Responses to our question of whether readers had grown ginger or turmeric (Kitchen Garden, May 24, 2022) all came from males and the first and best was John Robertson of Ainslie.
John said he has successfully grown turmeric for the past three years and ginger for the past two. The turmeric, purchased from the vege section of the local supermarket, was more prolific. He has also grown galangal over the past eight months and native ginger, including redback ginger, and native turmeric. The plantings have been in pots, some in a small polycarbonate greenhouse, and the rest outside, some of which suffered in late frosts.
We visited John Robertson's garden and were greeted by dark red glazed pots lining the entry path and the front deck, all filled with citrus trees. He has a limequat, various cumquats, calamondin, yuzu, Tahitian lime, kaffir lime, lemon, lemonade, mandarin and grapefruit varieties.
There are several finger limes and he has had good crops from a red desert lime under the eaves near his back door and a rainforest pearl on paving on a northeast-facing wall. A Buddha's hand citrus is bearing large fruit, still green.
Martin's Premium potting mix is used in all the large ceramic pots as well as broken-down leaves from the street's oak trees, Quercus lusitanica. The soil is topped with rice husks purchased in a 60-kilogram bag from Hume and, prior to that, Bellchambers. The rice husks prevent weeds.
He notes that in the past, Anzac Day was considered to be the start of frosts in Canberra but, this year, one month later, we had only experienced one frost. To him, the survival rate of the various citrus is proof positive of climate change in Canberra.
John was born in Adelaide but he grew up in Broken Hill where there was predation by cockatoos on the family's almond and pomegranate trees. With his wife Fiona, he moved to Ainslie in 1980 and they and their children enjoy the garden. A pair of labradors eat all the fallen feijoas by hollowing them out, as do superb parrots which also eat the pomegranates.
Remarkably, John grows 123 different species of edible plants and he keeps a hand-written list. Among them are angelica, celeriac, Okinawa spinach, celery, a Kalamata olive tree, globe artichokes, parsnips galore, tromboncino squash, fennel, radicchio, red onions, red shallots, Warrigal greens, murnong, sweet potato, midyim berries, mallow, pepino, passionfruit, purslane, lemon balm, Russian garlic and Papua New Guinea mushroom plant. Wasabi is grown in the upstairs bathroom so he can keep the water up to it. Hazelnut leaves are used for compost, an apple tree has grown from seed in a core dropped by a daughter and its fruit is red with stripes.
John also has a Canberra Organic Growers Society community garden plot in Dickson where he grows asparagus, wild rocket and potatoes, among other edibles.
I was given saffron crocus threads for my kitchen, sprigs of French tarragon and parsnip from the 'parsnips galore' raised bed. Our photographer, Elesa, was given lemongrass for stir-fries or tea.
John has shared a recipe that uses only plants from his garden plus fish and rice from elsewhere. He says he might have to take up aquaponics and grow his own fish and yabbies! If you want to make a citrus dessert, I can recommend a finger lime and lemon myrtle cheesecake made for me by a keen gardener. The recipe came from Warndu Mai by Rebecca Sullivan and Damien Coulthard (Hachette Australia).
For every fish portion, chop and bash some lemongrass, ginger, garlic and coriander stalks, and add some turmeric (but go easy) and Kaffir lime leaves. Squeeze on and add a slice/quarter of lemon/lime. Place aromatics over and under fish on a generous piece of baking paper. Drizzle with olive oil - not too much! Wrap it like a cafe sandwich: multiple folds down the length: end corners folded into a point then tucked under. One parcel per person.
Bake according to thickness and type and size of fish in a preheated oven at 200C, generally for 30 minutes. Test by spiking into the middle of the parcel below the folds with a sharp knife and bring the blade to - but not on - your upper lip. (Kids use a temperature probe!)
Serve straight onto plates along with bowls of chopped coriander leaves and lime/lemon wedges plus a simple salad and rice of your choice. Have an empty serving bowl on the table for the paper and aromatics. Put these into the compost later on.
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