Nov 302013

Join a vibrant food culture, growing and eating local

Covering all matters food in North East Melbourne

Whether you are a local food producer, want to eat local food, grow veggies in your garden or just want to meet like-minded folks, Local Food Connect is for you.

Eltham Farmers’ Market, a Local Food Connect initiative, is held every Sunday.

Feb 142018

Marina Bistrin interviews Sim Hanscamp, from Spoke & Spade

Spoke & Spade is a small urban farm in Heidelberg West which grows vegetables and sells them in boxes. Marina met its owner, Sim Hanscamp, at the Heidelberg West Food Swap and then went to his farm to interview him. As Marina says in her writeup of the interview: “Sim is a friendly young man who has started his own business, supported by the government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS). He has converted his rental property’s front and back gardens into an urban farm and is using the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model to pre-sell veggie boxes. He also has an honesty box in the frontyard with freshly picked veg and herbs for a donation. And he is growing veggies on a friend’s property in Hurstbridge.” She then goes on to discuss Sim’s objectives, methods and inspirations. Read the full interview.

Contact details, ways of buying Sim’s veggies, and various photos can all be found in the Local Food Directory page for Spoke & Spade. Or you might want to have a look at his website and/or Facebook page. Welcome Sim!

Mac’s tip of the week

Beware the common paper wasp! After years (too many to mention) of daily garden work, I have recently noticed an increase in the numbers of paper wasps nesting in our area. Last summer was my first painful introduction, and then another two nests this summer. Yow! The introduced asian paper wasps (Polistes chinensis) only tend to be aggressive when defending their nests and are otherwise beneficial insects to have around the garden. The adults catch caterpillars to feed the larvae, but otherwise feed on nectar. They form small colonies and make paper nests under tree branches, in shrubs such as westringia, and in the eaves of houses. The nests are shaped like inverted cones, and consist of a cluster of hexagonal cells made from wood fibre mixed with saliva. The wasp larvae are maggot-like and develop inside the papery cells of the nest.

Read all of Mac’s tips.

More RetroSuburbia

Following on last week’s discussion about David Holmgren’s new book RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future, I’m pleased to announce that David will be coming to Eltham to give a presentation. See the event description below and on the website. Thursday, 22nd March, 7-9pm, at Eltham Community and Reception Centre. $10 (but free for both Local Food Connect members and Home Harvest Feastival attendees). Buy tickets.

News about local food producers

Rachael The Pie Lady, aka Yarra Valley Homemade Pies & Cakes, has retired.

Got some time to spare on a Wednesday?

The Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre hosts a free community lunch every Thursday. Most of the food is made from SecondBite offerings. They need a driver to pick up the produce on a Wednesday from Heidelberg West and deliver it to Carlton North. If interested, email them.

Really Really Free Market Preston

The Really Really Free Market Preston is in need of a new home to provide cover for both sunny and rainy days, and that it is easily accessible via public transport. If you have any suggestions, email them.

Have your tomatoes got any pests or diseases?

Newsletter reader Karen Sutherland, together with Penny Woodward and Janice Sutton, is writing a book about growing tomatoes and are searching for high quality pictures to include. They are happy to pay a small fee, or to barter their garden produce. If you have any relevant pictures, contact Karen by phone (0412 567281) or email. Here is a list of the pictures that they are looking for:

  • Deficiencies in leaves: nitrogen deficiency; phosphorous deficiency; zinc deficiency; manganese deficiency; iron deficiency; boron deficiency; or molybdenum deficiency.
  • Bacterial diseases: bacterial canker; bacterial speck; bacterial spot; or bacterial wilt.
  • Fungal diseases: anthracnose; damping off; early blight – target blight; fusarium crown & root rot; fusarium wilt; grey mould on fruit; grey leaf spot; late blight; sclerotinia rot; scerotium stem rot; sooty mould; or verticillium wilt.
  • Viruses: cucumber mosaic virus; tobacco mosaic virus; tomato mosaic virus; tomato spotted wilt virus; tomato yellow leaf curl virus; or tomato leaf curl virus.
  • Pests: budworm; cutworm; fruit fly; harlequin bug; heliothis caterpillar / budworm; leafhoppers & jassids; potato moth; red-eyed bug; rutherglen bug; stem borer; tomato potato psyllid; 26- & 28-spotted ladybird; thrips; vegetable weevil; white fringed weevil; or wireworm.
  • Other problems: catface; cracks in fruit; or heat stress wilt.

Now, here’s a test: there are 48 pest and diseases listed above; without re-reading, how many can you name?

Good things await you

Atika Rea has written in to recommend the film Good Things Await. She says: “I saw this really nice Danish film at film festival a couple of years ago. It gently leads you through a farmer’s life and his husbandship of land and animals. It warmed the cockles of my heart!”

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The menu at Craft Kitchen And Bar.

Joke of the week

What’s the worst vegetable to serve on a boat? Leeks!

Read all the jokes. Continue reading »

Feb 072018

Robin’s veggie growing tip of the month

I’m really pleased to announce that Robin Gale-Baker, from Sustainable Macleod, will start providing a veggie growing tip each month for the newsletter. Here’s her first tip.

February and March are ideal times for seed collecting – both seed that has dried on the plant and wet seed which has to be extracted, washed and dried. Example wet seeds are tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumber and capsicum. Consider collecting both early and late wet seed, particularly tomatoes, thereby selecting for plants that will produce both early and late in the season. Choose the best fruit, label clearly and plant at least one of each. You should be able to extend the tomato season until late May, if not early June.

Note that pumpkin seed will often not grow true as it can be cross pollinated by bees from as far away as 8 kilometres (but you may get a variety of interesting pumpkins on the one vine!). You can, however, keep the seed true by either bagging the flowers or hand pollinating.

Mac’s tip of the week

Mac’s tip is on the same subject as Robin’s, namely seed collecting.

Whilst in the midst of your peak harvest period, take time to appreciate the ‘star performers’ in your veggie patch. If one of your plants is far more vigorous or productive than the others then, hey, why not collect the seed from that plant to sow in future years? Beans, capsicums, chillis, lettuce, peas and tomatoes are considered the easiest to save because they all produce seed in the same season as they are planted and all are self-pollinating. Only the seeds from open-pollinated, non-hybrid plants will produce a similar crop; in other words, they are the plants most likely to produce offspring (in the form of seed) that closely resemble their parents.

As Robin and Mac both point out, you should keep back the best seed for planting, rather than follow the obvious course of eating the best and planting the dross. Incidentally, Richard Dawkins said (in The Ancestor’s Tale) that his father found this one of the hardest lessons to get across to farmers in Africa in the 1940s.

If you want to know more about seed saving, an excellent book is The Seed Savers’ Handbook. Both readable and comprehensive, it would be a nice gift for anyone at $32.

And here is a free booklet: A Guide to Seed Saving, Seed Stewardship & Seed Sovereignty.

Three of the local food swaps have ceased

Alphington (on the first Friday of the month), Diamond Creek (on the first Saturday of the month) and Manningham (on the last Wednesday of the month) have all ceased. Thanks to Becca (Alphington), Nigel Philpot (Manningham), Pam Jenkins (Diamond Creek) and all their colleagues for all their efforts over the past few years.

As well as the Manningham Food Swap ceasing, the associated monthly ‘home harvest’ workshops are also stopping.

Pam, the organiser of the Diamond Creek Food Swap, has written in: “Diamond Creek Food Swap ran for 7 years, having commenced in March 2011. Over the years, the originators of the swap and other Diamond Creek enthusiasts moved away from the area but the swap continued with the support of gardeners from surrounding suburbs until swaps sprang up more local to them and then they, naturally, moved to the swap closer to their home. All is not lost however, as the swap at Thrive Community Garden on the third Saturday of the month continues.

So, was it worth the time and effort to turn up for a couple of hours a month to co-ordinate the swap? Let’s allow some figures do the talking.

During the first year, 300Kg of fresh homegrown produce was swapped. Lemons (45Kg) topped the list followed by pumpkin (34Kg). That’s a lot of marmalade (or gin and tonic) and pumpkin soup! Then quinces (30Kg). Quinces, really?! Quinces and lemons also made second appearances at the swap as lemon marmalade, quince paste, quince jelly and pickled quinces. Lemons and pumpkin may be moderate value items at the grocery store but how about 18Kg of limes or 7Kg of tamarillos or feijoas that sell at $1 each at the shops.

Swap participants had the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’, with unusual fruits and vegetables such as babaco, Jerusalem artichokes, chokoes, Mexican cucumbers, pepinos, persimmon, spaghetti squash and trombonchino zucchinis making appearances. Some of these items are easy to grow, tasty and productive but are still impossible to buy because they may be delicate, have a short shelf life or are unattractive to shop owners for any number of reasons.

Also, let’s not forget the multiple bunches of silverbeet, spinach, herbs and all the other common fruit and vegetables that people grow and eat. A swap is all about swapping your excess produce for somebody else’s excess. It’s ideal for a small gardener who only has space for two or three types of vegetable to be able to swap for two or three other types, thus enabling them to increase variety in their diet at no extra cost.

The swap wasn’t limited to fruit and vegetables. 17 varieties of homemade preserves and dried foods were swapped, along with 30 varieties of seedlings and numerous seeds. Other miscellaneous items included wood ash, coffee grounds, compost, worm juice, jam jars and plant pots.

Swaps are great places to meet with like-minded people. Gardeners who share their excess produce are a friendly bunch with lots of ideas, advice and experiences to share. We celebrate our successes and bemoan our failures together. The shared experience of dealing with Nillumbik soil, plagues of bugs and feathered or furry marauders leave us shaking our heads on many occasions but somebody usually comes up with a solution or two. There is always next season to plan a new strategy.

So, was it worth it? Absolutely!”

As Pam says, as more swaps have started, people have moved to the swap closest to their homes. So, particular food swaps are in danger of being victims of the success of the wider movement – an interesting issue and one that maybe also starting to happen for some farmers’ markets.

News about local food producers

Diamond Valley Library are now a regular collection point for the Diamond Valley Foodshare, so help those in need in your community by dropping in any non perishable items.

You can now buy Kylie’s Slow Dough’s bread online.

You can now buy AVS Organic Food’s vegan food in 13 different suburbs: Carlton (Aunt Maggies), Croydon South (Eastfield Organic Natural Food Market), Diamond Creek (Local Fine Foods), Fitzroy (Aunt Maggies and The Cruelty Free Shop), Fitzroy North (Wild Things Food), Greensborough (Go Vita), Heidelberg (Leo’s Fine Food & Wine), Kew (Leo’s Fine Food & Wine), Montmorency (Edes & Bibi), Northcote (Terra Madre), St Andrews (St Andrews Market), Thornbury (Naturally On High) and Warrandyte (Quintons SUPA IGA).

Kaz is gradually increasing the number of suburbs where you can buy her chai: Eltham (Dynamic Vegies, Eltham Farmers’ Market and Organic Fix), Hurstbridge (Nature’s Harvest), Ringwood North (Made Locally) and Wonga Park (Post Office)

For Elthamites only – two new cafes have opened in recent weeks:

  • Billy’s Deck (where Frio’s and, before that, Degani’s were). View/download their menu (pdf).
  • Craft Kitchen And Bar (where Volumes was). Craft Kitchen And Bar is also open in the evenings and thus is effectively also a restaurant. The picture right is apparently one of their dessert offerings. View/download their menu (pdf).

Pip pip

The winner of last week’s random draw for the free annual subscription of the PIP magazine was Jaime Edge. Thanks to everyone that participated.

‘Crowd harvest’ – seeds for Valentine’s Day

Gardeners everywhere often harvest more seeds than they can sensibly store. Gardeners with excess seeds are invited to send them in a Valentine’s card to one or more not-for profit organisations listed below, each of which has a certified horticulturalist employed and ready to look after the seeds, either to start the seeds, store the seeds or distribute to others in need who know how to start seeds. DIVRS in Preston, STREAT in Collingwood or Carrington Health in Box Hill (ask for Alex Salmon). Any questions, contact Cath Lyons (aka Tiny Trowel) by phone (0401 814679) or email.

The Gardenettes

New newsletter reader Deb Thomson has told me about The Gardenettes, a Melbourne-based group who are “a retro-tinged garden to table show whose stories, tips and tricks focus on the things we love most … growing and eating delicious home-grown, hand-picked, home made food … passionate about showing you that you can grow your own food … and create a feast with garden-fresh produce.” One of the gardenettes is Deb’s daughter, Chloe. Another, Melissa King, is giving a talk at Diamond Valley Library on Tuesday, 20th February, 11.30am-12.30pm.


RetroSuburbia is David Holmgren’s new book, to be published on 10th February. Click here to read about the book, here to buy the book, or here to go and listen to David talk about the book.

The book discusses a number of case studies from around North East Melbourne, including: Alistair and Christine’s (Northcote); The Plummery (Northcote); Saba and Matt’s rental property (Lilydale); and Sharehouse (Preston).

More about honey

Maya ‘Xala Honey recently posted on Facebook: “Honey never spoils. When sealed in an airtight container, honey is one of the few foods known to have an eternal shelf life. There are even reports of edible honey being found in several-thousand-year-old Egyptian tombs.” Well, I never knew that so I thought I would investigate. And it turns out to be true: as discussed on the Smithsonian website, honey’s combination of acidity, lack of water and presence of hydrogen peroxide apparently means that it can remain preserved in a completely edible form for thousands of years if sealed.

This site lists 10 other foods that take a long time to spoil: white rice, salt, soy sauce, sugar, dried beans, pure maple syrup, powdered milk, hard liquor, pemmican and (of course) Terry Pratchett’s dwarf bread (which enables you to survive for days by making you realise that you are surrounded by things that look more edible, and which can’t go stale because it starts off stale).

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

Judy Vizzari’s interview with Duang Tengtrirat and Rob Reid Smith.

Joke of the week

Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon? Great food but no atmosphere.

Read all the jokes.

Continue reading »

Jan 312018

Judy Vizzari interviews Duang Tengtrirat and Rob Reid Smith

Many of you will know Duang from her catering business, from her involvement in the Home Harvest FEASTivals, or from her workshops on waste-free cooking. Judy Vizzari has now interviewed Duang, and her husband Rob about all these matters, as well as about the experiences as home growers. Here is how Judy introduces her write up: “Duang Tengtrirat and her husband, Rob Reid Smith, live in the back blocks of Research. I’m visiting them to find out about their long list of accomplishments which, I’ve heard, include innovative gardening techniques, abundant food production, waste-free cooking and largescale catering. I also want to hear about their contributions to the learning and health of our community. Their fame has preceded them but I am keen to learn more.Read the full interview.

One thing that I would like to highlight from the interview is that Duang won the ABC PocketDoc Short Story Competition in 2015. Her story, My Silent Day, was about blueberry picking and racism. Listen to the story. As part of the launch of 2016 competition, Duang recorded a follow up story. The setting is one year later and Duang is again collecting blueberries. But this time her meeting is much more pleasant and heart warming. Listen to Duang’s follow up story.

Mac’s tip of the week

Blossom-end rot looks like a discoloured/black, watery, sunken spot at the blossom end of the fruit. The spot will start out small but grow larger and darker as the fruit continues to grow.

Often a problem with tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, eggplant and zucchini, blossom-end rot is an environmental problem (not fungal) most often caused by either extremes in soil moisture levels (either too dry or too wet) or by calcium deficiency. Even if you have spread lime etc, uneven watering can interfere with the uptake of calcium. Too much nitrogen fertiliser and rapid growth can also make things worse. Mulch helps, but 40 degree days don’t.

The good news is that blossom-end rot will not spread from plant to plant, and will not necessarily affect future fruit. As a stop gap measure, try spraying plants with a calcium or kelp solution but recognise that consistent water supply is the key.

Some varieties are more resistant than others. For example, I know of one gardener that has a mixed planting of Roma and San Marzano tomatoes. All the San Marzano have blossom-end rot, while the Roma show no sign of it. For tomatoes at least, larger fruit are more susceptible than smaller.

Read all of Mac’s tips.

Guy’s tip of the week

It looked like Mac’s tip wouldn’t arrive in time so I wrote a tip of my own.

My tip is: consider planting sugar snap peas in the summer. Our veggie patch is strictly based on a crop rotation system which means that we always have two spots available for legumes. In winter, we make the obvious choice of broad beans and peas. In summer, beans are always planted but that leaves a second spot up for grabs. Peanuts are one possibility and soybeans are another but we had difficulty sourcing either this year so we decided to consult our local nursery. They said that their experience was that sugar snap peas (but not standard garden peas) could be grown all year round. So, we planted some seedlings in December and this week, less than two months later, we have just harvested a bountiful crop.

Maria’s tip of the week

I thought that this recent post by Maria of My Green Garden was interesting.

Sugar is used in jam for 2 reasons (or maybe 3, if you include taste).

First, sugar acts as the preserving agent for the fruit. It acts to prevent bacteria and other food spoilants from taking hold. The ratio needed for this is at least 75% of the weight of the fruit has to be added as sugar.

Second, the sugar acts to help ‘gel’ the fruit. This happens with the combination of the fruit with its natural pectin, the sugar and acid (from the fruit or added as lemon juice).

So, without enough sugar, the jam might go mouldy and won’t gel, staying very runny.

This is true to an extent but it can be overcome.

To overcome the preserving issue, after making the jam I make sure that I heat-preserve the filled jars. This makes a great vacuum seal on the jars, which means there is no air in the jar. No air = no bacteria.

To make up for lack of a firm set, I cook it a little longer than I normally would with a full sugar jam; and then accept that it will be easier to spread on my breakfast toast than a commercial jam, whose sugar content may be even higher than the 1:1 ratio. So it might be called ‘spreadable fruit’ rather than a true jam.

I have also tried adding a minute amount of Xantham gum powder (available in the health food section of my local supermarket) right at the end of the cooking process, This does firm up the jam, so that it is still spreadable. But don’t overdo it as you might end up with rock hard jam.

What seeds to plant in February

Here is a list (see the planting guide for more detail):

Brussels sprouts
Mustard greens

Compared with January, the most important additions are some of the brassicas: broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

Pip pip

The winner of last week’s random draw for the free annual subscription of the PIP magazine was Joe Selvaretnam.

Thanks to those of you who sent in various ‘oink oink’ comments(!). However, the reference in last week’s newsletter was to ‘pip pip onk onk!’, not ‘pip pip oink oink!’, and is baby talk rather than anything to do with pigs.

55 people entered the draw, up from 45 in the previous week. Given the continuing level of interest, another year’s free subscription will be offered this week (and then we’ll probably stop). It will work as before: if you have previously entered, you are automatically entered for this week; if you haven’t previously entered and want to enter this week, simply email me some time today (Wednesday) with the word ‘PIP’ or equivalent. Note that anyone who includes the word ‘oink’ in their email will be automatically excluded!

News about local food producers

Backyard Honey, from Surrey Hills, have written in to say that budding beekeepers may like to know that they sell healthy re-queened, foulbrood-test honey bee colonies. You can ring Peter (0425 873555) to chat about honey bee colony purchases and other apiary services, including on-site advice, winter bee-hive pack-down, honey extraction and education services.

You can now buy Warrandyte-based PoppySmack’s Asian sauces in 16 different suburbs: Blackburn (Max & Leo’s Foodstore Cafe), Clifton Hill (McCoppins), Croydon (Jefferies Family Supermarket), Doncaster East (Fish Pier and Rump Butchery), Eltham (Bolton Street Deli & Liquor), Forest Hill (Fish Pier), Heidelberg (Leo’s Fine Food & Wine), Kew (Leo’s Fine Food & Wine), Northcote (IGA); Nunawading (Whitehorse Farmers’ Market), Preston (Local Pantry Co and Saltylicious Himalayan Salt), Ringwood (Fish Pier); Ringwood East (Paul’s SUPA IGA), Ringwood North (Made Locally) and Templestowe (Gourmet Living) and Warrandyte (The Riverside Market, Aumanns and Quintons SUPA IGA).

For Elthamites only: Nongkhai Thai Restaurant now deliver as well as doing takeaway. See the full list.

Permablitz ‘hero of the month’

Every month, newsletter reader Adrian O’Hagen, discusses a ‘hero of the month’ on the Permablitz website. Most are growing guides for particular fruit or veggies, some common and others less common. This month’s hero is midyim berries. There is now a page on our website with links to each of these guides (currently 9 fruit, 18 veggies and 2 weeds).

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

FareShare Garden Manual.

Proverb of the month

As cool as a cucumber. Meaning: calm and unruffled. First recorded in 1732 in a poem by John Gay. In this simile, cool means imperturbable rather than having a low temperature. However, the simile comes about because, in hot weather, the insides of a cucumber apparently remain cooler than the air because of their high water content and thus cucumbers are cool to the touch.

Question: what is cool and hot at the same time? Answer: Barack Obama (or, indeed, Michelle Obama).

Read all the proverbs.

Gardening quote of the month

The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. By George Bernard Shaw.

Read all the quotes.

Joke of the week

How do chickens bake a cake? From scratch!

Read all the jokes.

Continue reading »