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


  1. Michele, we planted some of the amaranth seed you kindly sent us in November. The results were amazing- every seed must have germinated because the area soon became a carpet of red and green. It needed two thinnings to give the plants enough space to develop. More details and photos are on our blog at if you want to check out how they are going. Thanks again,
    Andrew and Heather

  2. Everything looks delicous -- I like your use of amaranth! Thanks for stopping by my blog :-)