Archive for April, 2013

Plant profiles: Salsify

April 29, 2013

I’ve been researching unusual food plants and writing it all in a notebook for future reference, so I thought I would share it here. I’m concentrating on the sort of things that aren’t normally for sale in your average supermarket/greengrocer.

So here we go with the first in the series: Salsify

I’m not sure how one should pronounce this. I’ve heard Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall on River Cottage call it ‘salsi-fee’. I would have been inclined to say ‘salsi-feye’ (‘eye’ as in those things on either side of your nose that you see with). Whichever pronunciation you use, if your listener hasn’t heard it before, you’ll be considered correct and in-the-know.

Its botanical name is Tragopogon porrifolius, a horrible mouthful that makes ‘salsi-fee/fye’ sound almost mellifluous. It’s a member of the huge daisy family, botanically called the Asteraceae.

It’s a biennial, meaning it lasts for two years—grows in the first year then flowers and sets seed in the second.

It’s native to the Mediterranean but introduced into other countries, including Australia. My good friend Fran from The Road to Serendipity blog in Tasmania, tells me it grows wild near her (she sent me seeds—more on that later).

Because it’s a root crop, it likes similar soils to carrots and parsnips—deep and fine-textured with no fresh fertiliser. pH 6-6.8.

The carbohydrate in salsify is inulin—a fiber that occurs naturally in many foods like bananas, wheat, onions and garlic. Found in high concentrations in chicory root, it can be extracted for industrial use. Unlike more familiar carbohydrates, which are broken down in the small intestines and turned into fuel for the body, inulin passes through the small intestines to the colon where it stimulates the growth of ‘good bacteria’ and is fermented by bacteria. In some people it can cause gas, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhoea. If you’re planning to eat lots of this stuff, you might want to research it a bit more.

Some of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s salsify recipes are here.

I sent to Phoenix Seeds in Tassie for salsify seed. I planted it in late August last year and it germinated in 15 days. The seeds are long and spindly and should preferably be direct sown. It eventually develops a large tuft of grass-like leaves. The young leaves can apparently be used as a green, but I didn’t try them.

I kept the water up to the plants in summer (watering should be regular—irregular watering can cause the roots to spilt) and the tuft of leaves got bigger and bigger. Last week I decided it was now or never and dug up 3 clumps:

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I wasn’t expecting all those side roots. I don’t know if that’s normal or not. The largest one had a decent-sized main root anyway:

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I cut off all the side roots and this is what I was left with:

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It was almost 4 cm wide at the widest point. If it had been a parsnip, I’d have been rapt at that size.

I peeled the largest of the side roots and microwaved them. The flavour was a bit like a flavourless parsnip. I forgot to mention that it’s sometimes called ‘oyster plant’, because it’s supposed to taste like oysters. I couldn’t say because I’ve never eaten oysters. Oh, and peeled roots discolour so you need to stand them in water and lemon juice if there’s a delay in cooking.

I peeled the main root and roasted it with other vegetables. It had a bit more flavour, but only, I suspect, due to the browned surfaces.

Overall, it was easy to grow but flavourwise, on its own, not something to write home about. Probably it’s the other things it’s cooked with, or the sauces used with it that make it more appealing. Good for adding bulk to a recipe. It can also be boiled, mashed, stir-fried and steamed.

I’m going to leave the rest of the crop in the ground until spring when I expect the plants to flower. I want to see if the flowers are attractive to bees, plus I want to collect more seed. It might be a useful plant to have in the food forest for attracting bees and for times when other food is scarce.

I mentioned that Fran from Serendipity Farm sent me salsify seed. I sowed it in early December last year but it didn’t germinate. Because it was freshly collected, I suspect that, like many other Asteraceae family members, it had gone into dormancy. I’ve just sown more and it has germinated, as has what was left of the Phoenix seed.

If any readers have grown salsify, please share your experiences in the comments box.

Orange capsicum

April 22, 2013

I bought an orange capsicum at the greengrocer last year and saved the seed. I thought it would probably be a hybrid and the seed wouldn’t come true, but I sowed it anyway, last spring. I planted half a dozen plants and the fruits are only just starting to ripen.

Looks like it’s going to come true:

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Great permaculture property for sale

April 20, 2013

As a Peak Oiler from way back, I joined the Australian PO discussion group some years ago. ROEOZ is its name (Running on Empty OZ). When I log on each day, it’s the first site I go to. There are some knowledgeable PO bods there and it sort of feels like family.

Anyway, Mike is the site admin and moderator and he’s built what looks like a wonderful permaculture property in Qld, not far from Noosa. Now he wants to sell and shift to Tassie. If you’re  interested and wouldn’t mind a shift northwards, go take a look at his blog where he describes the property. How good it would be to move into a permaculture property where all the grunt work has been done.

Comfrey ointment

April 11, 2013

I think everyone who grows comfrey knows about its legendary healing properties. It’s also useful as a dynamic accumulator and compost accelerator. My chooks love it, too.

Years ago I bought some comfrey ointment but it’s well past its use-by date now and I wanted to have a go at making my own. I found this recipe which looked pretty easy and simple.

I used:
300 ml sunflower oil
30 gm beeswax
About 15 large comfrey leaves, cut into 2 cm strips

I decided I wouldn’t heat the oil on the stove, but would infuse the leaves in it at room temperature for couple of weeks. I thought it just possible the heat might change some of its properties, although I did warm it in the dehydrator on those days when I had yoghurt curing in there.

I put the chopped leaves in a bowl and poured on the oil:

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That’s the potato masher on the left. I used it to keep pushing the leaves down:

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Eventually they wilted enough to remain under the oil. I covered the bowl and left it.

I had trouble buying beeswax at first. I finally found a craft shop selling it by the sheet:

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I drained the oil in a sieve and put it in a saucepan. By now it was quite green. I cut the beeswax into small pieces, added it to the oil and gently warmed it on the stove. It didn’t take long to melt into the oil. I sterilised a couple of  jars in the oven and poured in the mixture:

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Within an hour it had solidified, at least on the outside:

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It smells a bit like old socks…that typical comfrey smell. Next time I’ll try a few drops of lavender oil in it.

I thought it looked a bit hard, but when I dug my finger into it, it was quite soft:

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I’m storing it in the refrigerator as it doesn’t contain any preservatives. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Autumn photos

April 8, 2013

‘Twas a chilly autumn morning and the camera and I went for a walk.

This is wormwood planted outside the chook run. I love the silvery, ferny foliage. Such a contrast to the usual greens. I have more plants in other parts of the garden. When I prune them back I put it through the mulcher and spread it in the Girl’s nestbox. It’s supposed to deter insects. It certainly has a very medicinal smell:

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A wicking box with a newly-planted pepino. Those seedlings all around it are amaranth (there’s a single bok choy there, too). Normally the amaranth self-seeds in the food forest. When it’s finished flowering (and I’ve collected as much seed as I can), I mulch it up and add it to the compost. Seedlings come up in everything that gets topped up with compost. I’ll probably pick some of these and dry them for winter use. At the moment I’m using them as a garnish on soups, in omelets and with other steamed greens:

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I have a tub on the deck with one strawberry in it. It’s been flowering for ages and producing delicious fruit. I used to rant about those huge supermarket strawberries and say they weren’t normal and now this plant is producing fruits equally as huge. I think it likes the chook poo compost I put on it. I’ve put a wire cage around the tub. Birds don’t come onto the deck very often, but bright red treats like this will bring them from miles around:

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The bags of cow poo I was given recently have finally all made it into one of the compost bins. I’ll add worms from the worm farm and let them go through it and make it more friable:

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Now that we’ve had rain, the oca has really kicked on:

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This is mizuna. The chooks love it and there’s generally enough left for me, too. Pretty foliage:

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Broccoli and kale in a wicking box:

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More kale and senposai in a wicking tub:

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This is chicory. I grow it for greens for the Girls. I don’t eat it because I usually have plenty of other greens:

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Not the most elegant parsnips in the world, but the best I’ve grown so far:

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The chicks arrived!

April 1, 2013

Oh, not my chicks, unfortunately.  I’m referring to Terry Golson’s chicks. Terry blogs at HenCam and it’s one of my favourite chook blogs.

Not only is Terry a mine of information about all things chicken, but she has webcams in each of her animal enclosures (as well as chickens, there are two goats) and you can watch the antics of all of them during the US daylight hours.

Terry ordered a couple of dozen newly-laid chicks a few weeks ago and they were due to arrive Monday, US time, but they turned up on Sunday. I checked out my feed reader at 7 am this morning and saw that they had arrived. Terry had everything ready for them and there is now a ChickCam in their enclosure. I watched as 26 tiny (two days old, would you believe!) fluffy balls tottered around, partaking of chick crumbles and sips of water:


As you can see by the time at the bottom of the screen shot, it was evening when I captured it, but as I anticipated, Terry is keeping the light on all night for warmth. I’m looking forward to watching them as they grow into full-blown chooks. Go take a look and if you collect chook blogs, be sure to bookmark Terry’s blog.

Postscript: The chicks arrived on Sunday, US time. Not only was it Sunday but it was Easter Sunday. Obviously the US Postal Service believes in that word ‘service’. Was Australia Post working on Easter Sunday (or any Sunday for that matter)? Not them. They were probably standing around a barby in someone’s backyard quaffing beer! Which is probably why posting chicks in the US is a regular accepted thing, but not in good ol’ Oz.