Friday, February 27, 2015

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival - Eat Think Talk Grow and Food Production for Urban Landscapes (new subject)

Next week I commence teaching a new subject in the Master of Urban Horticulture called Food Production for Urban Landscapes (FPUL). Apart from the excitement of generating new lecture content and therefore going back into study-mode myself there is the added excitement of creating a hands-on vegetable growing program for the students. As far as I can tell (and I'm happy to be corrected!) this will be the only full semester allotment style food growing prac at the Masters level in Australia and possibly at the Bachelor level too. At any rate months of work have gone into developing plant material for the program not to mention purchasing tools and equipment, re-doing water pipes in the historic Burnley Field Station etc etc.

Meanwhile FPUL demonstrators Jenny Pearce, Lia De Gruchy, Engagement Officer Jenny McCoy, nursery crew Sascha and Nick and me have been putting together a display of veggie planter boxes over the last few months as part of the launch of the University of Melbourne's farmers' market -

We'll have interesting stuff for people to look at, touch and taste such as Kang Kong (water spinach), sweet potatoes, yams etc. Our stuff will still be growing while you can buy produce ready to go from various farmers and producers. It's going to be under or near the Raymond Priestly Building from 10.00am-3.00pm next Wednesday March 4 from 10.00am-3.00pm so please come by and say hello if you're on the Parkville campus of the University of Melbourne. I was quoted briefly in the Age about this morning. I'm looking forward to running the workshops and activities with local primary school students

We'll be spreading the good news on how you too can grow "feral" quantities of delicious Taro under your Hills Hoist!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Eating Monstera deliciosa

I've been watching the fruit on my Swiss Cheese Plants for the last week because I could see that they were ripening. Sure enough this morning two of them looked like they were falling apart so I decided to pick them. You can see from the photos that they don't look that appetising but I've had them before and they were really tasty. My two plants are neglected and only receive extra summer watering irregularly so it's no surprise that the ripe portions I pulled off this morning were only in small amounts. I'm hoping that the unripe bits will soften up over the next couple of days. In the meantime the bits of gloop I pulled off and consumed were yummy, a cross between pineapple and banana (as you will often see it described). So keep an eye on your humble Monstera, forgotten in some obscure part of your garden - usually "down the side". By the way, Monstera is in the same family as Taro, the Araceae and the fruit, as with a taro tuber, contains calcium oxalate. This means that if you eat it when not fully ripe it may sting or irritate your lips or throat - you have been warned!

Surinam spinach - Talinum triangulare

I've wanted to write about this plant for a long time. As with so many perennial edibles in Australia I found it on the Green Harvest website. It's another useful food plant from South America along with Cassava, Sweet Potato, Potato, Chillies, Achira, Yacon etc etc. It is very heat tolerant and this is one reason it has become a popular vegetable in West Africa. It is quite ornamental too with pretty pink flowers and succulent green leaves. It is indeed heat tolerant and last year when temperatures in Melbourne climbed into the 40s for a week my Surinam Spinach plants didn't miss a beat. Although it is meant to contain fair amounts of oxalic acid I don't find it has any of that slightly floury aftertaste that you get from say Silverbeet, also high in oxalic acid. The edible portions of the plant are the stems and leaves and because of their succulence, with a touch of sourness, they help bulk up a stew or soup and are really quite delicious.  Surinam Spinach is easy to strike from cuttings and to my delight has started to self-sow in my garden - a handy way to get new plants each year. They will also overwinter in Melbourne although only just, and it's easier to strike a few cuttings and keep these new plants in a sheltered position or polytunnel/hoop house during the colder months until they race off again in mid to late spring. Definitely worth it.