Dr Sista Outlaw presents: Kitchen garden (or garden kitchen?)

I know this is a cooking blog, but for me cooking and gardening go hand in hand. Growing food inspires me to cook, and my desire to eat good food sends me into the garden. I’ll get to the cooking bit, but not before I ramble over the garden (rambling over the garden then heading into the kitchen is a habit of mine).

Over the years I have moved a lot, and had many herb and vegetable gardens. Building them has proven to be an essential part of my settling into any new place, even if the landscape is not ideal. I have gardened in tight spots, in pots and sour soil, dealt with overshadowing, put up with short term leases and, in the first home I owned, accommodated the tendency of my then partner to steal the best spots for spiky grevilleas.

My garden tends to reflect my mental state. If it flourishes there is every chance I am procrastinating mightily, but my soul is mending. The reverse applies. The garden in my last house fell over and decayed because I got too busy writing a PhD, but my relationship was also withering on the vine. In the year that passed between moving out and buying my new house I had no garden – just a few styrofoam pots. I didn’t even have a compost heap. Now I have a new house, Maxholme, and this is the backyard, as it appeared on my first day of ownership.

It’s a 611 square metre blank slate, so the work begins to build a garden that reflects who I am – a woman on the very brink of turning 40, with no inclination to please anyone other than myself and my hungry child. A blank slate suits me very well indeed, and I will fill it with food. In these days of financial uncertainty and mortgage stress it is quite fashionable to be worrying about food security, but that doesn’t matter one jot to me, I’d be planting food anyway.

Of course, blank slates take a lot of work to fill. This was the herb patch – dead tomatoes, crusted earth, feral Vietnamese mint, barely hanging on rosemary and sage and a death lily patch (a nursery for snails).

After a permaculture makeover, the insertion of some herbs I’d been coddling and some spring rain … the death lilies and mint are a nice feature now.

My pride and joy is my ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ compost heap, which uses corflutes retained from political campaigns in a most creative way. Look whose face is helping the lawn clippings decompose! If you take your fingers from your eyes and look behind the compost heap you can see nascent vege beds.

It’s both exciting and soothing to watch the garden take off. When I moved in, on the coldest day of the winter, all I found was sage and rosemary, but since then a range of mints have come up, and I’ve added parsley, thyme, chives, lemon balm, garlic chives, pyrethrum, curry plant, tarragon, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuces, oregano and coriander to the herb bed, along with a bay tree. I’ve put in beds of spuds and asparagus, broad beans, corn and peas and am nursing seedlings of zucchini, pumpkin, basil, kale and silver beet. The trees are the biggest investment. I’ve got a crab apple, a cumquat, a meyer lemon, and four hazelnuts, which are part of a local food sharing initiative, along with raspberries and blueberries. I’ve also added trees that will bear the fruits I love the best, and that are so hard to find in good quality in the shops – black genoa fig, white peaches and apricots. In this picture you can see the very first baby apricot.

However, if I’m to be honest, all there is to eat right now in my garden is herbs. Which brings me to the chooks, and the cooking part of the post. The chooks are a curse in many ways. They have obliged me to buy many rolls of wire to keep them from turning over my mulch and devouring my seedlings. But they are funny, cute and friendly. They talk all the time and rush all over you if you venture into the garden. Their A-frame chook tractor, which lets them scratch away at the ground, has been a great way to start neat little squares of garden. They provide precious chook poo and they also pick through the death lilies to devour legions of snails. Here they are, at work in the back yard.

And they reward us with perfect eggs, whilst exerting a powerful influence over food-averse children (one I own and one who visits often). The kids delight in things like this:

Also, it seems, my vegetable averse one will eat vegies if they are wrapped in or mixed into an omelette and the egg-averse visitor changed his tune after a few trips to the chook house.

The challenge of using all those eggs has led to new discoveries. I’ve learned the secret of the perfect poached egg, which is to boil a deep potful of water, slip in some vinegar, get it to a rolling boil, stir it to a whirlpool and crack a day old egg into the central vortex. When made with home grown eggs my Dead Cert Seduction Lemon Delicious comes out a brilliant yellow. And I also came up with this, a variation on a Spanish trick, which uses my favouritest lentil in the universe, Puy (blue) lentils.

To do this all you need is a thick gluggy beany mix, like Stephanie Alexander’s divine Puy lentil salad, or the version I did here, which has tomatoes and optional bacon in it, and pop it into a casserole dish. Level off the top and pack it down. Then use the back of a table spoon to make recesses in the surface and break an egg into the hollows. Drizzle some olive oil on top of each egg and bake at about 180 for about 30 minutes, or until the eggs look set. It’s delicious. You can also do baked eggs this way in ramekins, with a beany blob underneath. The creamy egg protein goes so nicely with the beans and who’d have thought the kids would lap up the entire package?

By the way, the chooks are never for eating, and neither is this resident of Maxholme:

Sorry about the red eye, but it’s kind of her nature.

30 thoughts on “Dr Sista Outlaw presents: Kitchen garden (or garden kitchen?)

  1. Mmm, bunny. A great post, DSO.

    I’ll put up some pictures of our veggie garden when I get a chance. If readers would like to share theirs (and I know both Kate and Laura would, wouldn’t you?) you can include a link or
    email images
    (max 450 px wide) and we’ll put them up here.

  2. And maybe Anthony would share too?

    I’ve put a set with notes up at my flickr (because I am procrastinating – from writing an application to the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation for my son’s school no less!). It’s very warm today (25 degrees at 5 o’clock), so it looks a bit drab:

  3. Say it loud Zoe, after ten years in Melb, Dr Honey and i settled into a place with a yard in the south-east. about the same size as yours. the house was built in 1955 by the previous owners and the land bears their imprint, the most obvious elements of which are the fading gloiries of what we are told was a stunning english type ornamental garden. there are also their early attemptes to create a water wise garden. so we arrived mid transition i suppose. since we got here i have been slowly digging up bits, the odd rose, ornimental borders, lawn and whatnot and replacing them with vegies and fruit trees. there is asparagus out the front with the peach, plum and figoa (sic) trees and similar changes out the back.

    The vegies are, i suppose, some vain attempt to match the fertility and fecundity of Dr Honey.

    Upon this realisation i nearly called it quits, esp as water restrictions as outlined by FXH above have raised the difficulty level. But the first day that the Hbomb could walk around the garden unassissted she made a beeline for the Lazy Housewife Beans (from Diggers) and started munching the bounty. since then she has gone for tomatoes, strawberries (well duh), capsicums and other peppers, lettus, silverbeet, peas, cucumbers, Zucchinni, broccoli, carrotts, radishes and more. since she has been able to talk, “from the garden” has been one of her fav lines while eating dinner, esp if she has harvested it herself.

    A particular fav is potatos, she loves digging them out, pushing the worms out of the way and washing them. when she holds up a piece of potato on her fork, loudly proclaims that it came “from the garden” and “H….. got it” and then scoffs it; wow that biological programming that took over my brain 90 seconds after she arrived gets a real boost.

    i read Dr Sista Outlaw’s piece re the food averse child the other day and have to admit that a food averse Hbomb could cause me many conniption fits. I hope that the garden and the Hbomb’s habit of snacking on it helps.

    a query, are the hazelnuts you have infected with fungi?


  4. No infections on the hazelnuts, but they are very new (just whips really) so time will tell.

    I do hope Hbomb doesn’t repeat the pattern the vegetable averse one set, which was to eat everything when young, then winnow things out as he aged …

  5. er, sorry Dylwah, just realise that when you said infections what you meant was the prospect of growing truffles … we shall see about that and all! Although I don’t have a pig or a dog, so might find it hard to tell. As far as I know no one has tested cats as truffle hunters (imagine, LOLtrufflecats?)

  6. FX had his whine about the 6am sunday watering on my blog, where he also thoughtfully noted that anyone who likes getting up early on the weekend to look after the garden is an idiot.

    Zoe, the local PS here has just got a Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden grant. One of the ringleaders is a member of our local food growers club. It looks totally terrific, good luck with the application.

  7. I haven’t watered anything with a hose for, oh gosh, five years? I don’t even own a hose.

    Our veg are all shower heating up water (considerable) and laundry rinsing and washing veggies and so on. I’ll look for some more photos, but at the moment we have precisely one tiny punnet of tomatoes, some basil and lots of slashed broad beans lying on the surface drying. We’ve also got some grass. Long grass. We’ve been training visiting kids to flatten it.

    Does anyone have a whipper snipper?

  8. Just changed the title to make it clearer that it’s Dr SO’s post – this theme isn’t really set up for multiple authors. Will fiddle more when I get a chance.

    The Stephanie Alexander program is truly amazing, and hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more about it from me. We’ve applied to be the ACT’s Demonstration School, which means more dough for staff but a brain boggling timeframe. Fortunately there is an astonishing group of parents who are very committed (almost all of them from my son’s kindy class, which is funny because none of those kids will directly be involved until they’re in third class) and heaps of community organisations and businesses keen to be involved. Cross your fingers for us.

    … and Laura didn’t link to her excellent post, so I will, and also to a post from Cristy of …in a garden somewhere. She’d like some help with her broccoli, if anyone’s a brassica whiz.

  9. At our school we’ve got a kitchen garden going all by our lonesome, with the tricky year one class providing the labour. It’s fab, but doesn’t have the same cooking and eating inspirational qualities of Stephanie’s gardens. I really hope you win Zoe!

    Kate, I don’t have a whipper snipper but I do have a bunny. She’s available for loan if you can put up with her taking your hand off for minor infringements like putting said hand in cage in a vain attempt at cuddles. I use shower water too, by the way, although we don’t have the same heavy duty water restrictions as you lot. Zoe, am happy with the name change!

  10. My bunny and guinea-pig-owning friend went off overseas and her bunnies are currently residing in Adelaide, but perhaps I should look for some fill-in bunny action til they return. Rent a Bunny? Rent a Sheep? I’d only need it for a day or two, far more pleasant than a whipper snipper.

  11. It appears I did have a whinge about watering at Laura’s. I guess the truth is that not everyone who gets up at 6 am to water a garden of a Sunday is an idiot. Just as not everyone who likes to be in bed by 6 am on a Sunday is a piker.

    Wot I object to is the pandering to the early to rise etc brigade. Why not let us night-owls have a two hour watering stretch at 12 am to 2 pm two nights a week?

  12. As someone who would never get up early to water but has been known to be out in the garden at 10pm in winter, I second FXH’s emotion

  13. While I am regularly awake in time to water before 8am due to the rotten early waking child, the fact is I’ve never actually made it outside at that time. I’m getting the kid breakfast and so on.

    FXH, I think the whole point of it is that we eliminate ourselves. They don’t actually want us to water stuff. Personally I favour a model where you get an allocation and you can do whatever you fancy with it. If you want a tropical garden paradise by St Kilda beach you just have to be prepared to do without showering. Much fairer, because currently you can have as many big full baths as you like.

  14. We had three years of serious water restrictions in the Sydney environs, which meant you could only water your gardens with a nozzle ended hose on Wednesday or Sunday. At least we could choose morning or afternoon. This meant lots of clever vegetable garden tricks were necessary, and led to an epidemic of buckets in showers.

    Restrictions have changed gardening in Sydney, but hopefully some other habits are also gone. Such as hosing driveways and paths instead of getting a bloody broom which is more efficient anyway …

    Even with the gardening and leaky ancient plumbing and my bloke staying over often, I use MUCH less water than the level Sydney Water says most two person households use. What the hell do all those other people use their water for?

  15. I think a lot of people wash clothes far more frequently than they really need to, they have more than one shower a day, they leave the tap going while they brush their teeth, they water the garden for every single minute that they’re legally allowed even if that means there’s water running down the street because no more can soak into the soil (man across the road I am watching you) and just generally slosh the stuff around like it’s limitless.

    The Bloke ran over a bucket the other day with his motorbike. It had been left in the front yard post watering. I wasn’t at all sad to go and buy a new one after several months of putting up with it being just a little bit broken. Once it was good and proper broken I replaced it immediately.

  16. It’s taken a long time to get to this garden, I tell you. But yes, it’s just lovely. The weekend was spent installing blueberries and raspberries, with sunflowers, in a giant new bed across the faded front lawn. IT LOOKS SO GOOD.

  17. I am very envious of your garden Dr Sister Outlaw. It is lovely. Our ‘backyard’ is a very narrow strip of ground that is mostly shaded year-round and very sandy. I find it a bit too challenging to do much with it.

    I am rather keen on the idea of blueberries though, but am not sure that they would like the Canberra climate…

  18. I reckon they would do good in the Canberra climate, as they need to be chilled to below 2 degrees for about 1000 hours a year which sounds like the ACT to me. Apparently they like being grown in pots, in azalea/camellia mix.

    Thanks for the jealous urges! Most gardens up here are overshadowed by giant radiatas, so I am lucky. Also lucky it’s not a swamp, near a fire zone, and doesn’t have a 45% angle in the backyard.

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