Sunday, May 30, 2010

Edible Weeds

Edible weed quiche and salad

You read correctly: edible weeds. Green stuff that's good for you. Plus the lovely flowers that may come along with them.

I did a course at CERES today on edible weeds, mainly out of curiosity. What in my yard or permaculture plot can I eat for free? Apparently, a lot.

I have two previous experiences of edible weeds: one in East Brunswick the other at Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

When I lived in East Brunswick, a lady walked past my terrace house, then backtracked and knocked on the door. She pointed at my small front yard and asked if she could pick something. What? The very underdeveloped capsicum I'd planted? No, something which I'd assumed was a weed and was doing very well in my front yard.

She called the plant baqla, perhaps a Lebanese word? It wasn't until I spoke with my workmates I learnt what the Greek word for it was (because the Aussie Greeks still use it), and then what the English word was: purslane.

I fetched a plastic bag for the lady to fill with the baqla, and took down her recipe for how to use it. Similar to tabouli.

In Guatemala, I became accustomed to seeing the local women foraging around the centre and along the track for greens. The greens often ended up in soups or stirred through frijoles. For some of the weeds at today's class, I only knew the Spanish name! Or their medicinal properties.

Today's course was very useful. We were taught some theory behind weeds and why they are good (they are great at collecting nutrients in degraded land by either tapping into a deep layer of soil or absorbing nutrients from the air). Then to the practical: finding and picking weeds from around CERES and the Merri Creek. They're everywhere! This helped me to firm up what the difference between a milk thistle, dandelion and wild lettuce was. The best part was then enjoying the weeds as food.

I eagerly polished off a salad, quiche and smoothie. The salad had mallow, dandelion flowers and leaves, calendula flowers, wild lettuce, angle onion, wandering jew, chickweed, wild fennel and brassica flowers. The smoothie included mallow, nettles, plantain, milk thistle, dandelion and clivers (plus orange, banana and water, so it really just tasted of the fruit but was green). The quiche was a typical quiche using nettle, milk thistle, dandelion and angle onion. So not so typical.

All up, very yummy. I now have a bit more confidence to harvest free food from my yard and the paddock.

Angle Onion growing amongst other bulbs

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I continue my crusade to learn as much as I can to do with permaculture NOW. And I'm not doing too badly. The other night, I sat in a very cold shed at CERES to learn about small scale wind power. I'm assessing how I can power a water pump at my plot or even power a building if I decide to build a house, classroom or storage for my produce.

Was the Australian landscape not covered with windmills at one time, slowly pumping up water?

Prices have dropped substantially for small scale solar power (due to a mix of technology improvements and government subsidies). Not so true for wind power. Quite expensive in comparison, now. Though the government has started cutting the small scale wind power sector some slack: I think they're eligible for the feed-in-tariff now.

A feed-in-tariff means when you connect your renewable energy system to the electricity grid, the energy retailer pays YOU for what electricity you produce. Technically, as Victoria has a net feed-in-tariff not a gross feed-in-tariff, they will pay for what you don't use. Eventually you'll have paid off the system and be earning money from your wind turbine or solar panel.
Not bad.

So I'll go away and ponder my options, weighing up the pros and cons of solar and wind. Or a hybrid. At least wind continues at night. And my plot is in a valley that runs north-south, which tends to be the predominant wind direction. Which makes sense when you're in Melbourne. I listen to the radio for both the temperature and wind direction in summer before deciding if it is really warm or cool: is there a cold southerly or a hot blast of northerly wind?

The tutor is writing a consumer's guide to small scale wind power for Sustainability Victoria, so keep your eye out for it. Very useful. He also recommended "Wind Power:Plan Your Own Wind Power System" published by Alternative Technology Association, for more information on windmills as opposed to wind turbines.

I was wanting to do a workshop on Australian bushfoods, which I plan to use on my plot and even connect with the local indigenous group, and a water wise gardening workshop. Unfortunately, they were both cancelled for lack of numbers. Very sad.
So if you're interested in learning, sign up to CERES workshops (so I can go to the workshops, too).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Good Life

Sometimes it is useful to look to comedy for inspiration. I think Tom and Barbara from The Good Life sitcom of the 1970s display brilliantly what I'm trying to do.
Enjoy the laugh

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The First Dig

Permaculture plot looking north west (creek behind trees)

For my birthday, instead of going out for a lovely dinner with friends, I decided to show them my permaculture plot.
With just a few friends, for the first time on my plot, the earth was moved. It was dug into and scraped against. Truth be told, we didn't do a massive amount of work, seeing that after a midday arrival, then lunch, we only had two hours before the autumn sun set behind the hill at 5pm.
Come spring, I will see a mass of flowers around the two grave sites as 120 bulbs were planted around the edge. I want to clean up the cemetery and give a nice home to William B. Smith of England. I don't know the details of these residents, but hope to find out.
Other friends piled up the fallen wood. I think these trees are robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust) if it isn't Honey Locust. I plan to chip the fallen wood and use as mulch on the vegetable patch or fruit trees. I will convert this large grove of trees to a food forest. Little by little.
While my friends were doing this, I was surveying the open paddock. This took forever and we did 1m interval readings of 60m. A lot more to do. I want to translate this onto a map if I can work out what technology I need, both a GPS reader and the mapping software.
I planned on replacing a dinner with a weekend away. However, many people couldn't come so I have been having a culinary delight having dinner with many of them over the last few days.

Black Locust grove (looking north)