Friday, March 31, 2006

Lenore Lindsay Radio Talk No 1
reproduced with Lenore's permission)
Topics: Mulch, Warrigal Greens - New Zealand Spinach

Good morning listeners. I’m Lenore Lindsay from the Society for Growing Australian Plants. There are similar groups under various names all over Australia eg the Australian Plants Society in Victoria, the Australian Native Plants Society in the ACT and the Wildflower Society in Western Australia, and we are all part of the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants or ASGAP.

We are interested in all aspects of growing Australian native plants, whether in private gardens, public parks, occuring naturally in the bush, or being raised and used for revegetation or commerce.

Our local branch meets at 7.30pm on the fourth Friday of every month except December in the administration block of the Frenchville State School. At most meetings we have a guest speaker or a presentation of some sort, as well as conducting the usual business and discussing plant specimens brought by members.

On the first Sunday of each month except January we hold an outing or excursion. This can be either a full or half day, or occasionally a weekend campout. These are usually not very taxing physically, and are suitable for the whole family.

So far this year we have looked at a small but very diverse patch of remnant bush at Lammermoor Beach followed by a visit to a large garden of mixed natives and exotics at Emu Park, visits to 3 very interesting predominantly native gardens in Rockhampton, and inspected the unique flora of a serpentinite area on a property near the Fitzroy River upstream from The Gap. We usually assemble at the Northside Plaza if our destination is on the north side of the river, and O’Shanesy Park if it’s south. Visitors are welcome, and there are usually opportunities to carpool. On our bush trips we not only enjoy “God’s garden”, but are sometimes lucky enough to find a plant with potential for cultivation, and seeds to begin experimenting. If you miss the community announcements about excursions in the local media, you can ring 49283699 or 282862 for information.

Isn’t it nice to see Rocky green again? Let’s keep hoping for more rain, as it can be quite disheartening to see plants stressed and struggling, and drought turns gardening into hard work, if it doesn’t turn you off it all together. Unfortunately, in spite of popular mythology, no garden is entirely maintenance free, though you can minimize the amount required. You can sum it up with mulch, mulch, mulch and then more mulch. But…….

Don’t put green mulch such as lawn clippings or freshly chipped tree waste around plants. Let it compost and age for a couple of months first, then spread 7-10cm thick, but don’t apply too thickly around stems as excess moisture could encourage collar rot, a fungal disease that could kill your plants. Newspaper and cardboard can make a great bio-degradable weed mat under the mulch. Organic mulches need to be topped up periodically as they eventually break down to enrich the soil and feed your plants. And don’t forget to mulch your large pot plants. Sometimes mulch, like soil, can become water repellant, and then you can use a wetting agent to help it reabsorb moisture.

Remember to water deeply when you do water. Frequent shallow watering will produce shallow-rooted weak plants without any resilience. Late afternoon is probably the optimum time to water (don’t forget your mosquito repellant!). And remember to group plants with similar water requirements together, so their needs can be met.

With the current high price of leafy green veges, how about trying to grow an unusual native one in your home garden? Warrigal Greens, also known as New Zealand Spinach or Botany Bay Greens was the first domesticated indigenous vegetable to be widely grown overseas, and was a popular mainstay in 19th Century Europe because of its hardiness and high yield. It fell out of favour in Australia as European veg became more easily available, but, like pigweed, remained in use in the bush where fresh greens were a luxury.

It has a jaw-breaking scientific name – Tetragonia tetragonioides, but fortunately its common names are easy to remember. It will grow from seed or cuttings, and in good conditions will spread into a lush groundcover quite quickly. Excess makes good chookfood or compost, and as a living mulch it also helps conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Its leaves are thick and triangular, 2-12cm long, bright green and glistening as if covered by dew or fine sugar or salt crystals, especially underneath. Small yellow flowers are followed by hard horned seed pods. Warrigal Greens grow wild in places along the banks of rivers like the Fitzroy and along the coast, and plants can often be obtained at markets or more specialized nurseries. While it may be a little hard to find right now, look again as the weather gets cooler, towards winter.

To prepare New Zealand Spinach, choose young green leaves and tips. Wash and then blanch in boiling water, discarding this water. The leaves are then ready to use in salads or any other dishes instead of spinach, and boiled or steamed make an excellent vegetable. It is important to always blanch the leaves before eating to remove any soluble oxalates and salt.

Here’s a recipe for a cheese and greens pie you might like to try when you’ve harvested your crop.

You’ll need: 500g cottage cheese
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 onion diced
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
ground black pepper
3-4 handfuls warrigal greens blanched
10 sheets fillo pastry
2 tablespoons melted butter or oil

Squeeze leaves to remove excess water and chop finely.
Mix cheeses, onion, eggs and seasoning in a large bowl
Add greens and stir till well combined
Brush half of each pastry sheet with melted butter or oil and fold in half.
Arrange 5 folded sheets to cover the bottom of a 23x30 or 25cm square roasting pan or similar.
Spread the filling over the base then top with the remaining sheets.
Brush the top with any remaining oil and bake at 180 degrees C for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the filling set.
Cut into squares and serve with cooked vegetables or a tomato salad.

Happy eating, and happy gardening till next time!

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