Archive for May, 2012

The future of food

May 29, 2012

The Melbourne Age (newspaper) has been running a series on the future of food over the last few days.

(Copy/paste seems to have worked):

The Future of Food

Appetite for destruction

Interactive graphic  How suburbia has consumed Melbourne’s food-producing areas in the past 50 years and the farmlands now at risk.

Cheap food comes at a price

The future of food

Melissa Fyfe and Royce Millar  Supermarket giants rely on cheap foreign labour to deliver burgeoning home-brand lines at lowest prices.

Canned: why local tomatoes cop a pasting

Pop goes the industry: Italian processed tomatoes now outsell their Australian competition by a ratio of four cans to one.

Melissa Fyfe and Royce Millar  Italian imports have crushed local growers, write Melissa Fyfe and Royce Millar.

Surge in imports sends farms to brink

The Future of Food.

Melissa Fyfe and Royce Millar  A quarter of vegetable growers facing financial ruin as they fight losing battle against cheap processed imports, mounting labour costs and greater competition for our traditional export markets.

City sprawl hits food bowls

Growing over our food: interactive graphic

Royce Millar, Melissa Fyfe  Victorian food production faces mounting pressure from urban encroachment.

The fertile fringe

Tom Schreurs

Royce Millar and Melissa Fyfe  Therese Schreurs’ celery farm near Cranbourne, among some of Melbourne’s key market gardens, is about to be buried under concrete and bitumen — and she couldn’t be happier.

Agricultural land diminishing, statistics show

Wheat harvesting near Mildura.

Marc Moncrief   The numbers are clear: over time, less land has been devoted to food production, and more has been demanded of what remains.

Long-haul food could deliver a national crisis

The Future of Food.
Royce Millar and Melissa Fyfe Growing reliance on food transported long distances heightens risk of shortages in the event of crises.

Does the food business stack up?

Woolworths Mulgrave distribution centre.

Melissa Fyfe, Royce Millar Australia’s two biggest supermarket chains are reshaping the nation’s agriculture, diet and understanding of what fresh food is.

Alarm at antibiotics in fish imports

The Future of Food.
Melissa Fyfe and Royce Millar Medical experts have raised the alarm over a rising number of Asian fish imports carrying banned levels of antibiotics.


In today’s edition there are a couple of interesting letters in response.

One comments on the Italian vs Australian canned tomatoes item. The writer says he’d willingly buy the Aussie brand, except that in the list of ingredients it has tomatoes, tomato juice, firming agent and food acid. The Italian brand has just tomatoes in tomato juice. Hmmm. He has a point there.

A second writer is concerned about the monitoring of chemical pesticides, fungicides and other preservatives that might be in imported food, in other words, what’s their quality control like?  “Please buy local”, she says. This is something that always concerns me, so I always try to buy local. Admittedly, there’s no guarantee that locally produced food is subject to the sort of stringent controls that we might like, but at least we live in the country of origin, where we might expect that something will be done about an issue if we jump up and down vigorously enough.

The third writer talks about planning issues. “In 50 Years time, where will our fresh food be grown? And what will it cost if it has to be hauled longer and longer distances?” Focussing on cost here, but I’d be focussing on the peak oil issue. If food is grown far away how will it get to the cities? Without oil, life  will return to the horse & cart days.

Not a single one of the articles or letters mentioned peak oil. Oh, boy, are we in for a shock!

Patterns in nature

May 25, 2012

Here’s an interesting post from the Permaculture Research Institute about recognising plant families as patterns in nature.

I’ve been an amateur botanist for a good many years now and this sort of thing resonates with me. I love investigating new plants and seeing if I can pick the family from the plant’s characteristics. I use the concept when planting; I can never remember what to follow with what in recommended crop rotations. Far easier to recognise plant families and to not plant members of the same botanical family in succession.

Probably this could be used as a good example of Permaculture Principle #1 in practice—observe and interact.


May 24, 2012

Last week, the persimmon looked like this:

I thought it would be a while before the fruits ripened fully and was ignoring them, plus it’s hard to see the colour changes when they’re shrouded in their protective socks.

But today I gave a couple a gentle squeeze. Wow! One was so soft my thumb almost went through it. Look at that colour:

I took it inside and cut it in two….:

…..then scooped out the delicious pulp with a spoon:

And there are 12 more to go!

Next time you turn on a tap…..

May 23, 2012

…..think of this picture:

Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The above illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth‘s surface remain topics of research.

It came from this site. I’ve left the explanation and all the included links as is. Follow the links, they’re fascinating.

Amazing stuff, eh?

The food industry—arch villain

May 19, 2012

Here’s an interesting blogpost.

But I guess we all knew that, didn’t we?

That’s why we’re growing our own.


The apple-sock tree & other things

May 17, 2012

The persimmon has finally lost all its leaves and the ripening fruits in their natty little apple socks are now obvious (but not, I hope, to the possums & parrots):

Here’s what’s under those protective covers. There are 13 of them (I hope that’s not going to be unlucky). My mouth is already watering:

Always on the lookout for new food things to grow, I came across this pot of Burdock (Arctium lappa) seedlings at a local Sunday market:

The people who grow these are regulars at the market and often have unusual plants. Their pots always seem to be crammed with seedlings. I think their technique is to fill the pot with potting mix and add a generous pinch of seed and let it all grow on.

I researched Burdock and it’s the long tap root that’s used, so I thought it might be a good idea to repot the seedlings individually so I have one plant to plant in each spot and one root to dig up at any one time. There were plenty of them and they were easy to separate. I wound up with a dozen plants in all:

At last count I had 24 wicking boxes and every one has something growing in it.

Garlic doing well:

Bok Choy, direct sown. I’ll thin these as they grow, use the thinnings as greens and let a few grow to full size:

A selection of edible greens—Red Russian Kale, Curly Kale, Lacinato Kale, Rocket, Tatsoi, Chicory, Endive and Osaka Purple Mustard. This box is on the deck, right outside the door—easy to access a handful of greens to steam for dinner:

Remember when I was looking for chickweed growing wild on the property? Well, I eventually found it and encouraged it and now it’s everywhere. Here is is in a wicking box with peas in the background. It has a lovely delicate flavour, gently steamed with butter and is also good on sandwiches. Far more nutritious than lettuce:

Update on peas

May 12, 2012

I wrote a while ago that I was ‘doing’ peas this year, by which I meant, trying out several varieties of peas for ease of growing and yields.

All the varieties are up and running; most are flowering and I’ve harvested some, so it’s time for a few preliminary comments.

Firstly, I don’t grow snow peas, sugar-snap peas or any of the many edible-podded varieties. I don’t eat them because they just don’t agree with my system. The last few meals I had of them (years ago), were followed by ‘many happy returns’, so I stopped eating them. Shelled peas are OK; it’s obviously something in the pods of the others that doesn’t agree with me.

As with beans, germination of pea seeds is very quick. First sowings in February, into warm soil, germinated in just under a week. The same varieties, sown at the end of April (cooler soil) are now taking twice as long.

I put the tall varieties on  tepee—a stake in the centre of a wire circle, with strings leading from the centre top of the stake (nail hammered in) down to the outer edge of the wire:

It works in principle and does very well for beans that happily twine around the strings. The peas should grab the string with their tendrils and haul themselves up this way. In practice, they need a bit of encouragement to actually find the string, preferring to wander away from it. The varieties I grew (Telephone & Purple-podded), were a bit too tall for the tepee and got to the top before they flowered and then flopped everywhere. Wind is their real enemy at this time. So I need a taller tepee or a different kind of structure—a tall frame of some sort that holds them in place. Not sure if I want to go to all that trouble.

The dwarf varieties were better behaved, although I haven’t tried any yet on a tepee. Instead, they were planted in wicking tubs and wicking boxes. In a wicking tub, a circle of wire sitting around the inner edge of the tub keeps the plants confined and a few crossing sticks give the central ones something to hang on to:

The dwarf varieties flower first because they get to their mature height more quickly. Blue Bantam from Fothergills Seeds flowered in just 34 days. Massey Gem, another dwarf from Eden Seeds, took 41 days. I was picking both these varieties at 70 days. The tall Purple-podded climber from The Lost Seed flowered in 60 days and isn’t ready to pick yet after nearly 90 days.

So if you’re after a quick yield, the dwarf forms are the way to go.

The most interesting of the varieties is one I call Field Pea, because a crop of them came up in pea straw I bought for mulch and I collected their seeds. This one is a semi-dwarf (getting to a bit over a metre high) and has so many tendrils which all grab onto one another, making a patch of plants hang together like a stiff bush. All they need for support is a central stake with a coil of wire around it and they’ll grow into a sort of column. I planted these in a tub on the deck. The rear ones have attached themselves to the wires between the deck posts and the others are hanging onto them. They flowered in 71 days and I’m just about to pick the first of them, after 90 days:

I began to look at the flowering habits of all the varieties. The more flowers the higher the yield. They all seem to produce one flower stem from  each leaf axil (that’s the junction between the stem leaf and the main stem). Like this:

So presumably, a tall plant will have more leaves up the stem, more leaf axils, more flowers and more pods. A dwarf plant won’t have as many.

But here’s an interesting thing which I just noticed. The Field Peas have a single stem coming out of the leaf axil which branches into two flowers. How clever is that? More bang for your buck:

Note the mass of wiry tendrils on this variety.

I’m shelling the pods as soon as they’re picked, weighing and blanching them then putting them in the freezer. I’ll have to admit there’s not a lot. I’m bemoaning the fact that the pods (probably more than half the total weight) get thrown away (or at least into the compost). Not good if you want high yields. Are peas worth it? Not if you want peas with every meal and only if you have acres of them. I’ll have to give growing peas some thought.

In the meantime I’d love to know more about this Field Pea variety. Is it grown just to provide pea straw for gardeners? Or is it grown for the peas and the straw is only a profitable sideline? The central part of the flower is pink and the rear petals are white:

In the Purple-podded variety the central part of the flower is deep pink and the back petals are purplish-pink. Real elegance:

All the other varieties I’m growing have white flowers.

What is this pink-flowered variety?

Today’s lunch

May 5, 2012

It was only yesterday that I said in an email to a friend that I hadn’t yet seen any edible mushrooms on the property this year.

This morning I went down into the back corner to collect dead stuff to burn off and found these:

These are Agaricus augustus. It is edible and I’ve found it and eaten it in the past without any problems  (like dying—a major problem, you’ll admit). Notice the spot on the top where I’ve scratched away the surface skin to check if it was a yellow-stainer, the related, but poisonous species, Agaricus xanthodermis, which is said to smell strongly of phenol or kerosene when cooked. When you cut into the flesh or stem of these, the flesh turns bright yellow almost immediately.

I fried mine in a little butter (they smelt good, like commercial  mushrooms) and had them on a roll for lunch:

This is the fungi book I use for identification. It’s by Tony Young. There are plenty of books and websites on edible fungi out there. It goes without saying to be very careful about eating any fungi unless you are sure of its identity:

Here’s how I go about identifying this species:

  1. See mushroom. Say “aha!”.
  2. Pick mushroom and look at gills. If pink>pinkish-brown, reserve for further ID. If white, or some other colour, throw away. Say “damn”.
  3. Remember that the poisonous yellow-stainer has pink gills, too.
  4. Cut through stem and scratch surface of top. Wait to see if flesh turns bright yellow.
  5. If not bright yellow, reserve for further ID. If bright yellow, throw away. Say “damn”.
  6. Look for pattern of small semicircular markings on top (field guide says concentric circles but here they’re semicircular).
  7. If correct markings present, take inside and reserve till mealtime.
  8. Slice mushrooms and gently fry in a little butter. Smell while cooking.
  9. If smell like phenol or kerosene, throw away.  Say “damn”.
  10. If smell rich and wholesome, like commercial mushrooms, place on steak or toast and eat, remembering (just in case), that Will is made and financial affairs are in order.
  11. Enjoy!

Chook antics

May 2, 2012

No matter how bad things get in the world, if you’ve got chooks, there’s always something to laugh about.

I was pruning off the lower branches from the stand of Blackwood wattles down in the back corner, when I noticed that the bed of fallen, decaying leaves under them was several inches thick.

They were damp after the recent rain and scrunching around in them, I found lots of little creepy-crawlies.

The Girls will like these I thought, and went to get the wheelbarrow.

I’m starting to think that heritage breed chooks are Very Highly Strung. I’ve only got to sneeze near them and my three practically go into cardiac arrest. When a neighbour was helping me out recently with some chainsawing near their run, they were beside themselves with fear at the noise (Oh, for a placid Isa Brown that will sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her!).

So when I dumped the barrowload of leaves into their playground they took one look and bolted into the corner, waiting for it to explode and blow them to smithereens.

When the pile showed no sign of doing that, they ventured out one by one to look at this strange new phenomenon. One of them gave an experimental scratch and leaves went flying. That was it… was one in, all in! The pile of leaves was reduced to a thin layer over the entire playground. They had a ball!

One of them caught a large moth. She ran with it, wings flapping (the moth, not her). The others ran after her, the three of them doing wheelies around the pile of logs in the centre.

She wanted to put it down to deal with it, but didn’t dare. She knew she’d lose it. Eventually she did lose it and the chase started anew. I thought, at least they’re getting some exercise which is good for them (I doubted the moth thought so).

Next day, I got them another barrowload. This time they were ready. They knew it wasn’t going to explode and they knew there was food in there! They dived in and the chase was on again. This time it was big brown grubs.

I could watch their antics all day, but unfortunately there’s work to be done.

Bulls-eye diet update

May 1, 2012

I wrote about the bullseye diet idea of Sharon Astyk’s here.

I set about drawing a bullseye but discovered I didn’t have a large enough sheet of paper for the circles I wanted to draw and only had a kid’s school compass that wasn’t big enough to draw any sort of a decent circle anyway.

So back to the drawing board.

Eventually I ended up drawing columns—a wide one for resources sourced from home and narrower ones for resources sourced elsewhere.  (I was hopeful that’d work, i.e. that I wouldn’t need larger columns for resources sourced elsewhere).

The coloumns were headed:

  • Home
  • Bioregion (50 km radius from home)
  • State (Victoria)
  • Australia
  • World

(It reminded me of when you used to write your name and address on your school books when you were little—no ‘Universe’ in this  list, though).

Here’s what it looked like as I filled things in:

I’m pleased the Home column looks so impressive! The items with asterisks beside them are things I never (well, hardly ever) buy, e.g. tomatoes, beans and asparagus. There are non-food items as well, like firewood, wood ash, compost and water (I cook with and drink tank water and wash in town water).

Some things occur both in the Home column and in another column, because even though I can grow/provide them, I also do buy them, e.g. eggs, which I’m buying at the moment, because the Girls are moulting and aren’t laying (are you listening, Girls; get on with it!).

It’s a work in progress; I’m still adding new things as I think of them, but at least it’s given me some idea of how I’m going self-sufficiency-wise.