When we heard about ''the Dirty Beanstalk'' gardening and greening crew, it seemed that an earthy kitchen garden story lay ahead. But there was a bonus. The crew does its edible growing in a rooftop garden bed on a new residential building, Lena Karmel Lodge, at the Australian National University.
The eco-friendly building on Barry Drive has lift access to the top floor. A large meeting room for students has glass walls and a door that leads to the rooftop, with stunning views looking west to Black Mountain.
About 15 large, long, no-dig raised beds on the rooftop have been planted by the Unilodge building manager, half with Australian natives and half with food, all of which is flowering and fruiting.
The 12 members of the gardening and greening crew are known as the Dirty Beanstalk. They have been given a community garden bed and started planting during April. There is no self-watering system to their bed so they go up to the roof as often as they can to water.
We were taken to the rooftop by Karina Bontes Forward, whose is studying human ecology and Indonesian, and Dan Stanton from the United States, a post-doctoral researcher in plant sciences. They showed us tiny sproutings of radishes, beans, rocket, garlic, oregano, curry plant, sage, landcress and rainbow chard, and spent time thinning vegetable seedlings. They have installed garden stakes and string for beans and peas to climb.
The team has worked off donations so far. One of the food co-op members gave them some humus which they diluted and put over the entire bed as a fertiliser. The soil that came with the bed looks good - dark and friable - and they were given a thick layer of straw mulch.
Around the corner on the ground floor of 3 Kingsley Street, Acton, is the new food co-op shop. Inside, the gardening crew has lots of herbs and pots of blueberries, and beans and sweet potato stems rooting in jars of water. The co-op is exploding with energy and ideas. We meet Sarah Norgrove, who is doing a masters in strategic studies at the ANU, and who has also been cooking in the kitchen for the past year. She was making soup (recipe follows), using ingredients from the co-op and the rooftop garden. Fresh bread is donated by Dobinsons Bakery and Cornucopia Bakery. I bought an excellent coffee with beans supplied by Harvest and the Lonsdale Street Roasters. The food co-op serves lunch Tuesdays to Thursdays, noon-2pm.
PURPLE KUMARA, LEEK AND SUNFLOWER-SEED SOUP
15-20ml olive oil
1 corn cob
3 cloves garlic
1 medium brown onion
4 medium kumara
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
1 handful sunflower seeds
1 stock cube
sprigs of fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 180C. Cut the corn from the cob, place on a tray and coat with half the oil, salt and pepper. Put in the oven to roast.
Add the remaining oil to a thick-bottomed pot on medium heat. Add finely chopped onion and cook until soft. Cut the kumara and leek into chunks and slices. Add finely chopped garlic to the pot, then add the kumara and leek. Cook until the leek is soft. Add the paprika, turmeric, cumin and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Scatter the sunflower seeds on a try and place in the oven.
Add the stock cube to four litres of water, dissolve and add to the pot. Bring to the boil, then turn down to simmer.
Turn off the oven but leave the corn inside to slow roast.
Put soup bowls in the oven to warm. Leave the soup uncovered until the kumara is soft, then remove from the heat. Take the sunflower seeds from the oven and add to the soup. Blend with a stick blender.
Serve topped with a sweet corn garnish and finely chopped leaves of rosemary.
Recipe from the ANU Food Co-op Shop.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.