How To Dry Cure Olives In 3 Weeks

Once upon a time I lived in Adelaide where olive trees grow like weeds. Every winter we’d go foraging and preserve a good stash for eating. One year the very awesome Annemarie Brookman from the Food Forest taught me how to dry cure olives and I’ve never looked back. It’s infinitely easier and just as tasty as pickling, in short it’s life changing – here’s how we do it.

You’ll need

  • Salt: All recipes we’ve ever seen specify using non-iodized salt, we use coarse rock salt – but I don’t think it actually matters.
  • Olives: Only use black, fully ripe olives for this method. For 10kg of olives, you’ll need approximately 5kg of salt.
  • A bucket: To put the olives and salt in. We use 10 or 20 litre “food grade” buckets.

IMG_6259

Step 1

Pick your olives! Choose only the blackest and leave the green ones on the tree to ripen or use them for pickling. Give them a good wash in fresh water to get any dirt/bird poo off them.

Step 2

Get comfy as this step takes a while. You need to break the flesh of each and every olive so it can absorb the salt. If you don’t do this step then it will not work and you’ll cry. Most people recommend using a knife to put a slice in each olive, however we use a fork and prick each olive a few times. This is soooo much quicker than using a knife, plus you can watch a movie at the same time without fear of stabbing yourself.

FYI – your fingers will turn a black/purple colour from the olive juices which will take a few days to fade.

IMG_6266A pricked olive!

Step 3

Once all your olives are nicely punctured, pack them in a jar or bucket with salt. We add the olives gradually, mixing in the salt as we go to ensure it’s spread evenly. We then put a thicker layer on top knowing that it will sink down with gravity.

Once you’ve done this, either pop a lid on top or some cheesecloth to keep the bugs out and leave it to start doing its thing

IMG_6264

Step 4

Check on your olives every few days, they should be literally swimming in their own liquid within one week as seen below. This is a good sign. Strain the liquid off and keep going for another two’ish weeks.

IMG_6273

IMG_6278The excess liquid we strained off our olives after one week in salt. 

Even after only one week you’ll see the olives have shrivelled up considerably, if you want to, you can stat taste testing them now – just wash one in fresh water and taste away to see how they’re evolving.

IMG_6271

Step 5

Once the liquid has been strained off, make sure the original salt is mixed in evenly and let it continue to do its thing. Some people add in fresh salt at this stage if some of the salt was lost in the straining process.

.
IMG_6276

Step 6

After three -four weeks your olives should be ready. To test, wash some in fresh water and taste them. Once you’re happy with the taste, rinse the whole lot in fresh water. From here you can either let them dry on some cloth towels and store in a jar or, put them in jars of olive oil with rosemary and garlic – the choice is yours. They’ll taste awesome either way.

olives-salt-cured

What finished dry cured olives look like. Image from here

That’s it folks, you’ll never be scared of preserving olives again!

2 Comments

Will Borowski + Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation

Will Borowski from Forest Fungi is one of Australia’s leading pioneers and specialists in growing gourmet mushrooms and teaching others to do the same. We caught up with him to find out how he got started, what makes him tick and admire some of his fungi…

r0_89_4000_2338_w1200_h678_fmaxWill with River Cottage Australia host, Paul West eating something mushroomy. Image from here. 

What got you started growing mushrooms?

Back in my Uni days, I started growing fruit and veggies, and like most gardeners, I discovered that fresh, home grown food is so much tastier than anything from the shops. Gardening also allows a glimpse into the incredible nature of life, the inter-connectedness of things, the seasonal cycles.

Naturally, I was fascinated with what appeared in my garden, and the ephemeral mushrooms always intrigued me. I tried growing some button mushrooms from a kit, with limited success. Then one day I discovered that my surname (Borowski) means “forest mushroom”!

.

For years I had a recurring dream of picking wild mushrooms in a forest, with women in scarves, but I had no idea why, as I hadn’t been foraging.

I decided to try and grow as many edible mushrooms as I could, but no one in Australia offered supplies or courses. So I taught myself, collected various edible fungi from Asian markets, and within a short time I was growing loads of delicious gourmet mushrooms, at home, with some very basic equipment.

What’s one of your favourite things about growing mushrooms?

Hard to choose one, but eating them is very satisfying.

What types of mushrooms do you grow?

I grow lots of wood loving mushrooms – over 20 species, but there are a few I focus on including:

  • Pholiota nameko – Nameko for the best miso ever,
  • Agrocybe aegerita – Pioppino , my favourite flavoured mushroom,
  • Lentinula edodes – Shiitake, which is very different fresh compared to dried, and
  • Pleurotus eryngii – King oysters, which have the texture of abalone or calamari.

Some species are very easy to grow, such as grey, white, pink, gold and blue oysters of the Pleurotus genus, and although they’re not my favourites, I grow them because other people love them. Some species I’m trying to grow are a bit harder, like mycorrhizal fungi such as birch boletes, truffles and morels.

11898599_1096702707024575_3527879084988393112_n

Why do you think other people should grow their own mushrooms?

Because nothing beats fresh, home grown food. You can use “waste” products, such as coffee grounds, spent brewery waste, sawdust etc., to grow delicious mushrooms. You can use the spent substrate in your garden, it makes great compost, and you can feed it to livestock – chooks love it!

Do people need a special lab to grow mushrooms in their own home?

No, a clean kitchen will suffice for most aspects. If you want to do tissue culture, your lab can simply be a box! If you want to grow your own spawn, then a pressure cooker is the way to go. If you just buy dowels or spawn, then you can do all your inoculating outside.

10330240_1213173658710812_6085014387933248450_nA collection of homegrown mushroom greatness including pink oyster mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, nameko, pioppino and shiitake. Image by Will Borowski.

Can people live in tiny units/houses and still grow mushrooms?

Yes, that’s why mushroom growing is now so popular, because you can grow indoors in small spaces, in places without direct sunlight (although they do like some sunshine). Growing and nurturing something, be it plants, animals or fungi, is a good way to connect to something outside of ourselves.

There are some amazing terrariums featuring fungi, so they can be a feature. Long lasting mushrooms, Ganoderma  species such as Reishi (Japanese) or Ling-zhi (Chinese), which can live for decades, are revered for the tea you can brew from them, as well as being decorative works of art.

What should people expect from a one day workshop with you?

I try to pack as much info into a one day workshop as I can. I want people to leave knowing just how easy it can be to grow mushrooms.

.

I don’t keep any secrets, and I show people how to grow through all the aspects of mushroom growing – from cloning a mushroom, making a lab, making spawn and then using that spawn to grow mushrooms on eucalyptus logs and pasteurised straw.

Cloning mushrooms and working with petri dishes isn’t for everyone, but it is easy, and once you know how to, you can save money and make your own spawn. Some people prefer the easy way, which is to just buy dowels or spawn. We’ll teach you how to use both, we want more people to grow mushrooms. They can help reduce waste going to landfill, can be grown in recycled containers, are packed with protein and nutrients, can be grown by almost anyone almost anywhere.

I’ll do my best to answer all questions, and demystify the world of mushrooms. You’ll leave with living fungi, some which I’ve had for over a decade.

You can join Will on our How To Grow Mushroom workshop this August 20th in Hobart – it’s going to be awesome!

13407027_10154295121624319_3253345710391574519_n

Leave a comment

With Thanks To Wendell

I’ve been a *big* fan of Wendell Berry and his writing for a solid 10 years or so. As an author, environmental activist and farmer – his words cut deep for me, get straight to what matters – the earth and our place on it.

feature-wendell-berry-credit-guy-mendes

Not being a poet, I struggle to communicate the power of his words and how they pull on my heart – warming and hurting it at the same time…. So instead – I just use them.

A much younger me made a screenprint featuring some of his words – they’re so simple, but resonate so strongly with me I think I pretty much screenprinted every t-shirt I had at the time with the following patch…

IMG_6255

They come from one of his poems “Below” which reads like so….

“Above trees and rooftops
is the range of symbols:
banner, cross and star;
air war, the mode of those
who live by symbols; the pure
abstraction of travel by air.
Here a spire holds up
an angel with trump and wings;
he’s in his element.
Another lifts a hand
with forefinger pointing up
to admonish that all’s not here.
All’s not. But I aspire
downward. Flyers embrace
the air, and I’m a man
who needs something to hug.
All my dawns cross the horizon
and rise, from underfoot.
What I stand for
is what I stand on.”

I had forgotten about this screen and only just found it gathering dust under our house this past weekend. While I made it around 10 years ago, the words still have such a deep impact on me, so while our little daughter slept, I printed a small number of them to spread the love.

I hope like crazy our little daughter gets to grow big and strong to enjoy this earth of ours. I hope that my deep worry over climate change, the plight of refugees and politics seemingly concerned only with maintaining an economic system that is built to break is nothing. I hope I’m wrong and that it’s all fine. In the meantime, I say *yes* to living a life which puts the earth (and all living things) first – to me this just translate to living simply, locally and with enormous intent to do good.

Thanks to Wendell for being one of the good ones.

wendell-sacred-e1418836804922

2 Comments

The impact of doing a Permaculture Design Course

Meet Lauren and Oberon Carter (and their three ace little people) who live in Hobart, Tasmania. Oberon is an ecologist who works in conservation, currently working with Tasmanian threatened species. He’s spent time looking at climate change and Tasmanian landscapes and working with landowners. Lauren comes from a design background and runs an online shop called Spiral Garden, selling ethical toys, gifts and homewares – plus she home educates their three children (which is a full-time job in itself). They’ve each completed a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) – Lauren with Milkwood and Oberon with us at Good Life. Today we’re talking to them about permaculture and specifically how completing a PDC has impacted their lives…
.

12314559_1219867518029365_1650385796889771489_o
What knowledge did you have on permaculture before you did your PDC?

(Lauren) Before doing our PDCs, we had fairly limited knowledge of what Permaculture was. Oberon’s background in ecology meant he had a deep understanding of natural processes and my practical experience and long-held interest in gardening and sustainable living meant much of it made sense to us when we finally got around to doing our PDCs. We’d been reading the Designers Manual (By Bill Mollison) and talking about doing a PDC since seeing David Holmgren talk in a tent in Daylesford when we were 20 years old (around 15-20 years ago)!
 .

IMG_6099-1

How did the PDC inform your life choices – personally and professionally?

(Lauren) I had a real A-ha! moment when I did my PDC. We’d been unschooling our children for several years and found that many of the principles and ethics were aligned with how we were raising our kids. It felt like everything fell into place. And I thought I was just there for gardening!
.
We began working with my permaculture design for our home and our children were intrigued so I started passing information on to them. Then Oberon decided to do his PDC and had a similar A-ha! moment. We began working with permaculture as a holistic framework for homeschooling our kids and that evolved into the Seedlings Permaculture program. This is an online course we offer that focuses on permaculture for families, bringing permaculture into people’s homes around the world.
 .
In the meantime, we’ve also been very slowly implementing our design plan for our home and, more recently, focussing on the principle “Produce No Waste”. Our home is now waste-free and we’ve written another e-course, Zero Waste Families, to share that process with other families. Our retail business is now based around permaculture principles and we’re volunteering our time to local groups such as Zero Waste Tasmania and Permaculture Tasmania.
.
IMG_5881

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about doing a PDC but not sure if it’ll be useful or relevant to them?

(Lauren) Something neither of us expected was the incredible group environment at a PDC and the experience of sharing two weeks with a group of passionate and interesting people from all walks of life. One of us is an extrovert and the other a complete introvert and we both found lots of inspiration and ease within the group setting.
.
.
Without the concentrated effort of the work and conversation at the PDC, we’d most likely still be fumbling along, reading bits here and there. To really understand what permaculture’s all about, a PDC is an absolute must.
.
IMG_5883-1

How do you think permaculture can help be the solution to some of our global challenges?

(Oberon) The ethics and principles that underpin the permaculture design system were developed in the context of an increasing awareness of climate change and global development.  With this in mind, permaculture really speaks to the heart of what is needed to solve many of our global challenges – caring more for nature, for each other, and sharing that which is surplus to our needs.
 .
These ethics appear so simple and straightforward, and yet the behaviour of many modern societies appears contrary to them. I think big in-roads can be made if shifts are made towards more localised and closed-loop food systems, with a culture of sharing within better-connected local communities, whilst challenging the consumptive norms of today. It ain’t gonna be easy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Global challenges aren’t answered in a single paragraph, but I think permaculture concepts would be a beneficial conversation starter when discussing any global problem.
.
IMG_6932-1

How is permaculture being part of your solution to living a good life?

(Oberon) I feel that living by the ethics and principles of permaculture (or at least, being mindful of them when we aren’t quite living by them!) helps us to feel more a part of nature, rather than apart from it. It sounds cliche, but to me, this is what living the good life is about – feeling more connected to the earth and to each other.
.
.
But even more than FEELING connected, permaculture has taught us how to ACT in ways that are less harmful to the environment and each other. It’s more than feeling a certain way, its about doing a certain way.
.
IMG_6608-1
Getting your hands in the earth, to eventually harvest your own food, to make use of what is nearby, to maintain the good stuff (e.g. biodiversity, healthy soils, water and air) whilst nourishing ourselves. To observe the big picture as well as the small, and find what works for you and your surrounds. A way of life that is founded in good science and practical logic, but which is flexible enough for us to change habits and adapt as the world changes around us!
.
  • You can read more about Oberon and Lauren’s journey in zero waste here
  • Our next Permaculture Design Course in this summer running from January 21 – February 3 in Southern Tasmania – it’s shaping up to be more than special.
  • All photos are taken by Oberon and Lauren.
2 Comments

Vegan Kimchi

13230164_1162222730478637_321146754051828737_nWe’re big fans of the wild ferment and make all sorts of nutritious and delicious veggie and dairy ferments.

I recently came by this particularly enormous and beautiful Chinese cabbage at the local markets. It inspired a flurry of kimchi making, plus a photo shoot to capture its glory for all eternity.

The main difference to our kimchi recipe is that it’s and vegan, here’s how we make it…

 

img_6201

Traditionally, kimchi includes fish source or products, this provides a distinct ‘kimchi’ flavour which is incredibly popular. Being vegetarian, we simply leave this out – our ‘base’ ingredients are:

img_6202

  • Salt – 3 tablespoons
  • Cabbage- 2kg (any type, but chinese cabbage is usually the most desired for kim chi)
  • Ginger (grated)
  • garlic (however much you’d like)
  • chilli (fresh is best, but dried flakes or powder is also great -use as much as you like
  • carrot (we like ours chunky, but you can grate or dice it if you prefer) – use as much as you like
  • **Usually I’ll also add some daikon radish (or other types of radish), but we didn’t have any ready in the garden this time round.

Sometimes we’ll also add additional flavours including mustard seeds, dill seeds, bay leaves – anything that takes our fancy. But we always, always have the above ingredients to form the foundation taste.

img_6206

The first step is to roughly chop your cabbage into large chunks. Of course, if you prefer, you can dice it finely – it’s all up to your personal preference.

Place it in a large bowl and add the salt, massaging it roughly with your hands to make sure it’s nicely integrated.

Leave it on your kitchen bench over night to let it ‘sweat’, in the morning you’ll see a nice puddle of brine (salty water) has formed at the bottom. Keep all of this for the following step.

img_6208

The brine ‘puddle’

img_6215

Chop up all your other ingredients and mix them through your cabbage/brine mix so they’re beautifully integrated.

img_6217

Gradually pack your fermentation vessel* with your mix, packing it down as you go. This is an important detail as you need to:

(a) Remove any air pockets, and

(b) Squeeze the brine out of the cabbage so it covers the entire mix.

*We happen to have recently purchased a crock pot from local potters, Zsolt Faludi and Nanna Bayer. Until up last month, we simply used glass jars to make all our kimchi and sauerkraut in – which are more than fine for the task. It was just a bit of a life dream to get a large crock pot (this one’s 4 litres). We like some of its design features which include a large ‘lip’ to catch the sometimes overflowing brine and the purpose made clay weights that fit nicely inside the pot to keep the mix down and the brine covering it.

img_6222

img_6218

Other options to use for a weight are a small plate or a whole cabbage leaf with a clean stone or glass jar of water on top to hold it down.

img_6221After 24 hours the brine will have risen above your weight and started to bubble (as you can see in our photo below right). This is what you’re looking for – the bubbles tell you the fermentation process is well under way. Your kitchen will also smell like kimchi – aka delicious.

Check your kimchi once-twice daily to make sure the brine stays above the weight, if it isn’t either press it down until the brine rises up, or add a small amount of de-chlorinated water. After 2-3 days start tasting it until you’re happy with the flavour. If you like strong kimchi, leave it for longer, if you prefer a more mild taste you might stop the process after a few days. The speed of which your kimchi ferments also depends on your climate, the hotter your climate, the quicker the fermentation process.

IMG_6223How do you “stop” it? Once you’re happy with the flavour, decant it into some small glass jars (or leave it in the jar it’s in), screw the lid on and place it in the fridge or cool pantry. The cold will ‘stop’ the fermentation process, pausing it so you can enjoy the flavour. Of course, nothing ever really stops and it will still mature very, very slowly in the fridge. It will last for months in your fridge, so you can eat through it at your own pace.

Want more?

  • Get to know Sandor Katz’s and his work.
  • This November 26th (2016), we’re running our annual Fermentation Fest where we’ll teach you how to make your own kimchi, tempeh, yoghurt and so much more. CLICK HERE for more information and to register.
  • We make our own eduction tea towels – including one about how to make sauerkraut – you can check it out HERE. 
  • You can contact Zsolt Faludi and Nanna Bayer to order your own crock pot (and other great fermenting vessels) here: zsolt.faludi@utas.edu.au.
Leave a comment

Ten Tasmanian Bush Food Plants

Tasmania is home to a large range of bush food plants, however most of us walk straight by them or grow them in our gardens without realising they we can actually eat parts of them. So here’s ten hardy, nutritious and delicious native plants of Tasmania you can sink your teeth into…

karkalla_3Pig face (Carpobrotus Rossii): This succulent ground creeper can be found along the coast growing in sand dunes. They have a purple/pink fruit which is *delicious* (salty and sweet), you just have to suck out the small seed pulp of the fruit. This is by far my favourite bush tucker, you can also eat its green leaves in salads, apply ‘pig face juice’ to sandfly bites and make a poultice of crushed leaves to help ease pain from burns – image from here.

 

kennedia-prostrata-running-postman-1-kirsner-1Running Postman (Kennedia Prostrata): This plant’s beautiful red flowers can be added to water where they’ll realise a delicious nectar. The leaves can be infused in hot water for tea and apparently you can use the stems as a strong twine. This ground cover is naturally found in coastal regions but can thrive in a home garden in a well drained, sunny location, image from here.

 

Richea_pandanifoliaDragon-leaf Richea (Richea Dracophylla): A popular plant you’ll see on any good Tassie bush walk. The large flower heads are full of nectar, you just have to remove the ‘gum nut like’ cap cap from each one and suck out the nectar. This plant will grow up to 3m at higher altitudes, but can also live in a pot in a moist, shady spot – image from here.

 

Rubus_parv_xNative Raspberry (Rubus Parvifolius): Similar to raspberries, only with a smaller berry. Eat them fresh, in jams or other preserves. This plant will climb to 1.5m and have spiky thorns, adding to the harvest challenge – image from here.

 

 

 

lomandra-longifolia-a-6500-700Sagg (Lomandra Longifolia): This is a popular landscaping plant that sometimes get overlooked as a bush food. Its young, white shoots can be eaten raw and taste a bit nutty – they can also be baked. This clumping grass can grow in dry or wet conditions up to around 1m high – image from here.

 

MPberries_readyNative Pepper (Tasmannia Lanceolata): Definitely Tasmania’s most popular bush food used by cooks across the world in place of common pepper. You can harvest and use the pepper berries fresh, or dry them and use at a later date. It grows as an understory shrub and prefers cool, moist areas – you can also grow them in large pots as well – image from here.

 

nativemintRiver Mint (Mentha Australia): You’ll find this strong tasting mint herb growing along water ways in northern Tasmania. Use it just like you’d use common garden mint, in drinks, salads and cooked meals. Some people write you shouldn’t eat this while pregnant – so please be careful, image from here.

 

kunzea-ambigua-2Sweet-scented Kunzea (Kunzea Ambigua): Use the leaves as a tasty tea or as a strong flavour in cooking. People say this is the best native plant to add to dishes like roast meat and veggies. Kunzea will grow to 3m on average soils and can be pruned easily to keep it smaller – image from here.

 

 

 

Water_Ribbons_02Water Ribbons (Triglochin Procera): You can eat Water Ribbon’s thick, tuberous roots. To prepare them pan fry or roast them. These tubers were a major food food indigenous folks in Tassie and the mainland.  They grow best in slow moving or still water up to 50cm deep or in really damp ground – image from here.

Eucalyptus_gunni_flowersCider Gum (Eucalyptus Gunnii): The Cider Gum’s sap can be collected and used as a syrup, similar to how maple syrup is used. It’s said that indigenous Tasmanians made an alcoholic drink from it. To harvest the sap you need to make a wound in the tree’s trunk – we suggest only doing this for trees on your own (or friend’s land) and not out in the bush – image from here.

 

A really important thing to remember when identifying bush foods out in the wild is to be careful – if there is any doubt at all simply don’t eat it. If you’d like to find out about more about these plants and many more we recommend getting in touch with Plants of Tasmania near Hobart. They have a wealth of knowledge including a booklet you can buy called “Tasmanian Bush Food” for only $5!

2 Comments

Okines Community Garden

45 minutes east of Hobart is a little town called Dodges Ferry, tucked in against some sweet little surf beaches. There are many great things about this stretch of coast, one of them is this place, Okines Community Garden. We happen to be holding our 2017 summer Permaculture Design Course and thought you might like a little look around…

img_6198

img_6195

rsz_img_6178

img_6193

img_6189This garden is particularly ace due to having Gabe and Claire on board (the two groovers you can see to the left) as part-time coordinators to make things happen. Their knowledge, skill and natural flair for greatness really bring this space to life. I *always* love coming here to see the flourishing orchard, veggies, art, chooks and their community in action. Seriously, it’s rare to have such vibrance in community gardens, people always dropping in, working in the food co-op, gardening, talking. It’s good, really good.

The concept of the garden has evolved over time, but at its core it’s obvious that it holds a strong flame for community development, providing a space that people really *want* to be in.

Some of the key things they have focused on creating, or are looking to create include:

img_6191

  • a herb labyrinth
  • sale of produce via the market
  • involvement of students from the Dodges Ferry Primary School
  • cooking classes with the fresh produce
  • helping needy people in the community
  • growing native and fruit trees
  • depot for green waste
  • a mulcher for community use
  • an experimental garden to determine best plants for the area
  • workshops to teach growing techniques and crop rotation etc.

One of our past students is a Dodges Ferry local and she was raving about this garden to me. In particular their pizza oven which her family uses regularly – it’s an extension of their kitchen, their home. How cool is that.

rsz_img_6177

Next door to their cranking pizza oven is a small food co-op run by the community. I love seeing these simple set ups – it’s all you need to distribute good food to folks.

dsc_4650

Their labyrinth  is on the edge of a small wetland, home to a b’zillion frogs and little critters. As well as growing food, these guys are also committed to regenerating the local native plants and water systems of this area, creating a beautiful and much needed balance. An indicator of their success is their resident bandicoots and echidnas. And yes, that’s the ocean you can see in the background, a refreshing (that’s code for cold Tassie water) swimming beach a short stroll from the garden.

img_6182

rsz_img_6181

Claire and Gabe are on site Mondays 9:00 am to 4 pm, Wednesdays 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm and Thursdays 10:30 am to 3 pm. Pop in, say g’day, get involved and fall in love with this wonderful space. You can also get in touch with them at dig@okinescommunityhouse.com.au.

We’re holding our summer Permaculture Design Course in the Okines community house, directly next to this great space. Students will have the option of camping on site and really soak up the space over a two week period. If you’d like to find out more info, get in touch for a yarn at hello@goodlifepermaculture.com.au or 0418 307 294.

1 Comment

Stabilising Slopes With Pallets

We’ve used a large range of techniques to stablise our steep slope, you can read about some of them here, here and here. Yet another way we’ve used recycled materials to keep our slope from sliding down the hill is using timber pallets.

10338774_760206030680311_2061181568974483935_n

We salvage these for free from the side of the road, building sites and warehouses. They’re treated with heat, so are chemical free – this means they’ll break down sooner rather than later, but before they do, you can use them in *countless* ways. If you’re searching for some yourself, look out for the “HT” stamp on the pallet as seen below.

2014-03-27-09.35.09

We had never tried this technique before and seeing as it’s a super hot and dry slope,  were unsure which plants would really thrive in such a compromising position (without heaps of pampering). Because of this, we initially planted a range of herbaceous, edible and native plants to ‘test’ which one/s would work. The winner (by far) was creeping boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium). We’re big fans of this vigorous native ground cover and have planted it in some of the hardest spots in our garden where not much else survives (except invasive grasses). One of these plants will happily cover up to two-three square metres densely which is absolute gold when you live on steep slopes. Check it out!

IMG_6170

You can see some of the pallet structure peeking out in the top left hand corner. Creeping boobialla puts down roots along the length of its “branches”, so while we planted each plant at the top of the bank it’s now put down roots from top to bottom.

IMG_6166

At the top of the bank is where the creeping boobialla meets a solid planting of garden thyme, an edible herb that is also a ground cover – we love the way they merge into one another seamlessly.

So in solidarity with all of you slope dwellers out there (it’s hard work, hey) we offer up yet another approach to working with steep, steep slopes to foster landscapes which are accessible, productive and beautiful. All power to you!

5 Comments

Toggenburg Goats

I’ve just finished a week of goat sitting Matilda and Pip – two Toggenburg goats who live on the edge of Hobart. My daily trips to milk Matilda, pat Pip and lean on the gate watching them jump up onto high stuff in their paddock has got me all dreamy and desiring some of our own.

IMG_6139

IMG_6132Pip’s the chilled one, while Matilda (the milker) a bit more bossy – I love them both. I love that milking just one of these relatively compact animals provides more than enough milk for a small household to make their cheese, have milk on our porridge and tea/coffee plus give some away to friends.

12963456_1135978936436350_6054016161694668128_n

My first day of milking them saw me with this image above – an almost full bucket of milk on the ground. Trying to milk a goat and wrangle a *very* excited one year old who likes eating goat poo and trying to hug goats is hard work guys.  Milking was more peaceful when she stayed at home!

The internet tells me that there are over 300 goat breeds worldwide and the Toggenburg is considered the oldest breed that was registered sometime in the 1600s. I like them as they don’t conquer any fence (i.e. they can be contained), are fairly stocky and wonderfully natured. Our one year old daughter spent 1 second being a bit scared of them and the rest of the time trying to hug them.

IMG_6143IMG_6129

 

IMG_6147 IMG_6146

As we live on an urban block (1300m2) full of edible food, we don’t have space for our own goats. One day we’d like to be able to have goats in our neighbourhood, closer to home – perhaps shared with others. A little paddock we can walk to daily to milk and admire our goat friends. Until then I’ll be the first to put my hands up (both of them) to do any goat sitting in our neck of the woods.

3 Comments

Everything I Know About Comfrey (So Far)

We get a lot of questions about comfrey and its role in the garden. It’s often toted as one of ‘must have’ plants due to its multifunctionalism, and overall we agree – this plant is unusually useful. However there’s also a fair bit of confusion about some of it characteristics, such as will it spread and take over your garden? Is it really a dynamic accumulator? Am I allowed to eat it? Doesn’t it deter fungi in the soil? So in the name of efficiency, I’m writing this blog to answer all these questions plus more.

Comfrey varieties

The first thing to get clear on is that there are *many* comfrey varieties with different characteristics. The more common ones include:

aaaaaaaaa1_2

Creeping comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) is also known as dwarf comfrey and as its name suggests, it will creep through the whole space that you plant it in. Therefore only plant it if this is what you want. It’s also been described as ornamental comfrey. This is the comfrey that will quickly become a “weed” in your garden, so be careful where you place it. Image from here.

.

Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) is the most popular type of comfrey for the grower, it’s a hybrid of Symphytum officinale (common comfrey) and Symphytum asperum (rough comfrey). There are two main cultivars used, Bocking 14  and Bocking 4, both were developed in the 1950s by Lawrence Hills (founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association) and named after the place they were  developed, Bocking in the UK.

12105803_1123590424341868_7627898172855497658_nBocking 14 was apparently chosen from over 20 different varieties trialed by Hills due to having the highest yields with high potash content. Bocking 14 is sterile, so doesn’t set seed and can only be propagated by division. However it will still slowly increase in size so it’s wise to dig it up and divide it up every few years.

Bocking 4 is said to have a deeper tap root – up to 8-10 feet, while Bocking 14 is around 6 – 8 feet. It’s described as the preferred type for a farming context as it has the highest concentration of protein, is more rust resistant and is also recommended as a good fodder for livestock, including pigs and chooks. Image from our garden.

.

Its reputation as a dynamic accumulator

Along with a decent list of other plants, it’s known as what’s called a dynamic accumulator. However there isn’t actual solid, scientific evidence on how effective comfrey is in this regard. There are some well written, clear articles you can read about this here and here which summarise it nicely.

My personal approach is that while the science it still out on its role as a dynamic accumulator, I still recommend this plant be included in your garden for a *range of reasons*. We use it to stablise slopes with its great root system, medicinally, as mulch in our orchard and as fresh food for our chooks.

12806214_1122765354424375_1562489664431605907_n 12932943_1134525449915032_7214175053786806667_n

In our young orchard, comfrey is planted directly downhill of the trees, stabilising a steep bank, we slash the leaves and use them as mulch (image on right), cycling the nutrients back into the soil.

How to use it for my garden

Despite the science not being bullet proof, you can’t ignore the countless gardeners who swear that by adding comfrey to your garden you end up with healthier soils and crops. There are endless methods you can do this, have a read here and here for just some of them.

Comfrey’s antifungal – isn’t that bad for my soil?

I’m not sure. In our own garden we haven’t seen any evidence of this and we’re really big on encouraging fungi in our soils through strategies like using ramial woodchips. The only references I could find to its antifungal properties were in a medicinal context, rather than gardening.

Am I allowed to eat it?

No, is the short, legal answer.

In 1984 the Poisons Advisory Bureau (through the National Health and Medical Research Council) placed it on the Poisons Schedule in Australia. The Council listed comfrey as a dangerous poison, only to be available through pharmacists, by doctor’s prescription. This decision is thought to have come about due to a public scare in the late 1970s with newspaper headlines reading things like ‘Liver damage can be done by herbs’,  ‘Popular Herb is a Killer’, ‘Scientist Warns Herb is a Killer’, ‘ Health Drink Causes Cancer, says CSIRO expert’ and ‘Comfrey is a Killer’.

Why are people scared? Comfrey has pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA’s), these are regarded as potentially hepatoxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic. PA’s are believed to have an accumulative effect in the body and may cause hepatic vein blockage and liver toxicity. In the early 2000s the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also removed comfrey products from market for this reason.

Can I feed it to my animals?

My understanding that in moderation, yes. I feed it to our chickens as part of a mixed leafy green mix and they love it. Some folks say their chickens will only eat dried or aged comfrey (so the prickliness of the leaves goes away) – if you have rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum) this may be extra important to do. If you’re unsure – do some local research, talk to some animal experts or don’t do it.

Medicinal uses

I use comfrey medicinally in two key ways – I’m sure there are many, many more, but this is what I know:

  1. Also known as “knit bone”, comfrey leaf can be made into a poultice and applied to breaks, sprains and bruises. I’ve used this my whole life and there’s a notable improvement, i.e. decrease of swelling, bruising and pain, each time I’m able to apply a comfrey poultice quickly.
  1. As outlined above, you’re not meant to ingest comfrey at all. However I grew up drinking comfrey and dandelion ‘green drink’ my mum would make us when sick –  without a doubt it helped us feel better (other ingredients included fresh apple or carrots and ginger).

I actually have a memory refusing to drink it as I knew I’d get better quicker and was trying to take as many days off school as possible. But I’m not a health professional, so please don’t take this as advice, just note that I’m still alive, healthy and that to this day I continue to eat and drink comfrey sporadically (not every day) as I want to.

Where should I plant it?

If you’d like your (non-creeping) comfrey to remain a blessing and not a curse, don’t plant it in your annual vegetable garden/s. No matter what variety you choose, the seasonal digging that you do to harvest crops and prep the bed will inevitably result in you digging into the comfrey’s root zone. Each time you chip a bit of the root off it will blossom into its own vigorous plant and eventually take over the whole veggie patch. Instead, plant it somewhere where you won’t be digging – like your orchard, a designated bed or beneath/amongst some perennial vegetables/berries.

Saying all that, I do know people who like to grow it on the edge of the annual gardens as a border to prevent grass from creeping in – this is risky business as I’ve outlined above. You could however plant comfrey on the *outside* of the annual garden which I’ve seen many times. There’s a border (i.e. timber sleeper) between it and the actual garden bed, keeping it contained while still highly accessable to chop and drop as mulch onto the garden.

How to grow it

Comfrey is dead easy to grow. In short, hack a small chunk of root off and pop it in the ground – it will grow. You can read our blog about how to do it here.

IMG_0759-1024x768 IMG_0761-1024x768

I’m no expert on comfrey and am always interested to learn more, so please send through your own experiences and information on what works (or doesn’t work) for you.

Want to know more?

10 Comments