Thursday, February 27, 2014

Inspirations: Vegetable Seeds for Cool Growers

There are some amazingly interesting and wonderful people in Tasmania. It really is like another country, rather than another state of Australia. I am struggling to explain concisely what it is that makes it seem this way but it has to do with a history of isolation and necessity being the mother of invention and self-sufficiency.

Up north in the Tamar Valley are a couple of blokes passionate about beans, who have been trialling varieties from all over the world in an attempt to find those which will produce well in the cool climate of Tasmania. Currently they grow over 100 varieties!! The purpose is to make them available for home gardeners to grow and people to cook and eat. One of the newsletters went into the health reasons for eating beans of different colours. What these blokes know about beans is staggering.

Inspirations Garden Centre - Vegetable Seeds Specialists

Every month they write a newsletter about what they have been doing and when we might be able to buy the new seeds they are producing in quantities big enough to sell to home gardeners. I find it all incredibly inspiring. I have spoken on the phone to the man who runs the nursery and one day I will go and meet them. It reminds me of somewhere I went in France where a man did a similar thing with pumpkin varieties…. but the name of the place has slipped my mind now.

They do all sorts of research into other vegetables too, always with the home gardener in mind.

Tasmania, actually, is not dissimilar to France in the way that it has remained totally itself and has not been over-run by agri-business or any other big business but is full of small enterprises and individuals making the most of what they have in their area. I love this way of life dearly and would not now want to live anywhere different.

Here is the latest newsletter from Inspiration Seeds.

Here is another newsletter concentrating on the health and vitality of beans, fresh and dried.

Life is good.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Amaranth, hairy cucumbers and a glorious vegetable forest

My garden is expectedly quite unruly because, just like they say, “as is the gardener, such is the garden”! However, unruly gardens (and people) can have delicious surprises, shine out in bright colours from hidden corners and conjure up a wild yet peaceful scene reminiscent of the tangle of an English meadow at the end of a rainbow.

Amaranth, to me, is the pinnacle of beauty in a summer food garden. From the first sign of the brilliant red leaves at germination to the gorgeous, long tresses of flowers tumbling from the roof of the tall adult amaranth plant, months later, I am smitten! Looking from below up through the towering spire to the sunlight shining through the strong, sunset-like leaves brings from me a gasp and a dash for my camera.

It has been a 4 year struggle to get them growing tall and strong, here in southern Tasmania but at last there is success from a few that are self-sown in my green house. I am eating some of the leaves everyday and they just keep coming and keep growing. The small leaves go into my salad; the large, older leaves are chopped and mixed into whatever I am having for dinner, at the end of the cooking time.

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I find that basil grows best here in 30cm pots, filled with a rich potting mix. My favourite basil in this cooler climate is lettuce-leaf, which sounds flavourless but is actually fabulously tasty. The leaves are big, providing huge solar panels for making more leaves which, after all, is what basil is all about; leaves.

It is also the year of success with the Bari cucumber. Dozens of tiny, hairy little cucumbers are forming on all the plants, which will mature into juicy, pretty cucumbers originating in Bari, Italy.

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Bees are seeking new grounds for collecting nectar to make enough honey to get them through the cold of winter. In my garden the best place to find bees is on the fennel flowers and the leek flowers, both of which are abundant in my vegetable forest (that is, all manner of vegetables which have grown tall and set seeds).

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Fennel flowers make the bees and me smile; so bright, so cheerful, so delicious and so full of nectar for bees.
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Fennel seeds are wonderful picked when green then allowed to dry indoors or simply eaten straight off the plant
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Leek lollipops nod in the breeze.
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And bees love them.
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Red cabbage seeds are ready to collect.
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These lettuce seeds are going to just fall where they will and germinate when they are ready.
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A variety of late garlic is shedding its flower coat and revealing the beauty beneath
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Some point up, some down, some to the side; making a bed of little swords.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Storm to Send Shudders Down Your Spine

We had spent a glorious hour swimming and lazing in the sun at Little Roaring Beach before it was time for me to pack the car and head home. As we said goodbye, David commented that it smelled like rain and we could see the clouds coming across. We both noticed that, despite it being 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the sky was so black over the mountains that a distant bushfire glowed a brilliant red as if it were night time.

As I drove off a couple of spots dotted the windscreen but I was happy and feeling carefree after a wonderful weekend, thinking it would be nice to have some rain for our dry gardens.

The drive out of Dover is quite English, with pretty gardens giving way to green fields and rolling hills. From a still mostly sunny vantage point I could see a band of heavy rain moving fast across the valley I was coming up to and felt a frisson of worry at the speed of its passage. Oddly, as I drove down the slope, I could see debris on the road ahead and thought a trailer must have lost some mulch. However, only seconds later, I looked toward the sea and understood what was happening.

It still makes me shudder to think of the next hour. The glimpse I had through the trees, of the sea ahead and to my right was like nothing I had ever seen before; it had literally been picked up and thrown forward by winds later described on the news as a violent storm (103 – 117km/h). I thought at the time that I would stop at the next vantage point and take a photo but moments later the storm hit me, together with the torrential rain and the debris from the trees lining the road.

The forest bent to almost touch the road and I was terrified of branches falling from the gum trees and killing me. Cars approached from the other direction, all of us creeping along, trying to see through the torrential rain lashing our windscreens. I was looking for a safe place, away from the trees, to stop and wait for the worst of the storm to pass as more and more debris littered the road. I would come to a clear area, only to find I was on top of a hill where the wind was even more terrifying, so on I crept again.

Briefly I glimpsed a boat sailing, surrounded by violent, white seas, with another wave of water and wind about to hit it, and I hoped they were able to get to safety. I still wonder how they managed but have not heard any news of deaths at sea, on the news. However, a young man died when a tree landed on his car and I am just so grateful I got through safely.

At Port Huon the world was totally white, rain and sea lashed into foaming sheets. Because of the angle of the bay, the wind was coming almost directly from behind me and I decided this was where I would stop. I pulled off the road in a clear area and turned off the car, feeling the battering of the storm raging around me and unable to see anything through the windscreen because of the torrential rain. Suddenly there was an almighty crack of thunder. Lightening seemed to surround my car and once again I was scared to death of staying still so I started the car and drove on. The whole world around me was white with water; rain, an angry sea and lightening and it was hard to see the road.

I stopped another twice, after dodging fallen branches, feeling debris landing on my car and being hit time after time by violent walls of wind and rain. Eventually it started to recede to a safe level but I remember thinking that what I now thought of as “safe”, I previously would have called “wild”!

At Cradoc, just a few kilometres from home, a tree lay across the road and 2 damaged cars could be seen poking out from the branches. The passengers and drivers were ok and had started to direct the traffic around the mess.

I drove into my long driveway in serene sunshine, never being so pleased to arrive at a destination. I had been concentrating so hard on driving slowly and avoiding all the debris on the road that it was only when I came inside that I began to shake a little and the experience overwhelmed me, causing me to rush to the kitchen and make coffee!

I wish I had photos of the effects of the storm on the water because no-one would believe they were real. I cannot imagine the horror people must feel when worse storms than this destroy their homes, their towns and the lives of those they cherish.

You can watch a news report about some of it on the ABC here, but no-one seems to have captured the actual storm.