with braised mushrooms and walnuts in a salad; or brussel sprouts tossed with bacon and brown butter . . . mmmmmmm. But I have to say my current fetish is roasted cauliflower. Oh my GOODNESS its so good. Just cut or break up into florets, toss with some oil and your choice of flavours, and roast in a reasonably hot oven for around 10-15 minutes. The outside goes a bit crispy, the inside goes creamy and soft. The photo above shows a simple version with oil, salt and garlic powder (that I made myself, remember?). I've also recently tried a recipe from a friend in Adelaide, which was incredible: Toss the florets with a mixture of oil, peanut butter, soy sauce and spices like cumin, paprika, tumeric etc. and roast. Satay cauli. DELISH thanks Jo.
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