Feb 072024

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Amy Aednat Ciara, Eve Fraser, Georgia Tracy, Gus Goswell, Julie French, Sam Holman, Samantha Leahy, Teresa Day and Virginia Solomon.

The products available at Farm Raiser’s farmgate

As you hopefully know from previous newsletters, the Farm Raiser urban farm in Bellfield have a farm gate on the opposite side of the road to 12 Perkins Avenue, Bellfield on Fridays, 10am-2pm and Saturdays, 9am-midday. What you might not know, however, is that they sell a few other products in addition to their own veggies, including: Dougharty Baker’s bread; some preserves made by Balnarring Preserves, Grand Ridge and others; Gippsland Pastured eggs; and biodynamic milk.

What you won’t know is that they are now stocking Stone & Crow Cheese cheese, where this relationship has been created following the article in this newsletter a few weeks ago about Stone & Crow Cheese.

Yes, (one of you) did know!

Last week, Meg Autin asked what might be wrong with her yellowing and spotty blueberry leaves. Amy Aednat Ciara has responded.

“Meg’s blueberries are showing signs of trace mineral deficiency (e.g. iron, manganese, etc). I would hazard a guess from where it is yellowing, and the necrotic spots occurring, that the soil is too alkaline. But best practice is to get a pH kit and to test the soil according to package instructions.”

[Editor: unlike most plants, blueberry plants need an acidic soil to thrive, preferring a soil pH of 4-5.]

Amy continues: “Tips with the standard pH liquid and powder kit. Really shake the powder very well! Big clumps make it harder to judge the colour. Make sure that the liquid solution turns the soil sample into a pasty mud-like consistency. Add soil if too wet and watery or more solution if too dry. Finally the pH scale is to the power of 10 so there is a 10x difference between the numbers. For example a pH of 5 where 7 might be needed, means the soil is 100 times too acidic! Also the final colour of the sample is best viewed in natural light.

“A short term solution to Meg’s problem would be to add sulphur if too alkaline or lime if too acidic, and follow package instructions carefully. Longer term, Meg can try adding more acidic or alkaline compost, compost teas or organic matter. Meg could also plant a plant that raises pH in the soil near it (e.g. a eucalypt), if it is too alkaline. Sometimes too much water and poor drainage creates an increased alkalinity too.”

A new honey provider – Amy’s Beekeeping

Amy’s Beekeeping sells raw and hay fever honey. There is zero processing apart from straining. As a small-scale producer in North Warrandyte, Amy aims to produce high quality honey with the health of the community and the bees at the heart of it.

The honey is only available during Spring and Summer. People can buy the honey using a honesty box system at 34 Glynns Road, North Warrandyte, or by contacting Amy by phone (0425 774774) or email (amyljames1973@gmail.com).

When requested, Amy also rescues bee swarms from homes and gardens.

Read Amy’s Beekeeping page on our website. Welcome Amy!

There are now 7 honey providers in our Local Food Directory.

If you live in Darebin, try out an induction cooktop

Darebin Libraries have some kits which people can borrow for up to 2 weeks. Each kit includes a Westinghouse WHIC01K portable induction cooktop, a magnet to test cookware compatibility, instructions and a portable induction cooktop manual. You will need to collect and return the cooktop to the same library. Read more and potentially apply.

A new enquiry into securing Victoria’s food supply

The Legislative Assembly Environment and Planning Committee at the Victorian Parliament has just launched a new inquiry into securing Victoria’s food supply. The Committee is examining:

  • The impacts of urban sprawl and population growth on arable land and the farming industry in Victoria.
  • The use of planning controls to protect agricultural land in green wedge and peri-urban areas.
  • The resilience of the Victorian food system, including the production of food, its transportation and sale.

They have published a news article and a short YouTube video introducing the inquiry and inviting interested members of the public to make submissions. The closing date for submissions is Friday, 26th April.

Beat the heat! (by Julie French)

Who knows what the rest of the summer will bring by weather but it still might get hot. Preparing food for the heat ahead of time avoids, or at least minimises, cooking when you want to keep both yourself and your house as cool as possible. Also having plenty of cooling foods, that is, foods that actually help to bring your body temperature down, in your kitchen means that you can survive the heat of the day more comfortably.

Think of dishes that can be cooked ahead of time, or elements of dishes that are cooked when it’s cooler and that can be assembled when you are ready to eat. For example, salads full of summer vegetables that have a high water content are ideal for helping your body stay cool.

Pre-cook grains, potatoes, eggs and vegetables the day before the heat is forecast and you have the makings for tasty, nutritious dishes that won’t overheat your kitchen. If you have an outdoor cooking set-up, simply barbecuing your preferred protein and serving with a mixed salad or a cold ratatouille, is a great way to go too. Marinades or spice coatings add an extra flavour boost – chicken satays with a simple peanut sauce, or blackened fish in a cajun spice mix served with quick cucumber pickles.


100g day-old dense crusty bread (rub the bread with a clove of garlic for extra flavour)
virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
½ small red onion
3 very ripe, sweet medium-sized tomatoes
1 avocado
1 small continental cucumber, peeled
1 spring onion
½ cup mixed coriander and Italian parsley leaves
handful of fresh mint leaves, torn into small bits
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sumac
¼ cup vinaigrette (made from ⅔ cup virgin olive oil, ⅓ cup red wine or cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar)

The day before: tear the bread into small chunks (2-3 cms), put in a bowl with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and use your fingers to toss the bread around so that the pieces have a touch of oil on them. Toast in a 160degC oven until dry and golden in colour.

Finely slice the red onion and soak in a small bowl of cold water. Just before you put the salad together, drain the onion and squeeze out excess water. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and the cucumber and avocado into 2cm dice.

Put the toasted bread into a large stainless steel bowl with the vinaigrette and soak for a few minutes. Then add the tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, onions and salt and pepper and toss to mix. Add the herbs and sumac and toss again. Transfer to a serving dish.

Salade nicoise (adapted from Elizabeth David’s Summer cooking)

There is no precise recipe for this Provencal salad but it typically includes olives, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies and tuna and the dressing should contain garlic. You can also add any of lettuce hearts, cooked potato, green beans, tomato wedges, sliced cucumber, basil leaves or artichoke hearts.

Cut the ingredients into largish pieces and arrange them in a wide salad bowl so that each is kept separate and the whole dish looks colourful and fresh. Make up a vinaigrette (see recipe above) with garlic, and drizzle over the salad when you’re ready to eat.


Tzatziki is a great way to use your cucumbers. The trick to making your tzatziki extra creamy is to strain the yoghurt to remove as much water as possible. Line a sieve with muslin (or a clean chux) and stand it over a deep bowl, mix together 1Kg yoghurt and 1 teaspoon salt, and place in the sieve. Leave to drain in the fridge overnight.

Mix 350g strained yoghurt with 2 seeded and grated small Lebanese cucumbers (skin left on), 1 clove garlic crushed with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dried mint, ½ cup roughly chopped mint leaves and the juice of a lemon. (This recipe is from Malouf’s New Middle Eastern food.)

Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve as a dip or an accompaniment to grilled meat.


This is a good way of using your green beans.

50 ml olive oil
1 small onion finely diced
1 clove garlic finely diced
1 tablespoon cumin spice blend
300g thin green beans
400g crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon salt
extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and cumin spice blend and sauté gently until soft. Add the beans, tomatoes and tomato paste and enough water to just cover. Add salt and simmer uncovered, until the beans are tender and the liquid has reduced.

Tip into a serving dish and serve at room temperature drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil.

To make the cumin spice blend: lightly roast, grin and sieve 100g cumin, 50g coriander seeds and 25g black peppercorns. Mix them with 75g sweet paprika and 50g ground ginger.

Pauline Webb reports in

I (Pauline) planted my already finished cucumbers and close to finished tomatoes in October and November. Initially, I had good growth but then there was rain and the humidity hit. The lush growth on both developed powdery mildew and dry edges and I eventually stripped all the affected leaves off both veggies. With the cold snaps and rain, the fruit set was patchy.

In total, I have 5½Kg of pickled or fermented cucumber in the fridge and pantry, with some more having been eaten fresh.

The tomatoes were all early fruiting varieties as I was concerned re fruit fly. They have been ripening spasmodically and this last week have ripened faster. They have just had another pruning of all branches without fruit. In total, I have around 6Kg Russian pickled tomatoes in the fridge plus around 5Kg of cherry tomatoes. My concerns re fruit fly turned out to be unnecessary, as none were touched (but all my stone fruit were).

Beans have gone in where the cucumbers came out and I have also just planted sugar snap peas and radishes for a quick crop. [Editor: although peas are a cool season crop, sugar snap peas can also be grown in summer.]

Packshare Australia

Packshare Australia is a new voluntary organisation that “finds local businesses who accept packaging for reuse and those who give it away for free“, with the aim of reducing waste. From their map of participating organisations, it seems clear that their base is in North East Melbourne.

Currently the packaging lifecycle is incredibly wasteful. Businesses spend huge amounts of money on packaging, carefully pack items for safe transit, send them out to consumers, who promptly tear it off and throw it all away. Packshare enables people to find businesses local to them who can re-use that packaging, easily locate them on a map, and donate it when they’re nearby.Watch this video.

During February, they are holding a stationery drive at Alphington Farmers’ Market, where excess stationery is to be donated and then re-deployed. Watch this video.

Can you help Georgia?

Newsletter reader Georgia Tracy will be doing a trail-run for the Bob Brown Foundation to save Tasmania’s Tarkine forest, with the specific objective of having the Tarkine listed as a World Heritage National Park. Read more and potentially support Georgia’s efforts.

If you are planning to do something worthy and are seeking support, email me and I will include it in a future newsletter.

Want a Thai cooking and cultural experience?

Readers might recall an article from last year about a cooking and cultural tour in northern Thailand led by newsletter reader Duang Tengtrirat. The good news is that she will be offering three tours again this year – in July, August and September.

Duang grew up in Nan, a small town in northern Thailand, close to the Laotian border. Whilst she has spent her adult life in the USA and Australia, she has recently renewed her ties with her home town and re-discovered its charms and cultural life. She decided that she wanted to share it with people, before it’s discovered by mainstream tourism! Duang has renovated the old teak house that she grew up in and cooking classes are now held in the outdoor kitchen, where she learnt her cooking skills from her mother.

Nan Experience is a 10 day package that alternates days of cooking in Duang’s mother’s kitchen with outings to places of cultural and culinary interest, in and around Nan. Read more and potentially book your place.

The Melbourne ‘Local Food Connections’ community radio show

On next Sunday’s show (11th February), Ann Stanley will interview Jaimie Sweetman about unusual plants for the layers of a food forest (deferred from last Sunday). Listen on 3CR (855 AM), 10-10.30am, by tuning into either the station (855 AM) or its livestream.

Podcasts of all previous episodes are available on their website.

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The most popular link in the last newsletter was the program for the National Sustainability Festival.

The most popular event link in the last newsletter was a tour of ‘the Plummery’ (garden tour).

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

My girlfriend told me to put tomato sauce on the shopping list, so I did. Now I can’t read it.

Read more food-related jokes.


Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ and other food markets

NERP will have a stall at the Eltham Farmers’ Market, where their theme will be ‘involving kids in permaculture’.

Food swaps
Community gardens

Not face-to-face but interesting

Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) have organised a series of online classes during February and March with the overall theme of soil is your foundation. It includes sessions that will both build your knowledge of soil and explore different gardening approaches that support soil health. You can book individual sessions (see the details below) or all five for $140.

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

Microgreens growing; Saturday, 6th April, 10am-midday; $80 ($40 per hour); CERES.

You will be walked through the process of producing microgreens. Presenter: Jess Holland, CERES’ microgreens manager.

Beginners backyard beekeeping; Saturday, 6th April, 10am-3pm; $220 ($44 per hour); CERES.

Learn everything from the inner workings of a beehive to the healing properties of raw honey. You will learn how to maintain a healthy hive, discover the wonders of swarms and how to keep them in check. Weather permitting, they will also open a hive and have a hands-on demonstration. Presenter: Ashton Edgley.

Small space gardening; Saturday, 6th April, 10am-3pm; $115 ($23 per hour); CERES.

You will learn: how to maximise your small space to create an abundant oasis of food, herbs and ornamentals; and container gardening techniques and principles. Presenter: Donna Livermore.

The herbal apprentice (8 sessions); starting Saturday, 6th April, 10am-3pm; $995 ($21 per hour); CERES.

The course will include the following topics: medicinal plant cultivation; introduction to plant identification and botany; understanding common ailments; herbal language and terminology; patterns of traditional western herbalism; plant chemistry basics; introduction to medicine making; botanical animism; and community supported herbalism. Presenter: Taj Scicluna, aka The Perma Pixie.

Australian Distillers Festival; Saturday, 6th April, midday-7pm; $68; Abbotsford.

There will be around 30 distilleries from around the country plus live demonstrations, food and music. The ticket includes unlimited tastings plus a tasting glass.

Edible weeds; Sunday, 7th April, 10am-midday; $70 ($35 per hour); CERES.

Learn about the seasonal edible weeds that thrive in Melbourne’s inner north and gain knowledge about the plants’ culinary, medicinal and ecological uses. This session will also include a demonstration, and sampling, of prepared edible weeds. Presenter: Lauren Mueller.

Urban foraging 101; Sunday, 7th April, 10am-12.30pm; $90 ($36 per hour); Forest Hill.

Anna, the Urban Nanna, will help you find and identify a range of edible fruits, greens and flowers found in ‘wild’ urban spaces across Victoria. You will learn about the basic principles and protocols of foraging, and then move on to plant specifics. You will observe and interact with many types of fruit trees, edible green weeds and useful flowers. You will be shown the physical features you can use to correctly identify useful trees even when they’re not fruiting. You will discuss the types of locations where you can hunt for wild edibles in the future, and finally how to safely prepare and enjoy eating many of the foods we find. At the end you will have an outdoor picnic of hot and cold foraged foods. Overall, there will be around 1-2km of walking over grassy terrain involved.

Australian Distillers Festival; Sunday, 7th April, midday-5pm; $68; Abbotsford.

There will be around 30 distilleries from around the country plus live demonstrations, food and music. The ticket includes unlimited tastings plus a tasting glass.

In February
In March
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Cook Indian by the creek; Friday, 22nd March, 6.30-7.30pm; $50 ($50 per hour); Diamond Creek.

Menu: samosa and mint coriander chutney.

Feta, haloumi and mascarpone cheese making; Saturday, 6th April, 10am-4pm; $240 ($40 per hour); CERES.

You will learn all there is to know about making feta, halloumi and mascarpone, including: the cheese making process using cultures and rennet; sourcing the best quality local milk; salt-brining and dry-salting cheese; marinating feta in olive oil; and the health benefits of whey. Presenter: Kristen Allan.

In February
In March
Regular classes

 Leave a Reply