Sunday, 26 August 2012

Pasta primavera and seasonal eating

I have always thought of "pasta primavera"  (springtime pasta) as a rather exotic dish that should incorporate all kinds of exotic springtime ingredients from the mediterranean region of our planet.   It does,  but all is not what it seems.
The other interesting observation today was that regularly, I gather the produce from my garden that is ready and needing to be picked, for some vegetables don't do well being left to "over cook" and end up less than perfect,  let alone useful.

I always attempt to prepare my dinner from the ingredients that I have in the garden, and today, Pasta primavera was dinner.  Primavera means springtime and that is just about where I am now...  it is early springtime, and that restricts what is available, fresh and perfect, from the garden.

At this time of year, the tomato plants are merely tiny seedlings and last year's tomatoes are running out....  this is all that I have left this year....
... usually I do have more and I will be looking through the freezer to see whether I have any frozen tomatoes left...  there won't be many.  Last summer was more chaotic than usual at my house.

Today I collected what I needed for dinner....  herbs, silver beet leaves, though I only used the smaller newer leaves and leeks....
 ... a half a bowl of flour and two eggs....
.... these made the noodle dough....
... and then the noodles....

 The local (Gawler) olive oil was there to cook the vegetables....

 ... while the "noodle water" heated beside it....
... eventually, the noodles are cooked....

... and dinner was good.....
I grated some Mil-lel cheese (from Mt Gambier.. and the closest that I can find) over it and my dinner was so good!

It was only then that I began to think about "pasta primavera".   With a limited amount of tomato sauce left from last season and with a very different assortment of leafy green vegetables available in the spring of the year, it is obvious that the trendy "pasta primavera" dishes that are served in many restaurants bear little resemblance to the "real thing."  I looked at the images on google for pasta primavera, and while none of these dishes could be mistaken for the tomato rich "spag bol" and other typical Italian pasta dishes, the emphasis on seasonal springtime vegetables that are available during the spring of the year seems to be ignored.
The real significance of that dish "pasta Primavera"  could be so much more important in the scheme of things. It should be a significant environmental issue.  It should be made from those odd leafy greens and herbs that are available during that part of the year when last year's summer preserves are running low and the next summer abundance is not yet available.  The "eating what is in season" crowd have a few more considerations here.




Saturday, 25 August 2012

Red-rumped parrot (Psephotus haematonotus)

After several stormy, wet days, the garden is looking green,  the weeds are healthy (to be fair,  so are the vegetables) and there are signs of spring.  I have seen cabbage moths,  wanderer butterflies and even feral birds are looking at nest sites.
I was out looking for butterflies when the noise from the tree with the nest hole was loud.  There are now a pair of Red-rumped parrots looking into the hole.  The female has had her head stuck in there for quite some time....
... while the male hangs around squawking and shaking his tail intermittently...  

Eventually,  he turned around to show his red rump....

The female is described as being "olive green with a green rump" in my bird book, and this one certainly looks like that....
 This is the tree that I thought seriously about cutting down.  It is too large for my yard.  However,  so many of the big trees around here have been removed, nesting places must be becoming hard to find.  The tree will have to stay.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata)

The big red aloe flowers are beautiful and all of the honeyeaters are out and about, looking for nectar.

Nowadays my desk faces out onto a lovely patch of aloe flowers and so I am treated to the honeyeater floorshow daily.  The most aggressive species of honeyeaters still seems to be the New Hollands, and they are able to chase the much bigger wattlebirds away, it seems.  The funniest have to be the Red Wattlebirds.  My photographs are taken while sitting at my desk and though the glass of the window....




The photographs aren't the best,  but you can get the idea.... these birds are very funny to watch.  The Wattlebirds make the most raucus noise all year round.  They live here all of the time,  but it is when they do their gymnastics to retrieve the nectar from these flowers that I appreciate them the most.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Broad beans, life, the universe and everything...

Great joy this morning....  the first baby broad bean....


I had planned to write this post during the past week,  but somehow time got away from me.  It is about the environment and a conversation that I had recently about the environment and how we need to get out there and "save it."

Some people seem to find a difference between the "environment" that is "out there" and themselves and their gardens.  It is as if the environment begins at the fenceline.   But gardens are just a much a part of the world,  the universe really, as that other environment that includes us all.

To have a garden that is "pest free" is something like living in a sterile bubble.  The alternative doesn't mean that one needs to save every snail and slug or encourage sap sucking insects to the vegetable patch,  any more than one would be lax about personal hygiene to the point of contracting disease.
 
Food gardening seems to have grown out of a peasant culture that is almost lost.  In such cultures, information about useful plants, managing pests (for managing them is what we do) and what plants would be the most productive for the minimum of effort was passed along from one person to another.  The connection with nature (the environment) and food production was obvious.

Nowadays, when food production is remote from most of us and it is more useful to acquire knowledge about supermarket specials and the best farmer's markets, there is a disconnection from the environment that is frightening.  David Suzuki has referred to this as a "nature deficit disorder" that requires some remediation.  This disorder may begin with teaching children to have a fear of spiders and other "creepy crawlies" and end up with the use of such drastic anti-bacterial agents that the lack of gut organisms can lead to disease. This is becoming better understood in recent years, though there still seems to be a love for the pristine perfumed kitchen and the exquisite garden or lawn.

What about our gardens?  Many of our gardens are far from a "natural environment"... mine included. My garden has very few of the original native plants still around, though I have "re-vegetated" with local natives in some patches.  There has been encouragement for gardeners to use "organic remedies" and many of these are good. However, the "environment" (that part of the world that is over the other side of the fence) is more variable and more of a compromise than that. In fact, it is very much like that on my side of the fence as well.   Pests are there and they vary in number.  Some years one or another pest will be the biggest problem.  Sometimes this is due to the weather or the climate,  and sometimes it is due to the lifecycles of other predators or prey.  One needs to plant extra and greater variety so that if something does "go wrong" there will be enough.  It is all a compromise in which the gardener is just one of the beneficiaries of the garden, along with all of the other  organisms that live there.  This is why the introduction of strange chemicals and terminator seeds can be so destructive.  These can upset that balance (so well described by David Suzuki in his book, the Sacred Balance) that we are a part of and that we depend on.

However, this compromise can be frustrating, as any other compromise can be.   When the birds that nest in my trees disturb the mulch as they pick out the earwigs or eat the uncovered pea seedlings before they can produce anything that I want it can be more than frustrating.  But then, they probably object to me pulling out some plants for my chickens when I don't need them any more.... it is a compromise and the gardener is just another member of the cohort that lives in the garden. This is probably why gardeners are notorious for growing more than they need (especially tomatoes, it seems) just so that when something does go wrong, there is still enough to satisfy needs.  

Far from existing alongside the environment, the gardener is a part of it, with all of the same problems and joys of the other species that share the area on this side of the fence.

I even like to think that I am a part of the universe, having taken millions of years to arrive here and that I'll always be a part of it....  way into a future that I can only imagine, but that is a whole other story.


Friday, 10 August 2012

Life goes on...

It's been a week since I checked out what the garden is doing...  I've been busy, but at this time of the year,  the soil is cold and so everything is growing slowly (though the weeds don't seem too hindered by that cold.)  After the first few sunny and warm days (promising spring) I have been out to check for baby broad beans.  Nothing yet, but the bees are hard at work...
 .....  I'll continue to check for baby beans.

The current row of carrots are looking healthy...  this row is where I pulled the most recent food from, thinning the crop and eating them sequentially....
I prefer them to mature over a period of time,  unlike the crops on farms where the whole lot is removed at the same time.  This means that "thinning" the plants is an ongoing duty, and in the first "pass" I leave them much closer than the instructions would indicate.  As I gradually remove the biggest ones,  there is room for the neighbours to enlarge.

And the next row is coming on....
 I have also planted some more carrot seeds today.  As I have said previously,  it is necessary to continue planting every week if one wants to eat throughout the year.  While the soil is so cold,  it will take quite a while for  these to germinate,   but I find it easier to manage the baby plants at this time of the year than in the summer when the soil is so hot and tiny plants dry out so fast.  Carrots are "easily pleased" and don't seem to have difficult requirements aside from keeping them damp 24/7 until the tap root gets long enough to find deeper water.

The leeks look lovely in the morning sunlight....
 ...  they are big enough to eat,  though I'll wait for them to get fatter before I roast any.

The recent broccoli plants have all had their main heads cut by now.....
 ... I have given quite a few of the remaining plants to the chickens (they love them) though I'll leave several of them to produce side shoots like these....
 (these are the side shoots that I am still picking, on plants that are about a year old.)

The next "real" broccoli is coming along as well.....
 ....  and the "secondary plants" that I rescued from the punnet of seedlings (bought at Mildred Heights Nursery) are just looking healthy too.  These were the "second seedlings" that ended up with the least roots when separated from the main plant.  I halved all of their leaves, soaked thenm is seasol,  and put them back into the punnet for another few weeks.  They are now planted out and looking perfect, if a bit immature when compared with the "main plants."


The flowering cabbage continues to develope....
 ....  I am going to leave this plant to produce flowers.  I won't use the seeds (they may well produce progeny that bolt to seed rather than providing me with cabbages) but as flowers often attract insects that are useful, and often the particular species that preys on pests of the same plant (evolution works wonders) and I'll be watching carefully to see what happens.

I still have several lovely cabbages to eat....
with no sign of bolting.... and they are so sweet when they are just cut... well worth growing, in my opinion.

This morning I found a snowdrop....
... I have always had a few in the garden, but I hadn't been able to find any flowers this year...  until now!  And it's in a different place from where I had seen them last year!  Wierd.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Productive winter garden...

Garden production continues and this is what I have gathered today (not including the two eggs from the chickens)....
... there is a cabbage (and I have kept six of the best outside leaves to make "stuffed cabbage leaves") carrots, golden beets (and their leaves, which are as good as silver beet) one swede (rutabaga) and the side shoots of broccoli that I can barely keep up with.  I still have plenty of silver beet and an assortment of other vegetables, but this will do for today.
Someone commented recently that, with winter frost and miserable weather, it is too hard to grow vegetables in the winter.  The mediterranean climate is designed for just that, however.
This winter I have had about half a dozen "serious" frosts....  to me, that means that it is cold enough to kill off the leaves of the potato plants.  There are quite a few vegetables that don't seem to notice such a frost.  These include all of the root vegetables that I have collected today, and many salad lettuce plants, leeks, onions and garlic don't mind at all.  There are even some vegetables that require a harder frost than I get to even produce...  notably brussels sprouts.
I have mentioned previously that I plant potatoes at the "wrong" time of the year and I am able to dig enough potatoes for myself at any time.
Summer has its own limitations here....  "patches" of very hot weather, and a lack of rainfall that is only compounded by the water restrictions imposed permanently.
Cold weather slows growth, and so it is often necessary to plant more seeds than one would imagine because the produce might well be smaller than expected.  This doesn't make any difference to the taste or even the aesthetics of the product,  despite the fact that it might not look like the chemically enhanced items at the supermarket.
In hot weather, I garden over a smaller area.  The unused patches need to be protected from the heat, and so they are watered and mulched, protecting the soil organisms that I'll be needing in the following season.  By the end of the summer, when the grain farmers are waiting for the "opening rains" or "dry sowing" I am digging in the rotted mulch and joining in the rain dances or prayers (or whatever works!)
In more extreme climates, the early spring is called "the hungry gap" and for good reason.  This was the time in colder climates that, when people were truly dependent upon what they could produce,  the early spring, when stored food was running low and the ground was still too cold to germinate much,  there was little to eat.  This may well be why, historically, it was the "mediterranean" areas that flourished.  Food plants, while varieties change, can be grown for much of the year.  Seasonal foods and recipes are a testament to this.
I was preparing the ground and the planting in March and that is what I am eating now....  meanwhile I am planting a few more seedlings now and getting ready to start my "summer vegetables" very soon.
My rule of thumb is still "if you wnat to eat every week,  then you need to plant something every week also & so far it seems to be working.