Thursday, October 06, 2016

Warrigal Greens

JULIE Weatherhead and her husband, Anthony Hooper, describe it as one of the great lost opportunities in Australian agriculture.
The couple, who farm the 8ha Peppermint Ridge property at Tynong North in West Gippsland, says as early as the 1870s farmers could see the benefit of sowing native foods.
“We’ve gone through the history books and the first reference to warrigal greens in The Weekly Times is in 1871 when they say it is a far superior vegetable to European spinach,” Anthony says.
Warrigal greens, a spinach-type vegetable native to Australia and New Zealand, are also known as Botany Bay greens or Cook’s cabbage and have a weed-like ability to thrive on neglect.
“There’s a reference in the paper in 1918 which talks about how in the US they had taken warrigal greens and were commercially producing them,” Anthony says.
“So why didn’t native foods like the warrigal greens stay popular in Australia? Was it just lack of investment?”

Finger lime.
Finger lime.
Such is the couple’s belief in the benefits of farming and cooking native foods that they have just released Australian Native Food Harvest: A Guide for the Passionate Cook and Gardener.
The book follows their work at Peppermint Ridge Farm, which since 1983 has had them develop a bush foods garden and nursery. The foods are used in their cooking school, tours and workshops and, most recently, in a line of about 10 dried leaves, spices and teas.
Julie, who studied and taught environmental science, says the book summarises her 30 years of knowledge in growing and cooking with native foods.
“I have always been a plant tragic, especially native plants because of their ecological benefits and the fact they’re edible,” says Julie, who won a 1999 Gippsland Rural Women’s Award from the Rural Industries Research Council to investigate bush food farming around southeastern Australia.
“When I first planted the garden here I tried everything, even tropical plants such as kakadu plums, quandongs and desert limes.
“They didn’t work, which what I expected. “But I was surprised that many did work.”
Through finetuning, Julie created a list of 31 edible, perennial subtropical, temperate and cool climate bush foods, which all feature in the book and are sold at Peppermint Ridge, that can be easily grown outside desert and tropical climates.
“My criteria for those 31 was: Do they provide good habitat, are they attractive, are they low maintenance, can they be grown organically and not become invasive or weedy and do they have similar growth and soil requirements.”

A sprig of mountain pepper.
Lemon myrtle.
Australian Native Food Harvest provides garden designs for small terraces through to larger gardens.
“People always tell me they can’t grow them but they’re easier than you think. Anyone can grow them and then cook with them,” says the 59-year-old.
“Some are hardy, you can plant and forget them but some need more shade and shelter.
“I’m trying to take the mystery and anxiety out of growing bush foods.”
Julie says while high-end chefs are now discovering the benefits of using native bush foods, home cooks still remain a little reluctant.
Her top three native plants for cooking and growing are lemon myrtle, anise myrtle and mountain pepper, which can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, dried or fresh, while the twigs can infuse meat when used as kebab sticks on the barbecue.
All three can be used in pestos, herb sauces. Her most popular dishes in the cooking school are custards and ice-creams. Strawberry gum ice-cream and finger lime curd in a stack of macadamia meringues are the most requested at their cooking school.
“You recognise the flavours but they’re hard to describe. Strawberry gum is a combination of passionfruit, vanilla and strawberry.
“Finger lime is lemony but ramped up, very intense and anise myrtle is like a licorice lolly.”
Science is increasingly discovering the health benefits of native foods. Lemon myrtle alone, when compared to a blueberry, has 40 times the calcium, and 12 times the lutein, which is crucial for eye health.
“For Aboriginal people, these foods were their pharmacy but we’ve just ignored it,” Julie says.
“I have one section of the book where I talk about the corkwood tree and how it was used in medication in sea and airsickness. It was vital for troops in the D-Day landings.
“There are no negatives to these plants. What are we waiting for in turning them into crops and part of our cuisine?”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gardening: Bush delicacies to grow in your own backyard

                                           Finger limes are otherwise know citrus caviar.
                                                                    Nicholas Falconer
MOST of the food plants that we grow and eat originate in places other than Australia. But Australian native species sustained Aboriginal people for many thousands of years. It has been estimated that Australia has more than 5000 different edible plant species, so there's much to learn.
Of course, the most widely known and widely produced Australian native food is the macadamia nut. The delicious and nutritious nuts grow on a tree that can be up to 20m tall at maturity, so this is not something to grow in a small backyard. The trees can take 10-15 years to reach full production.
There are more than 50 species of lilly pillies and most of these produce edible fruit. Syzygium 'cascade' is one of the most popular ones for the garden because it only grows to about 4m tall. It's a very attractive shrub, great for screening, and has lovely pink, juicy fruit. Many native fruits have a tart flavour, and experts often recommend that we use them in jams and conserves.
The flavour of finger limes is exquisite, and the flesh is made up of a collection of small balls resembling caviar. These balls are full of juice and bubble around beautifully if dropped into a gin and tonic, or soda water. Try tossing them into salads too. Finger limes produce fruit from a young age and are hardy, easy to care for, and can be grown in pots or garden beds.
Other trees that produce edible fruit include Randia fitzalanii (native gardenia, also called yellow mangosteen), Podocarpus elatus (also known as Illawarra plum, plum pine, or brown pine), Davidsonia pruriens (Davidson's plums), and Acronychia imperforata (Fraser Island apple).
Diploglottis campbelli (small leaf tamarind) is endangered, with only approximately 30 trees left in the wild in their natural habitat of Northern NSW. It will grow 7-8m in an open garden situation, with a beautiful spreading crown. The fruit is tangy and can be eaten raw or used in conserves and chutneys.
If you want an edible ground cover, you could try Carpobrotus glaucescens (native pigface), with its succulent stems and red fruit that taste like salty strawberries, or Tetragonia tetraganoides (Warrigal greens or native spinach).
And then there are the plants that produce aromatic leaves used for flavouring, such as Prostanthera (native mint bush), Backhousia citriodora (lemon myrtle), and Alpinia caerulea (native ginger).
Of course, please ensure that you know exactly what you are harvesting before you start snacking on it, or serving it in creative ways to your friends and family.
Not all fruits or plants are safe to eat, and the consequences of eating the wrong things can be most unpleasant.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Nursery At Home

The weather is fine and all looks well. I decided it time to take some photos around my home, pausing on plant life.

We look through the glasshouse as this is the beginning of plant production. I begin propagation here by placing cuttings into propagation box.

 Looking in through the glasshouse door

Propagation box sitting on the original heated bed. New propagator is small and cheaper to run

Into the potting on area with potting bench, pots and plants growing on.

Shade house with Grevillea Ned Kelly at the entrance.

Looking across benches of plants growing on, showing size and quality after 6 weeks of growing.

Bench where I prepare cuttings, with orchid in flower.

Plants I have growing in containers on display.
fine fronds on maidenhair fern

cyclamen grown fro seed

selection of plants in flower on the front steps.

Plants in the garden showing some promise.
cyclamen growing in garden bed, many from self sown seed.

pathway around front of house

looking up front verandah to begonias in flower at rear of photo.

Anigozanthos Kings Park Federation Flame (first class kangaroo paw)