Green Smoothies

Most green smoothies combine 60% high sugar fruits (think mangos, bananas, pineapple, berries) with a 40% combination of leafy green vegetables and herbs such as kale, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, celery, parsley, mint, basil and coriander.  Other vegetables such as cucumber can also be added, and if you’re good at weed identification you can (carefully!) include annual stinging nettles.

The other difference between a traditional banana smoothie and a green smoothie is that water is used as the liquid ingredient, rather than milk/yogurt/soy milk.  But don’t be concerned about the smoothie tasting like cold soup as the fruit helps improve the texture – especially when using mango or bananas.  Some recipes also include coconut water as the liquid ingredient.

Try the recipe below and I’m sure you’ll soon be singing about how wonderful Green Smoothies are too:

 

Will it blend?

My blender is a 20 year old model with a French name, but interestingly made in Mexico – obviously labour was cheaper there than China at the time.  It had no problems preparing the green smoothie below, but if you have cash burning a hole in your pocket there are a stack of high quality blenders available now.  Blenders of course can be used for other helpful tasks that enrich society such as this:

Basic Green  Smoothie

I had these ingredients in my garden apart from the banana (…and the ice) and it tasted great!

4 young kale leaves with the stalks cut out

2 stalks of parsley

1 stalk of mint

1 large ripe banana

1/2 cup ice

1.5 cups filtered water (approx – add until you’re happy with the consistency)

Start with the ice, then banana and your roughly chopped leafy greens.

Add water after all the leaves have been chopped up and then keep blending until you’re happy with the constancy.  Enjoy!

Planning a kitchen garden

We certainly live in times where the perception is to achieve something you have to be moving at a furious pace; report writing, renovating and making sure you respond to friends’ Facebook comments within 15 seconds.  Even relaxation time has to be booked in and analysed: “is this yoga class really giving me spiritual enlightenment?”.

1) Observation

Anyway, give yourself an afternoon off on the next sunny day and get into that comfy chair to simply pay attention to what’s happening in your garden.

In only a few minutes, birds will start to ignore you and you can begin to note the following:

Which way is north, east, south and west?   (Free compass apps are available on most smart phones)

Where are the sunny and shady parts of the garden?

Note any breezes and the direction they’re coming from.  (You can also check for wind damaged trees e.g. missing foliage from strong/salty winds)

Bugs, bees, birds and butterflies.

Where are the eyesores or ugly views?

Take a wander and note dry or wet patches of soil.

Look for trees that may cast a shadow over areas or offer competition for water a nutrients.

Take note of the slope of the ground and where this will direct water during heavy rain.

Pay attention to the types of weeds that have grown over winter.  Tough, woody weeds usually mean poor soil.  Lush green leaves (that you’d probably eat if someone told you it was okay) are signs of fertile soil.

2) Elements

This is the fun bit and often where people start without the knowledge gained in step 1 – Observation.  Think about what you’d like; raised garden beds, a big patch for potatoes/pumpkins, compost heap, worm farm, fruit trees, chook house, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries or other dedicated perennial bed/s, bee hives, herb patch, sensory garden, edible maze, berries, water tank, potting shed, green house – and the list goes on!  REALLY clever design is where you start to help these elements work together.  For example, including your chook run amongst your fruit trees fertilises the trees, minimises pests and provides shade for the chooks.  Your pumpkin patch may be down hill from your compost heap so its receives lots of nutrient rich run-off during wet weather.  Your potting area may look out over the rest of the yard or kids play area so you can safely garden while still keeping an eye on everything!

3) Right thing in the right place

This is where we use a Permaculture design technique called Zoning.  Basically it means thinking about how often you’ll use the above elements in your day to day living and placing them accordingly.  We start with Zone 1.  This is stuff you access every day such as herbs, picking greens such as lettuce and annual veggies.  You know, stuff you pick and cook or eat straight away.   If you’ve included a chook house, you’ll want part of your zone 1 to include a trip to fetch the eggs and check on your hen’s water and food.  You can see how this zoning exercise will influence your chook house design as wallowing through a muddy chook run to get eggs can soon lose its novelty!  Depending on your needs a clothes line may be a requirement in Zone 1 if you have a big (or young) family and need to hang washing daily.  Again your keen powers of observation from step 1 will let you know which north facing position will allow you to dry your clothes in the sun throughout the year.  I also have my worm farm in Zone 1 as it means food scraps are disposed with as conveniently as just throwing them in the bin.

Slightly less convenient is Zone 2 where you may include fruit trees, berry vines, a potting shed or greenhouse.  Other vegetable beds such as carrots, beetroot that need less TLC than heavy feeding lettuce etc. can be located in Zone 2. In an urban house block, you may have no further need any further zones and indeed a small courtyard or balcony will mean you only need Zone 1!

When designing larger properties the same logic follows with Zone 3 and 4 used for grazing, managed forests or woodlots, bees and other areas not visited every day.   Typically Zone 5 is ‘left for nature’ on large acreage although in an urban setting I often think of the rural land outside the suburbs as my Zone 5.

This idea of Zoning can be used in any from of design when aiming for maximum efficiency.  You can use it to design an office building, a house, a kitchen, and life in general!

4) Work to a timeline 

This is a really valuable step as it acknowledges that creating a kitchen garden isn’t like building a swimming pool, where you have a definite start and finish date.  As food gardeners we really do follow the seasons and that means for example that the time for planting bare root fruit trees has really passed.  Simply note it as a job to do in June/July next year and start working on the soil preparation now.  However now may be the best time to install a greenhouse as it will allow you to establish summer seedlings.  Chickens are often available at point-of-lay currently, so a chook house is another great spring activity.

If you prefer to plan on a laptop rather than paper check out here for a free 30 day trial of a garden planner…although I prefer to work on paper.

Approaching a kitchen garden design needn’t feel like project management.  However taking the time to think things through means you’re less likely to waste time and money, while increasing your chances of having an enormous backyard harvest!

Grasp the Nettle

 

The variety in my garden is Utica urens, a small annual nettle that grows all year around but is particularly noticeable in the milder spring and autumn months.  Nettles typically thrive in a high nitrogen and phosphorus environments, so it’s no surprise when they pop up in veggie patches as well as amongst cow pats in paddocks.  Of course anything growing happily in such fertile soil is going to be highly nutritious and nettles don’t disappoint.  They contain vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K.  Nettles are high in calcium, magnesium potassium and iron, plus with over 20% protein they are without equal in the leafy vegetable realm.

But it’s not just an underrated edible herb.  Nettle leaves have been used to create a dye for military clothing and during world war 1 over 2000 tons of wild nettles were collected to create uniforms from the fibre which is said to rival hemp for durability.  Medicinally this wonder herb also excels.  The sting is said to increase blood flow and can treat everything from arthritis to gout.  Nettle tea is a pain free introduction and is available in lots of supermarkets – especially where Europeans frequent.

The native Australian Yellow Admiral butterfly is also a fan of this introduced ‘weed’ choosing to lay its eggs on the leaves which the larvae eventually consume.

 

Tender-handed, stroke a nettle,

And it stings you for your pains.

Grasp it like a man of mettle,

And it soft as silk remains.

Indeed a firm grip will tend to crush the spines while a light brush by the plant will be really painful.  Maybe we just need to approach nettles in the same, non ambiguous way Mr Miyagi encourages young Daniel to approach Karate…

 

The sting comes from amazingly fine needles which actually pierce the skin and administer a combination of chemicals including histamine – hence the allergic type skin reaction.  Interestingly, the feel-good chemical serotonin, is also part of the poison.  But in an utterly confusing twist of events the same chemical is also the main cause of pain.  Confused?  Me too, so I shut down Wikipedia and headed out to the garden for some lunch ingredients.

As cute as the above poem is, I wasn’t taking any chances when I ‘double gloved up’ to chase some young nettles for a recipe made on the hop:

Nettle and Lemon Risotto.

Get your stock going first on a back burner (I mean that literally) and put another large pot of hot water on to boil for the nettles.

Arm yourself with sharp secateurs or kitchen shears and a large bowl.  Pick younger plants which are less than 20cm tall and make sure they’re not in flower (hence why early spring is a great time to be harvesting).

Using tongs, dunk into the pot of simmering water and then get started on your risotto.

For this recipe I went really basic as I didn’t want too many flavours competing with the nettle.

Finely dice an onion and a clove of garlic.

Sweat in a good lug of olive oil, then add a handful of rice per person (this recipe was about 4)

Stir on medium heat for a few minutes until the rice has absorbed the oil and is glossy.

Add your first ladle of stock (or a splash of white wine) and prepare for the sizzle.

As the liquid is absorbed add more stock.

By now the nettles will be spineless!  Remove and drain.

Sprinkle in the finely grated rind of one lemon and stir through. Season with salt and pepper.

Alternate adding stock to the risotto and chopping up the nettles – discard any stalks that don’t dissolve under your knife.

When the rice is mostly cooked (may have just a small amount of ‘bite’ left) add your finely chopped and blanched nettles.

Keep adding stock one ladle at a time until the rice is oozing nicely.

Finish with a knob of butter and pop the lid on for 5 minutes.  Finally add big handful of grated parmesan and stir through before serving.

Andrew 1 Nettles 0

Sustainable House Day 2012

Sustainable House Day started in 2001 and continues to inspire, educate and encourage people to ‘see it for themselves’ by visiting one of the 13 homes that are open around Geelong and the Surf Coast.

A combination of newly designed homes and retrofitted homes means there’s stacks of ideas for all budgets.  Of course the thing that really interests me is that some homes are opening purely for their gardens!  A combinations of indigenous, native gardens as well as highly productive gardens are on display, including an oil producing olive grove in Lara.

Local volunteers from the Geelong Sustainability Group and the Surf Coast Energy Group will also be available to help with guided tours and answer any questions you may have.  Entry is FREE and houses are open from 10am till 4pm.  This year’s event is made possible with support from the City of Greater Geelong.

 

In a novel idea, the Surf Coast Energy Group have arranged for you to meet ‘Sustainable Designer’ which will operate from 2pm to 5pm at the Torquay Angling Club (Esplanade, Fishermans Beach, Torquay) and also The Red Till Cafe’ in Anglesea.  The sessions are FREE but limited to 15 minutes.

 

For specific address information for the open houses go to http://www.sustainablehouseday.com/victoria.php

 

Green House

This documentary forms part of SCEG’s environmental film season and also ties in with Sustainable House Day on Sunday September 9th.

The Green House is a documentary about the building of the first carbon neutral house in Washington, D.C. This film provides an interesting look at how building and living directly impacts the environment. The designers of this carbon neutral house wanted to set the standards for future builds and also wanted to inspire perhaps the ‘not so green’ client.

Geoffrey Fulton, architect from Fulton and Salomon will be giving a short presentation and Raphael Siket, building biologist from Ecolibria, will also be available to answer questions regarding creating a healthy environment within a building. Of course SCEG will be serving the usual amazing supper.

For more information:

Webiste: www.sceg.org.au

 

Broccoli – like apple trees for giants.

Like it’s Brassica cousin kale, the bright colour in broccoli lets us know it’s filled with free radical fighting goodness.  Free radicals are not just a folk band based in Surrey England, they are very nasty little guys which is obvious if you have a powerful microscope and can see them up close.

 

Let’s just agree broccoli is good for you.  It helps to regulate blood pressure with its high amounts of magnesium and calcium, plus ample amounts of potassium help optimise your brain function – making me wonder why the term “Broccoli Brains” never really took off.

Growing broccoli can be amazing simple or equally frustrating depending on the season.  As seasoned gardeners know, life in our patch is seldom perfect.  Broccoli grows wonderfully quickly in warm weather and uses its water repellent leaves to direct every sprinkle of rain to its roots.  However, those warm days and nights also bring out white butterflies, who love to lay eggs on broccoli plants.  These eggs turn into green caterpillars which judging by their colour are probably also filled with free-radical fighting goodness.  Having accidentally eaten a few in my time I can confirm they test will test the gag reflex of Mick Dundee and are best removed before cooking…

Having seen the pest issues with broccoli when I’ve been growing it, I’d really recommend it’s one vegetable you only purchase organically – especially in summer.

My personal growing strategy it to grow all year around, but cover the crops from late spring through to late autumn with an appropriate barrier draped over hoops.

Otherwise you can spray using an organic based spray (or make your own by steeping crushed garlic in water overnight and straining into a spray bottle).  Other less toxic controls include Dipel power which is mixed with water and sprayed onto the foliage.  It’s an internal bacterial poison for caterpillars and will kill them in a few days of spraying.  This will need to be repeated for follow up infestations.

Soil preparation

LIke the rest of the brassica family, broccoli is quite a heavy feeder so make sure you choose rich, well draining soil which has been enriched with composted manure.  Sprinkle some pelletised manure over the surface after planting seedlings and water in well.  Liquid feed weekly with worm juice or a high nitrogen seaweed product.

Varieties

I like the readily available ‘green dragon’ as it produces side shoots which are perfect for stir-fries.  It also gives you more reward for a plant that takes several months to produce over winter.  This year I’m going to try some purple sprouting broccoli which seems quite popular in the UK but less so here.  It looks amazing.

How to eat it.

My late autumn planted crop is producing beautiful heads now, so I’ve been trying to include it in a few different dishes.  I’ve also starting eating it raw with dip or pesto – just avoid the lower stems as they can be a bit stringy (use them for cooking).

Spanish broccoli and potato Tortilla

This is a great way to use left overs and I think the spanish idea of adding potatoes takes it to a place where frittatas fear to tread.

 

Cook in a heavy based pan with a generous lug of olive oil.  I use a cast iron pan so I can finish the tortilla in the oven.  NB: if you’re using raw potatoes, finely dice and add now too.

Gently cook the onion for a few minutes and then add your broccoli (one head of florets)  It’s best to pre-steam the broccoli or blanch it.  Even better would be using left overs from the day before.

Pop on lid to keep the moisture in and keep cooking on gentle heat.  I also add a splash of water if things are looking dry.  NB: If your broccoli isn’t pre-cooked this will take a lot longer.

I had some left over baked potatoes so I diced these and added them once the broccoli stems yielded to a sharp knife NB: you can use raw spuds, just dice them finely and add them with the onion at the start.  Just make sure they’re cooked – crunchy potatoes will ruin your day!

With a fork beat 6 or so eggs (depending on your pan size really) season and grate in a good handful of parmesan cheese

Making sure all the other ingredients are cooked, pour in your egg mixture

Let it cook on the bottom for another five or so minutes

Place the whole pan into a medium (180 C) oven for about 15 minutes to finish cooking.  Don’t do this if you’re pan has any plastic components on it!  And remember the handle is very hot – use an oven mitt!  

Alternatively you can flip the tortilla onto a plate (just make sure the top is not too runny first) flip it onto another plate and back in the pan so the former top is now in the bottom of the pan.  Well I’m confused but this guy makes it look pretty easy.