Mar 292022

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Fay Loveland, Felicia Wylie, Jo Townsend, Megan Goodman, Pauline Webb, Robin Gale-Baker, Steve Burnham and Sylvia Bianco.

If you are Gmail user and didn’t successfully receive our newsletter last week, read this short guide on how to stop Google’s blocking of our future newsletters.

Note that some of the material that used to be in the end of month newsletters (e.g. proverb of the month) is being moved to mid month.

Want to community garden in Northcote?

Northcote Community Gardens, which is an allotment-based community garden in Hartington Street (next to the Northcote train station), apparently have a few plots available. If interested, contact them by email.

Think you know something about land management in Nillumbik?

Open Food Network is working in partnership with Nillumbik Council and Fair Share Fare on a project to explore how to keep farmland and food systems thriving as the landowners age. The first stage is a series of conversations with interested community members. Read more. If you are interested in being interviewed, email Prue Rothwell (

Doncaster Garden Club

A month or so ago, I had the honour of speaking at the Doncaster Garden Club, where the audience numbered somewhere between 50 and 100. They meet on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at 8pm at Doncaster East RSL and always have an external speaker. Anyone is welcome to attend a few meetings, after which membership will be requested. Their next three speakers are:

  • 13th April: Nigel Philpot on the Doncaster Hill Community Garden and Felicity Gordon on Queensland fruit fly traps.
  • 11th May: Helen Lovel from Neutrog, a fertiliser company.
  • 8th June: Pete the Permie, aka Peter Allen, will be selling dwarf fruit trees.

If you want to have a chat with them, they will apparently be having a ‘learn to pot a plant’ table at Bunnings in Doncaster Road on Saturday, 2nd April. Or you can call their President, Pauline Webb, on 0409 063 060.

I’m only aware of 4 garden clubs around North East Melbourne that are currently holding monthly meetings: Camberwell, Doncaster, Hurstbridge and Preston. If you are aware of any others, send me an email.

Do you know?

Steve Burnham has written in to ask how he should grow edamame (aka soy beans) and where can he get seeds or seedlings from? I know that Diggers sell soy bean seeds (both green and black) and suggest that they be planted in Spring or Summer. Please email any other thoughts.

Not food-related but interesting

Read this article in the Brunswick Voice about some ‘guerrilla gardeners’ who are trying to create an urban forest along the railway line from Jewell Station in the south to Fawkner Station in the north.

Pineapple sage – useful, versatile and spectacular!
(by Robin Gale-Baker)

If you are looking for a versatile, useful and spectacular herbaceous perennial, then go no further than pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). With its whorls of scarlet, tubular flowers (4cm in length) and lime green foliage, this attractive shrub will flower, with careful cultivation, almost year round. It’s a ‘short day’ plant meaning that, as the nights grow longer, it flowers more prolifically.

Culinarily, the leaves have a pineapple fragrance but must be used fresh as cooking destroys the scent. The fragrance is released by rubbing the leaves between your fingers or chopping. Both leaves and flowers can be used in cold drinks, fruit salads, salads and as garnishes. Children and adults alike also love sucking the sweet nectar from the flowers!

In a Melbourne climate, pineapple sage grows to a height and width of around 1.5 metres in fertile, well-drained soil. It provides a good habitat for butterflies and honeyeaters in autumn and winter, especially small thornbills such as the Eastern thornbill (see photo).

At the end of autumn, pineapple sage can look straggly and it benefits from a prune down to ground level. However, rather than prune it all at once, selectively prune out some stems including dead ones, and continue to do this as the stems renew and flower. This will provide winter sustenance for honeyeaters. If hit by frost, the foliage will be damaged but the roots will survive. A heavy prune is then necessary to remove all the dead and damaged leaves and stems.

To propagate pineapple sage, either divide the clumping roots, spade off a section, or take cuttings in spring. For the latter, select a firm, green stem with at least four nodes, remove any flowers and strip the stem leaving a pair of leaves at the top. Then, cut the stem on an angle directly beneath the lowest node, dunk into water, shake off, dip into hormone rooting powder, and insert into a mix of damp perlite and vermiculite. A perlite/vermiculite mix, which will drain well and have plenty of aeration and space for root development, will produce strong white roots within a week whereas placing the cuttings in soil will produce weak, straggly roots. Make sure that the mix remains moist.

Pineapple sage likes to be well watered. It is useful as an indicator that the garden soil is drying out. It will, along with tansy, wilt well before other plants as the moisture content drops, signalling the need of the whole garden for water.

Read Robin’s other articles on our website about growing herbs.

Meg’s garden this month

The long sweet green capsicums and eggplant are finally ripe and mark the end of the summer growing season. The green beans planted in February are now ready for harvesting. The dry weather has meant frequent watering of these last few crops. A joy is the second crop of smaller autumn strawberries that have managed to appear despite a lack of water.

I have netted the quinces early and am watching them carefully for signs of ripeness. The apples and pears are coming into their own and I have been harvesting over the past month and will continue into April with the late Granny Smiths. It’s important to clear up fallen and damaged fruit to avoid pests such as wasps and diseases. Excess produce will be forced on family and friends or taken to the local food swap.

This month I am:
1. Finishing clearing the vegetable beds and preparing one for planting garlic.
2. Sowing seeds of beetroot, carrot and turnip.
3. Trying to thin the self-seeded nasturtiums.
4. Peeling apples for cooking in many different ways, although my favourite is whole baked apples (no peeling!).

Baked apples

6 small apples
⅓ cup brown sugar
½ cup of currents or sultanas
1 tablespoon honey
6 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup boiling water

Cut a hole in each apple by carving out the core, ensuring that you leave the bottom 2 cm intact.

Place the apples in an oven proof dish so that they sit upright. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, honey and fruit and then divide between each apple hole. Top each filled hole with a teaspoon or so of the butter. Add water to the bottom of a baking dish and cook at 180degCc for about 40 minutes or until the apples are just soft.

When serving, coat the apples with some of the syrup left in the dish.

Read some of Meg’s other recipes.

What seeds to plant in April

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


Mustard greens
Pak choy

Cool season veggies

Broad beans

Leafy greens




If you didn’t plant your cool season veggies in March, April is a good month. So, plant those broad beans, peas and garlic. Also, plant some leafy greens. It’s a bit late for planting broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower seeds but, as they say, better late than never.

Read Robin Gale-Baker’s 2020 articles on growing broad beans and garlic.

Read Helen Simpson’s 2016 articles on growing garlic. Also, autumn plantings more generally.

Some of our articles you might have missed over the last month

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The most popular link in the last newsletter was Thanh Truong’s video discussing the major Asian greens.

b33e661f-c100-4ebe-9ffa-847952e0da4e.jpgJoke (or pun) of the week

If you’re waiting for the waiter at a restaurant, aren’t you the waiter?

Read more jokes.

Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ markets
Food swaps

Note that the Regent Community Garden produce and plant swaps have changed their start time and are now from 2-3pm.

Most of the local food swaps have now re-started ‘post-Covid’. I have been in communication with those that seemingly haven’t and, unfortunately, the Brunswick and Fawkner food swaps won’t be re-starting, at least for the time being.

Community gardens

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

Growing seeds in season; Saturday, 2nd April, 11-11.30am; free; Rosanna.

Yenni will give a talk on growing seeds in season and give out some seeds for you to grow at home. Organised by Rosanna Library.

Backyard beekeeping for beginners; Sunday, 3rd April, 10am-midday; free; Coburg.

Robert, from Bee Sustainable, will give participants a basic understanding of bee behaviour, establishing and managing a hive, and the items that make up a bee hive and their construction. There will be live bees and honeycomb to look at in a secure exhibition cabinet. The workshop will also cover the equipment that a beekeeper needs to work with bees, key tasks in spring, honey extraction and swarm control.

Easter egg decorating; Thursday, 7th April, 7.30-9pm; $12 ($8 per hour); Kew.

This is an evening event for women. Everything will be provided including a glass of bubbles and light supper.

Autumn obscurity wine masterclass; Saturday, 9th April, 2-4pm; $7; Northcote.

Learn about lesser known grape varietals which are beginning to make an impact in Australia due to the similar climate conditions. This class will lead you through 8 wines, with a grazing platter at intermission.

Easter egg hunts; Sunday, 17th April, 10-10.30am and again at 11.30am-midday; $7; Yarra Glen.

Little hunters ages 12 and under will search for four different clues hidden under tin pails dotted throughout their grounds to redeem for a special Easter gift box from their Easter bunnies.

An introduction to beekeeping, with Claire Coutts; Tuesday, 26th April, 2-3pm; free; Mooroolbark.

Interested in setting up your own beehive? Claire will explain: the benefits for you, the bees and their environment; the equipment required; the maintenance required; the best position for the hive; and the most beneficial plants to have in your garden. Organised by Mooroolbark Library.

Seed libraries – pop-up food swap; Saturday, 30th April, 10-11am; free; Eltham.

Food swaps are a way to meet local veggie growers in your community. Take along your excess garden produce such as seeds, seedlings, fruit and jams, or even pots, jars or gardening magazines. If you don’t have anything to swap, just go along for a chat. Presented by Local Food Connect.

Planning your Winter vegetable patch; Sunday, 1st May, 9.30am-midday; $60 ($24 per hour); Forest Hill.

Learn how to: prepare your soil; find out what to plant and when; plan your planting strategy; reduce the likelihood of pest and disease issues such as white cabbage moth; understand how to avoid the pitfalls new gardeners face in the veggie patch at this time of the year; which types of veggies to grow from seed and which ones to plant out as seedlings; mulching and watering; and growing winter veggies in small spaces such as pots and containers. Presenter: Duncan Cocking from Leaf, Root & Fruit Gardening Services.

The fungus amongst us; Sunday, 8th May, 10am-12.30pm; $55 ($22 per hour); Alphington.

Explore the Darebin park lands through a fungal lens. Participants will be guided to see and get close to the local world of fungi. The park adventure will be led by local ecologist Dr Sapphire McMullan-Fisher. Founder of Sporadical City Mushrooms, Julia Laidlaw, will then share the world of zero waste mushroom farming at her farm on the edge of the park land.

Introduction to permaculture (two sessions); Sunday, 15th May and Sunday, 29th May, both 10am-3pm; $220 ($22 per hour); CERES.

This course is designed for both those new to permaculture and those thinking of undertaking a Permaculture Design Certificate. What you will learn: the concept of permaculture; and the principles of permaculture and associated design methods. Presenter: Lisa Reid. There will be examples from tiny urban gardens to suburban and rural permaculture properties showing how we can create resilient, sustainable systems that work with nature and the natural limits of our planet.

Backyard beekeeping; Wednesday, 18th May, 7-8.30pm; free; Camberwell.

Join Mary and Henry Trumble from Backyard Honey to learn about what’s involved in establishing, maintaining and harvesting an urban honeybee hive. You will see a live honey bee display and participate in some raw honey tasting.

Fruit tree pruning and care; Thursday, 19th May, 6.30-7.30pm; free; Mill Park.

Kathleen Tants will discuss fruit tree pruning and care, including how to prepare your fruit trees for the Winter ahead. Organised by Mill Park Library.

The art of espalier; Saturday, 21st May, 9.30am-midday; $55 ($22 per hour); Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: growing espaliered fruit trees; different techniques to make the most of all available space for espalier; and improve your general gardening skills. Topics will include suitable fruit trees, pruning and training techniques.

Growing fruit and veggies in small spaces; Sunday, 22nd May, 9.30am-12.30pm; $50 ($17 per hour); Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: which produce plants are suitable to grow in small areas; coping with shade and sun for produce growing; and how to make the most of any available space for growing produce. Presented by Kirsteen Macleod. Topics will include fruit, vegetables and berries for small spaces, growing produce in pots and containers, maximising productivity in any size space and plant selection.

Basic inoculation workshop; Sunday, 22nd May, 10am-midday; $87 ($44 per hour); Alphington.

You will get a hands-on go at inoculating your own mushrooms. You will also be given a tour of the mushroom farm. Take a clean 2-10L bucket with a lid and some gloves. Organised by The Mushroomery

In March
In April
In May
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Zero waste garden to plate cooking workshop; Saturday, 2nd April, 10am-1pm; free; Fawkner.

See a zero waste meal created by Sharif Hassan and Gregory Lorenzetti, who will also give you tips for waste and fuss free affordable cooking. The session will include a tour of the urban farm at Fawkner Food Bowls. Organised by My Smart Garden.

Preserving the season’s harvest; Saturday, 21st May, 10am-3pm; $115 ($23 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: how to preserve surplus foods; how to make jams; and improve your culinary skillset. Presenter: Lauren Mueller. Learn how to make jams, pastes, pickles and the art of basic canning so that you can preserve your home harvest or extend your seasonal produce year round.

Blue cheese making; Sunday, 22nd May, 10am-4pm; $170 ($28 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: how to make blue cheese; how to make sour cream; and how to make your own ricotta cheese. Presenters: Janet Clayton and Charlene Angus from Cheeselinks.

In March
In April
In May
Regular classes
Mar 232022

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Felicity Gordon, John Wright, Margaret Marshall and Tatiana Coluccio.

If you are Gmail user and didn’t successfully receive our newsletter last week, read this short guide on how to stop Google’s blocking of our future newsletters.

A community garden is being established in Panton Hill

A small community garden is being established at the Living & Learning Centre in Panton Hill. Some raised beds have been built and the first plantings happened on Saturday (as demonstrated by the action picture right).

Want some straw bales?

John Wright has a hay and straw supply business in Lilydale called Complete Hay Supplies. 850 bales of his straw were used for a skateboard race last week and he is now trying to find new homes for these bales. As he says, “great for mulch, etc.” Anyone interested? There will be a cost, but this can be negotiated depending on how many bales you might want. If interested, email John (

Want a job?

Old Evropa, the bakers in Eltham Village, have a position for a mature, experienced, artisan baker to help them take their business to the next level. If interested, send a current CV and cover letter to

Do you know your Asian greens?

This 4 minute video by Thanh Truong (aka the Fruit Nerd) discusses many of the major Asian greens, including bok choy and pak choy, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), choy sum, water spinach (kang kong), gai choy (small mustard green), wombok (Chinese cabbage) and Chinese chives.

Our guide to local wine makers – updated

As discussed in our updated guide to local wine makers, how many wineries you think there are in North East Melbourne large depends on how far east you think that Melbourne extends. If you include the western part of the Yarra Valley (Coldstream, Dixons Creek and Yarra Glen) then the number is around 65 but this reduces to around 20 if you exclude that area.

Most of the wineries have a cellar door and many also have a cafe or restaurant.

Around 6 are South West of the Yarra Valley and 12 are located in Nillumbik.

The 6 to the South West of Yarra Valley are: Kellybrook Winery in Wonga Park; Rob Dolan Wines in Warrandyte South; and Billanook Estate, Cosmo Wines, Vue on Halcyon and Yarra Edge in Chirnside Park.

Most of the 12 in Nillumbik participate in something called Open Cellars whereby, on one weekend in each of June and October, all the wineries open their doors so that visitors can follow a trail from winery to winery; on these weekends, all of the wineries offer food and many have live music. During the rest of the year, most of them have a cellar door, typically open on Saturdays and Sundays, where they offer (free) wine tastings, some also offer food, and most have great vistas so you can make an afternoon of it. The table below summarises.

Name Base Online   Cellar door   Open Cellars
Buttermans Track St Andrews yes   yes
Easthill Estate Kangaroo Ground   yes yes yes
Hildebrand Ridge Organic Vineyard   Cottles Bridge   yes yes
Kings of Kangaroo Ground Kangaroo Ground yes yes yes
Nillumbik Estate Smiths Gully yes yes yes
Panton Hill Vineyard & Winery Panton Hill   yes yes
Punch St Andrews yes yes yes
Shaws Road Winery Arthurs Creek yes yes yes
Swipers Gully Vineyard Kangaroo Ground yes   yes
Watson's Creek Wines Kangaroo Ground     yes
Wedgetail Estate Cottles Bridge yes yes yes
Yarrambat Estate Vineyard Yarrambat yes   yes

Read our updated guide to local wine makers.

Every newsletter deserves a good picture

So the question about the picture on the right is: how is your child going to react when you tell him/her to eat it?

Not food but interesting

The first ever Banyule Open Studios is happening over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd April. 25 artist studios will be opening their doors to the public on both the Saturday and the Sunday. No need to book – just rock up.

In addition, there is a free opening reception on the Friday evening and a free evening of performance art on the Saturday.


Messy play day is on Saturday, 2nd April, 9.30-11am at Hohnes Road Playhouse, 1 Hohnes Road, Eltham. Not only digging for Easter eggs, face painting and a painting wall but also creepy crawlies in rainbow spaghetti, water world and cars in foam! I want to participate! Why are they limiting the maximum age to 6 years?

Not local but interesting

East Keilor Community Garden is holding an open day on Sunday, 3rd April, 10am-3pm. There will be seedlings & plants for sale, vegetables, a BBQ and Devonshire tea. 10A Tuppal Place, East Keilor. Free entry.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival will be taking place on 25th March to 6th April at various locations in the CBD.

The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show will be taking place on 30th March to 3rd April, 9am-5pm each day, at the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens.

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The most popular link in the last newsletter was Bruno’s short video on how to plant leek seedlings.

b33e661f-c100-4ebe-9ffa-847952e0da4e.jpgJoke (or pun) of the week

I just baked a synonym bun … just like the ones that grammar used to bake.

Read more jokes.

Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ markets
Food swaps
Community gardens

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

Carlton aperitvio food tour; various Fridays, 5-7pm; $89 ($45 per hour); Carlton.

You will indulge in the Italian ‘Aperitivo’ tradition. What exactly is Aperitivo, what can you expect to eat and drink, how did it begin, how did it make its way to Melbourne? You will learn all this and more while sipping on Italian cocktails, prosecco and wines and tasting arancini, cicchetti, pizza, pasta, gelato, salumi and cheese. Walking along Lygon Street, you will visit some foodie venues, meeting the people behind the food. 5 food & drink stops, 11 food tastings and 2.5 standard drinks.

Masterclass: out of the barrel; Saturday, 26th March, 1-3pm; $80 ($40 per hour); Thornbury.

This masterclass will cover barrel aged, wild fermentation and skin contact beer. You will get to sample 5 different beers. Organised by 3 Ravens Brewery.

An intro to beekeeping; Sunday, 10th April, 9.30am-12.30pm; $55 ($28 per hour); Bulleen Art & Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: a foundational knowledge of keeping bees; the set up and tools of a hive; and the financial, time inputs and responsibilities. You will see a working hive and taste some honey. Presented by Sarah Buchanan.

The fungus amongst us; Sunday, 10th April, 10am-12.30pm; $55 ($22 per hour); Alphington.

Explore the Darebin park lands through a fungal lens. Participants will be guided to see and get close to the local world of fungi. The park adventure will be led by local ecologist Dr Sapphire McMullan-Fisher. Founder of Sporadical City Mushrooms, Julia Laidlaw, will then share the world of zero waste mushroom farming at her farm on the edge of the park land.

Farmer for a day!; 3 occurrences on Tuesday 19th April, Thursday 21st April and Friday 22nd April, each 8.30am-4pm; $125 ($17 per hour) ; Abbotsford.

For children aged 8-14. At Collingwood Children’s Farm. The day includes a farm tour, woodworking workshop, planting workshop, farm work and barn activities.

Kalorama Chestnut Festival; Sunday, 1st May, 10am-4pm; free; Kalorama.

Savour the abundant chestnuts, gourmet food, Devonshire tea, coffee, artisan beer and mulled wine. Explore the diverse range of stalls, including: roasted chestnuts; poffertjes; homemade cakes; sausage sizzle; local restaurants; mulled wine; coffee, tea and chai; local handmade crafts; and local produce.

Tomato: know, sow, grow, feast with Karen Sutherland; Friday, 13th May, 10.30-11.30am; free; Doncaster.

Karen Sutherland, co-author of Tomato: know, sow, grow, feast  will share her tips and tricks to taste this food. She will do so in conversation with Claire Halliday. Organised by Doncaster Library.

Native edibles for companion planting; Saturday, 14th May, 6.30-9pm; $50 ($20 per hour); Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: a range of edible natives that are easy to grow in Melbourne; basics of companion planting; and which plants to choose in your garden planning, and how to grow and care for them. You will learn how to incorporate some easily grown edible native plants into your garden so that they work in harmony with your existing plants, as well as a variety of ways to use these plants in your kitchen. Presented by Karen Sutherland, of Edible Eden Design.

Gardening in small spaces; Sunday, 15th May, 10am-3pm; $115 ($23 per hour); CERES.

You will learn how to maximise your small space to create an oasis of food, herbs and ornamentals. In particular, you will learn: gardening skills; how to maximise small spaces and grow your own food; and how to transform your balcony. Presenter: Clare.

Compost, worm farm and Bokashi workshop; Tuesday, 17th May, 9.30-11.30am; free; Ringwood.

Discover how to reduce your food waste using a compost bin, worm farm or Bokashi bin. Participants will learn how to set up and maintain a variety of home composting systems and will be provided with troubleshooting tips. Organised by Central Ringwood Community Centre.

Biodiversity and sustainable food systems; Wednesday, 18th May, 10am-4pm; $120 ($20 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: what is biodiversity and why preserve it; how to measure habitat quality; and nature connection activities. Presenter: Lorna Pettifer. The topics to be covered include: understanding of global and Australian biodiversity; measuring biodiversity; biodiversity organisations; ways of making a difference in your backyard; and sustainable food systems.

In March
In April
In May
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Mozzarella making class; Saturday, 14th May, 10am-midday; $120 ($60 per hour); Thomastown.

What you will learn: the process behind producing curd; how to make hand-stretched fresh mozzarella; and how to shape mozzarella into bocconcini and trecce. What you will get: guided cheese tasting with a glass of wine; and freshly made mozzarella to take home. Organised by That’s Amore Cheese.

Cultural cooking – Indian breads; Saturday, 14th May, 11am-1pm; $40 ($20 per hour); Alphington.

Manu will show you how to make roti, stuffed roti, paratha and poori. Organised by Alphington Community Centre.

Preserving; Sunday, 15th May, 9-10am; $70 ($14 per hour); Kinglake.

It is always the right time to make preserves! A homemade jam, jelly, chutney or relish enhances any table. Everyone takes home a sweet and a savoury preserve along with a folder of beginner’s recipes and tips. Organised by Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood House.

Pizza making masterclass; Sunday, 15th May, 11am-1.30pm; $106 ($30 per hour); Northcote.

Edoardo Nicita, from Shop 225, will demonstrate how to create pizza dough from scratch and you will then make margherita and truffle mushroom pizzas. At the end, you will eat the creations with your new found foodie friends!

In March
In April
In May
Regular classes
Mar 182022

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Bruno Tigani, Delldint Fleming, Jaimie Sweetman, Jane Juliff, Megan Cassidy and Toni Myers.

If you are Gmail user and didn’t successfully receive our newsletter last week, read this short guide.

Jaimie’s unusual plant of the month – perennial sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

[Jaimie Sweetman is Head Gardener of the Edible Forest located on the Yarra Valley Estate in Dixons Creek. Tours of the Edible Forest, often led by Jaimie, take place on Fridays and Saturdays – read more and book your place on a future tour.]

For March, I have chosen perennial sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius), also known as American sunflowers as they are native to the USA.

Whilst they are not edible, they are a great addition to food gardens, both for their flower displays and as a bee attractor.

The flowers appear in late summer to autumn and therefore prolong a garden’s period of flowering. They look good in borders, pollinator gardens, cottage gardens or swamps. Whilst they grow best in wet or boggy areas, they will also grow in normal soils as long as there is some moisture though summer. They can get up to 3 metres tall and are quite the show!

A true perennial, they should be cut down after flowering and will then re-shoot late spring.

I have often seen little native bees having a nap in them and they are really good for attracting pollinators in the garden, which is particularly useful as a lot of other flowers will have finished of the season. At the food forest, we aim to have something flowering at all times throughout the year and the perennial sunflowers help us to achieve this.

Interested in community gardening in Whittlesea?

Whittlesea Council is looking to support residents wanting to set up new community gardens (and, maybe, existing community gardens). More specifically, they have developed a 10-week training program that will provide people with “the skills needed to create and maintain a thriving community garden“. Read more and potentially apply.

The leek seedlings have now all gone!

Well done to everyone who was not put off by the typo in my email address and still managed to send me an email asking for some leek seedlings. I hope that they grow successfully for you Amanda, Andrew, Carmen, Cath, Chris, Dianne, Karen, Mardi, Maria, Monique, Pam, Robin, Robyn, Shibani, Soo Mei, Susan, Thais, Vicki and Victoria!

Victoria has already sent in a photo of her planted seedlings.

Thanks again, Bruno Tigani, for supplying the seedlings!

As Bruno illustrates in this 30 second video, he plants his leek seedlings in deep holes and then, with rain and wind, the soil collapses in gradually. The reason that he does this is that he prefers white leek to green leek and it is only that part of the stem which is underground which will remain white, so he wants to have as much of the leek as possible to have been grown underground. For the same reason, you can hill up the soil around the plant as it grows.

More on rat poisons

Delldint Fleming writes in: “The best poison for rats is Racumin as it does not cause secondary poisoning in other creatures such as owls, reptiles, chooks, etc. Whilst it is expensive, I think that it is worth it to be responsible in the ecosystem. It’s the only poison recommended by my friend George Paras of the Warringal Conservation Society, who used to care for the wildlife reserve at Latrobe Uni.

Toni Myers: “See this Better Homes and Garden article on how to get rid of rats in your garden without poison or traps.” The methods discussed are: peppermint oil; catnip; removal of food and water sources; keeping your garden clean; soil netting; and sealing gaps.

By the community for the community

We have discussed both of these initiatives before but they are worth discussing again.

Mitcham Community Meal

Mitcham Community Meal provides a free community dinner every Sunday at 18 Edward Street, starting at 5.30pm. “Each Sunday, a different local club, business or church group provides and serves a meal to people in the Mitcham community.” Since they started in October 2018, that’s around 100 different teams who have prepared and served a meal! The organiser is someone called Ben Frawley (email Ben). Read their Facebook page.

It would be a great initiative if it were just the meal. But the fact that it is different groups from the community who make (and pay for) the meals is what makes it a wonderful initiative. Why not go there one Sunday evening and see for yourself?

We maintain a gallery of all the teams on our website.


As we have discussed before, whilst some of you are a bit wary of using spent coffee grounds in your garden, others of you are extremely enthusiastic.

As the Darebin Food Harvest Network recently reminded its readership, a local organisation called Reground collects spent coffee grounds from a lot of the local cafes and then delivers it to home gardeners. The minimum drop-off amount is 800kg, which is a large pile about 2m wide x 1m high (roughly 2 cubic metres). They deliver to anywhere within 30km of Alphington. Register for a free bulk coffee ground delivery.

Given their minimum amount of 800Kg, taking advantage of Reground’s offer only potentially makes sense if you are committed to using large amounts of spent coffee grounds. If you want smaller amounts, we maintain a list of local cafes who will give your their spent coffee grounds for free.

Moreland Community Gardening

Libby Harper (President) and Richard (Composting King) from Moreland Community Gardening were recently interviewed on “the joy of community gardens, why to get involved and all about composting and worm farms.Watch the 1 hour video.

b33e661f-c100-4ebe-9ffa-847952e0da4e.jpgJoke (or pun) of the week

Me: “Do you serve vegetarians here?
Waiter: “Of course, how would you like them cooked?

Read more jokes.

Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ markets
Food swaps
Community gardens

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

’50 Shade of Pinot’ wine masterclass; Saturday, 26th March, 2-4pm; $53 ($25 per hour); Northcote.

Discover the many different varietals of Australia’s most popular grape family. Explore 6 varietals. Hosted by Broc Willems.

In-depth mushroom cultivation workshop; Sunday, 27th March, 10am-4pm; $165 ($28 per hour); Alphington.

You will learn the growing methods for oyster mushrooms, including inoculation, sterilisation and be introduced to basic mycology. You will undertake practical sessions and learn how to start master cultures. You will also be given a tour of the mushroom farm. Take a clean 2-10L bucket with a lid and some gloves. Organised by The Mushroomery.

Nillumbik wine tour; Sunday, 3rd April, 10.30am-5pm; $149 ($23 per hour); Research.

You will be driven to Shaws Road Winery, where you will be given a wine tasting followed by lunch. Then you will be taken to two other local wineries.

Setting up a worm farm; Saturday, 30th April, 2-3.30pm; free; Edendale.

This workshop will cover both the theory and practice of worm farming in a household setting. It will be useful for those wishing to recycle household food waste in order to produce worm products for use in the improvement of soil in gardens and pot plants.

Waste, organic recycling and life cycle analysis; Wednesday, 4th May, 10am-4pm; $120 ($20 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: how to reduce your waste; e-waste and Life Cycle Analysis; and organic recycling and food waste. Presenter: Lauren Kaszubski. Topics to be covered will include: how to reduce your waste, 4Rs; e-waste & life cycle analysis; organic recycling & food waste; simple actions, big impacts; litter and plastics; waste campaigns and actions; how to teach about waste; and create your own waste education activity.

Edible weeds walk; Thursday, 5th May, 2-3.30pm; free; Warrandyte.

Join Adam Grubb, co-author of The Weed Forager’s Handbook, for a fascinating walk on the wild side, foraging for edible weeds. Organised by Warrandyte Library.

Bush foods & herbs for courtyards & balconies; Thursday, 5th May, 6.30-9pm; $55 ($22 per hour); Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: which native produce-plants are suitable for growing in pots and small spaces; what to harvest and when; and how to use bush foods and herbs to flavour your dishes. Presented by Karen Sutherland of Edible Eden Design.

Complete urban farmer (14 sessions); weekly, starting Friday, 6th May, 9am-3pm; $880 ($10 per hour); CERES.

14 sessions over a period of a 14 weeks. Presenters: Justin Calverley and Donna Livermore. The topics to be covered will include: permaculture; fruit production; soil preparation; beekeeping; composting, worm farming and fertilisers; vegetable growing; propagation; seed collection; pest & disease management; bushfoods & berries; chooks; and community gardens.

Food photography; Saturday, 7th May, 9.30am-12.30pm; $109 ($36 per hour); Eltham.

This class is for food bloggers, bakers or restaurant/cafe owners. It will focus on taking great images of food using your own, or easily obtainable, equipment. It will cover such aspects as: the right equipment; the best camera settings to make your food look good; choosing the right backgrounds; lighting; basic food styling; being creative; the perils of incorrect white balance; and using software to enhance colour and presentation.

Composting workshop; Saturday, 7th May, 10-11am; free; Ringwood.

Learn how to set up, maintain and use a compost bin at home. All types of compost bins will be discussed, including the popular eco tumbler. There will also be examples of composting bins and other systems to help you decide what best suits your household. Attendees will also receive a free kitchen caddy to assist them in recycling their food waste at home. Organised by Realm Library.

Edible weeds; Saturday, 7th May, 10am-midday; $50 ($25 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: how to identify edible weeds; and how do use them in your everyday life. Presenter: Lauren. Learn about seasonal edible weeds that thrive in Melbourne inner north, and gain knowledge about the plants’ culinary, medicinal and ecological uses.

Worm farm workshop; Saturday, 7th May, 11.15am-12.15pm; free; Ringwood.

Learn how to set up, maintain and use a worm farm at home. There will also be examples of worm farms and other composting systems to help you decide what best suits your household. Attendees will also receive a free kitchen caddy to assist them in recycling their food waste at home. Organised by Realm Library.

Digestion composting workshop; Saturday, 7th May, 12.30-1.30pm; free; Ringwood.

Digesters like bokashi buckets, pet poo composters and green cones are another way of composting. Learn how these systems can help reduce your food waste at home. There will also be examples of digestors and other composting systems to help you decide what best suits your household. Attendees will also receive a free kitchen caddy to assist them in recycling their food waste at home. Organised by Realm Library.

Winter fruit tree maintenance; Sunday, 8th May, 9.30am-midday; $55 ($22 per hour); Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: pruning – formative and maintenance of new and established fruit trees. Also, selection and planting of new fruit trees; Winter fruit tree maintenance practices for pest and disease prevention, control and treatment; and pruning tool maintenance.

In March
In April
In May
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Miss Penny Cakes; Thursday, 17th March, 7-8.30pm; free; Coburg.

Penny Kerasiotis, owner of Miss Penny Cakes, will demonstrate how to make Greek cakes and sweets. Organised by Coburg Library

Mixed herbs workshop; Monday, 28th March, 7.30-8.30pm; $5; Watsonia.

Learn from Lisa how to make your own herb bowl. Organised by Watsonia Neighbourhood House.

Sourdough for everyone; Wednesday, 30th March, 6.30-9.30pm; $122 ($41 per hour); Richmond.

This workshop will cover sourdough ingredient selection, starter care and the processes of sourdough fermentation and baking. At the end, you will receive a 90-year-old starter and a baker’s banneton basket. Organised by The Fermented Mumma.

Cook Indian by the creek; Friday, 1st April, 6.30-8pm; $49 ($16 per hour); Diamond Creek.

Menu: chicken saagwala (spinach based purée chicken) and palak paneer (veggie version).

Inner peas – cooking program (4 sessions); 4 weekly sessions starting Wednesday, 6th April, 5.30-7pm; free; Hawthorn.

Inner Peas is a 4-week social cooking program for people aged 16-25. The program aims to help you make easy, healthy and affordable recipes as well as make new friends and learn strategies to take care of your mental health. Each week, you will make and then share a meal. Week 1: Italian. Week 2: Mexican. Week 3: Indian. Week 4: Korean.

Ricotta festival; Sunday, 1st May, 11am-midday; $120; Thomastown.

Make your own ricotta gnocchi with Julia Busuttil Nishimura, author of Ostro at either 11am or 1pm. The ticket includes 1 ricotta calda, 1 ricotta gnocchi, 1 salsiccia and 1 cannolo. There will also be live music and a petting farm for the children.

The mighty booch – DIY kombucha; Wednesday, 4th May, 6.30-8pm; $80 ($40 per hour); Fitzroy.

The Fermented Mumma will discuss the process and benefits of fermentation, the problems with pre-packaged kombucha, and the endless flavour combinations for your custom booch. She will introduce you to a scoby (which stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’) and what you do with it.

Italian cooking (4 sessions); 4 weekly sessions starting Thursday, 5th May, 6-8pm; $250 ($31 per hour); Surrey Hills.

Each week for four weeks, Lucia Silverii will lead a combination of demonstration and hands on cooking, before you all sit down and enjoy the food together. Week 1: gnocchetti sardi (traditional Sardinian gnocchi). Week 2: versatile dough for pizza bases and bread. Week 3: biscuits plus a pasta of tuna and zucchini. Week 4: risotto and arancini balls. Organised by Surrey Hills Neighbourhood Centre.

Middle Eastern cooking; Friday, 6th May, 6.30-9.30pm; $65 ($22 per hour); Park Orchards.

Learn about the flavours of Middle Eastern cooking. Try out recipes and cooking methods while preparing a three course menu. Stay and share your freshly prepared dinner with the group. Organised by Park Orchards Community House.

Sicilian brunch; Sunday, 8th May, 2-4.30pm; $99 ($40 per hour); Fitzroy.

Family Food Fight Contestants Concetta Pluchinotta-Varone and her mother Pina Pluchinotta will show you how make crispy, golden cannoli pastry shells from scratch plus how to make a traditional ricotta filling. Once you have created your masterpieces, you will then plate and devour your creations with your new found foodie friends!

Sri Lankan cooking class; Tuesday, 10th May, 6-9pm; $90 ($30 per hour); Surrey Hills.

Experience the tastes, smells and sounds of Sri Lankan cooking. You will make two different curries, coconut sambal and a side dish. Afterwards, you’ll sit down and enjoy a Sri Lankan feast. Organised by Balwyn Community Centre.

In March
In April
In May
Regular classes

I have found a new regular cooking class: Al Dente Cooking in Chirnside Park has a cooking class on most Saturdays, 9am-1pm, where they demonstrate various Italian dishes. For those of you who don’t know, ‘al dente’ describes pasta (or rice) that is firm to the bite and is Italian for ‘to the tooth’.

Mar 092022

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Bruno Tigani, Karen Olsen, Nick Rose, Nicole Johnston and Olwyn Smiley.

Successfully receiving our newsletter if you are a Gmail user

As I have discussed before, Google has this weird approach towards Gmail email addresses whereby, as a default on your phone or in your browser, it sets up multiple inboxes and then, whenever someone is sent an email, Google looks at that email and decides which of the inboxes to put it in. When someone sends you a personal email, Google usually puts it into your ‘primary’ inbox. When someone sends you a newsletter, however, Google sometimes puts it into your ‘promotions’ or ‘updates’ inboxes rather than your ‘primary’ inbox. How many people actually see a newsletter depends on which of the inboxes Google puts it in because, as a default, your phone or browser often only shows you the contents of your ‘primary’ inbox. For example, Google put last week’s (2nd March) newsletter into the dreaded ‘promotions’ inbox for many (but not all) people and the result is that only half the normal number of Gmail newsletter readers actually saw it. For those of you who didn’t see it, you can (as always) read it on our website, together with any of our previous newsletters.

There is no method to Google’s madness here. I have spent hours sending myself test emails and they get placed in the various inboxes at random. This happens regardless of the contents, timing or method and therefore I can’t do anything to control it.

But you can do something to control it. First, in whatever software you are using to access your emails, you can turn off all the inboxes other than the primary one, which then forces Google to put all emails (other than spam) that are sent to you into your ‘primary’ inbox, which then becomes your only inbox (other than spam). Alternatively, you can look in your ‘promotions’ or ‘updates’ inboxes, find one of our emails and move it into your ‘primary’ inbox. With a bit of luck, Google will then ask you where it should put future newsletters from us and you can answer “primary inbox please”. Finally, you can click any link in any of our newsletters and then, again with a bit of luck, Google will understand that you actually want to see our newsletters and will start putting them into your ‘primary’ inbox.

Let’s hope that Google doesn’t put this newsletter into ‘promotions’ so that you can actually read the words above!

Every newsletter needs a good picture

Tjalf Sparnaay is a dutch artist who specialises in hyperrealistic paintings of food.

Oakhill Farm

Oakhill Farm (aka Oakhill Food Justice Farm) is “a community space and food forest in the heart of Preston“. It is an initiative by Sustain who, in June 2021, took on a 2-year lease of the St Mary’s vicarage and gardens at 233 Tyler Street. Whilst I am not clear about the current status of the food growing at the farm / food forest, it is clear that they have started organising some events. More specifically here is a list of their upcoming events, namely:

NERP at Eltham Farmers’ Market

North East Region Permaculture (NERP) invite you to go along for a chat with them on the 2nd Sunday of each month at Eltham Farmers’ Market. Each month they will be focussing on a different theme to showcase the variety and versatility of permaculture practice. Upcoming dates and themes are:

  • Involving kids in permaculture on Sunday, 13th March.
  • Herbs and medicinal plants on Sunday, 10th April.
  • Backyard beekeeping and growing bee-friendly plants on Sunday, 8th Mary.

When you visit them, you can sign on to their email list to be kept in touch with the activities of this grassroots community group.

Bulleen Art & Garden’s autumn harvest festival

All produce plants are 20-50% off until 14th March. There will be a number of free 30 minute talks: Wednesday, 9th March, 11:30am – growing from seed;
Thursday, 10th March, 1:30pm – backyard chooks; and Friday, 11th March, 1:30pm – backyard beekeeping.

Want some free leek seedlings?

Newsletter reader and commercial seed seller Bruno Tigani has given me a substantial number of leek seedlings to give away to newsletter readers. Variety: Exeter. Thanks, Bruno! 10-20 seedlings per person. More if you are a community garden. Pick up from my house in Eltham. If interested, email me to arrange.

Yes, (a few of) you did (sort of) know!

Fungal issues

Last week, Louise Nolan discussed her widespread fungal issues and her hypothesis that a bale of pea straw was the original source of her problems.

Olwyn Smiley has responded: “As I understand it, fungal diseases are specific to particular plant types so, whilst fungus in pea straw may affect pea plants, it is unlikely to cause the range of fungal diseases described by Louise. However, warm, humid weather is perfect for just about every type of fungal organism, and we have had weeks of warm, humid weather! It also seems to have been a bumper season for white fly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum or Bemisia tabaci species probably) and passion vine hopper (Scolypopa australis).”

Rat infestation

Last week, Sarah Houseman asked what could be done about her rat infestation. Here are two responses.

Olwyn Smiley: I have tried just about every trap, deterrent and also poison. The latter is a last resort, but what else can one do if rats are in the ceiling? Rats have eaten the bait from multiple varieties of snap traps and left them un-snapped (a snap trap in one of those black ‘wildlife-safe’ boxes also unfortunately caught a blue-tongue lizard); an expensive ‘nooski’ trap failed utterly but is not a bad receptacle for wildlife-safe bait; and expensive and complex cage traps have been unsuccessful. The best solution for me has been a simple cage trap that a friend found on hard rubbish (see photo right).

If using poisons then, according to Birdlife Australia, the chemicals which do not affect wildlife should they eat a poisoned rat are Warfarin and Coumatetralyl.

Karen Olsen: Get a terrier or other ‘ratter’ dog. Don’t get a cat as they will often go for native fauna species first. Kookaburras also deal with a lot of our rats (but not all), so please don’t use poisons on rats as they are a common food source. The supposedly eco-‘friendly’ rat poisons appear to only have a little less toxicity, so large predator birds will just take longer to build up the same levels of toxicity in their systems from poisoned food sources.

Welcome to Piggly Park!

[A food-related poem by John Jenkins, from Kangaroo Ground]

We’ve been invited to Piggly Park
To be met by Lord Grunt at the gate,
We’re having an afternoon mud bath with him,
So bring soap and do not be late!

At Piggly Park you are welcome to dine
At a nice picnic spot by the lake.
Lord Grunt eats a bucket or two of stew
And mixes his meals with a rake.

Lord Grunt likes turnips and pink fizzy gin
And he wears a bow tie and top hat.
Admire his moustache and big double chin,
But please don’t tell him he’s fat!

Read more local food-related poems on our website.

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The most popular link in the last newsletter was the map of the various community gardens in Nillumbik.

Related to the map, a number of the community gardens in Nillumbik are organising events on Saturday, 19th March, including:

Joke (or pun) of the week

Waiter: “Welcome to the Karma Cafe.
Me: “What do you sell here?
Waiter: “Just desserts.

Read more jokes.

Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ markets
Food swaps
Community gardens

Upcoming face-to-face events – correction

The plant sale at Gunyah garden (Karen Sutherland’s garden in Pascoe Vale South ) is on Saturday, 12th March, 1-5pm (not on the Sunday as previously reported).

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

Panton Hill Community Garden drop in; Saturday, 19th March, 9-11am; free; Panton Hill.

Chat to the volunteers and plant seedlings.

Thrive Community Garden tour; Saturday, 19th March, 10am-2pm; free; Diamond Creek.

Take a tour of Thrive community garden, attend a food swap, participate in a seed planting activity for children or eat from the sausage sizzle.

Community garden tour and seed saving workshop; Saturday, 19th March, 10am-2pm; free; Greensborough.

Take a tour of the garden. Take part in a food swap from 10-11am or a seed saving workshop at 1pm.

Tequila & Mezcal Festival; Saturday, 19th March, 5.30pm-midnight; $38; Preston.

There will be presentations about tequila, mezcal and agave distillates plus 4 tequilas to sample. There will also be food and live music.

Suburban permaculture garden tour; Tuesday, 22nd March, 5-6.30pm; $5; Kilsyth.

The property features a solar system, multiple water tanks, a glasshouse, a seed saving box, a pond, a vegetable patch with wicking beds and fruit trees, chickens, beekeeping and a food forest. Organised by Permaculture Yarra Valley.

The Prosecco (and Sparkling) Festival; Saturday, 26th March, 11am-8.30pm; $70; Abbotsford.

There will be 35 different proseccos to taste and all tastings are included in the ticket price. There will also be food and music.

Seed harvesting; Saturday, 2nd April, 10.30-11.30am; free; Eltham.

Kathleen Tants will discuss harvesting, storing and sowing your fruit, vegetable and herb seeds from previous crops.

Farming for our future; Thursday, 21st April, 10am-midday; free; CERES.

Discover the beasts, bugs and plants that make our farming world go round. Tour the Honey Lane Organic Farm and meet their chickens. Make a recycled pot and propagate your own plant to take home.

Community seed library workshop; Thursday, 21st April, 7.30-9.30pm; $51 ($26 per hour); $25 concession; Preston.

The workshop will discuss the importance of seed saving and then teach participants the basics of how to save seeds, as well as storage & sowing. Attendees will then have the opportunity to select, illustrate and annotate their own seed packets to take home. Presenter: Shani Shafrir. Organised by Oakhill Farm.

Brewers Feast Festival; Friday, 22nd April, 5-11pm and Saturday, 23rd April, midday-11pm; $18; Abbotsford.

Brewers Feast is a boutique craft beer and food festival, made by beer and food lovers for beer and food lovers. It will feature around 30 breweries (including cider, wine and gin as well as beer). There will also be food and live music. Throughout the day, there will be craft beer education classes, exploring the tastes and flavours of beer pairing with food, cheese, confectionery and other foods. Enjoy free samples while learning more about your beer.

Native fruit; Thursday, 28th April, 6.30-9pm; $50 ($20 per hour); Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: the A-Z of growing native fruit; handy hints and tips from an experienced native fruit grower; and when to harvest native fruit, and different ways to use it. Presented by Karen Sutherland, of Edible Eden Design. Native produce plants – or bush food – are becoming increasingly popular. Whilst many native fruits can’t be grown in Melbourne, some can. You’ll learn how to grow, harvest and use such fruit, with a particular focus on what can be grown in pots.

Organic vegetable gardening; Saturday, 30th April, 10am-3pm; $115 ($23 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: how to get the most from your garden and have an abundance of vegetables, fruits and herbs; insights into seasonal produce growing; and the skills and knowledge to create an abundant and productive garden. Presenter: Donna Livermore.

Edible weeds walk; Saturday, 30th April, 10.30am-12.30pm and again at 1.30-3.30pm; $25 ($13 per hour); Brunswick East.

Join Adam Grubb, co-author of The Weed Forager’s Handbook, for a fascinating walk on the wild side, foraging for edible weeds.

Urban food gardening (8 sessions); Tuesdays, 10am-2.30pm starting 3rd May; $60 for all 8 sessions (Government subsidised fee); Eltham.

This course is for people who love gardening and the outdoors, are considering a career in horticulture, would like to learn more about growing their own food successfully or who would like an introduction to aspects of working in the industry before choosing a specific course/study pathway. The course will be run by Justin Calverley.

In March
In April
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Pasta sauces from your garden; Sunday, 27th March, 1-4pm; $25 ($8 per hour); Forest Hill.

Scott Hitchins will prepare several vegetarian sauces in this interactive demonstration. You will then sample the sauces.

Easter thermomix workshop; Sunday, 9th April, 2-4pm; $25 ($13 per hour); Eltham.

The menu includes: Lime Grapefruit Cooler; Easter Carrot Cheese Dip; Honeycomb; Honeycomb Butter; Lemon Curd Easter Biscuits; Traditional Hot X Buns (& premade Gluten Free Hot X Buns); Warm Aussie Potato Salad; Salmon with Ginger Sauce & Spiced Cashews; and Hokey Pokey Ice Cream. Everything will be available for tasting. Presenters: Jodie Hodgett and Tess Murray.

Gluten free gnocchi making masterclass; Sunday, 24th April, 11am-1.30pm; $199 ($40 per hour); Northcote.

Edoardo Nicita, from Shop 225, will show you have to make and shape gnocchi dough plus two accompanying sauces. At the end, you will eat the creations with your new found foodie friends!

Sourdough bread workshop; Saturday, 30th April, 9-11.30am; $185 ($74 per hour); Brunswick East.

What you will learn: ways to create and look after your own sourdough starter culture; the flour to use for the best nutrition and results; ways to knead sticky high hydration dough for a more authentic sourdough loaf; the equipment needed to produce a great looking and tasting sourdough tin loaf at home; and ways to bake sourdough bread using a bread tin in a home oven. Organised by Bee Sustainable.

Chocolate discovery class; Saturday, 30th April, 11m-midday; $48 ($48 per hour); Yarra Glen.

This class includes indulging in a range of chocolate and truffle tastings, the chance to learn about how chocolate is made, and finding out about the inspiration behind each of their specialty ranges with their European Chocolatiers. Your chocolate education concludes with the chance to create your own personal chocolate bar and delve in giant lollipop making fun. Organised by Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery.

Artisan bread making; Sunday, 1st May, 8am-2pm; $220 ($37 per hour); Abbotsford.

What you will learn: experimenting with bread; the bread baking process with each step explained; and how to replicate the process at home. What you will get: 1 kilo of organic flour to take home; and savoury calzone for lunch, which you make, eat and take home. The focus will be on ciabatta and turkish breads.

Introduction to fermenting at home; Sunday, 1st May, 10am-1pm; $70 ($23 per hour); CERES.

What you will learn: the basics to successfully start fermenting vegetables at home; ideas about creating your own fermented condiments; and how to use fermented products in day to day life. Presenter: Monique.

Sri Lankan street food experience; Sunday, 1st May, 2-4.30pm; $99 ($40 per hour); Fitzroy.

MasterChef Contestant Dee Williams will take you through her personal spice range which you will be encouraged to smell, touch and taste. These include a Roasted Chilli Powder, Sri Lankan Unroasted Curry Powder, Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder and Sri Lankan Dark Roasted Curry Powder. She will then show you how to make roti bread from scratch, a Spicy Coconut Sambal and a Sri Lankan Dhal. Once you have created your masterpieces, you will then plate and devour your creations with your new found foodie friends!

In March
In April
Regular classes
In Richmond

Read about the upcoming cooking classes in Richmond.

Mar 012022

Thanks to all the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Beth Ciesielski, Jane MacNeil, Katherine Barling, Laura Nix, Louise Nolan, Megan Goodman, Michelle Casamento, Perri Hillier, Robin Gale-Baker, Sarah Houseman and Sylvia Bianco.

Distinguishing the origanums (by Robin Gale-Baker)

In my experience, gardeners very often find it difficult to distinguish between the different culinary members of the origanum genus. This is not surprising as many plants are mislabelled when sold, the common names can be confusing and there is an array of species with flowers of varying colour, not to mention a range of ornamental plants in the genus. The main culinary plants are:

  • Origanum vulgare – oregano (sometimes called wild marjoram or wild oregano), where O.v. subsp. hirtum (Greek or Italian oregano) is the aromatic, culinary subspecies.
  • Origanum onites – pot marjoram.
  • Origanum majorana – sweet marjoram (sometimes called knotted marjoram).

In the photo, Oreganum vulgate is on the left, Origanum onites in the middle and Origanum majorana on the right.

It is useful to be able to distinguish one from the other because they range in taste from savoury to sweet, and from hot and spicy to mild or bland.

Origanum vulgare (oregano) is best bought as a plant. It should have lightish green, pointed leaves that are relatively small and have a matt or dull appearance. It is a groundcover but, when flowering occurs, it develops long stems and the leaves which grow up these stems become smaller as they climb toward bracts of white flowers. The taste should be hot and spicy. The reason that this oregano is best bought as a plant is that oregano grown from seed is usually very bland. It has larger leaves that are a mid to dark green and mauve or pinkish flowers. From a culinary perspective, it is disappointing, being almost flavourless. Bought plants, on the other hand, are usually the aromatic hirtum subspecies, which is flavoursome and can be used in savoury dishes.

Origanum onites (pot marjoram) looks very similar to seed-grown oregano. The leaves are larger and spade shaped, dark green with a purple underside. The flowers are pink or mauve and rise out of the groundcover on long stalks at flowering time. This is a milder herb and is ‘thrown into the pot’ to flavour stews, casseroles or whatever is simmering on the stove. It is also used in pizzas and pasta dishes.

Origanum majorana (sweet marjoram) is entirely different in taste to the two above. It has a sweet, musky fragrance. While it is often added to meat dishes in the last few minutes of cooking, it is best used with egg or soft cheese (such as cream cheese). Mashed into the latter, it makes a delicious dip or spread. Origanum majorana grows to a height of about 30cm but, once it flowers, it doubles in height. The leaves are small, velvety and either mid green or grey-green. The flowers look like knots and are white on green knots and not especially attractive. It is because of this knot-like appearance that it is sometimes called ‘knotted marjoram’. It is very attractive to bees.

The origanum genus belongs to the family Lamiaceae, which is commonly known as the mint family. It is native to the Mediterranean region and all three herbs discussed above thrive in hot, dry, mountainous conditions. In fact, the name ‘origanum’ means ‘light of the mountains’. Origanums are perennial in Australia but are treated as annuals in colder climates.

To get the best flavour from these herbs, and in fact any Mediterranean herb, plant in poor soil and under-water rather than over-water. Under-watering allows the essential oils to develop and consequently provides strongly aromatic foliage. Herbs that look lush are to be avoided as lushness comes at the expense of flavour. These herbs are best harvested early in the morning and before watering.

If you want to read more about these and other herbs, I recommend The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism, edited by Malcolm Stuart and originally published in 1979.

Read Robin's equivalent articles about chamomile and about the tarragons.

Nillumbik’s community gardens

Nillumbik Council has produced a nice map of the various community gardens in Nillumbik.

Yet more on allotments versus communal growing for community gardens

Last week, I asked newsletter readers to send in lists of the advantages of allotments. Jane MacNeil, President of Canterbury Community Garden (which is currently out of action due to re-development of the site), has risen to the challenge. Here is her list:

  • We can grow whatever we like, for example a whole bed of garlic, a combination of companion plants or just a seasonal range. Some gardeners grow flowers in their plots rather than vegetables.
  • Not being an expert, it is good to see the plots of more experienced gardeners and obtain advice and inspiration from their crops.
  • There is a clear delineation of responsibility for the upkeep of plots, with the committee approaching anyone whose plot is neglected.
  • We still see other gardeners, whether in passing over the weeks or at the regular working bees held to maintain common areas of the garden.

Do you know?

When I include readers’ questions in this newsletter, no one usually answers so I ask again the following week and then usually get lots of answers. So, we get there in the end but we needlessly lose a week, by which time some people have forgotten the original question. How about we turn over a new leaf (sic) and people respond at the first time of asking?!

Rat infestation

Sarah Houseman writes in: “I have an established native garden and we have a big problem this year with rats using our rockeries as highways and homes (see photo). They show their activity by leaving piles of excavated soil and they are destabilising plant roots. As we walk over the garden, our feet subside. Does anyone know of any ecologically friendly method of dealing with rat infestations?” Can anyone advise Sarah – email your responses.

Fungal issues

Louise Nolan writes in “For the last few years my veggie garden has been experiencing fungal disease regardless of crop rotation, adequate spacing and watering only the base. All my beds are mulched with pea straw which is topped up as needed. I believe that the initial culprit was a bale of pea straw that was black and grey throughout. There is rust on my fuchsia and geranium, black spot on my peas and beans, anthracnose on my cucurbits, blight on the my tomatoes and powdery mildew on my zucchini and pumpkin. My apple tree also had a disease which looked like a blight. I also had a terrible whitefly infestation, which has now died down with the summer heat. I regularly water with a seaweed liquid and a fish emulsion as required. I have used Neem oil and also resorted to a copper spray for the diseases. The soil pH is neutral, the garden gets morning north sun but is hot in the afternoons with the west sun. I’m at my wits end on how to get on top of it all.” Can anyone advise Louise – email your responses.

Meg’s garden this month

Finally, I have a good tomato harvest and the smell of them roasting with garlic and basil for passata is permeating the house. The plants are now starting to look a bit sad and it won’t be long before the season is finished. The zucchini have been also been bountiful, but white mildew now dusts the leaves and it is time to think about clearing the beds. The draw of plump bags of horse manure on the roadside is strong. This will refresh the slightly water-repellent soil and, if placed now, there will be time to smother weeds before autumn plantings.

The long, sweet, green capsicums and eggplant are hanging and I am waiting for them to ripen. The beans are still growing strongly. I always plant a second sowing in January and they should be ready to harvest by early March. I am growing a new variety this year, namely bush red snake beans (see photo right). The long red beans sprinkle the garden like tchotchke and are growing well, perhaps due to the humid summer.

This month I am:
1. turning compost ready for topping up cleared beds;
2. picking beans, eggplant and capsicum; and
3. watching the apples closely for ripeness in the hope of beating the birds.


2 kg tomatoes (any variety but roma types are best)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3-4 cloves garlic or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch of basil leaves

Place all ingredients in a roasting dish and toss together. Cook in the oven at 180degC for around 30 minutes. Cool slightly and process in a moulie until fine sauce.

If you don’t have a moulie, you can blanch and skin the tomatoes prior to roasting or, alternatively, just remove as much skin as you can post roasting and process in a food processor.

I store my passata in the freezer, but you can bottle and preserve.

Read more of Megan’s recipes.

Not local but interesting

Beth Ciesielski has written in to say that a new food swap is starting in Yarraville. The first pilot session will be on Sunday, 6th March, 10-11.30am (see flyer right). If all goes well, it will then happen on the first Sunday of every month.

Not food-related but interesting

The Nillumbik Repair Cafe now happens every month, on the 2nd Saturday, 9.30am-12.30pm at Hurstbridge Community Hub, 50 Graysharps Road, Hurstbridge. You sit with the repairer, who is a volunteer, while they talk you through what they’re doing and (hopefully) fix your equipment.

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The most popular link in the last newsletter was the video of founder Shanaka Fernando making the announcement that all three Lentil as Anything pay-what-you-feel restaurants are closing.

b33e661f-c100-4ebe-9ffa-847952e0da4e.jpgJoke (or pun) of the week

Growing your own tomatoes is the best way to devote 3 months of your life to saving $2.17.

Read more jokes.

Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ markets
Food swaps

Note that the Montmorency swap has moved to a new venue (The Monty Hub) and, furthermore, that next Sunday’s swap is part of a bigger event (The Great Tomato Taste Off).

Note that next Sunday’s Regent swap is part of a bigger event (The Big Picnic) and is not at its usual location.

Community gardens

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

Curry punk & jelly brain – exploring the weird world of fungi; Friday, 4th March, 11am-midday; free; Doncaster.

In this illustrated and interactive seminar, ecologist, photographer and author Alison Pouliot will explore the lives of fungi. Signed copies of Alison’s book, The Allure of Fungi and Wild Mushrooming, will be available for purchase.

Summer/Autumn fruit tree pruning; Saturday, 5th March, 9am-midday; $25 ($8 per hour); Forest Hill.

In Melbourne’s temperate climate, deciduous fruit trees don’t go fully dormant so winter pruning encourages tall whippy growth that will eventually have to be pruned-off. Join Scott Hitchins to learn the ins and outs of Summer/Autumn pruning, plus preferred cuts and trims to produce healthy, bountiful backyard fruit trees.

The Great Tomato Taste Off; Sunday, 6th March, 10am-midday; free; Montmorency.

This annual event gives growers a chance to show off the amazing varieties of tomatoes grown locally. Local growers are invited to bring along their favourite varieties of home-grown tomatoes and put them to a taste test. Both growers and non-growers are invited to taste and compare and to cast a vote for your favourite variety for the People’s Choice Award.

The Big Picnic; Sunday, 6th March, 11am-1pm; free; Reservoir.

12 local community groups from Reservoir will be getting together and everyone is invited. Take picnic gear, food, produce and plants to share. Meet others in your community and join and support those that are building a stronger connected community.

Neighbourhood house community garden bus tour; Thursday, 10th March, 9.30am-3.30pm; free; various in Darebin.

Visit 5 neighbourhood houses and check out their community gardens. Note that the itinerary is still to be confirmed.

Autumn in the Heide kitchen garden; Thursday, 10th March, 10.30-11.30am; $27 ($27 per hour); Bulleen.

Heide’s Kitchen Gardener Alice Crowe will explain the methods that she uses to get the best out of the crops grown at Heide, provide tips and techniques, and the delicate biodiversity that helps plants to thrive in autumn.

Heritage apple tasting; Sunday, 13th March, 4-6pm; $15; Templestowe.

Sample the seasonal flavours of the heritage apple collection. Around 15 varieties will be available for tasting. An orchard tour is included. All funds received go toward the maintenance and expansion of the collection. Organised by the Heritage Fruits Society.

Plant your own food; Thursday, 24th March, 4.30-5.30pm; free; Nunawading.

Learning to grow our own food is an invaluable skill at any age. You will learn how to plant seedlings and take home a potted plant to care for and hopefully eat one day!

Healthy productive compost and worms; Sunday, 3rd April, 9.30am-12.30pm; $50 ($17 per hour); Bullen Art & Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: the importance of compost for soil health; how to fix common composting problems; and setting up and looking after a worm farm. Presented by Kirsteen Macleod. Learn how to make compost, the essential ingredient for a thriving and healthy garden. Look at worm farms and Bokashi as other options. They will also show you how to make a DIY worm farm using recycled products.

Reusable beeswax food wraps; Wednesday, 6th April, 6.30-7.30pm; free; Nunawading.

Learn how to make your own reusable food wraps.

Brain food; Thursday, 7th April, 11am-midday; free; Bulleen.

Lindy Cook, The Nutrition Guru, will discuss which foods can enhance memory and learning. Listen to some practical advice on how to make better healthy food choices.

The joy of backyard chooks; Thursday, 7th April, 6.30-9pm; $50 ($20 per hour); Bullen Art & Garden (BAAG).

What you will learn: how to get started with keeping chickens in a suburban backyard; how to house and protect chooks from predators; and how chooks can be used to improve your garden and soil. You will find out just how easy it is to keep a few hens as pets and as the ultimate garden recyclers, as well as everything you need to know about housing, protecting and feeding them, and lots of practical ideas on how to live harmoniously with them in your garden. Suitable for those who have never kept chooks before.

Working to achieve a sustainable organic community garden; Thursday, 21st April, 2-3pm; free; Lilydale.

Join Benson from Lilydale Community Gardens to hear about achieving a sustainable organic community garden in Lilydale. Learn about Bloom, the wicking bed garden in Lilydale which was installed by the Yarra Ranges Council and is maintained by the Lilydale Community Gardens Group. Also, learn how to grow alfalfa.

Edible weeds walk; 2 occurrences on Saturday, 23rd April, at 10.30am-12.30pm and again at 1.30-3.30pm; $25 ($13 per hour); Brunswick East.

Join Adam Grubb, co-author of The Weed Forager’s Handbook, for a fascinating walk on the wild side, foraging for edible weeds.

Urban wine walk; Saturday, 23rd April, midday-4pm; $80; Richmond.

This is a self-guided wine tasting experience, where you choose the order in which you visit the various venues. The ticket includes 30 complementary tastings, a $10 food voucher, a $25 voucher for wine orders and a tasting glass. The participating venues and winemakers: Richmond Club Hotel with Rob Dolan Wines; The Posty with Pacha Mama Wines; The Blacksmith with Innocent Bystander; Maeve Fox with Brown Brothers; Attria Wine Bar with Mount Macleod; Klae with Paringa Estate; South of the Wall with Good Clean Fun Wines; Caddie with Rob Hall Wines; The Precinct with Alkimi Wines; Corner Hotel with Rising Wines; and Waygood with Smallfry Wines.

Australian Distillers Festival; Saturday, 23rd April, midday-7pm; $75; Abbotsford.

There will be around 50 distilleries from around the country plus live demonstrations, food and music. The ticket includes unlimited tastings plus a tasting glass.

Beekeeping workshop; Saturday, 23rd April, 2.30-5pm; $85 ($34 per hour); Brunswick East.

What you will learn: bee behaviour; the various major items that make up a bee hive and how to construct them; and the major tasks in hive management. There will be live bees and honeycomb to look at. The major topics discussed will be: establishing a hive; understanding the tasks to be carried out in Spring; how to go about robbing and extracting honey; and swarm control. Organised by Bee Sustainable.

In March
In April
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Tomato relish; Wednesday, 9th March, 1-2pm; $5; Greensborough.

Sarah will show you how to put your tomatoes to good use. Organised by Greenhills Neighbourhood House.

Cooking up culture with Rita Erlich; Sunday, 27th March, 10.30am-midday; free; Kew.

Experience Jewish culture and watch Rita demonstrate how to make passover cake.

Kombucha workshop; Monday, 4th April, 6.30-8pm; free; Nunawading.

Katherine Barling will show you how to prepare, build and harvest kombucha.

Truffle and praline workshop; Wednesday, 20th April, 6-10pm; $180 ($45 per hour); Blackburn

Learn how to create handmade chocolates from start to finish using your creative influences to make unique flavours and shapes. They will cover flavour combinations, ganache based flavours, nut pralines, enrobing methods and finishes. You will take home all you make in the workshop along with the recipes and an instruction booklet.

Sourdough basics; Wednesday, 27th April, 6.30-8pm; $100 ($66 per hour); Fitzroy.

The Fermented Mumma will discuss ingredient selection, starter care, and the processes of sourdough fermentation and baking. At the end, you will take your fermenting dough home to bake in the morning.

In March
In April
Regular classes
In Richmond

Read about the upcoming cooking classes in Richmond.