Last weekend we were in Bathurst to speak at the Farming for the Future conference organised by Greening Bathurst. What an exciting and inspiring event. The venue was full not only with older farmers but a surprising number of young farming families keen to grow sustainable food. the Conference certainly delivered. The program brought together the leading practitioners in regenerative farming:
Col Seis who helped facilitate the pasture cropping movement world-wide and in 2015 was named one of the top 6 most influential farmers in the world.
Charles Massey, grazier and author of the Call of the Reed Warbler
Graham Finlayson a farmer of the year and Nutfield Scholar who is demonstrating how grazing in the semi-arid zone on 7000 ha, could be turned around using stock to to regenerate whole landscapes.
Martin Royds who has turned traditional agriculture in his neighbourhood on its head, and increased his productivity to 230% per DSE. He has won a number of awards including:
And Peter Andrews OAM who has gained fundamental insights to the natural functioning of the Australian landscape that leave him almost without peer.
What all these speakers have in common and made clear, is that agricultural practices, operating in isolation from the environment and only focused on the productive unit rather than the the geography, the climate, the soil and the environment, as all aspects of the farm, do not work.
So what is regenerative farming?
It applies ecological principles to food / farm production, while taking care of natural resources and valuing biodiversity.
Agroecolgy is the term being used by international policy makers. It is not a farming practice as such but provides the principles or the ethos for food production. It links ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
It is about:
Since 2014 the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation has embraced the term Agroecology. Natural Sequence Farming, Holistic Farming, Biological Farming, Permaculture and so on, are all Agroecology in action as they all essentially follow the same ethos or principles.
It was a great honour for Wynlen House to share the stage with these leading innovators in the farming sector. We were also the only women farmers on the program. (One for the team) We were included because we are a highly productive, very small farm, practicing ecological farming and intensive poly-culture, in recognition that small farms are as equally as important as large farms.
By 2012, in the international arena, the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation had radically changed its thinking acknowledging that diversified farming systems in which the small-scale farmer produces grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products in the same field or garden out-produce the yield per unit of single crops such as corn grown alone on large-scale farms.
A large farm may produce more corn per hectare than a small farm in which the corn is grown as part of a poly-culture. But, productivity in terms of harvestable products per unit area of poly-cultures developed by smallholders is higher than under a single crop with the same level of management. Yield advantages can range from 20% to 60%, because poly-cultures reduce losses due to weeds (by occupying space that weeds might otherwise occupy), insects, and diseases (because of the presence of multiple species), and make more efficient use of the available resources of water, light, and nutrients.
The inverse relationship between farm size and output can be attributed to the more efficient use of land, water, biodiversity, and other agricultural resources by small farmers. So in terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers.
This brings us back to Wynlen House.
From little things big things Grow
The recent warm weather and spring rain has been great for the produce garden. Every day you can visibly see the the garden growing. It is abundant with energy and life. The bees are buzzing and the wrens & finches are fluttering in the shrubs and flowers.
While the garden is blooming at this time of year unfortunately so are the weeds. Just as all the herbs, vegetables, and fruits are growing joyfully so are all the unwanted plants we commonly call weeds. In fact they often seem to grow at greater pace than the plants.
At this time of year when there is so much planting to do, weed management is a high priority, especially in fallow beds. By late winter we have a number of beds which are no longer productive and of course end up completely overgrown. As you can see from the photos wild weeds is no exaggeration, hence the need for extreme mowing.
Our current management of wild weeds starts with extreme mowing. With overgrown weeds under 40cm we use the mower and catcher. The waste caught in the catcher we spread on other beds to be turned in. On wild weeds that are closer to 60cm or higher we do not use the catcher on the mower as it is quite difficult to mow wild weeds of this height with a standard mower. If you have a slasher you might choose to use this to cut back the wild weeds. I am not a fan of these tools hence my practice of extreme mowing. Once the bed is mowed it is then covered with plastic to solarize (kill the weeds) in the bed. With the heat of the last few weeks, the solarizaton process is complete in less than a week. The bed is then turned over with our trusty tiller or this can be done with a garden fork or broad fork. Over the course of a week a totally overgrown wild weed bed is ready for planting.
October has heralded some glorious spring weather. We have had the best rain for nearly a year, mild temperatures and no frosts for weeks. Our frost covering have been lifted for a month and now we have started to remove the cloche frames. Even if we get a late frost now, it is unlikely to be hard one and the plantings we have in the garden should not be affected.
While the temperatures have been mild and without frost for a few weeks the soil is fairly cool. In our garden this week the soil temperature has just reached 16°. This is still quite cool for the germination of the majority of summer seeds. See attached file
Beans will germinate at 16° but pumpkins, chilies, peppers, eggplants… all require warmer soil temps for good germination. The summer seeds we started in the cold frame and under plastic particularly the cucumbers and pumpkins are ready to plant out and consequently bed preparation is our current highest priority. Our early October potato plantings are just starting to germinate and we will continue potato plantings up to early December. We will be moving the hot house within the next week and well established plantings of tomato, peppers, eggplants, chili and basil seedlings will be in the ground, in the hot house by the end of November.
This time of year is also when the garlic (early season Turbans) mature. Bulb development commences around 8 weeks prior to harvest. The only way to check whether bulb development has commenced is to move the dirt away from the stem down to the roots. If you do this gently you will not cause any damage to the plant. The appearance of the scape indicates that harvest is only 2 to 3 weeks away. If you would like to know more about when you garlic is ready to harvest you can purchase our mini guide.
We are looking forward to the first garlic of the season.
I hope you enjoy the photos of our garden at the moment
Reconsidering watering practices in a drought
While we have had some lovely misty rains in the past few weeks, this does not mean that the drought is over. Our total rainfall so far this year is still less than 50% of our average annual rainfall.
The two most water conserving watering methods are hand watering and drip irrigation systems.
First, your soil needs to be well worked as this aerates the soil allowing for good water penetration and it is necessary to use a watering can with a very broad rose a or a rose type attachment for the hose. This type of hose attachment allows the water to fall gently on the garden bed, packing down the soil in the bed less, and the plants are not hit and damaged by a hard water spray. If you choose to point the fan downward, stand as far away from the plants as possible and/or keep the water pressure adjusted to a low point to minimize soil compaction and water damage.
The advantage of hand watering over drip irrigation is that dust, grime, and insects are washed rom plant leaves and it also creates a deliciously moist atmosphere conducive to good plant growth and thriving microbial life. With hand watering, water needs can be tailored for each crop. Every plant receives the specific amount of water it needs which results in better growing conditions and more productive harvests. Freshly seeded beds are watered lightly and more often, established beds are watered more deeply. Some crops are watered daily, others every second or third day, or as the weather dictates.
To determine how much water to give a bed each day, strive for a 3 to 15-second “shiny.” When you first begin to water, a shiny layer of excess water will appear on top of the soil. If you stop watering immediately, the shiny layer will disappear quickly. You should water until the shiny layer remains for 3 to 15 seconds after you have stopped watering. The actual time involved will differ depending on your soil’s texture. The more clayey the texture, the longer the time will be. A newly prepared bed with good texture and structure will probably have enough water when a 3-second shiny is reached. A month-old bed (which has compacted somewhat due to the watering process) may require a 5-to 8-second shiny, and beds 2 to 3 months old may require more than that. Note: It is important to realize that we are watering the soil, so that it may thrive as a living sponge cake. We are not watering the plants. The soil in turn then “waters” the plants. Keeping the soil alive will help retain water and minimize the water consumed.
When you water is also an important aspect. Watering is best when the heat of the day first subsides. This is about 2 hours before sunset during the summer and earlier during the winter. Also, plants do a significant amount of their growing at night, and this ensures they will have plenty of water to do so. If you water early in the morning, much of the water will be lost in evaporation caused by the sun and wind, and the watering will be less effective. By watering in the late afternoon, the water can percolate into the soil for 12 hours or more before the sun and wind reappear in strength. When they do, the bed will have a good reservoir of water from which the plants can draw before their next watering.
(reference: How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons)
Drip-irrigation systems are efficient because the water is delivered drop by drop over a long period of time, and this provides plant roots time to absorb waterborne nutrients gradually and continuously.
Our current watering practices at Wynlen House is a mixture of both hand watering and drip irrigation. We are hand watering beds when they are first planted for about 6 to 8 weeks depending on plant growth. Once plants have grown to where they are covering the bed and little soil can be seen we are using our drip irrigation system.
In this picture we are still hand watering this bed, however we have the drip irrigation system in place for when the plants are larger
The rain over the last 3 weeks has been very gratefully received and a welcome relief for everyone.
This time of year can be a confusing time in the garden with wonderfully warm, heading towards summer days, followed by light the fire and shivering back into winter. While the warm days make us think that we can start planting for summer, the soil temperatures are still quite cool and summer seed germination is still some time off. However while it is too early to plant summer seeds into the garden it is a great time to get summer plantings started as seedlings in a protected spot, hot house, cold frame or the window sill.
This variation in temperatures can also cause vegies that have been sitting quietly in the garden through winter to suddenly burst into flowering. While this is not ideal it does not mean that these plants are inedible. While the flower stem can become woody, this usually takes a few weeks. Leafy greens that have suddenly shot up can still be harvested for their leaves, turnips and some other root vegetables can still be eaten for 2 to 3 weeks after the emergence of the the flower stalk. The only exception to this is with leeks. As soon as the flower stalk starts to emerge the leek is no longer edible as the flower stalk creates a very hard core within the leek.
It also an exciting time in the garden as the winter dormancy is over and everything is bursting with the joy of life. The fruit trees are blossoming, and the hum of bees fills the air. Finches, wrens and willy wagtails flit and sing in the burgeoning garden growth. And of course hand in hand with all this wonderful garden growth are the weeds. Just as the vegies have been sitting quietly in the garden through winter so have the weeds. Managing the weeds needs to be a priority as these too are bursting into flower and seed.
Our favourite weeding tool for this heavy weed infestation of early spring is the stirrup hoe. But even with good hand tools, this year (the year of the nettle at Wynlen House) with the huge nettle infestation we are having to do much weeding by hand.
On a final note I came across this really interesting article in the Guardian about drought in our dry continent. Well worth the read.
Over the five days of the event we attended 3 taste workshops. These taste workshops were Slow Food Presidia projects. These projects aim to support and protect:
Tasting food is a total sensory experience. It not only involves the taste buds but it is also a visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile experience.
Parmigiano Reggiano - Vertical Tasting.
The setting: The magnificent Palazzo (palace) Graneri della Roccia and its evocative blend of baroque and contemporary architecture.
It is a wonderfully ornate room, set with tables in rows, and the service is formal. The panel includes the master cheese maker, the wine maker and the cheese expert. The first tasting is a cheese aged for 2 years and 42 days and commences with the cutting of the cheese wheel weighing 40 kilos. The master cheese maker explains the process:
First step is about sound. A hammer is used to bang the cheese - there needs to be a strong hollow sound. Next a thin taster like a needle is inserted for the initial taste which is eaten of the side of the hand. Then the first of a number different knives is used to cut through the rind.(a hooked "Unico Doppio" blade) The first cut of the rind is made right around the middle of the wheel. Four, (Pavia” or “Milano" blades) pointed almond shaped knives are inserted at the compass points of the cheese and then another four (Cuore” Parmigiano) larger, almond shaped, double-bladed knifes are inserted on the alternate diagonals. The insertion of these knives are to ease the wheel open Finally, the flat (Premana) knife is inserted to crack the halves of the wheel apart. Fantastico and very theatrical! This cheese along with 5 other vintages were served.
While the service was occurring, a discourse on the cheese making occurred:
The parmigiano reggiano was made from the milk of the white cow of Modena. In the 1950’s there were 140,000 head of this cattle breed, but over successive decades it suffered a steep decline, corresponding to the unstoppable rise of the Friesan. Friesans have very high milk production between 16 to 30 litres a day, where as the white Modenas produce 8 to 11 litres a day. However while the Friesan cow produces quantity it does not produce milk to make quality cheese. The milk from the white Modena cow has been proven as the best
milk for this cheese production. The coagulation of this milk is slower and this factor is key in the making of the cheese. The milk is sent straight from the cow farm to the cheese maker, without heating or cooling so as to keep as much of the bacteria / enzymes alive as possible. Warm air is blown across the curd keeping the temperature around 70 degrees so as not to kill the bacteria. Parmigiano is a living cheese with the protein turned into peptides. Friesan milk coagulation lasts about 9 minutes while Modena milk lasts 11.5 minutes.
The tasting consisted of 6 vintages of parmiagano regianno: 24, 36, 48, 60, 72 and 84 months. To taste we were advised to sniff first, smell, feel, (must be eaten with the hands) and then taste. A great deal of discussion ensued about the qualities of the different vintages. This also included discussions with the cheese maker about the weather conditions when the cheese was made, the meadow conditions etc. The taste changes in the vintages were detectable and interesting. The 24 month vintage had some spiciness and a bit dry; 36 months - slightly sweater; 48 months - well balanced; 60 months - this was my preferred one. It was really good. 72 months - dry and an ‘interesting taste'; 84 months - I didn’t really like. Each tasting was accompanied with a wine.
The event was really interesting and it was amazing to taste such beautiful cheeses and great wines. It was a wonderful merry day.
The taste workshops offer a way of learning while tasting (and smelling, touching, hearing and seeing), stimulating the senses while delving into topical issues and fascinating products and hearing stories directly from the producers.Terra Madre Salone del Gusto events program
The Conferences and Forums, gave a strong and impressive voice to alternative thinking. The program aims to encouraging us to widen our perspective and discover how, for better or for worse, food can change the planet. Speakers of international fame will confront the global economy, human and animal welfare, happiness, the environment, the kitchen, food in the arts, and more. Terra Madre Salone del Gusto events program
Can Agroecology Feed the World?
Miguel Altieri,a Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
Miguel commenced the forum by summarising the major problems with industrial agriculture and global food empires:
Agroecology applies ecological principles to food production, taking care of natural resources and values biodiversity.
Agroecology is not a farming practice as such but provides the principles or the ethos for food production. It links ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
It is about:
Yacouba Sawadogo is a Burkinabe farmer Burkina Faso who has been successfully using a traditional farming technique called Zaï to restore soils damaged by desertification and drought.
Yacouba Sawadogo spoke next. He is an older man known as “the man who stopped the desert” He is responsible for developing or readapting a farming technique known as Zaï.
“Zaï or Tassa is a farming technique to dig pits (20-30 cm long and deep and 90 cm apart) in the soil during the pre-season to catch water and concentrate compost. The technique is used to restore degraded drylands and increase soil fertility.” Wikipedia
Yacouba talked about his life and how his interest in Zaï came about. He explained that he was a merchant with a small plot of land around his home. In the 80’s there was severe drought and his countrymen were hungry and sick. He knew that there were traditional medicines that came from the trees and bushes, but most of the the trees and bushes had died. He had small number of trees on his land and decided he should grow more and so this is what he did. He drew on old knowledge to get his trees to grow and they did.
“If we take care of our earth we can get anything from it….Each of us needs to live in our environment…Chemicals destroy the soil, where there is lack of truth there is destruction…”
10,000’s of hectares that were no longer productive had now been made productive using Yaciuba’s techniques. He shares his knowledge and conducts training programs.
Anuradha Mittal, founder of the Oakland Institute, is a considered an "expert on trade, development, human rights, democracy, and agriculture issues". It is headquartered in Oakland, California
The final guest speaker was Anuradha Mittal who explained the work of the Oakland Institute. “The Oakland Institute is a progressive think tank founded in 2004 (by Anuradha Mittal.) It’s ethos is Change Begins with Informed and Active Citizens.”
Anuradha talked primarily of the land grabbing taking place in Africa with the support of the World Bank. The Oakland Institute has been looking at this issue for a number of years and is deeply concerned by what is taking place. She stated that currently 40% of the landmass of Africa is owned by global companies. Anuradha further explained that governments are coerced into these arrangements.
…”Recent initiatives have focused on supporting industrial agriculture and large agribusiness companies at the expense of family farmers. The World Bank’s “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” (EBA), is one of these initiatives. The EBA is a benchmarking tool created in 2013 to foster “policies that facilitate doing business in agriculture and increase the investment attractiveness and competitiveness of countries…With the EBA, the World Bank is adapting its Doing Business index to agriculture, ranking countries according to“the ease of doing business.” In a series of reports, the Oakland institute has documented how the ranking system of the Doing Business index has created harmful competition among countries to reduce or remove economic, social, and environmental safeguards and regulations… https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/about
The last part of the forum was about considering change with the focus on consumers as being a major part of the agricultural system. Terminology was considered paramount in this discussion. Is the usage of the word consumers useful? Anuradha put forward the view point that consuming is a very negative term; to use fuel, time, resources; fire consumes, it is a term that implies a lack of control or powerlessness. We need to change the language so that we see ourselves as active positive enablers.
Slow Food has introduced the term co-producer. “A conscious consumer who goes beyond the passive role of consuming and takes an interest in those who produce our food, how they produce it and the problems they face in doing so. In actively supporting food producers, we become part of the production process. The term co-producer was coined by Slow Food to highlight how collectively our consumer choices can bring great change to how food is cultivated, produced and distributed.”
Food for Thought
When further considering the concerns raised about 40% of the landmass of Africa being owned by global companies, I decided to do some research on foreign land ownership in Australia. Successive Australian Governments have and are continuing to allow foreign countries to “invest” in our resources and land. According to the Guardian Newspaper the proportion of foreign ownership of Australian farmland in 2013 was as follows::
Totally foreign owned = 12.4%
50% or higher foreign ownership = 7%
Foreign ownership between 10% and 50% = 5.2%
This equates to a total of 24.6% of Australian farmland being in foreign hands along with 1.8 million megalitres agricultural water entitlements.
The countries in order of highest foreign investment in agriculture, forestry and fishing are UK, USA, Canada, Singapore, China. This however is somewhat insignificant compared to the mining sector which had an estimated $230bn in foreign investment at the end of 2013. The Reserve Bank Of Australia estimates that four fifths of Australian mining operations were effectively owned by foreign interests. 83% of mining profits were accrued to foreign interests in 2009-10. Looking at the three largest 'Australian' miners, foreign ownership accounts for three-quarters of BHP-Billiton, over 80% of Rio Tinto and 100% of Xstrata.
Combing the foreign ownership of Australian farmland along with foreign investment in mineral resources may well see Australia equal that of Africa’s 40% land mass owned by foreign or global companies. Definitely an issue of concern and worthy of further discussion.
Terra Madra 2016 Food for Thought… or should that be Thoughts on Food
Terra Madra Salon del Gusto is all about food. Where it comes from, how it is grown, who has grown it, how many ways can we prepare it, what does it taste like, can you store it...
We had the pleasure of participating in a number of cooking schools including two with world renowned and Michelin star chefs.
The Vegetable World of Xavier Pellicer
“Barcelona has recently declared itself veg-friendly, and restaurants where vegetables take center stage are sprouting up around the city like mushrooms. But none have yet reached the heights of Xavier Pellicer’s Céleri. After winning two Michelin stars for Àbac and taking over from the late Santi Santamaria at El Racó de Can Fabes, Pellicer has chosen to dedicate himself to the world of plants, overturning the central axis of cuisine by putting animal protein at the service of vegetables. You’ll taste two of his dishes, including the famous beet gazpacho, a perfect example of the marriage of tradition, flavor and technique. These will be paired with a selection of wines from Les Caves de Pyrene, who’ve been specializing in the finest French and Italian estate wines for over 25 years.” Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016 events program
Xavier explained that Celeri emerged after a transforming time in has life in which he discovered real food grown bio-dynamically and Ayurvedic medicine. Out of his understanding of these two practices has emerged Celeri, where paying tribute to the produce is paramount and menu combinations are designed with an Ayurvedic understanding of the delicate balance between mind body and spirit. The focus of the meals has shifted from protein to vegetables. Menus are prepared with meat or fish not exceeding 20% of the meal.
Celeri is especially designed with an open kitchen with chef’s work counters which extend out towards diners to create a unique dialog between the two. “The public will be able to be with the chefs, observing the meal’s creation form start to finish, from cooking the dish to serving it and bringing it to the table,” stated the chef. The cooking and the dining experience being a transparent process. All the food used in the restaurant is grown without the use of synthetic or chemical substances and the origin of the product, and how it was produced is of key importance.
He created two dishes for us to experience; a beetroot gazpacho and another featuring the white aubergine. Xavier explained the reasons for his choice of ingredients. “Beetroo tis connected to the earth; grapes add sweetness to the acidic gazpacho…” The white aubergine was cooked “Asian style with white sherry, spices and onions; I used vermouth today as this location is the building where vermouth was made”
Needless to say both dishes were sensational There was a presentation of simplicity in the gazpacho but the subtlety of the flavours was truly wonderful. The white aubergine had a rich deep flavour profile enhanced by a weblike slither of a regional cured sausage. Both dishes were a tribute not only to the featured vegetable but also of the chef who is creating a new philosophical approach to the dining experience.
Sergey and Ivan Berezutskiy, Travelling Along the Trans-Siberian
“The Berezutskiy brothers are reconstructing the common perceptions regarding Russian dishes by focusing on regional diversity. The most famous chefs of Russian nouvelle cuisine, they craft their dishes using modern technologies and traditional ingredients, revisiting culinary traditions in an explosion of flavours that will soon win you over to the gastronomic joys of this country.To drink, a selection of wines from Batasiolo, La Morra (Cuneo)."Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016 events program
“We are more interested in Russian products and tastes from different regions. Russian cuisine before the revolution was very regional, like in Italy: people in the Urals did not really cook or eat similarly to the people in St. Petersburg. In our kitchen we try to combine foods peculiar to different regions to create an integral Russian taste. We try to innovate pre-Soviet dishes and reflect on the contrasts and similarities between regions and are committed to using ingredients that originate within the country.”Sergey and Ivan Berezutskiy," Terra Madre Salone del Gusto Media Centre 2016
Sergey worked behind the scenes supervising the meal service and Ivan talked us through the creation of the dishes. He explained they develop their recipes by exploring how to capture the ecosystem where an ingredient is sourced. The first dish is “a kind of ecosystem illustrated by mushrooms.” The recipe features a mushroom that grows at the base of birch trees and is prepared in Autumn. “We have tried to analyse the ecosystem where the mushrooms grow.” The first stage of the recipe was a broth prepared with the mushrooms and the twigs, leaves and bark from the birch tree. The second part of the the dish was a mousse made with the same ingredients as the broth with the addition of onions. The onions had been marinated with powder made from dried birch leaves. The third part of the dish was smoked mushroom prepared by using very dry thin birch bark to create the smoke. “This process gives the mushroom a particular flavour, it is giving the mushroom a Russian twist.” The use of the same ingredients through all aspects of the dish is one of the key aspects that they focus on.
The broth was served separately and Ivan advised that we should taste the broth first and then explore the other part of the dish. For me the dish had a glorious mushroom taste with a depth of flavour; a sense of earthiness but also very clean.
The second recipe was a meat dish prepared from a small mammal native to Russia possibly similar to a rabbit. The meat was prepared using a solar oven, cooked at a very low temperature. It was served with a blackberry mouse on a very thin slice of pumpkin; and a sauce made from pumpkin and spices. The final aspect of the dish was an olfactory element. A mist to endow the dish with the aroma of the Russian Autumn, the smell of leaves and the humid earth. To eat, the meat was quite different; the pumpkin sauce was delicious and the scent almost evoked mushrooms.
The third recipe was another incredible food experience. Essentially it was a simple chocolate ganache made from pure chocolate and cream. But of course there was a twist. This being that the cream used for the ganache had first of all been used to cook Morall, a type of Russian dear. The cream infused with venison is mixed with chocolate. A very different take on a dessert. The dish was not overly sweet with an essence of something difficult to define - the Morral
The dishes were the most amazing food we had ever tasted. Absolutely sensational. The concept of exploring and escapulating the ecosystem in to the design of the dishes was an exciting innovation to experience first hand.
These stories have been written from our extensive notes taken at the conference.
This month is the time to explore the wonders of Stinging Nettles.
Stinging nettle has a long history of culinary (and medicinal) usage especially in Europe and they grow abundantly in the highly fertile soils here at Wynlen House. Nettles are a good source of fibre; are very high in vitamin A; and are also a good source of dietary calcium, iron, and protein. Nettle is recommend as a high-protein, low-calorie source of essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins particularly in vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, or other specialized diets.
In our region Nettles are at their best at this time of year. They thrust themselves up from the barely warm ground in late July /early August and this early fresh young growth is the best time to eat them. By late September nettles are starting to become coarse and hoary, and they should not be eaten once they begin to form flowers. It is important to remember that they are called Stinging Nettle for a reason. Nettles have fine hairs that even only brushed lightly on bare skin, create the feeling akin to dozens of little syringes injecting fiery pain. Wearing gloves and long sleeves is essential attire for harvesting and in the kitchen it is essential to wear cloves for cleaning and preparing. Cooking or drying neutralises the stinging (toxic) components. Nettles can be used as a tea, in soup, blanched for a salad or even added to pizza. I am exploring the culinary wonders of nettles this week with plans to make nettle pesto for the stall. Nettles can be used to replace other green veg, particularly silverbeet or spinach in any recipe.
In the garden stinging nettle is often just seen as an annoying weed, that is literally a pain to remove. However like many weeds they can have a role to play. They're a good indication that the soil is quite high in nutrients, especially phosphorus; and nettles are high in nutrients such as iron, magnesium and nitrogen. They can be turned in as a green manure crop; used in compost; can be made into a liquid fertilizer (tea). We are currently using them as a living mulch. Of course if using nettles for these purposes it is best that they be turned in or removed before the seed has set. If they have gone to seed you can still use them for a fertilizer tea.
A simple recipe for a fertilizer tea.
There are many recipes available using specific ingredients and quantities, however the following is a good standard recipe:
We are now moving into the coldest part of our winter, with daily frosts and minimum temperatures in the minus. Our garden beds are not defrosting until about 10.30am. Not that I mind the late starts to the morning. A bit if extra time reading by the fire at this time of year is very pleasant. My eclectic reading this week turned up some articles and a great book on the Chinese market gardeners in Australia particularly in the Gold Fields of the Southern Tablelands of NSW .
“Chinese market gardeners brought skills and knowledge from China as well as adopting and adapting local practices. Their labour intensive methods of farming, ability to manage and organise their own workforce in providing local markets with local produce became distinctive features of the Chinese market gardens across NSW.” Dr Barry McGowan (Australian National University)
Since moving to Braidwood and setting up our market garden I have been interested in the Chinese market gardeners of the region. Pictures show well established market gardens and it is clear from records of the time that yields were very high. On February 10, 1883, The Southern Argus reports: “…we are told the people of Goulburn are ill-provided with vegetables and that the European gardeners were solely to blame…the Chinese bring their vegetables to better perfection than the Europeans…the Chinese are model gardeners.
The Chinese have a very long history of vegetable cultivation dating back as early as 5000 BC. with continuity since that time. By the mid 1800’s when many Chinese came to Australia there vegetable production and agricultural practices were “superior” to many European practices and they were able to adapt and innovate to new environments and climates. Chinese market gardeners used growing frames covered with paper or hessian to protect delicate seedlings from frost.
Another interesting report from a regional Victorian newspaper in 1897 stated that European market gardeners in Melbourne were jealous of the Chinese hawkers who supplied suburban householders with such regularity, and also the Chinese market gardeners who sold directly to consumers. Gardeners who sold their produce directly to householders rather than through city markets obtained better returns. This is still relevant today.
There is always something to learn from the past as well as the present. I look forward to more interesting reading as we take a break through July. We will be taking a break from the stall and this blog until the 8 August, when our next newsletter will be published.