Kitchen Garden Guides

Saturday, June 10, 2017

January 2014 Kitchen Garden Guide

Despite this week of real summer heat, the previous months of cold, wet and windy weather means that many of us are having trouble with our “summer” vegetables. I have self-sown miners’ lettuce, a cold season, salad green, coming up in my garden now when it normally comes up in autumn. There is not much we can do about the weather so I have decided to move on to attending more to the soil and to sowing winter vegetables.

Observe and Interact

This is the first principle of Permaculture. I have observed the weather and my garden and decided to take some action to work with, rather than against, nature.
Here is what I am doing to areas of my food garden that I have decided are never going to produce a worthwhile crop this summer. It is a ruthless decision but a good one. Excellent vegetables are available from our wonderful, organic, local market gardeners and small green grocers and I will still hope that my tomatoes will produce.
1.   I push over all the plants so they lie in the one direction, flat on the ground. Then, using a sharp spade, I chop it all up and leave it on the ground, weeds and all (as long as they are not seeding).
2.   I then sprinkle lime plus ash from the fire over as most of our Tasmanian soils are acidic and most of the winter veg we grow like alkaline soil. Ash also adds potassium and trace elements but has no calcium. Lime has calcium.
3.   If you have homemade compost you can add it next. If not, then do not worry.
4.   The next layer, when broken down, adds organic matter to a thin or hard soil, and is lucerne hay (Available locally. See her advert. in this paper). It is expensive but full of nutrients and you don’t need a thick layer. Pea stray would be great too. If you really don’t want to buy these, then newspaper could substitute, especially if your soil is already lovely and friable. Wet the layers of paper well as you go.
5.   Then, separated from the lime by the lucerne or paper, I add mushroom compost or cow manure or pelletised chicken manure or sheep manure. (Manure should not be mixed with the lime or nutrient take up is affected. By the time the paper / lucerne breaks down, the lime has dissolved into the soil).
6.   I will then add a thin layer of mulch such as ordinary straw. This keeps the soil life from the extremes of temperature as they break down the layers below.
7.   Water well as you assemble the layers. That way any future rain will penetrate and start feeding your soil.
8.   Plant out your seedlings into this in autumn.

 What to sow now and why

At 43 degrees south the days shorten and the light softens to such as extent in winter that is seriously affects the growth of plants. Think of the leaves of, for example, kale, as solar panels. With short days and the sun low in the sky each leaf needs to be twice as big in winter as in summer to catch the same amount of sun to power the plant. To achieve this growth by the end of autumn we need to sow these big plants now!! Once we get to mid-May food plants need to be full size so we can begin to harvest them through winter.
Moreover, we need to sow twice as many now as we would coming into spring when days are lengthening, so that we can allow the plants extra time to regrow after each harvest.
Getting the soil to its optimum condition for this time by working on it now will ensure your winter vegetables flourish. There is nothing more beautiful than picking vegetables that are dusted with frost, when you are rugged up in boots and scarf, fingers cold and the light sparkling on every leaf as the ice melts.
So, in trays in a sheltered spot I am sowing all my favourite soup, casserole and roasting vegetables, to eat by the fire in winter while I sip my homemade raspberry ratafia, blackcurrant cassis and Tas. pepperberries in vodka!

Fire and the garden

The recent reminders in the news about the Dunalley fires need action. Is there anything we can do to help protect our homes from fire? Most fires are not as devastating as the Dunalley fires and we can do some things to help reduce the flammability of our surroundings. Lush, deciduous trees and shrubs can replace those closest to the house, which contain oils, such as gum trees and even rosemary. There are excellent flammability lists on the Fire Tas website:


Almost everyone I speak to overwaters everything!! In the Tasmanian climate only minimal watering is required, unless extremely hot days are forecast.
I stick my finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle (first knuckle for pots). If the very tip of the finger feels dampness, I do not water, unless I am expecting extreme heat.
This encourages the roots to seek water down deep, where the soil moisture and temperature levels are more constant. If a plant develops shallow roots, it struggles to manage on a hot day as the soil around its roots becomes hot and dry very quickly and appears to need more water. Train your plants well and they will be happy, like your dogs and children!
Sow now
Plant seedlings
Brassicas, chards, kale, beetroot, fennel, parsnips and leeks for winter eating. Yes, sow now!
Tomatoes (summer might come late!)

Summer jobs

  • Prune stone fruits, put through chipper and use as mulch around the trees
  • Mulch young trees thickly, out to the dripline to encourage soil life.
  • Liquid feed citrus with fish and seaweed
  • Water seedlings with seaweed
  • Dead head roses and other flowering shrubs

Websites and books for summer reading

Blog - Food Garden Group- for inspiration from a food gardeners group in Hobart. Join their forum here.
Book -Travels in Blood and Honey: becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo

June 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

It has been a topsy-turvy autumn and some of the plants in my garden are confused. The forsythia is flowering as was the philadelphus and there are a few flowers here and there on fruit trees. The ABC Landline forecast for winter in our area is for warmer than average day and night temperatures with a 50% chance of average rainfall. Warmer winter averages affects fruit set of anything requiring winter chill.

The Chill Factor

Cold sweetens vegetables such as chicory. The multitude of chicories in my garden are at their most delicious from now until September. They truly are also one of the most beautiful plants in the winter vegetable garden. For information and photos please look at the Gardenista website and search for chicory. Glorious!
Cold winters ensure a good crop of apples, cherries and pears which have a chill factor, which means they require a certain number of hours below 7C to ensure an even bloom period. However, during mild winters, as is forecast this year, the chilling requirement may not be met and could result in uneven bloom, and hence uneven pollination and less fruit set. The table below suggests the chill hours required by various fruits. Of course within, for example, apples, there are hundreds of varieties, each differing slightly in its requirements but this table gives a general guide.
Apple 300 - 1200
Chestnut 400 - 750
Apricot 300 - 1000
Almond 400 - 700
Cherry – 500 - 800
Walnut 400 – 1500
Fig 100 - 500
Avocado NONE
Grapes 100 - 500
Citrus NONE
Kiwi 400 - 800
Pear 150 - 1500
Peach 150-1200
Persimmon 100 - 700
Pecan 150 - 1600
Plum 275 - 1000
Nectarine 150 - 1200
Quince 100 - 500
Pomegranate 100 - 300
Olive 400 - 700


Tasmania is surrounded by sea and yet we tend not to forage the shores and shallows for food. Did you know that our soils are low in magnesium and that this means your vegetables are too (unless care has been taken to add magnesium to the soil)? Magnesium is vitally important for our health. Magnesium can be added to the soil simply by adding seaweeds to your compost or liquid feed. Magnesium can be added to your diet more directly by eating the seaweed yourself. All of the longest lived peoples of the world eat many different sea plants; think Okinawa (Japan) and Sicily.
Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is a common seaweed in Tasmanian waters but it is an introduced weed, probably arriving on the bottom of ships and making a home from St. Helens to Dover. You can harvest it (or buy it) to your heart’s content because you are helping to control its spread.
Red Lettuce or Grateloupia turuturu  is another introduced seaweed to the Tasmanian coast. This one is nutritious and a colourful addition to your meal. Search the internet for photos so you can identify them. I don’t know of any plants in our seas that are toxic but, the sad thing is, some of our coastline has been raped by industry plus land and sea farming which has left toxic residues in our once pristine waters.

Winter herbs for health and flavour

Do you love pesto and lament the end of fresh basil from your garden? Well I make a wonderful pesto with chervil and almonds / tarragon and pistachios / parsley and walnuts.
There are so many lovely herbs that either grow and thrive only in winter or continue to hold their colour and flavour even in winter. The former includes the slightly aniseed chervil, with its pretty, soft ferny leaves which I grow as a block and clip by the handful, with scissors. Also in this category is coriander with its robust flavour and growth habit. A less well known and often misunderstood winter herb is angelica, with a pine-like aroma in its large, fern-like leaves. No need to bother with the stems which are traditionally candied, simply chop up the leaves and use them finely sliced with fruit or to line the bottom of a cake tin before baking. Parsley is a fabulous winter herb, readily self-sows and is useful all through winter in meals and as a wonderful source of vitamin C, in our climate where oranges are rare.
Interestingly, all these are members of the Umbelliferae or carrot family. The family also includes asafoetida, caraway, cumin, dill and lovage, to name a few.
Rocket is another herb that germinates and thrives during winter.
Herbs that hold their colour and flavour even in winter include rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, winter savory, bay and sage, although sage should be picked sparingly as it is much less vigorous in winter.

Local Crop Swap Group

Crop Swap Cygnet and Surrounds
“Crop Swap” groups started in NZ and are now Australia wide too. Check out Crop Swap Taranaki for a lovely video. Cygnet and Surrounds is a space to swap, give or share anything edible or related to food, in the spirit of abundance, generosity and fairness. No money will change hands. Whether you are a backyard gardener, home cook, forager, seedsaver, cuttings guru, pickle and jam maker or bread baker you are welcome. Check out the blog and facebook page now. Helpers also needed.

Seeds to sow in June
Sow in the garden:
Broad beans
Salad and spring onions
English spinach
Sow in trays to plant out later:
Globe Artichokes
Asian greens
Plant out
Asparagus crowns
Divide rhubarb
Winter herbs
Winter flowering annuals
Globe artichokes
Asian greens

May 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

    Late autumn is my favourite time of year in the kitchen garden. The harvesting and preserving pressures are finished, seeds have been collected and stored and the sowing and planting pressures of spring are months away. Now is the time to work on the soil, to reshape beds, to make compost, to prune, to make hugels, to protect tender plants and to sit on the verandah in the sun and watch the light as it changes day by day. Brassicas will be flourishing, Chilean guavas and cape gooseberries can be picked by the handful as you pass by, grape leaves are turning and apples arriving. Life is good.


    Energy is everywhere and now is the time to think about how to make your life attuned to capturing and storing it. In a handful of seeds is the energy to start a whole season’s food. In a bale of hay is the energy from a year’s pasture growth, ready to decompose and feed the microbes in your soil, which in turn feed your food garden. In a jar of fermented pickles are the fruits of a plant’s labour and millions of bacteria all working to provide your gut with life and energy. In a brick fireplace is stored the energy from the heat of firewood; trees that have grown for many years, capturing energy enough to warm us all winter. In water is the energy of life, without which nothing on earth can live.
    Which is the opposite of wasting energy - by driving cars out of your zone to get food, by draining your land instead of harnessing the water, by burning piles of prunings instead of making hugels, by throwing away your food scraps instead of making compost, by buying food brought from other lands, by using up oil reserves (eg in cling film, disposable bags, foam trays) we should be saving for important uses like saving lives.
    We are all worried about climate change. We are all the reason it exists. Therefore, only we can be the solution. By turning our thinking around we can all do it; by catching and storing energy instead of wasting it. Refuse packaged fruit and vegetables. Shop locally, really locally, starting in your backyard and those of your neighbours and friends. Then into your most local market and small, ethical shops. Eat what is there! Read books like The Food Clock by Fast Ed Halmagyi to help bring the joy of the seasons into your kitchen, your life and the future of humanity! It is not an exaggeration, dear reader. No excuse is good enough not to start today. It also brings such a joy of living and relieves so much stress just by changing one’s mindset.


    I think pumpkins must be the most celebrated vegetables in the world because everywhere you travel, there seems to be an autumn pumpkin festival. The shapes, sizes, colours and textures make us laugh with delight and the flavours can vary enormously from the French chestnut flavoured ‘potimarron’ to the sweetest ‘futsu’ and the crazy, knobbly ‘Galeaux d’Eysines’. Competitions for the heaviest pumpkin have brought fame to growers far and wide. I saw some of the most beautiful craft, using pumpkins, in a French pumpkin festival. Check out Victoria’s annual festival at a tiny place with the incredible name of Collector.
    And so I hope to encourage you to plan your pumpkin growing area now, browse seed catalogues, buy seed early and prepare yourselves for entering the fun of next autumn’s Cygnet Pumpkin Festival. Schools, clubs, families, individuals one and all, are invited. Details will emerge and grow, now that the seed of the idea has germinated!

    Weeds and more

    Many people in Europe still forage, not just for mushrooms, but for winter herbs and greens and roots which are native to their lands. Many of them grow wild in our gardens but we silly Australians pull them out, calling them weeds and give them to the chooks, who happily devour them because they are not so prejudiced! There is an excellent Australian book called The Weed Foragers’ Handbook, which I highly recommend. Soon, you will be eating from the garden without planting anything at all!
    Luckily, the cooler weather also heralds the end of the cabbage moth laying eggs on our brassicas. If you have not planted brassicas yet, it is now too late as the plants will not have big enough leaves to grow through winter. When spring comes, they will bolt to seed and you won’t get a crop.
    Autumn is a wonderful time for harvesting mushrooms, kale, French sorrel, salad leaves, early broccoli, rainbow chard, the last of our summer vegetables, the first of the winter weeds and a myriad of fabulous apples, pears and quinces. Many kitchen pantries are now bulging at the seams with preserves. Bring on winter and cosy nights by the fire with some home-made cassis and quince paste served with a delicious, local cheese!


    Tasmania is surrounded by sea and yet we tend not to forage the shores and shallows for food. That is a topic I wrote about in May 2016. Seaweed is wonderful for our food gardens too.
    As autumn and winter storms in the roaring 40’s send high seas crashing onto the shores of Tasmania, kelp and other sea plants are strewn on the beaches. I heard on the radio that we are allowed to collect seaweed from most beaches at the rate of 100kg / day in Tasmania. Seaweed is heavy, so that is not as much as it sounds. I have some great ideas for using it! Seaweed contains trace elements which we often neglect to think about in our food gardens (and our stomachs).
    1. Place tubs or large buckets here and there in your garden. Half fill them with seaweed and fill to the top with water. Cover if you like. Keep a ladle nearby. Whenever you see some plants looking a bit weak or off-colour give them a tonic of 1 part seaweed water to 9 parts water, in a watering can. Pour over the leaves.
    2. Completely cover your asparagus patch with a thick layer of seaweed during winter. Leave the rain and the worms to do the work.
    3. Seaweed is a wonderful addition to mulch under fruit trees.

    Sow in the garden now
    Plant Now
    Broad beans
    Bok Choy
    Mustard greens esp. frilly
    Miners’ lettuce
    Corn salad (mache)
    Shungiku (edible, Japanese Chrysanthemum)
    Salad and spring onions

    Leek bulbils
    Garlic cloves
    Large seedlings of Asian veg.
    Flower bulbs
    Sow in the hothouse to plant out:
    Broccoli raab
    Sow to stay in the hothouse or frost-free area:
    Sugar snap peas