Monday, March 16, 2009

Of mangroves and amaranth

Mangrove seedling growing at MPYE

At MPYE where I volunteer on Mondays, ten thousand mangroves are being propagated for use in a mangrove revegetation project at Coronet Bay in Westernport. MPYE is in partnership with retired scientist Dr Tim Ealy, who has been awarded an Order for Australia for his work in replanting mangroves to stabilise eroding cliffs, restore water quality and allow seagrass to grow again. The disappearance of seagrass has implications for the local fishing industry as it is a breeding area for fish. The mangroves stabilise the suspended sediment that otherwise smothers the seagrass. Mangroves have all but disappeared from Westernport due to development, dredging, and so on - the usual suspects.

At MPYE, the mangrove seedlings are growing in milk containers, set in salted water.

MPYE is built in the site of a former sewerage plant. This photo is taken from inside one of the decommissioned concrete tanks. The mangroves are in the background at right.

MYPE veggie patch: tomatoes in foreground, corn and sunflowers in background

The veggie patch at MYPE is producing a bumper Autumn harvest: tomatoes, cucumber, corn, lettuce, parsley, spring onions, and silverbeet. Much of it goes to the volunteers and workers. I hope one day when the planned cooking classes are up and running that it can be used in the MPYE kitchen.
MYPE veggie patch: view to the west

The patch, which is huge compared to my inner-city courtyard garden, is set out in a grid with wide mulched paths. In the past it's been cultivated in blocks of plants, but I've started mixing things up a bit by interplanting sunflowers and trying out some combinations for microclimates: cucumbers grown under the filtered light provided by sunflowers has worked well, and lettuces interplanted with parsely are doing fine under bean trellises. A big container of manure tea goes on beds before planting out, along with chook-poo enhanced soil. I've started a couple of compost bins, and am fertilising with worm wee that's been languishing in a storage shed until recently.

Petits pois a la Francaise, courtesy Nigella Lawson

I couldn't think what to do with the gigantic cos lettuces coming out of the MPYE patch, until I remembered watching Nigella Lawson put together a dish she called "petits pois a la francaise" - principal ingredients are lettuce and peas.

Rhubarb muffins, recipe from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion

Two fine rhubarb plants at MPYE yielded rhubarb for two batches of rhubarb muffins, recipe courtesy of Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion. No pre-cooking of the rhubarb is required: you just chop it fine and put it in the muffin batter and it cooks with the muffins.

Peninsula patch
Amaranth nearly ready for harvest on the peninsula patch

Harvesting and processing grain amaranth (Amaranthus hypchondriacus) has led me to do a bit more research on its nutritional features. A bit of information on the protein component of grain to start, lifted straight from my undergraduate botany course! When the nutritional content of grain is discussed, protein and amino acid content are usually at the forefront. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein (and are proteins themselves). There are 9 "essential amino acids": these are the ones that we get by consuming protein in our diet. The other 11 are "nonessential" in the sense we can make them ourselves from other amino acids.

Amaranth harvested from the peninsula patch, drying at home

Although the cereal crops we commonly consume (wheat and corn) are high in protein, the proteins in both grains are low in the essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. Legumes complement these grains in our diet as legumes are high in lysine and tryptophan. How does Amaranth compare? With a protein content of about 16 percent, it sizes up well against conventional varieties of wheat (12-14 percent), rice (7-10 percent), maize (9-10 percent), and other widely consumed cereals (see Amaranth: Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop). However, the white flour that's milled out if Amaranth grain only has 7% protein, which is not substantially different from the protein content of wheat flour used in white bread.

Amaranth protein has nearly twice the lysine content of wheat protein, and three times that of maize, and in fact as much as is found in milk-the standard of nutritional excellence.

As it contains very little functional gluten, Amaranth must be combined with wheat flour if you're baking loaves. But in fact flour is not the main use of grain Amaranth. In Mexico and Central America, bundles of baby weed amaranth known as bledo (which grows liberally in farmers’ fields) are sold as pot herbs. According to the Rodale Institute, "Vegetable amaranth has been rated as equal or superior to spinach in taste and has substantially more calcium, iron and phosphorus."

Amaranth grain can also be popped, and is used widely in this form in baking flat breads and crackers, but also in sweets. In Mexico, for example, popped Amaranth seeds are dried, mixed with honey and baked to make a popular candy bar called alegria.
Winnowing grain amaranth harvested from the peninsula patch. Winnowing separates the grain from the chaff. The fan blows the lighter chaff off the top, leaving the grain.

Inner city patch
Squash and zucchini are coming out of the inner city patch, but as it's now late in the season and we've had rain and humidity, there is powdery mildew on the leaves, which means there's not long to go for the plants. My partner and I have been using the squash and zucchini in quiches, tarts and in (sourdough) pizza toppings.

Squash and mushroom tart: the fine food stylings of my partner account for the beauty of this tart
Despite lush early growth, the tomatoes against the western wall have failed, yielding very few fruit. I'm pretty certain it's lack of sun - the wall only gets about 4 hours of morning sun. It's a good lesson. Beans don't do well on that wall either. The only thing that's worked so far is climbing cucumbers, and this sits with my MPYE experiment of growing them in filtered sunlight, under sunflowers.

A small tomatoe crop from the inner-city patch

Solar-powered farming equipment

I just love this. The idea that you can harvest and mill wood on a small farm with solar energy makes me very happy.

Marie Antoinette

No comments:

Post a Comment