Sunday, January 30, 2011

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Ms Tagalong had been away so long she couldn't remember how to get into the garden. She lurked along the fenceline, crooning to the chickens who of course were sure she was bringing them some tasty delights. One, two, three... oh no, one seems to be missing!

Catching up with Ms Mova later in the day Ms Tagalong found out that one of the ladies had actually keeled over in the heat; I could imagine the others clucking and fanning her with their concerned clipped wings; and had gone to the Chicken Whisperer to be healed. So now there will be invites for two chickens to dinner! Get well, little ladies.

Casting her critical eye around the drought-stricken garden, Ms Tagalong was pleased to see that the basil
and lettuce sown before her departure was growing very well and could see a lovely macadamia nut and basil pesto swirling before her eyes.

Gratifyingly the rhubarb has survived. Ms Mova had been 'encouraging' all to make sure that the plants had received some of the precious water during the drought weeks. 'Encouraging' is my word, beaten by a big stick might be more accurate!

Plants are struggling, gasping for any relief from the blazing sun. The tanks still have some water but I have been told that no rain has fallen the whole time Ms Tagalong and Mr Ideasman have been away.

The idea of an arts night might need to include a rain dance.

The nod of approval has been given to the wonderful signs painted by Paintpot Pat and the great mobile made from beads and shells. Candelabras grace the concrete and the idea of a mosaic is brewing in Ms Designer's brain I hear.

The neatness and order in the shed and potting shed is breathtaking. All tools and seeds neatly labelled and stored. Ms Tagalong is so looking forward to a good Autumn planting as she can now find the seeds she needs!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Disaster Bay Chillies

Bereft of another community garden to report on, Ms Tagalong thought you might like to know about this enterprising Eden venture. Certainly no disaster for the two friends Stuart and John who amalgamated forces growing organic chillis and turning them into award-winning produce.

They are not climatically as lucky as us in Newcastle and their 1-2 tonne chilli crop is annual, growing 15 different varieties together with 5 tonnes of tomatoes used in the various products. About 10,000 jars of each annually, Stuart told us, plus 10 – 12,000 bottles of wine. Half an acre produces enough for their needs. They plant 10% more than they need having decided to use no biological controls losing some to red grubs and ladybirds.

Ms Tagalong was initially seduced by the idea of sourcing local chilli chocolate after having bartered her last remaining bar for some bastard trumpeter at the camp-site.

For those unknowing gardeners, the bastard trumpeter (not an illegitimate relation to Winton Marsalis) is a very meaty fish.
Succulent and filleted, fresh from the sea, it very nearly made up for the ongoing lack of chocolate.

Back at the factory Ms Tagalong was disappointed to hear that the chocolate is only made in the cooler season and is in fact not much of a profit maker but an award winner, taking the best chocolate at Good Taste Awards in the UK.

Ms Tagalong hummed and hawed about what to buy:
Hot Chilli Wine – their signature product
Exotic Masala – Chilli sauce, spices personally blended by one of the two resident Indian ladies in the area

Spicy Kasounda – Indian Chutney
Chipotle Sauce – smoked jalapeno and garlic, a Mexican taste import. Imagine smoking these in the wood-fired pizza oven which we just must have!
Chilli wine liqueur – liqueur conserve
Lemon Stinger – Chilli marmalade, more a Zinger, said John, but the herbal teas have cornered the name on that one!
So what would you have done? Probably listen to Mr Ideasman and buy one of each!

Where on earth did the idea for a chilli wine come from, we asked Stuart?
You might say that Stuart saw a light, literally, after his stint as Green Cape lighthouse-keeper.

He had learnt the recipe from an old bushman he used to camp with and after making some brews he floated the idea to go commercial by his friend John, an organic market gardener.

John asked his wife, who said no. Stuart then gave John's wife a sample and she said yes!
The rest, as they say, is history with more and more awards stacking up will be happy to know all products can be purchased at Newcastle Farmer's Market.

Although Ms Tagalong and Mr Ideasman were both offered jobs cooking the two giant kettles of tomatoes (8-9 hours, reduced with no thickeners)
they declined but did take the proffered manzana chillis, black-seeded to plant in the garden.

Now, who has a big kettle?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Community Garden Visit - Number 2

Ms Tagalong was, as usual, wandering two steps behind Mr Ideasman. This time it was through Moruya markets, when she spotted a small stall with organic produce.
'Is there a community garden in Moruya?' she eagerly asked.
'Oh yes, are you interested in joining?'
Sadly we declined but agreed to go and have a look at SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture & Gardening Eurobodalla) an enviable acre and a half just outside the town centre. Eat your heart out Treefrog Permaculture! Just the size for a city farm.

Sage has the aims of increasing the quantity of locally grown food and 'growing the growers', returning this area to the market garden production it was known for. Using sustainable farming practices and the co-operation and assistance of TAFE (mm, could be an idea for us) the 'garden' is still in its developmental stages.

We admired the rather grand crop of marrows and wandered around some of the smaller plots which the lady at the markets had explained were individually tended.

The market had run out of basil to go on the lovely fresh tomatoes so Ms Tagalong was hoping to glean some and had just picked off the tips of some flowering plants when a striped lady strode purposefully towards us.

Ms Tagalong clutched her illicit basil guiltily behind her back hoping the clinch wouldn't release too much of that undeniable basil smell.
'We're from Tighes Hill Community Garden in Newcastle,' we smiled.
Mr Ideasman talked and we found out that like most ventures, there is a dedicated core. About 15-20 participants regularly attend the working bees on this most fertile flood plain beside the river.

'We are lucky,' Ms Stripes said, 'some of our members are semi-retired landowners who have the machinery to keep this under control. We have just had so much rain and everything just grows and grows.'

Mr Ideasman and I admired a prolific unknown crop and enquired as to what it was.

'Oh it's just a weed', she said,'the whole place was covered with it at the beginning. I think there's a potato crop underneath.'

Standing nearly 1 ½ metres high with light blue flowers and fruit something like a cape gooseberry it was certainly most impressive. Pity it was a weed!

We spotted a solar-driven bore, a skeleton for a herb garden and an orchard.

Once Ms Stripes had gone with her lunchtime lettuce we gleaned a few more herbs and a very small lettuce, honestly it was very small and they were all threatening to go to seed!

Tiger prawns, fresh Italian bread, tomato and lettuce salad garnished with the purloined basil – a lunch fit for visiting community gardeners!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Community Garden Visit - Number One

This one wasn't even planned. Dropping off Miss Glamourpuss to her trendy inner city domicile now complete with authentic Chinese replica of French provincial bench, we got out of the car and she said, "Oh, there's Redfern Community Garden." And there it was. Off Young Street, off Cleveland Street. A little oasis in a disused corner of an alley behind the restaurant strip. Ms Tagalong was so excited that she had her trusty camera along and took a few photos of the beds. All raised, all in those modern aluminium surrounds.

"Are you a gardener?" Ms Tagalong eagerly asked a young man sitting rolling a cigarette with a bored white fluffy dog at his feet.

"No but I like to come and sit in here," he said. "There are so many of these unused spaces which should be gardens. I used to think they would all have their own little plot you know, allotments, but here everyone looks after everything. Last time I was here there was an old gentleman with a watering can and the time before I met a lady who was very worried about the curry plant!"

Ms Tagalong admired the productivity in such a small space, took some photos and said goodbye.

Next stop for this blog was another opportunity for a celebrity chicken or two. Stopping at Cafe Bella on the main street of Kangaroo Valley we plonked down for a cappucino after three days in the wilds of Bundeela(bogan country, don't you know)Ms Ideas(wo)man spied a grapevine clad arbour to the back of the cafe. Imagine her delight when she opened the french door to find an Isabrown clucking around. Friendly and expectant of food she was soon joined by a cockerel, breed unknown, with fluffy white feet and skittish behaviour.

"Don't touch me!" and in a panic he fell off the verandah trying to shrug off the embarassment with a loud cock-a-doodle-do! I fear I am fast becoming a chickenophile! Might even invite one to dinner.