Kitchen Garden Guides

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Australian Outer Hebrides

I am in Adelaide for a couple of weeks, celebrating my mother’s 92nd birthday, spending time with son Hugh, gardening with friends, walking on the beach and having the odd swim in a much warmer sea than ever happens in Tasmania. Two glorious weeks of November weather; balmy nights, warm – hot days and streets lined with the wonderful jacaranda trees in full bloom everywhere I go.

As I drive familiar streets and take the freeway in the Adelaide Hills I sometimes listen to 891, Adelaide’s ABC radio station. Yesterday I heard the claim that in a study of Australian housing it was found that Adelaide has the biggest average house size in Australia and Tasmania, the smallest.

This I can verify as I found it amazing, when I moved to Tasmania, that the houses were so small. The house I bought is what I thought was very small; a little, old cottage, but which Tasmanian visitors asked of me when they saw it for the first time “Why do you need such a big house?” !!

imageMany people, when building in Tasmania, struggle to see why the minimum house size allowable to build is now 70 square metres, up from the previous 60 square metres. I know a few people who live very comfortably in their 60m2 houses, such as this one. In Adelaide everyone wants to build the maximum size that will fit on their block of land and I doubt anyone even knows the minimum house size, whereas in Tasmania most people want a small house no matter how much land they have.

This morning I have been re-reading a wonderful book from my mother’s bookshelves, called The Sea for Breakfast by Lillian Beckwith. These gorgeous books, written in the 1960’s follow the writer’s stay and subsequent move to the Outer Hebrides and are a joy to read for transportation to a simple but testing life, rich in Gaelic  language and traditions, of a small, island community.

In some ways the books reflect a life not dis-similar to some parts of life in Tasmania which often seems to me as I read the books, more related to the Hebrides than mainland Australia. One of these similarities relates to an attitude to work. Statistics put Tasmanians on the bottom of the list of per capita earnings in Australia but, from my perspective, apart from the unemployed, most people earn enough to have a deliciously simple life, scouring tip-shops and second hand shops for cast off clothes, pots and pans, garden tools and timber for renovations etc and swapping this for that with others, at every opportunity. Time and work are often shared, and customers and friends all blend in together.

I love the line in The Sea for Breakfast where the woman is wanting to get some small windows made bigger in her newly acquired, tiny, stone cottage and enquires about who could do the work for her. A man called Erchy is suggested who “quite likes a bit of work now and then, just as a change, when he can spare the time”. This perfectly describes a lot of people in Tasmania too and I think that is one of the things that makes Tasmania foreign to the rest of Australia, on the whole. Visiting Adelaide after about 18 months of my 4.5 years of simple life at the bottom of Tasmania has highlighted this difference more than ever.

None of this is a criticism of anyone or of any place; it is simply fact and interesting to notice!

Life is good; get there fast then take it slow.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Labne, asparagus and quail eggs, all on a Cygnet Thursday

By the end of my Thursday afternoon various goodies had assembled on my kitchen table. Thursdays are wonderful here in Cygnet! We start the day at 9.30am with Happy Swappers in the Cygnet Community Garden, where anyone can bring home grown fruit or veg, home made goodies, food plants and cuttings or seeds and place them on the sharing table. Then each person is free to take whatever they choose from the table. We chat and laugh and all go away with something from someone else. Today I took some rhubarb and a jar of Sally’s vegetable stock.

Next we spend 2 hours gardening in the community garden, and Jo picks a selection of whatever is ready to harvest and we share that too. Today I took some globe artichokes, a couple of hakurei turnips and a few handsful of young broad beans.

There is always something new to try at lunch time in the community garden as they are all such good cooks, with a broad range of skills and cultures. A few weeks ago Sita brought some labne which she had made and it was so delicious I made some for myself. It has been in the fridge developing flavour ever since. 

Back home by 1pm I clean myself up and get ready for customers to my home shop, The Garden Shed and Pantry. Today I had a visit from Morag who wanted some kefir grains. She brought me a dozen quail eggs and we made a swap. Yesterday Erika gave me some asparagus of which a few spears were left over and I also had a left over leek from my own garden.

I have a neighbour who loves to grow radishes and also loves to eat my sourdough bread so we do a swap; I give him a loaf of bread every so often and he keeps me supplied with radishes.

On my preserves shelf I still have a few jars of passata from last summer’s tomatoes. On my bench I have some salt made in the oceans of Tasmania…. the only bought thing in this whole episode!

So, I cooked the artichokes and drizzled them with lemon juice and pepper. I boiled the quail eggs for 4 minutes. as Morag said, to hard boil them, then removed the shells. I sautéed the leek, gradually added the rest of the ingredients and served it topped with my labne balls.

I must say that this was one of the tastiest throw-together meals I have ever made; the labne being a key in making it so. I had rolled the drained yoghurt in herbes de provence, which was a perfect addition, as it accidentally turns out!

The lightly hard boiled quail eggs were each a delightful mouth experience as they were popped by the tongue. Nothing beats asparagus spears and those first, young broad beans of the season are an annual treat, after months of leaves and broccoli.

I thought of taking a photo….. but I was more attracted to eating than photography by this time. Compared to all the meals I have eaten out in the last 6 months, which truthfully is not many, this is way better and that is exactly why I don’t eat out much. Exceptional ingredients, with no food miles, grown with love, often shared with love and each with a story will always win.

Now it is time to make rhubarb crumble and relax.

Life is good and sometimes life is bloody good. Every now and then life is great.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No work and all play makes me very happy today!

A friend came by and brought me some of her wonderful asparagus this morning and all day, on and off, I have been thinking about how I would have it tonight….. raw in a salad, steamed as a vegetable, baked in a tart…. or what!

So, about 5pm I wandered out into the garden with my basket to see what was there that would make up my mind for me about cooking the asparagus. (I had already eaten quite a bit raw during the day.)

First there were the chooks to say hello to and some eggs to collect. Next I noticed that one of the chicories was stretching upwards before going to seed, so I decided to cut most of it off, as I really love chicory. The rest of it will shoot again and go to seed which will self sow and give me next more chicory next winter and spring, without me having to do a thing.

Near that chicory is a self sown red cabbage that is simultaneously growing a wonderful cabbage and sending up shoots with flowers, in a circle around the head. I picked one of the flower shoots and it was so sweet that I picked most of the rest of them, leaving the head for another day. I left a few shoots to continue flowering and set seeds which will self sow and provide me with red cabbages next winter and spring, without me having to do anything.

Earlier today I did some mowing and noticed how wonderful the dill is looking. These dill plants were dug up from a self sown clump that was very congested and moved to a more open area where they have done really well. So, I cut some fronds. I am surprised they have not gone to seed yet but soon they will and I will leave a few to self sow so I will have dill next winter and spring without any work at all from me.

There is one enormous frilly mustard reaching to the heavens. This gorgeous, lime green, frilly, beautiful plant is self sown. I am not sure why I didn’t get many this year but I will let this one go and hopefully it will give me more next year, without me having to sow any at all. I picked some of the pretty leaves as I passed by.

I looked over into the paddock next to my vegetable garden, where dairy cows sometimes graze. There, pecking away at this and that, were 3 of my chooks. I opened up the bottom of the chook yard fence a few years ago, just enough for a chook to get under, so my lucky chooks have free range over maybe 20 acres or more but they don’t don’t go that far away. I threw them some snails I found slithering through the perennial leeks and watched them fight over them.

While I was there, I cut some of the leeks which are so dense now that I just cut them at the ground and use them like spring onions, green tops and all. I love this patch which multiplies by growing little nodules around each leek which then grow into more leeks. If I thinned them out it would take me hours so I don’t bother. I love them thin and sweet. Eventually they will go to seed and grow fabulously beautiful heads of flowers that the bees will flock to and next winter and spring I will start picking the fresh leeks again, without having to do anything in the meantime.


By this time my basket was full and dinner was pretty much worked out, without me having to decide a thing. So, I slowly stewed the chopped leeks and most of the rest, in olive oil with the lid on then added the asparagus, s and p, and several beaten eggs mixed with some milk. When it was nearly set I grated over some good, sharpish, English cheddar (one of my ridiculous indulgences!) and put it under the grill to brown a little.

As I sat and ate my dinner I thought of the lovely 20 minutes or so I had spent in the garden, the fun it was tossing snails over the fence and watching the chooks race to get them and how nice it was that Erika had bothered to drop in on her way to work early this morning to give me some of her asparagus. And how I don’t even have to sow any seeds or do any work at all for this dinner to grow itself in my garden and my friend’s garden next year.

Life is good. Let things go a bit and watch them come back.

Look at the colour of that!
Red cabbage shoots about to flower.
                       I love dill.
Fat Bastard asparagus from Erika. Beautiful.
The final result of 20 minutes in the garden and 10 minutes in the kitchen. All of which made me smile! And there’s leftovers!
image   Punnets of cucumber  seedlings from yesterday’s Cygnet market. Soon to be a summer lunch ingredient.
And so the seasons go round and round….

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Greater desires = more work

Masanobu Fukuoka’s book The One Straw Revolution, written back in the 1970’s, is even more relevant today than it was then. A scientist himself, while researching various areas of agriculture, came to the conclusion that chemical agriculture was leading the consumer and the land on the path to illness, and that there had to be a better way. So began his journey into natural farming, using observation and patience to guide him. Eventually he developed simple ways to grow rice and a cereal crop in rotation, without chemicals or hard work. The book is a delightful and insightful look at life and agriculture through the eyes of a Japanese scientist turned farmer.

Masanobu Fukuoka 1913 - 2008

In one chapter he is discussing the supermarket’s desire to offer the same vegetables all year round and all the same size, with fresh (unnatural) colours and how this puts incredible pressures on the farmers to move towards out-of-season production, with huge losses if the products are different in size as well as the problems of expensive cold storage and chemical coatings to every piece of fruit and vegetable to ensure artificial long keeping.

Then he puts this back onto the consumer by saying….

…..To say that what one eats is merely a matter of preference is deceiving because an unnatural diet creates a hardship for the farmer and the fisherman as well. It seems to me that the greater one’s desires, the more one has to work to satisfy them….

That is the nub of so many of society’s present day ills; desire for more than is natural to have or be or do.

When I read books and articles I always refer back to my life and the lives of the world I see about me as a kind of reference point for making an opinion about what I am reading. My life here is funded by the tiniest income, so tiny I don’t even pay tax. I can do this for several reasons and one is because I was fortunate enough to have the money to set myself up when I came here with a house, a car and modest household goods. It is only from that point on that I needed to make enough money to live on.

Many people who have chosen to live here in southern Tasmania have arrived with the same ability to set themselves up as me. But then they return to a hectic life of working far from home and lots of driving and shopping and expenses that I don’t have. I assume, thanks to that paragraph in the book, this is because their desires are greater than mine.

It is natural to eat by the seasons and I have no problem at all with preparing delicious meals almost entirely from organic, seasonal food.  I cannot think of much that I eat that is not seasonal except spices and grains (which of course ARE seasonal but because they are dried seeds, are usually available all year round). My food bill is very low indeed, especially compared to the trolleys full of packaged food that I see people wheeling to their cars. I have no desire to even know what all that stuff is.

I don’t feel that my life is lacking; in fact I feel it is very rich and wonderful. I love what I do in my Garden Shed and Pantry home and market shop. I love Cygnet and have no desire to shop elsewhere. It is with great regret that I shop online for certain books and technology and I could not live anywhere without the internet! I love the community garden and all rowing and all the simple pleasures of outdoor, rural Tasmania. 

I have learned to say no to taking on more roles and doing more things because after a certain point, more is not better; more is less do-able. Everyone has a natural state that may not be the same as your friends’ or neighbours’. Trying to do or be more than is right for you is self-destructive. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by what I must achieve this week or tomorrow, even though I know people who can do twice as much as me without any (visible) problem.

It seems to me that the greater one’s desires, the more one has to work to satisfy them… Thank you Masanobu for your words of wisdom relevant to the field and the soul.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A self sown beauty that always makes me smile

One of my most favourite sights is self sown chicory. The range of colours, the enormous variations that spring up from seeds from one plant, the boldness of a vegetable that grows and grows even when it is mown and the wonderful way the leaves erupt from the centre always make me smile. That they grow strong and sure right through winter and are happy when crusted in ice and frost, their shiny leaves radiant in any light are added features. Also, in winter they are sweet and delicious.

I just went out to pick a basket of greens to make spinach and fetta pie but had to come and get my camera to capture, for the hundredth time, the glories of the self sown chicory display in my garden.

image image
The perpetually mown chicory! I only mowed this yesterday and already it has started growing back.
First harvest. It will regrow.
How did so many different chicories end up self sown in one place?
A more upright chicory
All from the seeds of one plant that hung over the wall. Note how varied they are!
The makings of a spinach and fetta pie.

And here is the one shot I got of this gorgeous raptor which was sitting right outside my window when I opened the curtains this morning before it flew away…. sadly it had a tree in blossom behind it which makes it difficult to see and I didn’t have time to get a better lens.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Deranged chooks

My life seems to follow a pattern that I would like to change!

This is how it goes…. I have an idea, get it going, make a success of it and someone comes along and tries (successfully usually) to take it over and kick me out.

These people have the gift of the gab and the time to weave their evil in other people’s ears, seeming to want to turn my success into theirs.

I will not fight with them. I can see exactly what they are doing but am powerless to stop them.

Since I have come here it has happened twice; first with my Wednesday gardening group and now with the Cygnet library garden. Both these small enterprises were meant to be for my relaxation and hence were meant to be small. They were small gestures to demonstrate to the community that anyone could have a beautiful, edible space to garden in, in a relaxed way.

In both cases people with grander ideas spent many months expanding their vision until they make a bid to take over, with endless criticisms of my small, peaceful, relaxing approach. Holding on to the small and easy to manage has been like trying to hold back a tsunami, so, in both cases, I withdrew, leaving them to their inevitable collapses.

It has always been the same, all my life. I would very much like to change it so that I can quietly and peacefully potter about doing something for the good of the community without some puffed up, deranged chook trying to make themselves top of a pecking order where once there was none!

Life is good. Small is good.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More than just a garden…

This story is evolving as I write.


One day 2 years or so ago a woman came to the Cygnet Community Garden for the first time. She was from Queensland, she said, and was here doing some house sitting. The regulars at the garden showed her around and she knuckled down amongst us for a couple of hours gardening. She was nice to be with and was most impressed with our lunch spread when we stopped work at 12 noon. I hoped she would come again. She did and she continued to, whenever her house sitting brought her close enough to Cygnet.

Then, one day she said she was going back to Queensland to see her family and may or may not come back to Cygnet, depending on if she could find more house sitting. We missed her a lot and every week we asked each other if anyone had heard from her. It wasn’t long before someone had a phone call and someone else had an email, all suggesting that she was returning soon, and that her daughter and grand children would be coming for a visit too, in a new house sitting arrangement she had found in Randall’s Bay, not far from Cygnet.

She had found a little house by the sea and decided she wanted to stay….. forever. It soothes your soul by the sea and she had become quite fond of us at the community garden and some others in a craft group she had joined.

To cut a long story short, she has sold up in Queensland and bought a house in Cygnet, not Randall’s Bay, after all. She is arriving this week and we have some house warming surprises for her; I dare not say what they are as she may read this blog piece! But I suspect the best present will be seeing the faces of friends she has already made and knowing that they will help her settle in and adapt to her new life.

Community gardens are deep. Rivers run through them and energy flows in many directions. Our community garden is a haphazard, grass-infested, quite unkempt looking garden that those who look with their hearts, minds and souls (rather than just their eyes) see as a wonderful, strong, peaceful web where the food produced is only a part of the story.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Imagine a Tasmania….

Imagine living in a place where 100% of the power generated was from renewable energy and owned by the state plus having spare to sell and send across an existing undersea cable to the mainland; where medicinal crops (including poppies and hemp) were billion dollar industries and outstripped the old income from forestry a thousand times over; where wind farm construction was on the cusp of employing the entire workforce (and more) from collapsed mining; where bio mass energy heated schools and pools and buildings all over the state; where dairy farms and vegetable farms were feeding the people near and far…..

Hydro Tasmania

Imagine eco-tourism, organic farms, in fact every industry, business and household being able to claim that 100% of their electricity came from sustainable sources…. imagine the tourist potential….. imagine the income from selling such technology and insight all over the world….. imagine the future….

Imagine governments being so ignorant that the mere mention of hemp had them closing doors to businesses ready to start planting; imagine governments taking away renewable energy targets and making the construction of all future wind farms, ready to start building in the next few weeks, impossible to finance…. imagine them not standing tall and claiming credit for tossing aside the woes of a crumbling Tasmania and grasping these chances that have fallen like mana from the heavens….

Imagine how sick we feel and how angry we are to see unsustainable fish farming practices and other ridiculous developments taking precedent. Imagine if they privatise Hydro Tasmania and, like the gas fields of South Australia, investors suck the state dry.

It is hard to write these words. It is incomprehensible that such opportunities are not being grasped. Tasmania has a chance to leapfrog much of the rest of the world but those in the hot seats of power seem incapable of understanding. Imagine how they will be remembered in history. Imagine how it could be…..

Friday, July 25, 2014

The most uncivilised time in human history is now….


This man from Thailand has found an easy way to live, after spending 7 years living the hard way. It is so simple, so much how I feel, I want to hug him!

I don’t seem to live in the same world as most people I see. All those cars zooming through Cygnet, going this way and that, while I walk to the shops to get what I need, children being rushed off here and there in the school holidays, people going shopping in bigger towns for clothes that follow a fashion, people going to get some chemical food from a big supermarket, buying stuff, doing stuff, working harder so they can have more stuff and go more places…..and not have time to be happy.

No need for me to say more as he says it all, even about saving seeds!!! I feel like I know this man.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A gorgeous day in the winter garden

I still get just as excited as ever when I spend the afternoon in my garden and see self-sown things coming up, others growing tall and strong and still older plants regrowing unexpectedly for another season. It sounds corny but it soothes my soul and brings an inner peace that I find hard to feel elsewhere.

Every year at this time it is the red cabbage that makes me smile most. It is certainly the colours and texture of the leaves but it is also the fact that several of them are approaching forming their third crop of red cabbages, with odd branches draped here and there like a small tree, and one is even older. I cut most of the side shoots off and just leave those that look most likely to form a heart. The oldest of them now only has one cabbage forming so this may be its last year. I will be sad to see it go as it has been here almost as long as I have!

The late afternoon light in winter is soft and casts long shadows through the garden. When a flash of sun appears from behind a sea of dark clouds it highlights whatever catches the late rays. Sometimes this is a deep red chard leaf or a bright yellow chard stem or the fine leaves of the lime green frilly mustard. Sometimes it is the bees on the brilliant yellow flowers of the bok choy flowers.

The sky seems enormous in winter here; I think because there are many layers of clouds; some white and shooting across the sky, others dark and menacing and sitting down on the mountains while still more sometimes seem to be going in the opposite direction, all at once. Being in the garden, feeling the breeze come up and being aware of the sky as I potter about is one of my greatest joys. I love the feel of mizzle, that unique cross between drizzle and mist that happens in Tasmania, and the way its chill feels on my lips and cheeks.

This chilly, damp air is what I came here for, from the dry air of South Australia. Mizzle brightens your cheeks, settles on your eye lashes, turns your hair frizzy and softens the light but is not quite wet enough to have to put on a jacket, which is perfect for gardening.

Everything old is new again in the red cabbage patch
Marigolds seem to flower all year round
I love miners lettuce and let it self-sow
The darkest of the red chards
This self-sown bed is now clear of weeds, fertilised with mushroom compost and chicken manure pellets then covered in straw to let the worms and microbes enjoy turning the soil for me.
Self-sown lettuce amongst the new coriander
Tools of the trade + a bucket of leek seedlings removed and ready to take to the community garden tomorrow.
Straw bale chook house I made for 2 new chooks I am getting soon
I love this wooden bucket of water for the chooks. It has azola growing in it to keep the water fresh.
Why is she taking photos of us?
Chicory would have to be one of the most beautiful and varied winter vegetables in my garden….
In winter it is brilliant in salads

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Willing Workers and a Little Ingenuity

It was a nice mild afternoon so I thought it would be good to get started on preparing an area for planting out some of my citrus, once the frosts have passed for this year. A beautiful, old willow tree had fallen over about a year ago and turned what was a shady part of the garden into a very sunny part.

The area has been totally neglected ever since so I took to it with my mattock, with the warm sun on my back. All the grass and weeds were being tossed over the fence for the chooks and they were pretty happy about that. It was quite hard work and as I rested on my mattock for a rest, I watched the chooks digging and scratching at the goodies I had tossed at them.

Then I had an idea. How about I get the chooks out here doing the work for me! How silly, I thought, for me to be doing all the work and throwing weeds, grass and lumps of good soil over the fence when, with a little ingenuity, I could put the chooks to work instead.

Off I went to the farthest corner of my acre where, in the dark recesses of an old shed lived a pile of star pickets rolled up with miles of 1.8m  high chicken wire, given to me recently by a friend leaving the state. Perfect! After quite some effort I was not sure this was such a good use of my limited time! However, I was determined to get the job done and the chooks working for me so, after a lot of swearing and heaving I managed to untangle 2 good long lengths and drag them to the desired site.

Trying to erect a fence already partly assembled and then rolled up, on uneven ground, alone is a challenge! While holding a star picket already joined to the fencing wire with one hand and my trusty mallet in the other, the rest of the 7m roll of wire and pickets wants desperately to lie down and threatens to pull it all down into a tangled mess, taking out one of my eyes at the same time.

Patience is not one of my strengths! However, on the chook yard side of the fence the weeds I had tossed over earlier were already disappearing under those well worked chicken legs and beaks and I could imagine the ease with which they would turn my patch of thick, overgrown greenery into eggs and fertilised soil. After getting down to just my t-shirt, unravelling what seemed like 100m of wire mesh, hammering in pickets that seemed very oddly spaced and dealing with an uneven slope it was finally done.

Lastly I cut a hole in the bottom of the chook fence and called the girls through. The first one to take to a new scenario is always the big brown chook and she made those noises a chook makes when she finds treasure. Immediately all the others came running and soon I was sitting outside the fence having coffee, watching the workers.

In a few weeks I will have a new garden area….. as long as the fence holds up and the chooks don’t work the soil so much they end up going under the fence and outside, digging up parts of the garden that should not be dug!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

5 organic bananas or a piece of cake

There are 3 busy cafes in Cygnet. All have lots of beautiful cakes which are hungrily eaten every day, sometimes by me. One piece of cake is around $5. No-one bats an eye lid at the price.

There is 1 organic fruit and veg shop, Cygnet Garden Larder, which is equally busy. I bought 5 organic bananas for $5. The lovely girl serving looked shocked when she told me the price.

The people eating cakes in the cafes are the same people who tell me they cannot afford organic fruit and vegetables.

These people drive 20kms to a supermarket which has chemically grown fruit and veg.

What has happened to the world?

On Cygnet Market days I like to buy organic fruit and veg from the local market gardeners who have stalls outside on the street. One of them is Alex from Golden Valley Farm. The queue for his vegetables, picked that morning at dawn, stretches down the street if I don’t get out there early enough. His produce is priced to make a living for him and his family and so it should be.

I don’t have much money but I don’t even look at his prices. I grow what I can in my garden and the community garden and buy what I need from Alex. I would much rather have the best, organic vegetables I have ever seen, from a man I know, than drive to a big supermarket and stand in a check-out queue with stuff my mother would not even call food.

It used to bother me that I was preaching to the converted when I talked about such things with my friends and could not seem to reach those that would benefit most from conversion. Now I have stopped beating my head against the wall…. or at least maybe I will soon!

Life is good. Join Alex’s queue.image


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cabbages and Convicts

We see history all around us; monuments to lives lived and lives lost. Cities brimming with entrepreneurial enterprise has made them what they are and the history of their eras is in every building, every business, every museum, every suburban street and every bridge. The everyday lives of people in our collective histories are in our minds as lives of families, villages, farms and armies, punctuated by events and remarkable individuals.

It is with quite some mental adjustment to live in a state (almost like another country, in reality) where convicts formed a great part of the white man’s history. Shipped to the other side of the world for crimes as small as stealing bread to feed a child and as big as murder, men and women thrust together in gangs built the infrastructure and were the manpower involved in businesses and life in Tasmania, at the very bottom of the world.

Today a great number of its inhabitants are descended from convicts and this itself is a deep and sometimes hidden side of family history. It was recently quoted that as many as 80% of those Tasmanians descended from convicts have never been outside Tasmania, even to this day. This makes for a far different place from the rest of Australia and a place where I feel a foreigner in some regards.

My travels by foot and kayak into the depths of its beautiful environments often leaves me speechless, for more than just the scenery; cabbages loom large! Before roads could reach these areas, boats and ships plied the seas and rivers, carrying tons of logs destined for England and the British Navy who needed timber for ship building, carrying minerals mined for manufacturing the construction of life in Tasmania and in Britain and carrying convicts to do the work. Do you ever think how they fed the convicts doing this toil, stationed in the remote wilderness?

I have been on the edge of the wild, south-west Tasmania world heritage area, mesmerized by sea eagles, grebes, dolphins and seals, by mountain ranges draped in soft sheets of cloud, by forests full of the fresh scents of wild Tasmanian plant life and then I am told that where I am standing was once cleared and planted with 5,000 cabbages to feed the convicts. Further on I am told that after serving time and gaining a ticket of leave, a convict had a very successful import / export business right here, shipping out timber etc and bringing in supplies for a town that grew to 500 people, mostly convicts. All this, where I thought was pristine wilderness at the bottom of the world.

There is a group of 3 islands just off the beach at Dover. I have paddled my kayak around one of them on a glorious summer’s day, feeling the sun on my back and revelling in the joy of being out in wild, southern Tasmania. Again my head is abruptly sent spinning when I am told that here too, on the next island, thousands of cabbages were grown by and for the convicts.

I would like to learn more about feeding the gangs of convicts and about the individuals who were the gardeners and farmers; about how they chose a site, how they managed the soil and what seeds they used. Some Tasmanian families probably are still growing cabbages and other vegetables from those seeds. I’d love to meet them and hear their stories. I’d especially love to have some of the seeds, the seeds of civilisation in Tasmania, and sow them in the Cygnet community garden.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Integration brings integrity; making it work for Tasmania

Tasmania is a magnet for rural tourism. Why? Is it because of the scenery? It certainly isn’t because of the facilities or large resorts. Is it because of the non-existent raging, city night life or sprawling shopping malls?

I rent out a room in my house on Airbnb and I meet the tourists who read my profile on the website and choose to come and stay in my old cottage on an organic, rural 1 acre in the town of Cygnet. I hear what they say when asked why they come to Tasmania. I see the streets of Cygnet literally full of tourist vehicles all year round and I have a stall at the Cygnet Market which provides most of my income because, even for a town of 1,000 locals, this market is what people want to experience.

Everyone with excess produce in their gardens offers it to the girls at The Lotus Eaters cafe who cook the most amazing stuff, using food grown within a very small circle of the cafe. It is always full of people, all year round. In winter you see people in their coats and scarves at the outdoor tables, hands around hot cups of coffee and their famous chai, because this is what they come here for, not to sit in the air conditioned environment of a shopping centre or resort. There is no view from this main street cafe, but there is more atmosphere and warmth and genuine soul than any view can give.

Then on the other side, I listen to the radio and hear how “experts” say that Tasmania needs to catch up with the mainland of Australia and provide more facilities and exciting things for tourists to do and it makes me want to scream! They say we need to build more roads, big hotels and a cable car to the top of Mt. Wellington. This is segregation; dividing tourism off from the everyday life of ordinary people and is expensive and unsustainable in a tiny, cash-strapped state.

I hear about Tasmanian agriculture and how so many fruit orchards have been ripped out or fruit left to rot because of cheap imports. I see that the major supermarkets sell apples from China, when not that long ago, Tasmania was called the Apple Isle and exported all over the world. And yet, local fruit growers have set up roadside stalls and they are patronised by locals and tourists in huge numbers as are all farmgate operations. Every road around here has properties with small groves of  mixed orchards, wood lots, a few animals and a vegetable garden. Many are new or have new owners who can see the wood and the trees! And this week has been Agfest, a rural show of mammoth proportions, visited by anyone and everyone who can get to it, from all over Australia.

The experts are segregating, not integrating. They look at figures for tourist spending in other places and think that this is relevant to Tasmania. They don’t spend a couple of weeks as a tourist in Tasmania and actually see for themselves. Tasmania is unlike most of the rest of Australia in that it is decentralised and people live in nooks and crannies all over it. The “cities” are small; the capital and biggest, Hobart, is only 250,000. It is more like south west France, with very rural villages every few kilometres. And, like rural France, that is exactly what people come to see; rural, everyday life supplying excellent quality, local goods and services in rustic villages and markets.

Everyone wants to go France; where every facet if life is integrated; ancient buildings are not museums, they are loved and lived in. Markets abound with local food and the French people themselves would not buy food grown elsewhere if it was grown locally. Rooms on farms and in rural homes are on every visitor’s list of accommodation. Every tourist to France goes to the markets and villages to see the real French way of life; and so it could be in Tasmania.

Integration means business is life; farmland has tourism in its agenda; farmers integrate ideas with neighbours, instead of competing, to provide diversification; people live and work in their own town, using the shops and services; cafes cook and shops sell what is grown locally; artists use local materials; nothing is dependent on one big industry. Using very little from outside means a low earth footprint which, in itself, is worth advertising for tourism and makes for a sustainable future. I think this is how Cygnet is developing, almost accidentally, and I look forward to the blinkered government and local authorities staying right out of it’s fabulous future!

Sydney is buying and shipping thousands of tons of sand per month from northern Tasmania for making concrete for developments. Is this how Tasmania should be making money?

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate Integrate not segregate is permaculture principle 8

                   Many hands make light work

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rainy day musings and icy strawberries

It reached 7C for a short time, on my verandah today, with rain and hail lashing the windows first on the front of the house and then the back. The dairy cows in the paddock just beyond my lounge room window huddled under the oak trees that hang over the fence from my garden. As 8 sourdough workshop participants left my house, with bowls of dough to bake, thunder crashed and the wind howled like in an episode of Midsomer Murders, just before the first murder! Since then it has been a great day to be inside enjoying the warmth of a fire; after all, this is 43 degrees south; plumb in the middle of the roaring 40’s.

On such days it is nice to wander inside your head and hear what you have to say! It is also nice to listen to live radio or podcasts and hear what other people are saying about topics that interest you, all over the world. I listened to a lovely thing about a man who climbs trees and his expedition to Morocco to climb Atlas Cedar trees, under threat from over-grazing and an extremely dry decade. He took a hammock up 50m to the top of one tree and slept there. I love the bit about the tiny spider that let itself down its silk, next to him, and we both wondered about how that spider got up there and how long is its silk. It was enlightening to hear that fencing has been erected around some areas to keep sheep out. Is nowhere safe from destruction?

I listened to another about the inside of the heads of adolescents and what research is revealing. I wish I had known some of this when my sons were growing up!

My favourite, and the one that got me sitting here writing, was about vertical and roof gardens in Sydney and how the council even has an officer for such things whose job is to promote green spaces up and over as many Sydney buildings as possible. There is a lot more to it than you think so, if you can, have a look at the photos and listen to it here. In fact it was such a good, in-depth discussion that it brought a tear my eye to think that, amongst all the bad stuff we hear about these days, our very own large, Australian city of Sydney is reaching for some outside the square stars. Or maybe, finally, such innovative thinking is becoming mainstream in enlightened areas….. sadly not so here in the Huon Valley Council zone of Tasmania, however!

As I sat in front of the fire doing a bit of yoga and then started preparing dinner, I listened to myself. I said a lot of things and most of them were about 2 topics; relationships and food! If you can get them both right, you will be very healthy and very happy. I nipped outside during a patch of sunshine to pick some parsley and mint to make chermoula for my fish tagine and my eye was caught by a skerrick of red under a leaf; a luscious, late, deep red strawberry. The sky darkened again and it felt more like evening than 2pm but I stood and savoured that rich strawberry flavour, probably the best for the whole season. It felt so good, all over.

And to think that a moment before, I was listening to a woman picking strawberries out the window about 10 stories up a building in Sydney, with a smile in her voice. Snap. There is so much more to food gardening than just the food.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ephemeral, forever

There was something very special about the corner of a river I visited today, by kayak. Although the scenery across the bay, on the approach to the river entrance, was of spectacularly rugged mountains, shrouded in various veils of rain, and was more dramatic than anything I had ever seen by kayak before, it was at the farthest reaches of a lovely but insignificant little river that I found what was to me the most beautiful spot on this amazing planet!

And now, some hours later, in a warm and dry lounge room by the sea, with a cup of coffee in my hand and kayaks safely stowed in the shed until another day, it still haunts my soul; not something I would normally say! If I were at all artistic I would sketch it so it does not slip from my memory. However, words are my only craft even though a poor writer I am indeed.

Majesty, beauty, light-defying reflections, hues of every shade of green, every shape and size of plant, massive fallen trees covered in moss and lichens and ferns disappearing into the depths of the river, the smells of the earth and a sense of wildness unique to remote corners of Tasmania have become my playground these last few months. It was natural to once again drift serenely through such scenery, in awe of nature exerting its dominance over a landscape starting only a few hundred meters from a camping ground full of Easter campers.

As I approached another bend I could hear the tinkling of the river rippling over a shallow bed of stones and soon the silver sparkle of the moving water drew my eye to the nearby bank in search of a place to stop and enjoy the play of light and sound on this day of dark, rolling clouds. Up until now the banks had been either of huge, steep, moss covered boulders which had managed to resist the raging winter flows of thousands of years, or were of densely matted vegetation and tangled tree roots, intertwined with fallen giants of tree trunks often spanning the entire width of the river.

Here, however, was a triangle edged on the long side by an old, sunken log, the whole being filled with worn, round rocks from fist to football size. One short side was formed by the river bank where the tree had fallen from some long time ago. The rocks were smooth and washed clean by the river but, as the water level is low at this time of year, they were exposed. The other short side was of shingles and sloped gently to the water’s edge. Into those shingles had fallen seeds from the plants of the surrounding forest and a little, summer garden had sprung up, sure to be soon ripped out and washed away with the first big rains of winter. Ephemeral, fleeting as a butterfly, nature’s garden was perfectly designed.

Then a light breeze caused movement above the little garden and I noticed that a tree had once upon a time fallen but been suspended by the river bank, its gnarled and splintered end hanging out above the river. Growing in the crevices at the end of that beautiful old trunk, directly above the summer garden in the shingles, was another, almost identical garden. My heart skipped a beat.

The high banks of a beautiful Tasmanian forest, the sound of the water rippling over the shallow river bed, combined with the rocky beach formed by an old log and the double gardens, one hanging above the other, together with the still water cocoon I managed to nestle my kayak into, totally enveloped my senses.

As we left, the rain began to fall in earnest and soon the river will begin to rise once more. It won’t be there when next I paddle that river; this fleeting picture of perfection.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gangster Gardening

Humbled by this real life story I feel I am spinning my wheels and not going anywhere, while in the food desert of south LA, this man is making it happen. What I so much want to do is unite people in a desire to bring food gardens to the streets and so to the gardens, homes and kitchens of Cygnet. The whole point is to make people healthy and responsible for themselves because in doing that, the whole planet will benefit. And, when it comes down to it, that is what I care about most.


Sure, I have a cute little patch of ground at the Cygnet Library that is a fabulous start and which I am unashamedly proud of. Everything to do with the effect that this patch has on our community is positive and, at times, quite remarkable. Linking food growing to the library connects people on neutral territory; with no age, sex, political or social barriers. Accidentally we have found a brilliant way of influencing everyone who reads as the library system of Tasmania is a model that should be adopted everywhere.

This man, however, is influencing those most in need of change and often these are the people who don’t or can’t read. These are people who don’t have a garden, don’t know about chia seeds, fish oil, organic carrots or detoxifying your liver. While I am doing superficial stuff in a rustic, gourmet little town he is turning gangsters into gardeners and giving people their health so they can make choices and move away from the fast food nightmare.

In a few weeks I am taking a tentative step into the equivalent of his world, here in Cygnet, when a group of mostly women, who have lived here all their lives, some of aboriginal decent but all suffering many health issues, come to my garden. Some probably can’t read. Over a couple of hours we will look, touch, smell and pick a few things then go in to my kitchen and make some soup which we will eat with some home made bread. I have no concept of how this will pan out but I hope that, in some small way, it sows a seed in someone’s mind. And I sure hope that I feel inspired to continue on trying to connect people and their food, through gardening.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Take what you need: Dealing with the stress of over-abundance

I hear it all the time…..”I have too many zucchinis / apples / plums / tomatoes…. I don’t want to waste them but what am I going to do? I don’t have time / energy / space / to make jam / bottle things / make preserves / visit my neighbour and give them away!”


Growing food is step 1 of sustainable living and dare I say it but most people never graduate past it because of the stress it can produce. They want a job AND children AND acreage in the countryside AND a food garden AND chooks…… etc.

So, if this is you, how can you remove some of the stress of over-abundance in your food garden? Bearing in mind that this is stage 1 of sustainable living and we are not asking you (yet) to change how you do things, we are just trying to stop you giving up growing food and make you more relaxed so maybe you will think about moving to stage 2.

My suggestion is to take what you need and let nature have the rest. Giving things back to the earth is simply recycling. Putting 10 zucchinis in the compost is wonderful. I recently tipped a large bag of plums that someone had given me, into the compost. I could have gone through it and picked out the good ones (most had gone soggy and some were all mouldy by then) but I thought “No, I am really too busy to deal with this, this week” and in they went. In a few months they, along with the rest of the compost, will be returned to the garden. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

imageSilver beet rules the whole of my vegetable garden if I let it, so I take what I need for myself, one meal at a time, and feed the rest to the chooks. There is always some that gets away and goes to seed, flopping all over its neighbours. So, I grab what I can and tie it up to a stake. Then it is out of the way and I can go on gardening around that 1 plant. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

In the photo above, my garden became overgrown with 2 massive, self-sown pumpkin vines and, at the time, I could not store them all so I swapped 98kgs of random pumpkins for other produce at a local organic grocer. (7 years later I still love this shirt!).

In this photo, I am taking my over abundance of greens to the same shop to swap for other things. (7 years later, that is still my favourite gardening shirt!!).

I have a wonderful, weeping Lady in the Snow apple tree with the most delicious apples you can imagine. Now it is laden and many are falling. I keep looking at it from the back door and remembering the year I did not waste a single apple. My chooks roam under that tree (keeping it free of coddlin moth) so they peck at them on and off but there are too many even for 5 chooks. Today it is raining (so I won’t be gardening) and I will collect a basketful and juice them for the freezer (my freezer loves apple juice Smile). I will take some to the friends at the community garden. I will pick one every day when I am gardening and stand there and enjoy it. I hope to wrap lots in paper and save them for later. The native honey eater birds love them too. Still there will be many dozens “wasted” but they will all go back into the soil and feed the tree for next year. That is the cycle of life and how it should be. You could rake them up and put them in the compost if you like. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

Think cycles. Then there is no such thing as wasted food from the garden (or wasted anything, really). The consumer is encouraged to think in lines: buy new, use, discard waste then buy again, etc. Nature revolves in cycles such as seasons and the recycling of living matter. By buying something from a friend or secondhand shop (or tip-shop or gum tree if you are in Australia) you are moving to stage 2, where you are re-using something perfectly good that someone else has thrown out because they are still thinking in lines and they want the latest model or fashion.

After my secondhand microwave stops working, I will use it as a seed storage cupboard out on my porch (with the parsley I wrote about on facebook today!). Then I will find another second hand one in perfect working order and, because it will only cost about $20, I won’t be stressed about it when it stops working after a few years, or if it is the best one! This is permaculture principles 10 (use and value diversity) and 12 (creatively use and respond to change). See below.

Permaculture principles in this post:

Design Principle 3: Obtain a yield3. obtain a yield


Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services5. use and value renewable resources and services


Principle 6: Produce no waste6. Produce no waste


Principle 10: Use and value diversity

10. Use and value diversity


Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

12.Creatively use and respond to change


Permaculture ethics in this post:

Earth care, people care, fair share

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Farmers as energy producers: World Bioenergy 2014 conference

An email I just received has highlighted the dichotomy of 20th century progress vs  21st century progress. Australia has sadly just voted in the former, while many European countries, including Sweden, are leading the way in the latter. The information below shows just what can be done and is worth reading. I did not know any of this before. We are very lucky that one of the 4 Australians going to this conference lives in Cygnet!

While we should be hearing from government and media the good facts on development elsewhere of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the jobs and benefits that can come from this, it is unfortunately rarely the case.  Granted ABC radio carries the occasional story, and the regional press, but by comparison with coverage of football, movies, fashion, or pop celebrities, it is as nothing.

Consequently, Sweden is not a country we hear a lot about in regard to its achievements in reducing national and per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by development of renewable energy, public transport and energy efficiency. We don’t hear about the simple and effective carbon tax implemented in 1991, we don’t hear about the 2003 legislation banning landfilling of municipal waste, and we don’t hear that now biomass is the greatest source of the country’s final energy (the combined total of energy utilised across electricity, heat energy and transport fuels), significantly exceeding either fossil or nuclear energy.

We don’t hear that in this country, that is double the population and the size of Victoria, that the per-capita GHG emissions are only about 6 tonne CO2-e, about half that of Europe (11 tonne) and a quarter that of Australia (about 28 tonne). We don’t hear that almost half of all new cars sold in Sweden are able to run on the low emission fuels of ethanol, bio-methane or biodiesel. We don’t hear that of Sweden’s final energy (energy actually utilised), renewable energy currently makes up over 46%, with 34% of this from biomass, 10% from hydro and only 2% from wind.

And we don’t hear of Sweden’s target for cessation of imports of fossil fuels of any type by 2030. This includes coal, fuel oils and fossil-sourced transport fuels. Already in Sweden’s largest cities of Stockholm, Goteborg, Malmö and Uppsala, municipal fleets run on upgraded biogas, and city buses are running on either 100% ethanol, or biomethane, or in some cases, a methane-natural gas mix.

In early July the World Bioenergy 2014 conference takes place in Sweden. No Australians from state or federal government departments are likely to be there (none have attended this biennial conference since the first in 2004), or from conservation groups, energy companies, consultancies, universities or manufacturing industry. However this year Australia will be represented by three or four people. These are the writer of this piece (who has got to the last four), a local government councillor from Tasmania, and a person involved with community, farm forestry and landcare in northern Victoria.

The most energy-efficient way to access the conference city of Jönköping (pronounced Yernsherping) is by train from Stockholm. The first part of this four-hour journey is in an electric intercity train cruising smoothly at about 160 km/hr and tilting on the curves. If you don’t know when to look you would miss seeing the new biomass and waste-fuelled combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant just south of Stockholm at Södertailje. One of many in planning or being constructed, this is fuelled by chipped forestry thinnings and residues and municipal solid waste. As well as putting 88 megawatts (MW) of electricity into the national grid it provides up to 200 MW of district heating into southern Stockholm’s apartment buildings and industry.

The train passes through a number of cities of under 100,00 population, each of which has power and heat coming from woody biomass, or from combustible non-recyclable municipal wastes, or with separate furnaces designed to be fuelled by each but supplying a common turbine-generator setup.

The oldest of these CHP plants is where you change trains at Nassjö to the train on the spur line to the conference city of Jönköping. This small CHP plant built in 1984 was Sweden’s first purpose-designed woodchip-fuelled plant. It supplies this small city of 20,000 with all its electricity and heat needs, and the ash from the furnaces is spread back in the forests where the fuel of woody residues came from. In smaller and larger cities, the putrescible (wet organic) wastes including sewage go into anaerobic digestors, which might produce only upgraded biogas for transport fuel or to go into the natural gas grid, or only heat and electricity, or both. At Linköping, one of the cities we pass, upgraded biogas fuels a regular freight train service.

The 3-day conference at Jönköping is widely known as possibly the best of its type in the world, attracting up to 1100 people from up to 60 countries. Presentations cover the full array of bioenergy technologies at all scales, that utilise one of the many feedstocks to produce electricity, heat and transport fuels, and other products, and cover all aspects of economics, environmental benefit, policy and sustainability. This year there is a parallel conference on bio-refineries, and so the products being talked about will include industrial chemicals, including substitutes for most petrochemicals.

Jönköping is a great place to have this conference for other reasons. Conference participants can visit the modernistic Torsvik waste-to-energy plant located 13 km outside the city. This annually turns 160,000 tonnes of sorted combustible municipal waste into 30% of the city’s electricity and 50% of its peak winter heat needs. Within the city they can visit the anerobic digestor that converts the population’s putrescibles wastes into upgraded biogas for the municipal fleet and private vehicles. Or they can take an afternoon bus tour to the nearby city of Växjö, rated as ‘Europe’s greenest city’, with its per-capita GHG emissions of under 3.5 tonne. Here over 80% of the municipal population’s domestic, commercial and industrial energy needs, including transport fuel and cooling, are sourced from biomass and waste streams produced in the municipality. Other afternoon excursions go to other bioenergy plants of all types, from small pellet producers to anaerobic digestors converting cow manure to biogas.

While I realise that not all of this biomass in Sweden is coming from farmers (much is coming from urban housholds), in Australia farmers would be a major source for much of this, just as they are in Germany and many other regions (i.e., China and India).
So to help fund the people going to the conference I have entered a project called ‘Farmers as energy producers’ into a competition to win $10,000. I ask all who have read this to go to the website
and vote for this entry. While three of us are presently going I hope it becomes more, and I am looking for others from among renewable energy groups, the Greens, EPA, Sustainability Vic, or local government.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 2: A new way of thinking about community gardens

Community gardening is changing. Young, creative, energetic people from all walks of life are taking the bull by the horns and bringing outside the square thinking to the whole idea of what a community garden is and whose it is.

In Australia, people have seen grants from all kinds of government, local, state and/or federal, as the way to get a community garden going and keep it funded. The recently elected Liberal Government  has closed this option and many at the Food 4 Thought conference are now without any funding.

Our Cygnet community garden does not work this way, although someone in its history did get a grant to build a green house and 2 rain water tanks for which we are very grateful. We rely on our own initiative, fund raising in small amounts such as selling to the local grocer when we have excess, having a pancake stall at the Folk Festival and selling plants at the Cygnet Market from time to time. We use water for some of the garden from an adjoining house for a small fee (water is cheap in Tasmania!). The local hardware shop gives us a 10% discount when we shop there, which we often do as it is just across the road. Although this is working well for us, we have not gone any further, unlike a small group in Darwin.

The Darwin Garden Education Network has evolved under the outstanding and creative leadership of Lachlan McKenzie and Emily Gray, both of whom look to be in their 20’s. In essence what they have done is simply link all interested parties. So, local businesses, chefs, schools, councils, health departments and commercial kitchens have been linked with community gardens, sharing events and facilities to promote one another.

For example, in order to teach people how to use a particular seasonal vegetable growing in the community garden, they invited a local chef to run an after school workshop for anyone interested. The chef promoted his restaurant, the community garden provided the vegetables and promoted their garden and the school made use of their facility and encouraged students and parents to join in.

At their annual fair, community gardeners from all over Darwin collaborated in running a pop-up cafe, with all food cooked beforehand by the gardeners, tables and chairs provided by a local business, straw bales by a garden supplier, all of whom could have their own stalls. The profits were shared by all participating community gardens. Schools were given the job of decorating a combined zone with anything they chose to promote their schools in exchange for each running a 1/2 hour workshop on something garden related. Businesses were encouraged to have a stall, the payment being simply a gift voucher which was then given as payment to anyone who ran a workshop, thus reducing the need for book keeping on the day.

On Friday afternoons, a local seedling nursery gives all its leftover punnets of seedlings to any group that shows up at the gate and also offers work experience to local schools. People talking and connecting really make things happen.

By being in touch with local health authorities and councils who are keen to promote such self-motivated and healthy events, compliance fees and rentals could be waived. And so the linkages have extended until now there are about a dozen community gardens, some in very close proximity to each other, where only a couple of years ago there was only one. Working together to achieve common aims is far easier than everyone re-inventing the wheel and competing for limited funding.

These are real community gardens, linking every level of the community with every other under the umbrella of encouraging local, organic, affordable, home grown food with associated education and workshops; using common land to connect people of all cultures, ages and abilities with nature, each other and their food, in a full circle.

Interestingly they don’t have a website!

I am REALLY excited to say that Emily was voted in as the new president of the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, the body that gave us this fabulous Food 4 Thought conference. I can’t wait to see what she and Lachlan come up with!!