We sow the seeds!

A little about seeds

Seeds are made up of two major parts.  Firstly the embryo which includes the roots and the shoots.  Secondly the food source.  Seeds are so bloody clever they pack their own lunches!

It also explains why seeds and grains are energy-dense sources of food for us big brained mammals.  To grow, seeds need to absorb around 60% of their body weight in water.  Additionally they also need access to air. So when growing seeds it’s a balance between moisture holding growing mediums while also having excellent drainage.  You can assist the water absorbing process by pre-soaking your seeds before planting for a day or so.  Soaking below are some purple king climbing beans.

I tend to only pre-soak large seeds as smaller seeds are too fiddly.

Direct in garden or seed raising mix?

For root vegetables (carrots, beetroot, parsnips etc.) I’ll always sow directly as the large tap root is susceptible to damage when transplanting.  Peas,  beans and corn I’ll also usually sow direct – the large seeds making it a straight forward process.  Most other herbs, brassicas (think cabbages, broccoli asian greens) tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers…well pretty much everything else, I grow into seedlings before transplanting.

How deep to plant?

It is very tempting to plant seeds deeper than they need to be.  While working for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, I found kids always wanted to plant the seeds far too deeply.  It certainly seems to be our default setting.  Generally speaking seeds are planted to the depth of their width.  So broad beans around 1cm while lettuce and cabbage seeds barely need covering.  I dare you to simply spread some lettuce seed across the surface of some seed raising mix and just water without covering.  In around 10 days they’ll germinate and anchor themselves nicely.  We all know how wonderfully weeds grow, and nobody is sowing them at a specific depth.

Caring for seedlings and feeding

Seeds germinate well in dappled light (especially in summer) and this will also prevent the seed raising mix drying out too much.  You will know it’s too shady if seedlings grow ‘leggy’ i.e. thin and tall.  Temperature is the other necessary factor in germination, with most seeds only coming to life when the soil temp is close to 20 degrees.  Professional seedling producers use heat pads to artificially raise the temperature of the soil, leading to subtropical growth in temperate climates.

Use a fine spray of water initially as you don’t want to move the seeds with large drops of water while they’re trying to take root.  A hand-held pump sprayer is perfect.  As mentioned above the seed provides the required nutrition to germinate but once growing a weak liquid feed is a good idea every 10 days using worm juice or a seaweed concentrate.

Where to source seeds

Here are some links to seed providers who specialise in heirloom or old variety open pollinated varieties.  This means you can save the seed year to year and your plants will turn out true to type – something not always possible when saving seed from hybrid plants common in nurseries.

www.diggers.com.au

www.thelostseed.com.au

www.edenseeds.com.au

www.greenpatchseeds.com.au

www.theitaliangardener.com.au

Seed raising mix recipe

Most of these ingredients are readily available at good nurseries or landscaping suppliers (river sand and loam) and will save you lots of money if you’re propagating a lot of your own seeds.

One part river sand

1/2 part vermiculite (this is a naturally forming mineral that is a great insulator and holds moisture)

1/2 part weed free garden loam

1/2 part compost

Handful of blood and bone fertiliser

Mix together and keep in a sealed bucket.  Moisten before use.

Remember you can re-use this seed raising mix after planting out your seedlings by adding it to your next batch – don’t throw it out!

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.

 

Dealing with leaf curl so your summer’s nice and peachy

What is it.

Known as Taphrina deformans  leaf curl is a fungus that loves cold and wet conditions.  It also loves peach, almond and nectarine trees, where it likes to live during the winter months.  As the tree buds swell the fungus gets to work infecting the leaf cells.  This stimulates the leaves to grow larger than normal and often with a reddish tinge.  To be honest leaf curl affected leaves look pretty hideous, and anyone unfortunate enough to have seen or read  ‘The Day of the Triffids’ will no doubt think they’re experiencing just that.

What you can do about it. 

There are a number of sprays available – most of them being copper based.  Now this started out with some French peasants in the late 19th century who were getting very grumpy as passers by kept stealing their grapes.  Noting the vivid colour left on the vine leaves when sprayed with blue stone (copper sulphate) the peasants discovered no-one stole their prized fruit for fear of the blue poison!  Don’t you love it when two wrongs make a right.  An unexpected outcome of the new deterrent was a big reduction in fungal diseases and therefore an increase in yield.  Voila!  Bordeaux mixture was born and aptly named named after the city that now produces 700 million bottles of wine annually.

Making your own Bordeaux mixture

(Ingredients available at most hardware stores and nurseries)

Dissolve 100 gram of builders’ (hydrated) lime in half a standard (plastic) bucket of water. (About 5 litres).

Dissolve 100 grams copper sulphate (aka blue stone) in a separate half bucket of water.

Keep stirring the lime mixture to prevent it settling and pour it steadily into the half bucket of dissolved copper sulphate.

Add enough extra water to make up a total of 10 litres of the finished Bordeaux mixture.

It is at its most effective strength when freshly mixed so used immediately or within a couple of days. Using it straight away also means it’s less likely to clog spray nozzles etc.

If you’re not up for the above alchemy go for the following off-the-shelf least toxic ways to deal with leaf curl:

Old School

Lime Sulphur has been around for a long time hence is still favoured by organic operators.  As with the copper based sprays it will damage foliage so ensure the tree is dormant.

New School

Cupric Hydroxide has the advantage of being able to be sprayed after leaves are visible. You’ll see this marketed as a next generation copper spray that needs less copper to do the job.

They had me at “plasma technology”

Safety first for you, your trees and your soil

Only spray while the trees are dormant i.e. the buds haven’t burst and no leaves are visible.  Copper based sprays will burn leaves which really stresses out a tree that may already be fighting leaf curl so if it’s too late and spring has sprung just make a note to do earlier next year.

Spray to cover all the bare branches of peach, nectarine and almond trees.  You need to spray enough so it’s dripping (see pic below).  Wear old clothes and safety glasses plus gloves.  I did this once in black sneakers and they now have a blue speckled look…  If you choose one of the copper based spray options, be mindful that this is a heavy metal and will accumulate in the soil below your trees.  Over years this can add up so it pays to lay out some builders plastic/old curtains under the drip line to protect the ‘good’ fungi we want to encourage in your soil.

Don’t leave it for another week!  Get out there this weekend and make sure this you tube clip is the only curling going on at your place.

 

Unbeatable Beetroot!

Varieties and growing tips.

Two varieties that grow well in our cooler climate include Bulls Blood and Boltardy.  If you’re not one to usually grow from seed, try beetroot.  It’s a good vegetable to start with as the seeds are large and germination is quite reliable.  Several varieties are also available in a seed tape product helping you to get the spacing spot on.

Beetroot likes a pH of about 6.5.  Any higher than 7.0 and the soil alkalinity starts to prevent the uptake of boron which is essential for the edible root development.  Caution also needs to be taken with soils too high in nitrogen as you’ll end up with wonderful leafy growth but small beets!  Please don’t think this all has to be a complicated process, as once your garden is established it just becomes part of the natural flow.  Simply plant beetroot after a heavy feeding crop such as cabbage, lettuce or asian greens.  This way those previous crops will have taken up large amounts of the nitrogen in the soil.  Simply add some well rotted compost and water once established with a seaweed based liquid fertiliser.  If you’re starting in fresh soil, avoid adding large amounts of high nitrogen fertiliser such as poultry manures (especially pigeon) instead favouring compost, worm juice and liquid seaweed products.

The beetroot seeds themselves can lead to some confusion as they are actually a cluster of seeds all stuck together (kind of).  What you’ll find is that you’ll get several seedlings growing in the spot where you diligently only planted one seed.  Treat this as a gift from nature and when big enough to pinch with your finger, remove the weaker seedlings (leaving the most vigorous) and use them as a micro green in the kitchen.  If this backyard Darwinism isn’t your cup of tea, you can try replanting – but it’s very difficult not to damage the very fine taproot while they’re so young.  Nature can be cruel folks.

As the beetroot grow you’ll see the root become more visible.  This is actually pretty handy as you can see how big your beetroot are growing, so fight the urge to hill soil around them as you would with leeks etc.  Leaves can also be picked on younger beetroot and added to salads.  Just take a few from each plant as you don’t want to slow the growth by removing the plants’ energy source!

Beyond tinned beetroot (sigh)

While traveling in Eastern Europe a decade ago I was amazed at how much beetroot was used in local cuisines.  At Polish bar mleczny (direct translation is ‘milk bars’ – but more accurately described as vegetarian cafeterias) salads made from boiled grated beetroot and beetroot soup were staples.

The latter in Poland is called barszcz and I was reliably informed by a local that Polish ‘borscht’ recipes came from the Ukraine not Russia.  You know I’d never buy a Polish-made car, but I’m pretty sure no-one makes better soup.  The idea of sweating a few onions, adding some chopped beetroot and stock and creating a soup in an hour would be laughed at.  Even seemingly vegetarian soups such as barszcz start with pork of some sort, creating the stock in situ.  Always made the day before consuming there is plenty of time for flavour to develop depth.

Beetroot is also fantastic when simply grated raw.  I first tried this at Wholefoods Cafe in Geelong back in the 1990s where they added it as a standard to their salad sandwiches and awesome tofu burgers.  The Poles also make a cooked and grated beetroot condiment which when mixed with horseradish becomes “cwikla z chrzanem” – check out how to do that below.  It also goes wonderfully with the pierogi I made a little while back when discussing potatoes.

 

Another recipe that we collectively remain indebted to Stephanie Alexander for is chocolate and beetroot muffins.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly using olive oil instead of vegetable oil for nutritional reasons without noticing the taste coming through at all.  I mean chocolate and beetroot – what hope did the olive oil have?

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins

60g organic butter, softened

1 large beetroot, peeled and grated (250g net)  A food processor makes this a whole lot easier

175g Plain Flour

1 tps baking powder

2 tbs organic cocoa

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup local olive oil

1/4 castor sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (well packed)

12 squares dark chocolate or milk with minimum 30% cocoa

Method

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray.

2.    Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3.    Lightly mix the eggs and milk together and set aside.

4.    In a bowl or mixer process the butter, oil and 2 types of sugar until nice and creamy. Gradually add the milk and egg mixture and process until combined.

5.    Add the wet batter to the flour mix and fold together. Stir in the beetroot, until well combined.

6.    Spoon the mixture evenly into the holes and press a square of chocolate well into the centre each muffin.

Cooking time is about 20minutes depending on your oven type.  The tops should be springy but the centre will remain a lot more moist than normal muffins due to the beetroot, so be careful not to mistake this for them being underdone.

Amazing Parsley

I’m less inclined to believe that one (especially as I’m a bloke) however legend has it that parsley will ‘strongly affect men’s sexual powers’.  Maybe if these guys had gone for parsley instead of olive wreaths, they wouldn’t be described as the coxless four.

 

 

I’ll continue onto some other less controversial facts about parsley…

It’s super high in potassium with over 700mg per 100grams of leaves.  This combined with the herb’s high iron, copper and manganese content means it’s great for building healthy blood.  Parsley is also quite high in vitamin C and as with citrus fruits, our leafy green friend is at its best in winter, right when we need it.  I also found references to parsley being infused and applied to puffy eyes and even steeped into red or white wine with some other choice ingredients to produce ‘heart wine’ – great for any cardiac problems!  Parsley is from the same family that we find celery, carrots, dill and fennel – the easiest way to tell is to see their flowers forming and seeds.

‘Tis the season.

My summer basil is a distant memory, and despite growing in a vertical garden against a north facing wall, this year’s winter has all but defeated my coriander.  On the other hand I look at my parsley.  I remember Bill Mollison describing an ’embarrassment of parsley’ in one of his early Permaculture videos.  Yes, I have an “embarrassment” of parsley and what a nice feeling it is.  Parsley is biennial meaning it generally lasts for two years after which it will go to flower and produce a stack of seed.  You can simply let this seed fall in your garden beds and there’s a good chance new plants will pop up.  Alternatively if planting seed deliberately, be prepared to wait a while as the seedlings are renowned for long germination.

Varieties

Whether I’m cringing over memories of curly parsley from my childhood or not, I now only grow the flat leaf or ‘Italian’ variety of parsley (Petroselinum crispum .var. neapolitanum).   It’s hardy, vigorous and produces wonderfully tender flat leaves that are also easier to handle on a chopping board.

Parsley in the kitchen

I have to warn you, if you want to get the best out of the culinary value of parsley, you’ll have to look beyond our Anglo-Australian history.  My childhood memories of parsley were as an awkward accompaniment to fish and chips if the local pub was feeling fancy, or if Grandma was in an adventurous mood it would be chopped finely and added to a béchamel/white sauce.  As a general rule you can use it in place of basil and it deserves to be the hero of simple oil based pasta sauces where it goes so well with chilli and a good quality hard cheese.  Today I made parsley pesto, and while I love basil pesto I reckon this “picked and prepped within an hour” dish is superior to any Italian made imported pesto.

Parsley Pesto

2 cups of loosely packed fresh parsley, washed and dried well (pat dry with tea towel or use a salad spinner)

3/4 cup walnuts (I used some local, sweet beauties from Bannockburn)

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano if possible)

1 clove roughly chopped garlic (it will be chopped further by the food processor)

Good local extra virgin olive oil – cold pressed (sorry didn’t measure this, just drizzle it in slowly but probably about 3/4 cup)

sea salt to taste

Process the walnuts first, then the parsley and roughly chopped garlic.  You may have to keep stopping the processor to push the ingredients down the wall of the processor bowl and back onto the blades.

Once you’re sure the parsley is well chopped and the ingredients are mixed together, drizzle in your olive oil while the processor is mixing.  Add the oil slowly and in batches, mixing in between.

Place your finished mix into a bowl and add the grated parmesan.  Add salt as necessary making sure it’s really fine (I crush my Malden sea salt in a mortar with a pestle)

As with basil pesto this goes great with pasta, as a dip, spooned on top of poached eggs and as an accompaniment to grilled meat/fish etc.

Another way to take full advantage of large volumes of parsley is by making the middle eastern salad tabbouleh or tabouli.  Apart from tomatoes (and burghal) all the ingredients to this salad are available locally right now.

Here’s a you tube recipe which seems pretty good if you can get passed the North American pronunciation of herbs and oregano!