Archive for the ‘Edible weeds’ Category

Back in business

October 10, 2016

Before I start, I want to say a big thankyou to those who have made such nice comments about my return to blogging. Real warm glow stuff (I should stop more often!). I won’t reply individually to comments, you’ve all got one big thankyou to share amongst you.

So…the first photo on the ‘new’ blog is one I’m very proud of :

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Three beautiful caulis. My first time growing them, although I cheated a bit and bought the seedlings at Bunnings. When they developed huge leaves, on long stalks with no sign of a central flower head, I started picking the leaves for the chooks who love anything in the brassica family. Might as well not waste the leaves, I thought; I didn’t really  expect any flower heads anyway, as I’ve never been very good at getting broccoli to form heads. Then, to my great delight, I noticed tiny heads coming, so I left the rest of the leaves on the plants and waited until the heads were just starting to open a bit and picked them.  Sizewise, they’re the equivalent of a ‘small’ supermarket cauli. Very happy with this effort and will try again next season!

This, I think, is a seedling plum :

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I’ve planted it in memory of Bill Mollison who recently went to that great permaculture garden in the sky. The seedling came from a friend’s planter box, which I established for her to grow a few veggies. The contents of her worm farm were routinely emptied in there and some time ago I noticed a dozen or so seedlings that looked like they might be plums. I potted them up and have planted them in various areas in my food forest. This was the last of the batch and I found it when I was looking through my plants for something to plant for Bill.

The comfrey is finally coming back after its winter rest. I must dig up a few more pieces to spread around the food forest. The chooks like it and I can never have enough greens for them :

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I’ve been a bit worried about my little Australian Finger Lime. I wrote about it here. I planted it in a large tub next to the gas bottles, up against the side of the deck :

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It sat there all winter and hasn’t put out any new leaf growth for spring. The nice, bright yellow-green of the leaves has dulled to a darker green; maybe that was a reaction to the winter cold, but it’s in a sheltered spot facing east and we’ve had some warm days and it hasn’t picked up at all. Some of the leaf tips died and I’ve been expecting it to go to god anytime. Then I noticed these little pink things. Flower buds? Looks like it :

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I’m hoping that’s not a sign that it’s making one last try to do its thing before going to god. I’ll be happy to see the leaf colour looking better and new growth appearing. Fingers are crossed.

Tomato seedlings are in the polyhouse waiting to be planted. A bit small yet :

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I didn’t bother to sow seeds in the normal way and prick out seedlings. I soaked the seeds overnight and sowed 3  or 4 to each tube. That way there’s no interruption to growth from potting on. I’ll eventually thin to a single seedling per tube by simply cutting off the unwanteds at ground level. I may put some of those in as tiny cuttings. I’ve done it before and it works well.

We have rabbits here. At the far end of the street, there are huge numbers. The property next door to me has breeding burrows which they don’t bother to do anything about. Between us there are two battleaxe driveways to rear properties. The rabbits cross the driveways and head straight into my place. All that side of the property is my food forest; 150 metres long x 15 metres wide. You can imagine how the bunnies love getting in there! I’ve spent the last couple of months going right along the boundary (all 150 metres of it) and adding chicken wire to the bottom part of the existing fencing. It has done some good, I think. The rabbits still come in from the street entrance and from the property behind, but they’re not coming far in. They seem to realise that they can’t get back through the fence and are keeping their retreat options open by staying close to the exits. So the middle part of the food forest has been receiving less damage than usual and self-sown seedlings that normally wouldn’t survive are growing. This large cluster of self-sown poppies is the result :

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With any luck, the bees will get some pollen and I’ll get some poppyseed for my home-made bread.

This is a blueberry in a large tub. Nothing strange about that. But look at where the arrow is pointing. How did that get there? A single asparagus :

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I just checked the rainfall figures for May, June, July and August and compared them with the average for Melbourne. We had 360 mm and the average is 220 mm. No wonder the lower rear section of the block is squishy to walk on. It’s meant a huge explosion in germination and growth. This is part of the food forest which is on a slight slope and better drained :

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The light-green ground cover is chickweed. The thicker mass in the background is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. All that ground was completely bare at the end of summer. The rest of the food forest looks the same. I’ve been pulling the chickweed for the chooks. It’s flowering now and setting seed, which will mean similar growth next winter. The Warrigal Greens will probably die back if we have a dry summer like the last, but it will leave masses of seed, too. I’ve always envied those photos of permaculture gardens which show a huge abundance of growth. Now I’ve got it too. Must be doing something right (or should I just put it down to a beneficent rain god?)

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Making a swale

June 18, 2014

I’ve made a couple of new swales recently and started a third, so thought I’d document the process.

I had a lot of asparagus to plant out and wanted to put them on a swale mound. Here’s the first swale. It’s about a metre and a half long, 40 cm wide and 30 cm deep:

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The asparagus are a bit hard to see. I’ve planted dandelions in between them, which are easier to see (the flat rosettes). The day after I took the photo the dandelions disappeared, courtesy of the rabbits. I put wire over them and they grew back good as new. Can’t keep a good dandelion down! There’s a variegated mint doing well at the far right. Rabbits don’t like mint, it seems.

At the outer edge of the swale mound there are four Strawberry Guava plants. They should grow into shrubs about a metre high with tangy red berries.

The second swale is about the same size and sits at the lower edge of a gravel path. It fills from water running off the path. I’ve planted more guavas at the base, Cherry Guava this time. They’ll get a bit taller, but I’ll keep them to a metre or so. In between them and on top of the mound are a couple of oregano plants. They should sucker and spread along the swale, maybe even grow down into it.  On the far right is a Buddleia—a Butterfly Bush. Circles of wire surround everything until it’s established. Pesky rabbits again!

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I’ve just finished the third swale. Like the others, it’s on a slope. I had just a few asparagus plants left and wanted to get them planted before they go dormant for the winter.

Since these are small swales it’s not really necessary to mark out the contour; trial and error is pretty much OK. First job is to dig out the ditch by hand and rake the soil into a mound on the lower side. Then I cover the mound with cut branches sloping away from the swale. I’ve used meleleuca here because it’s no good for firewood as it’s too soft, and it rots easily, so will add carbon to the soil fairly rapidly:

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Then I deepen the swale and rake the soil over the sticks. If I have extra soil I’ll add it, too. I could go on adding sticks and soil, making the mound higher and higher, but while sticks are plentiful around here, soil is not (unless I want holes everywhere). The sticks are supposed to deter the rabbits and blackbirds from digging up the soil on the mound. It sometimes works:

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You can see water in the swale. I fill it frequently as I’m going, just to check the levels. Mostly the ends will be the spots that need adjustment, building them up so that water doesn’t flow out. It’s looking pretty good:

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Finally, I cover the swale with mulch. I’ve used casuarina needles here, because I have a huge supply:

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It would be ideal to be able to broadcast seed into the mound at this point. Something like clover or vetch—something that would hold the soil in place and maybe provide nitrogen, but the rabbits would eat the seedlings down in a flash.

I might use yarrow. It spreads by underground rhizomes and the rabbits usually don’t touch it*. I can dig up a few clumps and plant them out, protected with wire, till they establish. I’ll put the remainder of the asparagus in later this week and that will be the end of about 2 dozen plants I grew from seed last year.

This swale is a bit over 2 metres long and I estimate that it will hold about 80-100 litres of water when full. I won’t put any chook poo compost on it until the asparagus spears are starting to appear in spring. They won’t be big enough to eat this year but my older plants are in their third year of harvesting so I can afford to wait.

* I once found a dead rabbit with a wisp of yarrow poking out of its mouth. I can’t believe that’s what killed it, but it would be nice to think I’m growing something that would. They do eat down the flowering stems though, but don’t seem to browse the leafy rosettes; not excessively enough to notice anyway. It annoys me because the flowers are rather attractive en masse:

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The winter garden

June 9, 2014

Not much is happening and I’m not picking much. There are still a few tamarillos* on the trees and in the greens department there’s silver beet, dandelion greens and warrigal greens. There are oranges and (very) small mandarins.

The kale seedlings finally grew big enough to plant and I bought a couple of punnets of broccoletti from the old chap at the Sunday Market. They’ve all gone into the big planter box…:

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…and there’s more kale in a wicking box…:

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…and some climbing peas in a wicking box behind the potato onions…:

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…and dwarf peas in another wicking box:

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There’s just one celery plant:

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Carrots are too small to pick.

Potato onions still looking OK.

Garlic likewise.

And leeks.

And that’s about it!

One good thing…I finally managed to buy a bamboo plant:

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This is Bambusa oldhamii. I’ve wanted a bamboo for ages and finally Bunnings had them in stock. This one will grow to 12 metres. I want to use the culms for stakes, bean tepees and trellises and whatever else I can think of.

This is a clumping bamboo, not a running one, so it won’t take over the neighourhood. I’m not sure if rabbits like bamboo, but the wire circle means I’m not taking any chances.

I’ve started building the new chook run and coop, but I won’t write about it until it’s all finished.

* Just an update on the tamarillo seed for those who wanted some. I haven’t forgotten you! I extracted seed and dried it and it was very thin and immature-looking, so I’m leaving some of the remaining fruits on the tree till they’re almost ready to fall and hoping the seed will look more mature.

Firewood self-sufficiency

May 19, 2014

Here’s a useful post about firewood from Mike at Damn the Matrix.

When we built our house 15 years ago, we put in a wood heater. During all that time no firewood has been bought in. 80% of the property is remnant natural eucalypt forest. No living trees have ever been cut for firewood (and never will be, at least not in the remnant section). There are dead trees that could be cut and something is always falling down, be it whole trees, large branches or kindling-sized material.

I have huge supplies of useful kindling wood from twigs up to 2-3 inches in diameter. This lot’s 40 cm long and ready to go:

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These bits are a metre long and need only to be cut into three. There are 5 piles like this:

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This lot’s not even cut yet. The pile is taller than I am!:

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I cut this by hand with a bow saw and use my relatively new toy, a battery-operated chainsaw, for the bigger stuff. It’s easy to use and weighs in at only 4 kg, about the same as a couple of 2-litre bottles of milk (and of course, the solar panels recharge the batteries):

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The really big stuff is dealt with by a neighbour in a rear property and because I can’t handle it in my size heater, he gets to keep what he cuts up.

I’m planting out a woodlot at the rear of the property, consisting mainly (at the moment) of Black Sheokes (Allocasuarina littoralis). It’s a local species, so belongs to the ecosystem, and grows quickly. The intention is to cut these for firewood in the future. It burns really well. A similar, related species, Drooping Sheoke (Allocasuarina verticillata), used to grow all along the eastern side of Port Philip Bay, south-east of Melbourne. It was cut out very early during the settlement of Melbourne, to fuel the baker’s ovens in the growing city.

Sheokes planted in a group of three, with dandelions for company:

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This is permaculture zone 4—a harvestable woodlot, so the dandelions are an acceptable food species here. I’ve also planted asparagus in this area and hope that the two species will naturalise under the sheokes. I may have some problems with the rabbits—they love dandelions, but so far haven’t bothered about asparagus.

I love it that I don’t need electricity for heating. As long as trees aren’t cut at a greater rate than they grow, wood is a sustainable resource.

Aaahh…autumn!

April 17, 2014

Calm, sunny days. Gentle rain. Plants greening up and putting on new growth. Lots of work to do and lots being done. Not too hot to work. The nicest time of year in Melbourne.

The potato onions are going bananas in a wicking box:

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This year I’m trying leeks in a wicking box:

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When I’m growing them in the garden, I don’t build the soil up around them (to produce white stems), I use mulched bracken. It’s much cleaner and means no dirt gets between the layers of leaves. Because the wicking box isn’t deep enough to do this, I’ve added a ring of plastic gutter guard around the edge. That way I get 6-8 inches of mulch around the stems. The bracken helps to hold them upright as well:

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I finished potting my strawberries into their wicking buckets:

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They’re sitting on an upturned plant stand on the deck, on recycled fridge shelves. The legs of the stand sticking up don’t look very attractive until you realise they’re in just the right place to support a net at fruiting time. Voilà:

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With the end of the tomato season, I move on to my winter vitamin C source…the Valencia orange. They’re small this year, because of the lack of summer rain, but there are plenty…enough for a vitamin C hit every day:

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Speaking of tomatoes, there’s just one plant still going. It was given to me late in the season which is why it’s still fruiting. It’s called ‘Checkmate’. I can’t find anything about it on Google, but look at what it just produced:

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The big one weighed in at 368 g and the other at 277 g. I hope the flavour is as big!

The first mushie of the season. Only a tiddler, but I will use it in a risotto with some of it’s bigger (purchased) cousins. I don’t think there will be many this year. We just didn’t get the early autumn rains:

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I’ve removed the corn crop and mulched up the leaves, which went straight back on the bed they were grown in, as should happen, so that the nutrients the corn took up as it was growing are returned to the soil:

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Don’t be fooled by those pie-in-the-sky schemes that propose to burn crop wastes for energy or turn them into ethanol so we can still drive cars. Keep removing nutrients from the soil and eventually it won’t grow anything. Of course in the industrial agriculture version, we just add chemical fertilisers—nitrogen made from natural gas (fossil fuel) and mined phosphorus (which is running out), and so on. The chemical load in the soil eventually kills the soil fungi which help the plants take up nutrients and you’re back to square one—depleted soil that won’t grow anything (and in the meantime you’ve run out of fossil fuels and phosphorus).

I didn’t get much of a yield from the corn plants. The male flowers appeared well before the females and had dropped most of their pollen before the girls appeared. I stopped wasting water on them when the weather got hot. I should’ve kept going, because they did set some cobs, but they were small and the poor fertilisation was evident. The last of the carrots (the tiny ones), in the next door bed, were picked as well:

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My seed-grown quince tree flowered well last season and set a lot of fruit, but most of it burned or dropped off in the summer heat. The tree didn’t receive any water over summer, so I wasn’t surprised. But two fruit miraculously survived and grew to a good size:

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They were a beautiful unblemished yellow (which hasn’t come out well in the photo) and were equally unblemished inside, unlike the ones I usually buy which, I think, come from local backyard trees. I’ve stewed them for breakfast.

Celery and dandelion in a wicking box for winter greens:

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A lush crop of nettles growing in the shade under my tubestock plant stands. When I’m watering the tubes, the nettles get the overflow of water and nutrients. I just have to remember not to brush up against them when I’m wearing shorts!:

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Dutch Cream potatoes are growing well. There are two other batches like this—Desiree and Kipfler. Now that I’ve found a good way of preserving potatoes, I don’t mind how many I grow:

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Last year someone gave me some fresh figs. I can’t resist sowing all sorts of seeds, just to see if they’ll germinate. They came up easily and quickly, so now there’s a baby fig tree in the food forest:

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I sowed bread wheat again this year. It germinated easily and a batch of self-sown chickweed decided to share its space. No problems; I’ll gradually weed it out for the Girls. It’s chook caviar to them:

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This is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. I don’t use it much (so many other greens to choose from), but it makes a good ground cover and keeps the weeds at bay:

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I’ve started sowing brassicas. There are still cabbage white butterflies about, but if I leave the seedlings in the polyhouse they get leggy. I wanted them in full sun so they’d be more compact, so I made a wire box to cover the seedling pots. I watched a butterfly hovering above in frustration—she could smell them but she couldn’t get in. Ha! Score—me 1 butterflies nil. These are four different kale varieties:

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Well, that’s my autumn garden. Just to prove I’m not sitting inside playing computer games!

Here endeth the summer

March 24, 2014

Well…I hope so.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, we’ve had an inch of rain, the days are cooler and the plants are making new growth.

I’ve planted my garlic and potato onions from Yelwek Farm. Some went into the garden and some in a wicking box. I had success with one potato onion bulb (just one!) in a wicking box last year and I want to see if that was a one-off or whether they will tolerate the extra moisture in a wicking box. The drainage will still be good and if I need to, I can shelter the box from excessive winter rains. I’ve grown garlic successfully in a wicking box before, so no worries there.

Potato onions in the garden:

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Garlic in a wicking box:

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I’ve also planted asparagus in the first of the hugelkultur beds I made.  By spring, this bed will be in its third year and the underlying wood is starting to break down, at least enough for me to get the treeplanter into it without hitting any resistance:

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I’ve staked and tied up the ferns for the time being to keep them tidy and to dissuade the rabbits from investigating them. I’ve had to protect each side of the bed with wire to stop the blackbirds tearing it apart. The ferns will die back over winter and I’ll side-dress each plant with chook poo compost before the spears emerge in early spring. I doubt they‘ll be big enough to harvest this year but should be OK for the next:

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In the spaces between each asparagus plant I’ll sow cucumbers next spring/summer and let them ramble over the mound. By that time the asparagus will have stopped bearing and will be at the fern stage. The ferns, which grow to over a metre tall in mature plants, should provide some shade for the cucumbers during the summer. So the asparagus will do two things—provide me with a yield in spring and shade for other plants in summer. An example of the permaculture principle which says that each element in a permaculture system should perform more than one function.

Garlic chives are flowering. The bees love them. I’ve got a couple of dozen new plants in pots and will plant them everywhere:

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Tamarillos are ripening. I made sure I kept the water up to the plants in summer and it looks like a bumper harvest this year:

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New batch of potatoes coming on. These are Kipflers:

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Dandelions for use in casseroles and soups this coming winter:

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The last of the tomatoes ripening. This one is called Nicoleta and the seed came from a member of the Ozgrow forum. It’s a good size and shape and has a beautiful flavour. I’ll be growing this one again:

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Still getting a few strawberries from the wicking box on the deck. The blackbird has found them so I’ve had to put a net over them in addition to the ring of wire around the tub. Did I mention I hate blackbirds?

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This is purslane. It self-seeded in a wicking box and I’m hoping it will flower and seed there again. It has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a crunchy texture and can be eaten in dozens of ways:

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The oca has kicked on with the recent rain and should form lots of tubers by winter when the plants will die back:

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It wasn’t the best of summers from a food-growing point of view. Yields were woeful compared to past years. The most important things I learned were that I have to make provision for shade on 40-degree-plus days and that plants in wicking boxes will do better than plants in ordinary garden beds.

It also wasn’t the best from a personal-keep-cool point of view either. Before next summer I’m going to have an evaporative cooler installed. I don’t need to worry about electricity use, because the solar panels will run it through the day. No more do I want to try and sleep in a house where the temperature is in the high 30’s.

Not as dangerous as you thought

May 23, 2013

I had a friend visit last week and we went for a walk in the garden. She noticed this plant:

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“Oh, is that deadly nightshade?”

That’s what I’d always thought until I bought this excellent little book on edible weeds:

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It’s not deadly nightshade but blackberry nightshade (Solanum nigrum). According to the authors, deadly nightshade isn’t naturalised in Australia.

Blackberry nightshade has edible berries, but ONLY when they’re black and so ripe that they fall off in your hand. The unripe, green berries DO contain toxins and are bitter. I’ve eaten the ripe berries (they’re delicious) and lived to tell the tale.

Blackberry nightshade is native to Europe and Asia and was introduced into Australia as a vegetable during the gold rush. The leaves and tender shoots are also edible, but solanine (the green potato toxin) may be present in varying amounts in the leaves and is not destroyed by cooking. Its bitter taste should be a warning not to eat.

From the book:

The fully ripened black berries have a rich flavour; sweet but with savoury hints of their cousin, the tomato. They can be mixed with other fruits as a dessert, provide a sweet-tangy element in a salad, and make a fabulous addition to chutney.

The plants we saw are in the conservation area of the property, so I’m going to wait for the berries to ripen, pick them, then pull the plants out. I’ll spread the berries in the food forest and hope they will naturalise there instead.

If you’re still worried about this plant here’s a really comprehensive post about it, bearing in mind that the site is American and different species grow there and if you’re STILL worried, just pull it out and do with it whatever you do with weeds.

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:


Wild edibles

April 26, 2012

I make a point of always reading blogs and blogposts about edible wild plants (what most Aussie gardeners would call ‘weeds’), because even though the blogs might emanate from the northern hemisphere, that’s where most of our garden weeds come from, too.

Here’s a recent post that gives a recipe for dock curry. If I can find any dock plants growing down the back, I’ll give it a go, if not I might try nettles, of which I have a huge patch, or maybe a combination of nettles and sorrel which also has a lemony flavour.

This would be an ideal recipe to do in the Thermomix.

I really must try to develop a patch of edible wild ‘weeds’ somewhere down the back of the property in amongst the native grasses. I’m already growing sorrel, nettles, chickweed and dandelions, but the real problem is the rabbits. They seem to love all these (well, maybe not the nettles), and every plant I grow has to be protected with wire. I think I’ll have to encircle a large area with wire (several square metres), so that I can leave the ‘weeds’ to self-seed and multiply.

Would the real chickweed please stand up?

November 8, 2010

At the moment, I’ve got this annoying, rather sparse, little weedy plant coming up everywhere, which I’ve always referred to as chickweed. I was over at my neighbour’s a week or so ago, and he’s got it as well, loudly cursing it and pulling up great handfuls, and he calls it chickweed, too.

My two herb books (one by Penny Woodward and the other by Isabell Shipard), say that chickweed is a nutritious plant, which comes under the heading of what are now known as ‘edible wild weeds’. Their chickweed’s scientific name is Stellaria media. Unfortunately, neither book has a photograph of it. But chickweed is chickweed, isn’t it? Huh! As an amateur botanist, I should know the pitfalls of trusting in common names.

I was reading this post from the Permaculture Research Institute, which talks about growing ‘weeds’ for profit and was interested to read that chickweed is grown, by the acre, to provide the iron used in vitamin supplements. I couldn’t imagine the plant I’ve got growing here as doing that (it’s such a sparse little thing….well, you would need acres of it).

I went back to my herb books and discovered an interesting fact, which both authors describe, about Stellaria media. Penny Woodward says: “It can be distinguished from other similar plants by the single line of hairs found on the internodes of the stems—after reaching a pair of leaves, the line continues on the opposite side.”

Out to the garden with the hand lens. Aha! My ‘chickweed’ has hairs all over the stems! It’s not Stellaria media. It’s an impersonation. Back to the drawing board and Google.

Apparently there are many plants with the common name of chickweed (wouldn’t you know it!). What I appear to have is Mouse-ear Chickweed, Cerastium glomeratum, apparently not edible. I searched amongst my weeds for Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, but couldn’t find it. I seem to recollect seeing something that might have been it, but I probably weeded it out! I’ll keep a watch out, but in the meantime, Eden Seeds have it listed for sale, so I might just put it on my next order.

Why would I want to grow a weed? Well, edible weeds are back in fashion. There are many blogs and websites devoted to what’s known as wild foraging. During wartime many Britons eked out their food rations with wild weeds.  And they are very nutritious. Nettle, for instance, which I’m already growing, has 8 times the iron content of beef, according to Isabell Shipard’s herb book. Dandelion is another ‘weed’ I’m growing. So chickweed would make it a nutritious threesome.

The real McCoy—Stellaria media, Common Chickweed