Canberra Organic Growers Society opened their community garden in Kambah in 2000. Shirley Bolton joined the garden in 2002 and she became convenor three years ago. There are 26 plots and a few members have more than one plot and the ages of the adults range from early 20s to late 70s.
There is a mix of nationalities and a fortnight ago a Scottish member gave a special bagpipe performance at the garden. Last year, a project led by Ed Highley resulted in the building of a shelter which adds to the enjoyment of afternoon tea gatherings and monthly meetings (when there are no Covid restrictions.)
Shirley and her husband (whom she calls "my other half") Noel Bolton live in Oxley where they have a big garden on a large block with two greenhouses and two fish ponds. Noel helps with the heavy work in the home garden and making signs for the community garden. At home they have young citrus trees including lemon, mandarin, lime and grapefruit, a persimmon, two plum trees, two figs, raspberries and currants.
However Shirley enjoys gardening with like-minded, down-to-earth members at Kambah COGS. She says the friendship, giving and accepting, and encouragement and support as convenor are very important.
Her mother was a good vegie gardener but also interested in natural healing and, as Shirley matured, she too developed similar interests (she is qualified to practice as a natural health therapist though she chooses not to) but that adds to a deeper interest in growing one's own food.
Her garden plots are magnificent. The soil producing huge plants of spinach/rainbow chard, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Romanesco broccoli, spring onions, red and white onions, broad beans, massed borage and parsley, mint and kale. Her rows of vivid dark purple/red shining foliage of beetroot plants are interspersed with lettuces and Spring flowering annuals as the garden is also a small participant in this year's Floriade Re-imagined program.
Most of the edibles are grown from participation in the Canberra Seed Savers' program and many are saved from year to year. However her heirloom Bull's Blood "Esculentum" variety beetroot came from United Nurseries. Shirley planted it on March 22 this year. She boils beetroot with a little vinegar and brown sugar and bottles some "if there are heaps". The beetroot is served cold with a salad or, to go with a hot meal she bakes them.
Shirley says cooking the evening meal is a chore and Noel cooks it once a week. She doesn't mind cooking for a party, or a function. Despite having a myriad of cookbooks, most of her recipes are collected over many years from magazines, friends and family and all are saved in folders. She is very organised, loves to create and says she is a crazy mad gardener. A keen gardener said to me as an aside "don't let her self-effacing attitude betray her input into the success of this garden. She is a great administrator and a lovely lady".
We were to have a picnic arvo tea but things intervened so the cake made that morning by Shirley was cut, slices placed into new plastic containers (she wore disposable gloves) and given to each of us to take home to enjoy with a cuppa. Here is the recipe.
Healthy, moist, beetroot and chocolate cake
2 cups cooked beetroot - mashed (not blended)
85g dark brown chocolate (Shirley used Cadbury's Old Gold)
1 1/2 cups sugar (can use brown sugar or raw sugar)
200ml quality olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder - sifted
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups almond meal (can use plain flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Wash beetroots. Place in pot with cold water and heat until boiling. Cook until tender. When cooked, cool in cold water, then peel. Mash. Melt chocolate - place in bowl, inside pot of hot water, melt slowly. Whisk together eggs, sugar and oil. Add until combined, the mashed beetroot, melted chocolate and vanilla slowly to the egg mix. Add sifted cocoa and almond meal, salt and baking powder. Gently fold until mixed. Heat oven to 180C. Grease 22cm cake tin with butter, sprinkle with flour, or line with greaseproof paper. Pour in cake mix and bake for approximately one hour (cooking time can vary depending on shape of cake tin, dampness of the mixture, variable oven temperatures). Check using a skewer every 10 minutes after 45 minutes of cooking time.
Note: can add a few chopped mixed nuts or sultanas. Can use a little less sugar than recipe suggests if you don't like cakes too sweet.