Sunday, 23 July 2017

Land cress



Land cress (Barbarea vulgaris or Barbarea verna) is a wonderful peppery green. It is easy to cultivate - low maintenance and abundant.  Great in pots too.

It's a herb that thrives in cool, moist soil and partial shade and it only takes a few weeks before you can start eating the side leaves.

It is similar in flavour to garden cress (Lepidium sativum) and watercress (Nasturium officianale) - an aquatic plant found near springs and slow-moving streams. 

About land cress

Land cress is a native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Land cress has been cultivated as a leaf vegetable in England since the 17th century. 

In temperate climates it can be grown almost all year round - except in the really cold winters. Here in the subtropics, it's a winter only green. It will bolt to seed quickly as soon as it warms up - but then I can eat the flowers and collect the seeds.

Land cress is also known as ... American cress, bank cress, black wood cress, Belle Isle cress, Bermuda cress, early yellowrocket, early wintercress, scurvy cress, creasy greens, and upland cress

'Barbarea', a genus of plants also know as winter cress or yellow rocket, is a collection of about 22 species of flowering plants in the Brassica family. 

The genus name ‘Barbarea' is derived from the early Greek Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen and miners. This plant was used to soothe the wounds caused by explosions. ‘Vulgaris' is a Latin adjective meaning common.

Because land cress is closer to its wilder cousins in the brassica family, it has fewer pest problems. It has natural insect resistance and Gardening Australia presenter, Jerry Coleby-Williams, tells of how his nanna used it in her "Dig for Victory" gardens in England as a valuable companion plant keeping caterpillars away from cabbages.  https://jerry-coleby-williams.net/2014/11/01/nannys-cabbage-companion-confirmed-caterpillar-killer-by-university-of-queensland/


Health benefits of land cress

Deep green land cress is a very healthy plant to eat. It has twice the vitamin A as broccoli, and tree times the vitamin C found in oranges. It also contains vitamins B and E, iron and calcium.

Eating land cress

Land cress has a  peppery spinach kale like flavour. They can be cooked or eaten raw in salads. Like all brassicas, the yellow flowers are edible too.

The leaves of land cress are great in salad and sandwiches. Use it like a spicy spinach and make soup, pasta sauce, add it to curries, stews and thinks like spanakopita. I like to add it to my winter pesto too.

The seeds can be sprouted and added to a salad too.

Do you have a favourite recipe with land cress?

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Friday, 21 July 2017

Three Easy Winter Green Pickings



Here are three easy winter greens to pick from your garden. They are typically ones that are overlooked.

I love to find the simple abundance in my permaculture garden and eat from plants in a way that they can replenish themselves. This way many future harvests of the plant can be enjoyed.

This cold weather has meant that my summer greens have finally started to retreat. It's been fun exploring different flavours.

I've been wandering around my garden taste-testing fresh greens and filmed a few of the pickings. Here's a 2:38 minute clip showing which ones I chose and how I harvest them. (click on the image below to watch).


Pea greens

Harvest the young shoots, tender upper leaves, soft stems and spiralling tendrils of pea vines - typically snap pea and snow peas. Select ones so as to avoid interrupting the healthy growth of the vine for pea production. They are healthy greens - a good source of beta carotene, vitamin C, folate and fibre. These greens are commonly used in Asian dishes. They can be quickly sauteed or stir-fried, or eaten raw in salad. You can use them instead of (or as well as) other leafy greens - they have a lovely taste that is a cross between baby spinach and peas.

Brassica shoots

You can still eat from the brassica plants that start to go to seed in your vegetable garden. Snip off the florets and eat them raw or cooked.  As long as the shoot is supple, it is a great vegetable. Snipping out these florets also helps to prolong the leaf-growing stage of your brassica. The flowering tips have been used in a range of cuisines all over Asia and Eastern Europe. There are so many vitamins, minerals, nutrients and fibre in these lovely flavoursome greens. Eat the flowers too!




Broad Bean Greens - Fava Greens

I wrote a post about these greens recently. You can read more here: http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2017/07/do-you-eat-your-broad-bean-greens.html


What greens do you also like to snip like this?

COMING SOON! Permaculture Essentials Online Course

At last, my online introduction to permaculture course is almost here. Subscribe to my newsletter to receive news and first access to this course as soon as it is released. Newsletter subscribers will receive a special offer for this program. http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/p/subbscribe.html

Thank you to my network of supporters!

If have enjoyed this film and others on the Our Permaculture Life channel, you may like to consider become my patron too. I think of it like a subscription to a magazine you like - but this one is online (blog and youtube channel) From $1/month, you can be part of my the Our Permaculture Life supporter network. Click here to find out more: https://www.patreon.com/moraggamble.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Morag's seven 'do-nothing' strategies for managing pests


I have a 'do-nothing' approach to managing pests in my garden. Don't be mistaken, this is not an idle or lazy approach, but rather a quite carefully considered way of gardening. It does however, simplify gardening and feels somehow more joyful. 

I like to think of it as a peaceful way of gardening - about being mindful and observant in the garden. I don't do 'pest management'. I don't fight pests or disease. Instead I observe and work with nature to create a 'cultivated ecology' - an ecological balance in the garden that has resilience. 

I don't use any sprays or traps in my garden - natural or other.  Even natural sprays can harm beneficial insects which help to pollinate and keep insect populations under control. 

Instead I work to create healthy dynamic soil environment that supports healthy robust plants, and I invite many helpers into the garden that will help to keep the balance.

I have developed a garden of diversity and resilience. This cultivated ecology is in balance and because of this, I am not bothered by pest infestations.


Listen to my recent Simple Life segment on ABC Radio QLD chatting with Trevor Jackson about this topic:
https://soundcloud.com/user-523529725/edible-gardening-and-wildlife-a-nature-inspired-approach

Below I have included the 7 key strategies of my do-nothing approach and five ways to think differently about 'pests'. Here too are two videos made by my friends, Hana and Rado back in 2015.

The first is a recording of a presentation I did in a Brisbane Library about my 'do-nothing' approach to pest management called Goodbye Garden Pests in December 2015. (It's a full recording of my presentation - almost 90 minutes).




This second clip is from when Hana and Rado brought a Raw Foods group to my garden April 2015. In it I am talking about how I approach the management of 'problems'. (just a snapshot from the garden tour - approx 4 mins).



Our diversity garden includes flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, perennials, self-seeding annuals, natives, water, lots of worm towers, a moveable compost bin, lots of organic matter and thick mulch.

Without any spraying or 'active' methods of pest management, the vegetables in my garden look amazingly healthy and unaffected by pests. There is always lots of flowers (mostly seeding vegetables) that attract beneficial and predatory insects into the garden.

Small Insectiverous birds have declined in the cities. They are vulnerable to predation from the bigger birds that do well in the cities such as currawongs, noisy miners, butcherbirds.   Also in cities, there is less habitat for insects (their food) and often people spray insects (poisoning their food). Image: www.birdsqueensland.org.au
I feel that an important part of this approach is in the way I perceive the garden and the insects, and manage my expectations.  For example:
  • I expect that there will be some damage. 
  • I accept that various insects come in flushes. 
  • I understand that things come back into balance in a healthy system even though there may be times of chaos and uncertainty. 
  • I accept diversity and difference and hold a more flexible notion of what is 'perfect'. Did you know that we waste up 40% of crops at the farm because they do not conform a certain aesthetic. This is beginning to change with the 'ugly food movement' - but who is to say it's 'ugly'. It is just natural!
  • I am also quite certain that 'holes cook well'.  For example, I cannot tell the slightest difference in taste between a silverbeet leaf with a hole in it and one without.
Holes cook well too!
My 'do-nothing' pest management approach is primarily about cultivating residence. My strategy includes:

1. Selecting plants well. 
By choosing plants that are seasonal, locally adapted and hardy they are more robust and resilient.

2. Planting at the right time. I do not expect plants to flourish in conditions that not conducive to their growth.


3. Keeping plants healthy. 
Healthy plants are more resilient to pests. I make sure the soil is healthy, that the soil fertility is maintained, the soil temperature kept relatively stable with mulch, and I maintain the organic matter in the soil to hold soil moisture and diminish the water stress of the plants.

4. Building healthy soil. Healthy soil nourishes the plants over time and supports their healthy development. Healthy plants are less prone to pest attack.

5. Watering deeply. As far as possible, I try to rely on rainfall to water the garden- setting up terraces, swales, and adding lots of organic matter and mulching thickly. When things are really dry, I will water but give the soil a big long soak. This encourages the plants to root deeply seeking out that deeply soaked water  - and nutrients. If plants are watered regularly with just a little bit, they form shallower roots. These plants are more vulnerable to heat, dry and pests because they are stressed. 

6. Perennialising plants. Where possible, I encourage plants to keep producing over a long period of time, just harvesting the edge leaves. The deeper and stronger root system they form makes them more resilient. Disturbing the soil less also helps to cultivate good soil structure.

7. Creating habitat for my helpers. Growing a diversity of plants helps to develop a cultivated ecology which provides homes for a range of species that become helpers. An example of this is insectiverous birds (there are many more that I will write about another time). I attract these little feathered helpers into my garden by providing protection from predators. This means cultivating dense bushes and layers of cover - such as native shrubs, sacred basil, dwarf fruit trees and plants like pelargonium. It is also essential to ensure a constant supply of water. Importantly too, is leaving materials and spaces for nests - not cleaning up too much. For more information: http://birds of queensland.org.au


Superb Fairy Wren (Image: www.birdsqueensland.org.au)
As well as supporting the ecological development of your edible landscape system, this approach gives you more time to sit back and relax, and ENJOY your garden.

Thank you!

Thank you to the growing community of people who help me keep this blog and youtube channel free and ad-free through Patreon.  If you appreciate this work, you might like to consider supporting me too. In a way it's like a new version of subscribing to a magazine you like from $1/month. You can find my Patreon page on http://www.patreon.com/moraggamble

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Edible Library Garden: Do you want some free food with your books?


At this Brisbane library you can pick up some fresh produce from the librarians when you borrow books. What a fabulous idea!

In this 5 minute film, come on a little tour with me of this public edible landscape to explore the abundance that can be grown in a compact public edible garden - a garden that is open and accessible to all.



Local community members work together to create this delightful community space and produce fresh herbs, fruit, flowers and perennial vegetables that are freely available from the library counter when you borrow books. 

The garden also provides scissors and bags at the entrance should you wish to take cuttings of plants to propagate in your own garden. Wonderful!

Hats off to this group. They are creating a delightful space and a valuable community service. Well done to the Brisbane City Council too.

I visited this edible library garden again during recent school holidays. I was leading an eco-art workshop there for children about patterns in nature. I filled the room with edible plant materials and together we explored how patterns connect - how patterns can be seen at a micro level, in our bodies, in plant forms, in land forms, in the stars and in patterns of behaviour and growth. The kids and I had such a great conversation that ranged from dinosaurs to space travel to growing food. With their siblings and parents, the children created beautiful artworks using the plant materials, bamboo and string - temporary, compostable art imbued with patterns. What fun!
Beautiful natural patterns in Red Sorrel.

Do you know of great public edible landscapes around you? I'd love to hear about where these are.

Library food forest. The red flowers here are the edible pineapple sage flowers with sweet nectar.
Herbs, flowers, perennials - all edible. Worm towers too.
Beautiful Basil - African Blue Basil
Edible leguminous pioneer - Pigeon Pea
Multifunctional Marigold - edible flowers, attracts beneficial insects
Edible Okinawan Spinach
Flowering Mexican Coriander

Thank you!

Thank you to the growing community of people who help me keep this blog and youtube channel free and ad-free through Patreon.  If you appreciate this work, you might like to consider supporting me too. In a way it's like a new version of subscribing to a magazine you like from $1/month. You can find my Patreon page on http://www.patreon.com/moraggamble

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Do you eat your broad bean greens?


Bountiful broad beans (Vicia faba). These big beans are a meal in themselves - fresh or dried they are delicious.  But did you know the leaves and flowers are scrumptious too?  


Broad bean greens, otherwise known as fava greens are a great winter green. I am really enjoying their abundant greens right now as my usual subtropical greens have slowed down in the cool weather. 


Fava leaf pesto is fabulous! I use the leaves fresh and cooked, and in just about everything.  It's a fresh 'fast food' too - something I nibble on right there in the garden while I'm pottering about.


The flowers are beautiful and delicious - bit like a mild pea flavour. 

Broad bean flowers 

A little history...

Fava beans are one of the oldest crops known. Archaeologiest found traces from Neolithic times (6000 years ago) in Israel. From there, they spread throughout the Mediterranean. Traces of fava beans have also been found in Egyptian tombs. These beans were also a major source of food for the Romans and Ancient Greeks. Now, they are common to many cuisines around the world, but often overlooked now. 


Fava Greens - leaves and shoots

The young growing tips are lovely in salad. They have a similar flavour to the beans and are tender and soft - also a bit like a pea shoot. 

You can use the leaves as a leafy green in things like stirfries, pasta dishes, quiches and soups. Lightly sautéing them with garlic and oil is great too. 


Knowing that the leaves are edible is super because it massively increases the food you see on these plants, and extends the length of harvest. Here too in the subtropics, it makes growing broad beans worthwhile. I wait and wait for the beans but always disappointed with my meagre harvest. They are definitely more of a temperate vegetable.


However, the fact that they are great for the soil as well as a producer of excellent winter greens and flowers makes them a welcome addition in my veggie garden.  



Broad bean flowers forming

Growing Broad Beans

In the subtropics, broad beans have just a short growing season. I planted mine directly into the bed where the corn had finished. I poked the big seeds in through drying corn leaves that I chopped and dropped, and after a few weeks tossed some compost under the mulch too. They are looking vibrant and healthy. So easy. When they are finished. I'll chop and drop them and plant in something for the next season.

In temperate areas broad beans are easy to grow too and are prolific croppers - loads of big green pods. When the weather cools off, plant them in a dense clump. They need each other, or staking, to hold them up once all their heavy pods form. 

Broad bean is a heavy cropping plant

In cooler climates you can keep the plants going much longer. You can chop them right back after they've produced a full crop of beans and let them grow again for a second bonus round.

Beautiful broad beans (Source: Organic gardener)

Harvesting leaves and shoots can prevent the plant from getting too leggy, but remember, too much trimming will make it focus on producing more foliage rather than beans, so perhaps stagger your harvest around the plot.  


In summary, here's five ways to eat versatile broad beans:


  1. Eat the young pods and seeds whole - raw or cooked
  2. Wait until pods are full size, shell them and eat the white seeds - best cooked
  3. Eat the flowers - raw is good
  4. Eat the green shoots - raw or lightly cooked
  5. Eat the green leaves - raw or lightly cooked

Note: Broad beans, like other class beans and some Brassica group vegetables, contain oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. People with known oxalate urinary tract stones are discouraged from eating vegetables belong to Brassica and Fabaceae family.


A big thank you!

Thank you to the growing community of people who help me keep this blog and youtube channel free and ad-free through Patreon.  If you appreciate this work, you might like to consider supporting me too. In a way it's like a new version of subscribing to a magazine you like from $1/month. You can find my Patreon page on http://www.patreon.com/moraggamble

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Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Do you know how to read (and avoid) sticky labels on fresh fruit?


Little sticky fruit labels - you see them everywhere - on tables, floors, at the beach, stuck to the side of bins, in the compost ... It's not a major source of waste I know, but they are insidious.

In our house we are taking a critical look at the ways single plastic has crept into our lives. Our family has signed up to Plastic Free July (www.plastcifreejuly.org) and inspired to see how we can make positive lasting changes to reduce our plastic waste even further. It's a great idea. 


Have you signed up for the challenge yet? You can sign up for a day, a week, the month or longer. Plastic is just everywhere, but finding any ways we can reduce single-use plastic in our lives has to be a good thing.


Anyway, this morning my son was wondering about those fruit stickers. He was asking what they meant, what they were made of and why we needed them. Really good questions! He was amazed at what they could tell you and suggested I share this information in case anyone else wanted to know too. I hope you find this useful.



What are those numbers on fruit stickers?

The numbers on stickers are called PLU numbers which means Price Look-Up numbers. One of their keys uses is to help the person at the check-out know what fruit you have and charge you the right amount.

They are internationally used - the code for conventionally-grown yellow bananas (4011) is the same everywhere in the world, just as 3424 is the number for purple or red carrots.

There are around 1450 PLU numbers issued and they each refer to a different type of fresh produce. You can look them up on the PLU code database http://www.ifpsglobal.com/Identification/PLU-Codes/PLU-codes-Search.


The number doesn't tell you where they are from, who grew them, although sometimes this information is also on the label.


How do I tell from the fruit sticker if it is really organic?

While it is really irritating picking off these plastic labels and having to throw them away, there is a purpose. They clearly identify whether the food you are consuming is organic.
  1. Four digit numbers are conventionally grown (eg: 4011 -  conventionally grown yellow banana)
  2. Five digit numbers starting with '9' are organic. (eg: 94011 -  organically grown yellow banana)
  3. Five digit numbers starting with '8' are genetically modified. (eg: 84011 -  GMO grown yellow banana) - very rarely seen or used.
  4. Five digit numbers starting with '3' (#3xxxx) mean that the produce has been electronically pasteurised (irradiated).




Can I tell from the fruit sticker if my fruit is genetically modified?

Just because there is a category for genetically modified produce, most suppliers would not label it as such. 

Having said that, no fresh produce grown in Australia can be GMO and no fresh produce containing GMOs from other countries can be sold at this point either. 


Different countries have different standards so it is good to check the situation in your region. However, from the labels, the only way to be sure that your shop bought produce is not genetically modified is by purchasing organic products (a five digit number starting with a '9'). Organics do not allow GMOs. 


I found this really interesting overview of which foods might contain GMOs.http://www.madge.org.au/how-shop-gm-free


This document it says that in the USA, there are GMO apples, papaya, potatoes, pineapples, sweet corn, yellow crookneck squash and zucchini available.


Australia has approved the use of GMO potatoes in chips - so you may well be getting GMO spuds when you buy frozen chips, or go to the local chippy, and they could be cooked in GMO canola oil too. Another reason to buy fresh ingredients and cook from scratch.



How do I avoid these fruit stickers?

In most of the bigger supermarkets and conventional food stores you will find these stickers on almost individual pieces of fruit. However you can avoid them when you shop at an farmers markets, organic food stores, community supported agriculture programs or, of course by growing your own fruit.


Home-grown label-free produce.

Are the stickers edible?

I came across a lot of sites saying that these little stickers were made of edible paper with food grade glue so if you accidentally swallowed one it wouldn't really matter. 

I'm not convinced. Maybe they are in some places, but not here, or not consistently.  I found an apple with a sticker and did a little test. It was super stretchy.  Last time I checked, paper didn't have these qualities.


Best avoided!




A big thank you!

Thank you to the growing community of people who help me keep this blog and youtube channel free and ad-free through Patreon.  If you appreciate this work, you might like to consider supporting me too. In a way it's like a new version of subscribing to a magazine you like from $1/month. You can find my Patreon page on http://www.patreon.com/moraggamble

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Saturday, 8 July 2017

Simply beautiful edibles - a gardener's meditation


This Saturday I am running a school holiday workshop with children to create with patterns in nature - a topic I love to explore. 

An edible garden is a wonderful place to see natural patterns. We can observe the same series of patterns in nature at the micro and macro. Deepening our understanding of natural patterns helps us to work with nature.  More about that another time ....

For me it's like a gardener's meditation - slowing down, looking closely and appreciating the beautiful forms of the plants around me.

What is your favourite plant in the garden?






























Thank you

I'd like to extend a special big thank-you to my growing community of patrons who help me keep this blog and youtube channel free and ad-free.(https://www.youtube.com/c/moraggambleourpermaculturelife)  


If you'd like to support me too, you can find my Patreon page on https://www.patreon.com/moraggamble 


Morag's workshops coming soon

 August 12: DIY Natural Beauty Products


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