Thursday, December 18, 2008

5% - Shame Rudd Shame

This week, the Rudd Labour government announced a disgustingly low emissions reduction target of 5-15% by 2020. March, write letters, call your local member. Kick up a stink. Visit Greenpeace Australia or the Australian Conservation Foundation for more information.

December rains
Luna enjoys the sun in the tomatoe patch
Melbourne has had a good week of solid rain. The smell, feel and sound of it has become distressingly unfamiliar, and Melburnians welcomed it like an old friend returning from a long absence. After a few days of wet, a kind of bittersweet nostalgia came upon me. I remembered childhood summers of heat interspersed with weeks of wet, days spent lying on my bed reading and waiting for the beach weather to return. How sad that Melbourne kids won't know this kind of summer.

The inner-city patch
Tomatoes in the inner-city patch
In town, the tomatoes are rampaging up the western wall of the courtyard. This year I've pruned them to let more light and air in, which hopefully will help avoid the grey mould that attacked them last year (possibly Botrytis cinerea). Beans (Frederico) are competing with chinese snake cucumbers (see the January 2008 Land for Veggies post) on the trellises. I probably planted the beans too close to the more more timid snake cucumbers. I've collected seed from mustard, broccoli and rocket. Unfortunately, the broad beans didn't produce much this year - probably lack of water.

On the balcony are trays sown with cos lettuce and some more tagasastes.

Male kiwifruit
The male kiwifruit has really taken off. Apparently it shouldn't be allowed to intertwine as it chokes itself, and I can see how this would happen - it hardens off very quickly after first growth. I love its prehistoric look

Male kiwifruit
Sweet basil raised from seed is growing well in the inner city and on the peninsula. A few weeks ago I received some 'limelight' basil seeds from a work colleague and will try sowing them direct. Other seedlings sown include squash, capsicums, some more zucchini and a few more sunflowers.

Peninsula patch

Peninsula patch goes off
On the peninsula, the recent rain has turned the main patch into a forest of green and gold. Nastursiums are climbing all over the gate that forms that western wall of the patch, and the self-seeded dill is popping its umbels up everywhere. But most importantly, the grain amaranth sown Aug-Nov (see the March 2008 Land for Veggies post) is finally taking off - exciting.

I dug up a couple of comfrey plants from the inner-city patch, divided them and planted them around the border of the peninsula patch. After only a few weeks, they're flowering prettily. Comfrey is one of those iconic permaculture plants - multiple uses: compost activator, weed barrier, chicken fodder, mulch and more.

Comfrey roots, ready for division

With microbiology out of the way, I've started volunteering at Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises, near the peninsula patch. It's an amazing place. The two-hectare site includes a substantial plant nursery (mostly natives), vegetable garden, chooks, woodworking and metalworking areas, art areas, and now a brand new kitchen. The organisation provides training opportunties (horticulture, metalworking, woodworking) to long-term unemployed and other disadvantated community members. The plant nursery supplies plants to local conservation groups, including Landcare and coast action. I've mainly been helping out in the veggie patch, but have also done some work propagating natives.

From the inner-city patch, the first beans were mighty tender and tasty.

First summer bean harvest
The tamarillo tree yielded one, lone tasty fruit, but there is the promise of more.


Potatoes galore are being harvested from the peninsula patch. They go very well in a salad with Christmas ham (diced and fried), herbage from the garden (chives, tarragon, sage, parsley), and herb vinegar (see below).

After some success with soudough tortillas, I tried some more flatbread but this time with a pastry of amaranth flour and a filling of warrigal greens from the garden. It was mighty tasty. I adapted the recipe for the filling from this turkish ispanakli gozleme recipe, substituting warrigal greens for spinach. The amaranth flatbread had a kind of earthy taste, not unpleasant, but not as much to my taste as the sourdough flatbread.
Amaranth chapatis with warrigal greens filling (filling adapted from a recipe for ispanakli gozleme)
It's getting hot in here
With a few square metres of mature mustard plants in the inner city and peninsula patches, I thought I'd have enough seed to make whole-grain mustard. Here's how I went about it.

Step 1: the vinegar
First step was to steep some vinegar in herbs, for mixing with the mustard. I bought some fairly cheap white vinegar and put it in a preserving jar with the following herbs from the garden: rosemary, french tarragon, thyme, and sage.
Herbs steeping in vinegar
Step 2: harvest the mustard seed
I harvested the mustard as soon as it started browning off (if you wait too long, the seed-heads split and drop), chopping up the plant into manageable chunks and storing it in paper bags for a few weeks to completely dry off. As I had three big bags, I had to store them in the living room, which made the room smell a bit odd for a few days! After three weeks, I threshed the dry material: basically pushing it through a rough sieve, and then a finer sieve. Finally, I winnowed out the remaining chaff using the same technique as I used for the amaranth seed (see the March 2008 Land for Veggie post).

Step 3: putting it all together
When the herbs had been steeping in the vinegar for 3 weeks, I strained off the vinegar by pouring it through muslin.

I then pounded the mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle. I made hard work of it, but after watching my partner give it a go I realised I'd been doing it the wrong way. Here's some good info on mortar and pestle technique. Because I wanted a fairly chunky mustard, I didn't aim for a fine powder. I really just wanted to bruise and break the skin of the majority of seeds.

I then added just enough water to the seeds to make a thick paste, and let this sit for 10 minutes.
Trial batch of mustard with water

Finally, I added some of the vinegar, testing and watching for consistency as I went. For the finishing touch, I added honey, oil and salt, tasting as I went. I'm pretty happy with the result, and apparently this mustard gets better with age, although keeping the mustard more than one month in the fridge is not reccommended.

I made about 2 cups in total - a lot of work for not so much reward, but I'm sure there are quicker techniques for the harvesting and grinding part of the equation, the two most time-consuming parts.
From left, mustard, herb vinegar strained, extra pot of herb vinegar with herbs still steeping.

The sourdough journey continues
An ongoing favourite in the house is the sourdough pizza, which has improved muchly since my partner gave me two pizza stones for my birthday. I also use the pizza stones when baking the sourdough bread. Placed above and below the bread (the bread tin goes on the bottom stone), they seem to even the heat out so that the bread is more evenly baked.
Sourdough pizza
Until next time.

Marie Antoinette

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Crank it up

Garden bed with freshly laid compost

The summer heat is cranking up the pace of compost making in the tumbler and here's the result: a composted garden bed, ready and waiting for some cucumber seedlings. I wonder if the speed of this batch was also due partly to the addition to the compost of buckets of azolla from the bathtub pond, which is covered in it.

Because I had such success last year with the snake cucumbers (Cucumis melo var utilissimus), I've raised lots from seed this year and am planting them in the bed that had mainly tomatoes and beans in it last year.

Seedlings of snake (climbing) and spacemaster (Cucumis sativus, bush form) cucumbers

To spread the tumbler-compost love around, I bought a second-hand tumbler ($150 off eBay) and took it down to the Peninsula patch for my father to try his hand at it. It's a different model to mine, a little smaller but I think it will work, even with the less-frequent turning that it gets down there. The one thing that's missing from it is a central spindle to help aerate the compost.

Growing notes from the inner-city patch

Apart from the cucumbers, I've planted out the following seedlings, raised from seed:
  • beans (Frederico)
  • zucchini (Fordhook)
  • tomatoes (Tommy toes, Black russians, and Green zebras)
  • sunflowers
Bean (Frederico) seedlings on the balcony
Tomatoe seedlings protected from the marauding birds; Grape climbing in background

Coriander and lemon basil seedlings from the plant lady at Monash lunchtime market went in in September. By now the coriander is big enough to harvest so I've used it in a batch of chicken pho (rice noodle soup), along with vietnamese mint that's growing in the bathtub pond, some chillies frozen from last year's harvest, and chicken stock made by my partner.
Passionfruit vine in the inner-city patch
The passionfruit vines climbing on the side of the house are producing their gorgeous flowers. No fruit as yet though.
Passionfruit flower in inner-city patch
I failed to raise any eggplants from seed, despite two attempted sowings. I may resort to buying seedlings. Any tips appreciated on growing from seed would be appreciated.

Some volunteer jerusalem artichokes have sprouted in strange places in the garden, far from where they grew last year (in between pavers in the path), so I pulled them up and will give some to my uncle who wants to grow them. I'll plant a few in the garden, but not so many as last year - the harvest was overwhelming!

A 'strawberry grape' (
Vitis vinifera 'Fragola') given to me by a colleague in my Seed Savers Group, and planted in August is doing well against the pergola support, alongside my standard table grape (don't know the variety). The male kiwi fruit that looked all but dead over winter with some kind of fungal growth decimating its leaves, has bounced back. I hope to see it 'go feral' this summer, as kiwi fruit are apparently wont to do.

I've saved lots of parsley, rocket, dill and mustard seed. With the addition of mustard seed harvested from the peninsula patch, I should be able to make some homemade mustard this year.

The peninsula patch
On the peninsula patch, I've continued planting the Amaranth seed that I saved last year, in successive sowings. It takes a while to germinate, and I think I may have sown it too thickly, but it is competing OK with the red clover (Trifolium pratense) and woolly vetch in the same beds.

Under my father's orchard, a couple of the leguminous groundcovers I sowed earlier in the year are finally getting going: the red cover appears to be the most successful.
The borage is also going nuts and has self seeded all over the place - it is a bee magnet - you can hear the humming as you approach the orchard. I still want to try to get some pinto's peanut (Arachis pinto) going as ground cover, but that will have to wait until next year.

Soil testing drill on Peninsula property

The permaculture plan for the peninsula property involves a dam. In preparation for the dam build, I organised a soil test: a bloody great big drill mounted on a truck arrived at the property on a rainy October day. The drill went three metres down and encountered: red-brown silty clay (moisture content 26%), followed at 1.5 m by brown, mottled orange-yellow silty clay (moisture content 48%) and finally at 3m brown mottled orange/yellow silty clay with a moisture content of 55%. We got a report with a rating for the desirability of the soil for use in rolled-earth dam walls and lining: basically not great but probably doable with a good contractor who knows what they're doing.

In preparation for the plantings planned for the swale, I've attempted to grow some Tagasaste (
Chamaecytisus palmensis) from seed. The plan uses these and indigenous acacias as nurse trees for fruit trees to be planted along the swale. Strike rate wasn't high, but I've got seven growing well and will try some more.

Harvest news

Greens harvest from inner-city patch
In the inner-city patch, the greens harvest has included mizuna, rocket (most of which has now bolted), parsley, broccoli side shoots, and chard. We use any left-over greens, and broccoli and beetroot leaves, in the dog food mix we make up for our little jack-russell-daschund cross: kangaroo meat, magimixed greens, oil, salt and any leftover bread or rice or other carbs. Our dog tries to lick the greens off the meat, but the oil keeps them firmly stuck on - devlish.

Beetroot harvested from the inner-city patch

This year the some of the beetroot (white and red) haven't been such good eating: stringy and fibrous. Not sure why. I've also started to harvest the broad beans, but it's hard to get enough for supper when all I want to do is eat them raw straight off the plants!

Beetroot, mizuna and rocket salad

Beetroot and broadbean salad on labna (yoghurt cheese), with mint and parsley

The sourdough journey continues

I'm still baking at least once a week, using the same basic recipe that I posted here a while back. Most times I bake a wholemeal and rye sourdough, but I've also tried a wholemeal and white bread loaf (when I couldn't get any rye). The rise is much better than with wholemeal, but I prefer the taste and texture of the wholemeal. I've started donating my wholemeal sourdough starter to friends, one of whom tried it in a bread machine with good results.

Sourdough rye and white
With leftover dough, Veggieman and I made tortillas. Veggieman did some expert rolling and tortilla fashioning. A video demonstrating his fine technique is slated for the next post of Land for Veggies.
The inner city patch

That's it from me. Back to the books - soil microbes and fungi and their role in the carbon and nitrogen cycle. Just my cup of tea - or should that be worm wee?

Marie Antoinette

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stoolish and poolish

Calendula in the inner-city patch to attract pollinators

A friend who visited Texas recently told me that stool softeners are a staple of Texan bathroom cabinets. Apparently the diet of most Texans is so poor that they have become an accepted part of life. It's partly due to lack of availability of fresh food: although they have huge supermarkets, fresh food is not always on offer in them, and fresh food markets are few and far between. And so, the knowledge of how to cook fresh, simple food has slipped out of collective memory.

I've been inordinately possessed by this sad fact. What a bizarre state of affairs it is - obesity and constipation in a land of plenty. On the other side of the world, there is hunger and poverty: stuffed and starved, as in the title of Raj Patel's book. Patel looks at this contradiction as more than a lifestyle issue (in the West) or a simple problem of not enough food being grown (in the developing world). He draws together the threads connecting the production and distribution of food by global corporations to the contradictions of obesity and famine: "overweight and hungry people" are "linked through chains of production that bring food from fields to our plate . . . . the concerns of food production companies have ramifications far beyond what appears on supermarket shelves. Their concerns are the rot at the core of the modern food system."

Harvest news

Broccoli, beetroot, silverbeet, rocket and watercress are filling the harvest basket these days. Mizuna (Brassica rapa nipposinica) is nearly ready to pick.

I pulled one tamarillo off the tree, which seems to be suffering from a fungus and a mite infection, despite recent white oil and bordeaux sprays. It tasted like passionfruit - yum.

Growing news
The mustard has flowered and is setting seed. I should have enough to make some mustard in a couple of months - anyone got any good recipes?

On the peninsula patch, I've sown some Amaranth seed, harvested last year, and plan to do successive sowings all the way through to November. Hopefully I'll get just enough grain to bake with.

Under the orchard, I've sown red clover (Trifolium pratense). It's leguminous - I'll cut it back just before flowering to release nitrogen. I also planted out some Salad Burnet into the orchard.

This pepino comes from a potted one that was getting a bit big for its pot. Petra Kahle of Permaculture Southeast (Melbourne) told me I could just separate it at the roots and pull out some new plants. Seems to have worked. I'm hoping I can train it up the side of the tanks on this trellis.

Warding off the stool softeners

Since my last post, the sourdough breadmaking has continued apace. I now bake twice a week and am making loaves with a mixture of wholemeal and rye flour, with seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower. I'm still using the organic, wholemeal, stoneground starter. I think it's getting better with time. Working with rye flour is a challenge - while it is supposed to have less gluten than wheat flour, I have found it stickier to work with. But the taste at the end is worth it - a lovely buttery caramel flavour.

I've made some changes to the basic technique in my last post, based on experience. The key lesson is that the second rise should be shorter than the first - otherwise you risk overising the bread. In microbiological terms, this probably means that the yeast (Candida milleri) and bacteria (Lactobacillus sanfranciso) have entered a stationary or death phase, rather than being in the exponential growth phase. I've also learnt not to overknead the dough after the first rise. Instead of kneading it at this point, I fold it, following the technique shown here. The aim of kneading the dough after the first rise is to redistribute the nutrients and degas the bread, but just a bit - enough so that the carbon dioxide doesn't retard the yeast but not too much so that you lose the gluten network - the holes that produce the holey texture you're aiming for in the finished loaf. Another change I've made is that I use only filtered water (I just use water from our filter jug, heated up a bit) so that I'm not putting chlorine (our local water is chlorinated) into the dough - chlorine is antimicrobial.

I'm finding I have leftover dough - not enough to make a third loaf - but enough to use. So I've started making pizza base and pita bread out of it. The pizza base is fantastic - the sourdough taste goes very well with all the traditional pizza toppings. The pita dough was a mistake that I've since adapted - I was trying to make pizza base but I rolled it out too thin and in the baking it separated into two layers and puffed up, just like a pita pocket: how fortuitous. I freeze the bases and pita for later use.
Tuna and cheese melts, in sourdough pita

By the way, apropos of the stool softener thing, whole wheat bread has 3 times the fibre of white bread. Soluble fiber acts as a filter to help prevent some substances, including cholesterol and glucose, from being absorbed into the blood. It also acts as a stool softener, preventing constipation, which is related to colon cancer and diverticulosis.

That's it from me for now.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chasing the sour crumb

The winter inner city patch is yielding rocket, mustard, silverbeet and herbs, but apart from that pickings are fairly slim on the substantial veggie front. The broccoli have leafed up with great vigour, but the heads are too small for my liking. The insignificance of my broccoli heads was brought cruelly home to me as I watched Peter Cundall in his last stint as presenter of Gardening Australia pull out broccoli plants from his Tasmanian veggie patch with obscenely large heads. This is my third year running with this problem. Any suggestions as to how to improve the harvest would be much appreciated.
Warrigal greens (New Zealand spinach)

With pickings out the back so slim, I've been eyeing off the Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides) in the front garden. Early last year, I was given some seeds by Paul Fogarty who helped permablitz the inner city patch. I planted them out the front last summer and a couple have come good. It seems to like the cold weather, which makes sense as it's a New Zealand native (it's also called New Zealand Spinach). I cooked some up into Warrigal greens pesto. The recipe calls for Warrigal greens and Sea parsley (Apium prostratum), but I substituted Italian flat-leaf parsley from the garden for the Sea parsley - still tasty.

Warrigal greens and parsley pesto

I've also been raiding frozen produce, including the bags and bags of Jerusalem artichokes harvested from the inner city patch over summer. My partner and I made a dent in them by cooking some of them up in a Jerusalem artichoke risotto.

Activity in the patches
In the inner city patch, it has been mostly maintenance such as spraying the citrus, kiwi fruit, and tamarillo with white oil to control scale (in the case of the citrus) and mites, and watering the potted plants with worm wee. I made the white oil according to a recipe by Jerry Coleby-Williams from ABC-TV's Gardening Australia. On the balcony in the weak winter sun are a few boxes of winter hardy seedlings: Mizuna (Brassica rapa nipposinica), spring onions and Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor).

I've planted some perennial flower seedlings to increase the pollinator and beneficial insect population: Gaillardia Amberwheel, Lavender Bee Pretty, and caldendulas (Calendula officinalis).

Strawberry seedlings planted in a mound in the orchard on the peninsula patch

Where I work there is a Friday lunchtime market and a lady has started up a stall with home-potted seedlings for sale, mostly edible. I've bought comfrey, watercress, pyrethrum and strawberry (Fragaria ananassa, varieties Tioga and Aromas) seedlings from her. All have gone in down on the peninsula. The strawberries I put into the orchard where I'm trying to build up an understorey layer. Never having grown strawberries before, I did some research and ended up building a long mound and planting them into it to asist with drainage. I planted them with the top of the root ball partially exposed (I think this is called the strawberry crown). I plan to move one of the self-seeded borage (Borago officinalis) plants next to it over the next few weeks - borage is a recommended companion plant for strawberries.

Borage in the orchard

In the herb garden on the Peninsula patch, built by the Compost Queen, I've done some weeding, laid down some chook poo, and sowed some rocket, which has germinated in record time - probably because it's been raining buckets down there over the last few weeks, interspersed with glorious sunshine.
Rocket germinating in the herb garden

My sourdough journey

My homegrown sourdough starter

At a recent permablitz at the house of friends Susie and Alastair in Preston, I looked in on a sourdough making workshop that produced two loaves of very tasty goodness. I begged some starter culture off Kat Lavers, who ran the workshop and have been a little obsessed with getting it right ever since, although I've since made my own starter from scratch.

Although the rising times in bread making don't suit my impatient nature, there are many things to love about sourdough, apart from the taste. There's the fact that it requires neither store-bought yeast, nor a fancy bread-making machine. Instead, you get to breed up and care for a living culture of microorganisms, the starter, that you can keep forever and share among friends and family. The basic ingredients for sourdough (flour, water, salt) are cheap, simple and easily obtainable. Not many people make bread by hand any more. If you know how to make sourdough, you're one extra step away from supermarket dependency. When I get further down my sourdough journey, I'm sure an added bonus will be the opportunity to experiment with different ingredients like nuts, seeds, herbs, and different types of flours.

There are many, many good internet resources about making sourdough, some of which are listed at the end of this post. It's the kind of hobby that breeds obsession, including my nascent one. I'm even reading about the microbiology of sourdough, but that may be because I'm also studying microbiology.

One of the frustrating things for a beginner (I've never made bread before, let alone sourdough) looking for information on the internet, is the number of times you come across such bla bla-ness as "trust your instincts and your hands" and "when it feels right, it probably is right". When you're starting out, you don't have any sourdough instincts. And if all you seem to be able to do is make bricks, that kind of hippy wisdom is not very helpful! So, for what it's worth, here is what I've found works for me, after many failed attempts. The guts of this is taken from John Ross's excellent non-nonsense site 'John Ross's sourdough basics' with some shortcuts (as I've mentioned, I'm impatient) and hotbox tips thrown in. It's probably not great sourdough, but it sure is tasty, and there's nothing like an early win to get you fired up for more action. These instructions exclude the making of the starter. For info on how to make starter, check out John Ross's site.


1) Rig up a hotbox
Make yourself a hotbox - a warm, preferably enclosed environment where the bread can rise over extended periods of time in a fairly stable temperature. I made mine out of a polystyrene esky with a hot water bottle at the bottom (thanks to my partner for this idea). The lid of the esky sits fits fairly loosely so as to allow some air in. The bowl and tin I use to rise the bread in are big enough so that they kind of wedge into the esky, sitting perched above the hot water bottle, but not directly on it (this would be too hot and would heat the base unevenly, methinks). The ideal temperature for raising sourdough is said to be 27 degrees celsius but I didn't use a thermometer - I'm trying to keep things simple.

2) Proof your starter
This step is designed to ensure that your starter is active. Take 1/2 cup of starter (put the rest back in the fridge to hibernate) and add 1/2 cup flour (I use wholemeal flour) and 1/2 cup warm water. Mix in well. Put the mixture, still in the container you mixed it in, into your hot box. For this stage, you can just put the container, which is probably smallish, at the bottom of the esky in the middle, with your hot water bottle leaning up against the side of the esky but not touching the container. Leave it there for at least 3 hours. If it has formed lots of bubbles, and has increased a little in volume (it should look somewhat like the photo above), you're in luck. If nothing's going on, you may need to let it stit a while longer or nurture your starter for a week or so. I built my starter up over 3 weeks (see links below for starter making info).

3) Make the batter
In this step, you make the "batter" or "sponge" and it's basically the same as proofing the starter but with more flour and water. (Before you start on this step, put aside some proofed starter as starter for your next loaf - if you didn't have any starter left over in the previous step). Add 1 cup warm water and 1 cup flour to your proofed starter. Put the mixture in your hotbox for about 2-3 hours. As with the previous step, it is ready when it's increased in size, but this time it should increase more as the whole mixture should be active by now. This is your batter.

4) Make the dough and set it out to rise (1st rise)
For this step, you'll need 2 cups of batter, 3 cups flour (I prefer wholemeal), 2 tbsps olive oil, 4 tsps sugar, and 2 tsps salt. To the batter, add the sugar, salt, and oil. Mix well, then knead in the flour a half-cup at a time. I do it in a bowl with my hands and finish it on the bench, and instead of flouring my hands to avoid stickyness, I wet them (this prevents the dough getting too floury). As John Ross says, flour amounts are approximate. I think if you're using wholemeal flour like I am, you may want to stop at 2.5 or 2 and 3/4 cups rather than going all the way to 3. I left my dough a bit wetter than the non-sourdough dough I've made in the past (pizza dough and flan bases). The test for whether you've kneaded it is enough is to stretch the dough between your hands. If it skins out in plane, it is good. If it just breaks up into ropy strands, it's not done.

Shape the kneaded dough into a circular form (don't worry too much about shape at this stage; that comes in the next step), put it in a wide bowl (to give it space to increase in volume) and put it in the hot box for a couple of hours. "Let the dough double in bulk: when a finger poked into the top of the dough creates a pit that doesn't "heal" (spring back), you've got a risen dough." (from John Ross).

5) Set the dough out to rise again (2nd rise)
Take the dough out of the hotbox, and knead it a bit more. Form it into a loaf and put it in a floured tin. To help prevent the loaf sticking, you can scatter seeds (i.e. sunflower) or oatmeal in the tin before putting the bread in. I haven't yet tried slitting the top to let it rise better in the overn and make it look purty, but you could - this would be the step at which you do this. Put it back in the hot box and let it rise again, but this time for a shorter period of time. You don't want to overise it, otherwise you won't get any oven rise. Don't let it double in bulk - increase by a third is enough.

6) Bake it, bake it good
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius, put your tin in and bake the loaf 30-45 minutes. This is contrary to John Ross's advice - he reckons you should have the oven at 180 degrees and you shouldn't pre-heat it. He also says you should leave the loaf to cool - but I reckon half the fun is eating the hot bread just as it's come out of the oven.

A success. I think this could be a 'crumb' shot. Sourdough enthusiasts talk a lot about 'the crumb'.

Fresh-baked sourdough - with someone poised to eat

John Ross's Sourdough Basics
Taming the Wild Yeast
Dan Lepard
San Francisco Sourdough

Marie Antoinette

Monday, June 09, 2008

Grains of truth

On the 25th-27th April, just outside of Goulburn, NSW, my partner and I attended a 'Designing Water into Landscape Earthworks' course, taught by Geoff Lawton and Darren Doherty. Together with about 60 other participants, we learnt the theory behind swales and dams, keyline design and dam and swale construction. Under the direction of Darren, Geoff and Nick Ritar of Milkwood Permaculture, we used surveying equipment and surveyed and pegged out a swale, then watched it being built by an earthmover.

Darren Doherty teaching inside the newly built swale

Earthmover in action, building the swale

Use of a keyline plough in the construction and planting of a swale

Also on the agenda at the course was a session with a keyline plough, which ripped the downslope of the swale to accelerate water infiltration and promote aeration and biological activity.

Close-up of one of the tines on the keyline plough: coulter in front

The shape of the tine on the keyline plough is designed to minimise soil inversion so that the inert subsurface soil is not brought to the surface. The shape of the tine is also designed to minimise compaction, both vertically (shear) and horizontally. The depth of the furrow in our case was no more than 12 inches. The furrow cavity created by the plough coulter and tine, combined with the roller that follows (not shown in the photo above) makes a small amount of topsoil fall back in the cavity. If you're seeding (seeding boxes are available) this assists seed germination.

Darren Doherty recommended two passes of the keyline in the context of planning and building a swale. Before the swale is built, a first pass should be done in Autumn over what will be the upslope and downslope of the swale. In the case of the downslope, the keyline ploughed area should include the area immediately adjacent to the swale, which will become the swale mound. Then, in spring, after the swale is built and organic matter development has accelerated since the last keyline, another pass should be done. This second pass can be run at an offset to the original path. Approx hire cost for a keyline plough: 2 hectares per hour @ $50 per hectare.

With the second pass, a compost tea application should be done. Compost and compost tea was covered briefly in the workshop, and since then I've been reading up on large-scale home-built brewing kits built using second-hand spa parts.

Immediately after the swale has been built, sow a cover crop on both sides of the swale. Start with a scatter mulch of 1 bale straw to 40 m. Scatter mulch should be thin enough to just not see the ground, but not too thick as to supress germination. Just before the cover crop flowers, flatten it (Darren suggested dragging reo behind a three-while bike). Plant trees directly in the mulch.

My partner and I took our contour map and draft swale and dam plan for the peninsula property to the course and managed to get a few minutes of Darren's time to discuss it. We got some valuable feedback on our plan, including good hints on setting up a header tank and drip irrigation system. We now feel much more confident about moving ahead. I'm working on a planting design for the swale and area below and my partner is shopping for surveying equipment on eBay.

Against the grain

Back in the city, I enjoyed reading 'Against the grain', John Lethlean's fine rant against 'rice in a bag' in the the Age's Epicure section. Railing against ads for pre-packaged foods ads is a favourite pastime at my house. It seems like ads for these kinds of products address their audiences with a knowing, commonsense wink that says "you and I know that cooking fresh tasty meals is all very well for some (other) people but it's something we don't need to make time for, or invest time in learning". Looking at the bigger picture, pre-packaged foods are big on food miles and packaging, and therfore embodied energy. Our reliance on them corrodes the social fabric and distances us from the source of our food. Sounds like a big call, but think about it - cooking for friends and family is part of the social glue that holds families and communities together. Knowing how to shop and cook fresh ingredients ties us to the seasons, and to the land and the way it sustains us.

The peninsula story

With Winter setting in, I've invested in new gardening footwear. If I could wear these inside too I would. How perfect are they - eminently slip-onnable and stylish to boot (pun intended). Purchased from a Rivers clearance store for a bargain $30.

Growth is slowing right down on the peninsula patches, but potatoes planted earlier in the year are kicking on, as is the indestructible rhubarb.

Luna in the potatoe patch: perhaps she is catching the future scent of roast kipflers

Rhubarb after division

I divided the rhubarb, somewhat inexpertly, having never done it before, and planted another plant on the opposite side of the patch. With the rhubarb harvest I made a rhubarb and apple tart (recipe from Stephanie Alexander), which went down very well (two helpings each) with veggieman and the cross-country king.

Rhubarb and apple tart, just out of the oven

Under the trees in my father's orchard I've been putting out the chookpoo-and-chips mixture that we have so much of, and sowing with nitrogen-fixing groundcovers. Towards the beginning of Autumn I tried pinto's peanut (Arachis pintoi), a perennial legume that is often used as an orchard groundcover. Unfortunately it didn't take - I don't think there was enough rain to get it going. In late Autumn after we had some rain, I tried again with red clover (Trifolium pratense), a biennial legume also used as an orchard groundcover. Looks like I've had more luck with that. The borage planted early last year has also self seeded under one of the apple trees.

After a really dry summer, it's lovely to see the small dam on the property full again, and so pretty . . .

Inner-city patch

The beans kept soldiering on till late May and I put them into a quinoa dish with mint and lemon from the garden.

Quinoa with beans and mint-honey dressing

Quinoa with bean and mint-honey dressing

Makes 2 servings

Chopped beans (I've also made this dish with zuchinnis and cauliflower instead of beans)
½ tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp mild honey
3/4 cup quinoa
2 spring onions, chopped (can substitute chives)
sprig chopped fresh mint

Wash quinoa well in a fine-grained metal sieve. Cook quinoa in boiling salted water (enough to cover quinoa generously, but not as much as rice), uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together lemon zest and juice, butter, honey, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Drain quinoa in sieve, then set sieve over same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don't worry if lid doesn't fit tightly) and steam until quinoa is tender, fluffy, and dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (still covered) 5 minutes. Add dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in corn, spring onions, mint, and salt and pepper to taste.


I cleared one of the beds, put out compost from the tumbler and some chook-poo-with-chips from the peninsula property on one of the patches and planted it out with broad beans and parsley on one side, and red cover on the other (spare seed).

Herbage is kicking on, including chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) and watercress. Chervil is great in potatoe salad, with sage, chives, parsley and any other sympatico herbs you've got kicking around. With the watercress, I made a watercress and sour-cream sauce for a steak and teamed it with the last of the beans.


Steak with watercress sauce, beans and potatoe roesti

I've also been seedsaving, mainly dill, parsley and rocket, but also beans and tomatoes.

I leave you with an image of Luna on the peninsula property, tail in curlicued readiness.

Marie Antoinette