The story so far

Tamara left Bunyip in April 2009 seeking what she needed to know for her permaculture future. She spent 9 months at her Aunt Catherine's farm in Arid South Australia, then 9 months at Bill and Lisa Mollison's farm in Tasmania. Now she's off on more adventures starting Moonrise School of Permaculture and teaching Permaculture Design Courses in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne. Ducky is there for the journey...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Harvesting knowledge

I've been wondering how to fit everything in that I want to blog about - I've been harvesting basil, apples, quinces, snails, chestnuts, mushrooms, jerusalem artichokes... and then the time passes and I think, bugger, that was too long ago to write about now...

But it occurred to me that one of the constants of harvesting is that it is a time of intense learning as well as processing and eating.

So much food
With each turn of the seasons in the permaculture garden we are bombarded with food - too much food and bloody hell what am I going to do with all those chestnuts! This leads us to books, friends and Professor google on all the ways to keep the harvest longer, preserve it, cook it.

It is also a time of creative thinking, ideas and experimentation - last week I read that soaking beans or lentils in water for a few days creates a ferment and reduces the soluble fibre that causes flatulence. I decided to try to turn the Jerusalem Artichoke (aka fartichoke) - a known wind machine into something less gassy using a similar method. I've just eaten some that have been soaked in boiled and cooled water for 3 days and will be able to report back soon :)

The zen of harvesting
As we harvest we can slow down and enjoy the work. We learn about ourselves; harvesting is often repetative or easy work and gives us plenty of time to think. We use all of our senses when we harvest, and we get to have an intimate relationship with the soil, plants and animals that we often don't have time for.

We find out about others. We often bring in the loot with friends and spend hours talking, bonding and celebrating with shared dinners and wine.

Learning the way of the plant or animal is something you get only if you spend time with it and harvesting gives us an opportunity to do so. The chestnut for example, often drops from the tree and rolls down into a hidden little spot in the long grass. Other nuts follow the same contours and I often find a little clutch of chestnuts.
The way to find them is to poke around the little gullies with your tongs or, if they are as big as the ones I've just been harvesting is feeling them under your feet as you move around (much like getting freshwater mussels, feel them with you feet first then duck down to get them out of the mud). You need tongs for the harvest to pry them out of the extremely prickly covering. Trust me.

The way of the snail is something that duck owners get to know pretty quickly and they too can be found by feel in the dark, or, with a torch on chives or your newly planted lettuce seedlings. One of the best things about having a duck is that a problem - snails - becomes not only a solution but a benefit - a high protein snack for the highly carnivorous and incredible egg laying Campbell duck. I once had a dark campbell duck that refused to stop laying in winter and gave me 365 eggs a year. Ducky likes to eat snails in the bath - he grabs hold of the snail as it pokes its head out and shakes them out of their shell!

At the moment I've collected all the big snails for ducky and there are just the babies left, so in rescuing the chinese cabbage I've done myself out of a food source! Tom Cheeseman from Whyalla has experimented with growing slugs and snails on daily moistened cardboard and found it works very well. Snails love cardboard and paper, you will often find them in the darkened folds of boxes, and Bill tells me that the snails of Molokai prefer Dr Seuss to any other material!

Mushrooms too have their season and their spots, finding their little niches and observing them in the landscape is almost as much fun as the feast that follows.

Fungi gives us an amazing opportunity to learn, I have a mycologist friend who used to check all my IDs for me, thus learning what was edible and what will kill you! Fungi hunting is one of joys of life. Above is Bill with Cortinarius Australiensis, a native mushroom we found in the pine plantation that was planted by Forrest Primary school when we were scouting for pine mushrooms. I have not been able to find information on its toxicity so while we wanted to eat it, we didn't.

Autumn was always fun in Bunyip with Ashleigh and Chantelle; we used to go on fungi hunts, bring them home (always leaving some for nature), identify them with books, take photos, look at them with a magnifying glass and enjoy nature, one of my favourite things was this wonderful time spent together.

There is something fun about sitting on a kitchen floor snipping basil leaves off the stems and meeting the various wildlife that comes indoors with us.

There were lots of tiny snails and a green shield bug. Often the shield bugs get out of control in organic gardens, and even the chooks won't eat the harlequin coloured ones (ducks will only eat a few). It turns out that wrens and other small birds eat the shield bugs! When I mentioned to Lisa that the birds were doing a great job, she said the sunflowers were for the little birds as well - somewhere for them to perch as well as for the bees and other bugs. You just never know when you're going to learn something. I nearly forgot to mention the 10 jars of pesto we made!

Drying chestnuts is an art I and one we didn't get quite right when they went mouldy in the jar :( I have since looked at numerous ways to peel and process them for keeping - Maggie beer had a picture of chestnuts cut in a certain way for roasting that makes them very easy to peel - and when boiling them works very well. Last night I made a chestnut puree, some of which we sweetened with stevia and maple syrup to use on a cake and the rest to freeze for use at another time. Many recipes proceed from here - pumpkin and chestnut soup, flour for cooking yummy, heavy pancakes... mmmmmm. And in the conversations around the puree, I learned that sugar gums in the hight country were tapped by aboriginal people in the spring, much like maple syrup.

Apples and quinces go very well together in jams, jellies, preserves generally, they have high pectic levels and I spent quite a bit of time investigating the chemical reaction that takes place when we make jams so I could understand the process better and from there create my own recipes rather than relying on others. It looks like stevia can be used instead of sugar and I intend to experiment with this.

The harvest continues - your surplus stories, what you're eating, advice or experiments heartily welcomed. Love Tamara and Ducky xxx qqq

Overalls designed by Michelle Walker who works at Tagari, such a talented and creative woman!


  1. G'day Tamara, glad to hear that you are travelling well...I have just returned from the 'Dehesa' region of Extramadura ( in western Spain where I was working with farmers in that region. With regards the chestnut harvesting I think the best way to harvest them is the same as these farmers do with the cork and holm oaks of the Dehesa: with pigs! The only tongs you need then are to pick up the great ham that comes! All the best and enjoy the journey (s). Regards, Darren J. Doherty

  2. Good to read about your grand adventures from my much more limited suburban garden - the joys here are similar and the annoyances the same - nobody told me that organic gardening meant picking dead earwigs out of the soup before serving. But I just love wandering out and deciding what to have for dinner according to what looks the ripest. I think it's eggplant tonight. Cheers, Marian

  3. Your writing is so Aussie. I espcially loved your delicately-worded Artichoke story.
    I'd love to join you for dinner - chestnut flour crepes with quince cooked till rubbery-red, how alluring. But could I be further away? - its Tokyo, and its spring. Six more months. Who knows, we might end up hoeing into that feast together at Fuji Eco Park.
    Big hug.