After the rain….at last.

Welcome rain has filled the dam at Foxground this week.  Very much a relief after the longest, hottest dry spell in memory apparently.

Zucchini, capsicum and eggplant at Foxground

Zucchini, eggplant and capsicum.

Temperatures nearing 50C and way below average rainfall has caused all sorts of problems for farmers along the South Coast. There has been a feed crisis for our dairy farmers which places enormous strain on herds, farmers, their budgets and families. Still $1/L for milk?….seriously?!

Mid summer heat stress

Heat stress – shedding leaves mid summer.

This good soaking 180mm over 3 days will really help, and you can see the paddocks greening up almost immediately. Good follow up rain over the next few weeks and months is obviously critical to really make a difference.

Pigs in mud

Soaking it up – piggies love the mud!

There’s not much you can do when the soil is as wet as it is at the moment, but it is just so lovely to be in the garden, and see everything flourishing.

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The little creek, once again flowing past the vegies

My most favourite thing is the new sounds. Wet sounds. The creek ‘babbling’, the frogs chorus. I just wish there was a picture to express how amazing sounds ‘look’.

Frog on the reeds

Tiny blue-black frog on the reeds, by the dam

I guess on a blog, this will have to do….   🙂

The Yellow House

My lovely friend Charmaine, has been asking me to come and meet her neighbour for about 6 months now. I finally made the time this morning, and boy am I glad I did.  Over 3 years, Mim and Neville of Yellow House Heritage Perennials in Nowra, have converted a concrete carpark into a stunning heritage garden.

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My beautiful niece Sophie, enjoying the flowers.

Walking through the side picket gate, is to partake in a feast of colour, texture and scents. Lovingly tended and nurtured, hundreds of rare and interesting herbs, flowers and vegetables are everywhere you look, and Mim who is a practicing naturopath, can tell you all about the medicinal and culinary uses of every single one.

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Part of the Yellow House perennials nursery.

Like all passionate gardeners, she can tell you stories about how the seed of this was collected, or from where that cutting was ‘pinched’. Inspired by travels to famous gardens all around the world, the Yellow House – though only on a suburban block – feels like a little world all of its own.

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Neville and Jim enjoying the shade.

I’ve been looking for a source of French Tarragon for some time, and of course it’s here. Mim and Neville (a retired Heritage architect) will shortly be launching their online mail order business so that we can all access their extensive collection of perennials, herbs and sustainable plants.

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The Yellow House garden path…

I look foward to Feast Farms cultivating lots of these yummy edibles for inclusion in our beautiful salad mix, and to sell in bunches at our growers market every Saturday morning in Jamberoo. Between the Yellow House collection, and the unique vegies Tass Schmidt is cultivating at Jamberoo Valley Farm, we are rich for choice.

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Mim’s trike


Sadly though, I can’t plant anything more at the moment until either it rains like crazy for a few weeks, or we sink a bore at Warwick Park. The dam is getting seriously low. Need a new rain dance coach…

Turning up the heat!

I always said that our first year of operating a market garden was going to be a complete experiment. We have tested raising pigs for meat vs. saving them as pets, sowing seed vs. buying seedlings, staking tomatoes vs. wire mesh enclosures for them, and several different sprinkler systems vs. drip irrigation systems, just to name a few of the trials.  There have been some lovely successes, and some monumental disasters… or should I say, fundamental learnings!

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Jac and Gordon bean picking from the heavily laden vines

Jacqueline (Foodscape Tours), and her wonderful tour bus-driving Dad, Gordon visited today to help pick beans for this Saturday’s Jamberoo market. Notice the dangerous bowing of the stakes under the weight of the climbing beans in the photo above?  So, although hardwood stakes and twine were a lovely idea, the beans have been blown about way too much in the wind, and have required Andrew to reinforce the structure almost daily due to the weight of the produce.

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Eggplants and chard, the day after the 43 degree heatwave.

Along with the ‘try it and see’ challenges, we have had an abnormally dry spring and summer, by all accounts.  This has meant that we have given up using the sprinkler system altogether – as although the lovely Foxground breezes make for a comfortable working environment in the heat,  too much water was being blown away, and wasted.  Therefore, the half of the garden which hasn’t been kitted up with dripper hoses, (and the plans for root vegetables) has been let go – for now anyway – while we arrange more hose to replace where the sprinkler was intended to be used.

Jack by the dam

Jack by the dam – 11 Jan 2013

The dam from where we draw water for the vegetables is the lowest it has been for a long time, according to Kerry and Nicko, and our watering regimen is strictly, and carefully timed.  The cabbage moths seem to have moved on, and the fruit fly have only touched a few tomatoes, and we wonder if this is perhaps due to the very dry conditions?  I imagine the answers to so many of the very many questions we have, will only come after years of experience.

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Summer sunrise over the baths at Boat Harbour, Gerringong

But… despite the heat and the mixed result experiments, while ever we are blessed to have the opportunity to work this beautiful South Coast land at all, and to live 10 minutes walk away from being able to start every day looking at this glorious sun rise, no problem is really a problem at all.  All the challenges and learning opportunities are blessings, albeit sometimes in disguise.

Thanks, and please weed on…

Everything is growing, growing, growing… especially the dock, fireweed, Kikuyu, and the bill at the irrigation supplies shop….. but Feast Farms have invoiced their first customers – yay! (teeny amounts, but it’s a start).

Tom at Foxground – November 2012

Most importantly though, we (my wonderful, patient, often dragged along for the ride, family), are all still smiling and enjoying the learning. Many thanks to our wonderful markets customers each week, to Green Box and The Little Blowhole Cafe who are supporting our efforts, and of course to our friend Kerry, without whose generosity, none of this would be possible.

The gorgeous Kerry at one of our dawn meetings!

We had a visit from a Land journalist a few weeks ago, so keep an eye out for the early December issue of the paper for the ensuing story. Jacqueline is bringing Foodscape Tours to visit for the next three Saturdays which will be fun too. All the excitement just means one thing to me though… boy have I got a lot of weeding to do! Anyone want to come and help? I can pay in lettuces…. 🙂

Ham and Salad…

We have been running our Jamberoo Pub Feast Markets for a couple of months now, and some weeks Tass from Jamberoo Valley Farm brings down an assortment of her gorgeous heirloom variety seedlings. She has loads of beautiful varieties of salad greens, some very unusual such as delicate ‘bucks horn’ and ‘lamb’s lettuce’. Interesting tomato varieties too; and ‘casper eggplant’!

Tass and the Jamberoo Valley Farm seedlings

I have of course been unable to resist purchasing many of them, and they have been planted in Warwick Park’s garden.  Interested in having a look, P1 escaped from his comfortable enclosure last night, and when I arrived in the garden this morning he was having a lovely time taste testing the fresh garden offerings!

Ham and salad…

They say ‘happy as a pig in mud’, but let me tell you, a pig in a veggie garden is pretty chuffed too! He is led by his stomach though, and when offered his very favourite treat of creamy South Coast Dairy milk, he trotted happily back into his enclosure.

Taking stock

Running our little fresh produce markets at Berry and Shoalhaven Heads each week for the last 4 months has been a great test of my skills in the kitchen. Although I can do all the basics pretty well, and my family is reasonably well nourished, I don’t consider myself a cook.

Vegetable stock in the making

It makes it so much easier to prepare wholesome, tasty offerings though when you have plenty of great, fresh produce to start with. As our market’s customers know well (PLEASE tell me you need broccoli this week??), what we don’t sell, we have to eat. And customers are unpredictable…one week we sell out of bananas, the next we are googling “101 things to make using bananas”!

French toast and pomegranate

And then there’s The Press. If it was on MasterChef, or Kim Kardashian said it was good to eat, we can’t sell enough of it. But this has all been great for widening the repertoire of ingredients I can do something with. Some of the experiments have gone down well, (like pomegranate served with Classic Yoghurt and maple syrup), and others have been a disaster (seriously…does ANYONE know how to do a turnip justice??).

Fennel and english spinach in the Seven Cedars garden

All this learning has been great for giving me ideas as to what I need to plant lots of as my market gardens get going, (kale, beets, english spinnach, fennel), and what I just mean leave for someone else…to grow and to cook!

Purple perfect

Inspired by the first purple cauliflower in Feast Farm’s Seven Cedars garden, we had great fun this week with all edible purples. Pam kindly modeled our display as she was so appropriately dressed!

Pat in Berry with our display of purples…

Like all good fresh fruits and vegetables, these are not only chock-full of vitamins & minerals, but also naturally occurring phytochemicals which are responsible for the rich, vibrant colors of plant foods. Phytochemicals help safeguard the health of plants by protecting them from a variety of environmental toxins and stressors, including insects, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and disease-causing fungi. Scientists believe the beneficial compounds in plants can provide similar protection to the humans who eat them on a regular basis.

Vibrant violet and wet with rain.

Anthocyanins are the particular phyochemical responsible for the vibrant purple colors of ripe blueberries, cherries, black currants, rhubarb, beetroot and eggplants. Apparently, in humans, anthocyanins have been shown to boost levels of brain chemicals that influence memory and learning, promote healthy aging of the eyes, possess potent anti-inflammatory properties useful in the prevention and treatment of arthritis and other degenerative diseases, and a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that anthocyanins have powerful cancer-fighting potential. Wow!.. all those brains and good looks too!

Inspired by BD market gardens

Setting up a market garden from scratch is a little daunting to say the least – especially when it’s the middle of winter and you have committed to offering a tour of that non-existent garden in spring! (What was I thinking?!) I am seriously buoyed by visiting a couple of very productive gardens over the weekend though…one very established, and the other only a couple of years old.

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Toni in the field

Not that I think for one minute that my little operations can look any where near THAT good by spring, but after doing a Demeter BD workshop this weekend I am hopeful I will have something to show off. Our presenter was from Western Victoria where he has over 6 acres of vegetables in production, all superb quality, and grown beautifully vibrant without the use of a single chemical input.

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Engrossed participant!

Biodynamics teaches that everything the plant needs can be available to it by using the correct farming techniques, working to optimise the soils ability to feed and grow plants perfectly when they are provided with the right raw, natural ingredients to do so – just as nature does all by herself all over the planet. Our presenter had a load of great stuff to share, but my take away quote of the day, referring to ploughing with a tractor, was:

“You should not work your soil any faster than a horse can walk; whatever you do has got to be always considered and kind.”

Here here. Couldn’t you apply that philosophy in a few workplaces you know?! It certainly tells me I’m doing what I really want to be doing. How blessed am I. Want to join me?

Exotic Mushrooms

I have a fetish for mushrooms (see photos on multiple posts!). They are so elegant, fragile and often very beautiful. I really enjoy it then that Local Feast is the South Coast distributor of LiSun exotic mushrooms.

Heather at LiSun Exotic Mushrooms

Heather is so helpful each time I visit their cold storage facility in Mittagong, but although some are simple to identify, like the pink oysters above, many others look very similar to each other. I know I love the texture and nutty flavour of enoki, and unique wholesome benefits of shitake, but am happy to enjoy most of them cooked by the experts as several of the best local restaurants are using them on their menus.

Alien looking fungus…yum!!!

LiSun exotic mushroom varieties have been grown in a disused railway tunnel near Bowral for over 20 years now by Dr Noel Arrold, a microbiologist. LiSun are industry leaders in exotics, and you can find out more details on their website here. Green Box members can order them this week…if they’re brave! Local Feast would love your favourite recipe suggestions to share too.

The winter wait…

Sure, there are lots of lovely winter veggies around (the Seven Cedars snow peas have been running out of the markets!), but most things in even the most established gardens are getting along in slow motion. I was very lucky to get to visit Geoff and Anne Long’s very pretty Foxground garden last week, and with the exception of some kale and rhubarb, things are very quiet.

Anne Long & Andrew Britton

In this garden though, like all the others, there is a sense of resting; a pause. A peaceful contemplation in preparation for the bursting forth in spring. This beautiful block below at Warwick Park in Foxground is the site of a market garden in the planning for spring this year.

Warwick Park - before...

In two weeks time, and thanks to Buena Vista Farm, two little pigs will be commissioned to begin ’tilling’ the soil in preparation for spring plantings. All the plans are lining up, and it’s all go… well it will be… in spring. I can’t wait to get planting. But we just have to hurry up and wait…