Lessons in Sweet Potato and love…

“Best reaction ever at Bankstown Farm today. A lady stopped to tell me how much she loves the garden. ” thank you sweetheart, bless you…from what it was to this…all this green and you know where your food comes from. God sends people like you to let the rest of us know not to give up.”…then both our eyes were leaking and we had a hug…and she got a bundle of sweet potato ☺”

A lot of people like the winter growing season because we all rest…the plants and the people slow down. People eat hearty meals, lie in bed a little longer and try not to get sick and if you’re a grower mentally try to gather strength for the upcoming growing season. We collect next year’s garden bed top ups (horse poo…so divine after a year) and we plan for the crazy growing period.

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As we harvest we remember and relearn things from previous years (well us non note takers do). Last week we harvested the sweet potato from this section of Bankstown farm.  I had an idea of what I wanted to plant as a quickish crop before the crazy season.  I thought it would be an hour or so to prepare and seed the new bed but I kept finding more sweet potatoes that we had missed. WHAT I LEARNED…the best sweet potatoes grew in really loose, mainly woodchipped soil..so bizarre!  Imagine a semi-broken down pile of tree-lopper waste and that is where the best sweet potatoes grew!

As I got the beautiful aged horse poo ready for the next crop…I found this!



A sweet potato wedged hard against the crepe myrtle root.  I could not budge it!  This reminded me that the tree roots on this side of the garden are large and only shallow rooted crops can really ever go there!  Something I had forgotten on the way over.



Looks like we have found a perennial/year round tomato!  It has full sun and is still ripening and keeping it’s original size in the depths of a Sydney winter…how exciting is that!  This one is going straight to the seed bank!  I can’t wait to see what it does when the weather warms up again!



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Let’s consider the “s” word when it comes to our throw away fashion industry.

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My only exposure to the cotton industry was driving through South West Queensland and seeing all this white fluff by the side of the road and wondering (“what the @#$% is that”) and realising it was cotton as far as I could see.  At Bankstown farm we have 3 plants that have produced at most 15 cotton balls each.  Imagine how many you need for a single t-shirt…and we all know about the irrigation that cotton requires!  Maybe it’s time to look at hemp as a crop for our clothes.


SELF-SEEDED LETTUCE…now that’s sustainable!



We’re on the way back to warmer weather, rest up, refill and prepare your soul and your soil.




Why we need to fall in love with Autumn…and let go of Spring!

I was watching Gardening Australia the other night and the presenter Jerry Coleby-Williams spoke of how it was now time for tomatoes in the subtropics. 23 degrees and 70% humidity is what a tomato likes.  He lives in Bris Vegas and we are temperate zone here in Sydney but I grabbed hold of what he said because it fit with my observations over the past two years. Cherry Tomatoes for Christmas is a more realistic goal for those of us not using pesticides. We did have a tremendous crop at Glenfield but that was netted and irrigated.

If you are a gardener  in Sydney you will know that Autumn not only brings the cooler nights and ends that silly thing called Daylight Savings but that the soil is still incredibly warm and our temps here in Sydney are around 23-25 degrees…perfect for tomatoes I discovered last year.  The ones that were random pop ups and the ones that had made it through the summer had a prolonged life as soon as the temp dropped a bit.  The yield lessens for sure, but the plant suffers far less. They grow new shoots, and they continue to flower right up until the frost.  Even then, they keep going but taste bitter…still edible though! I find in Autumn now I no longer reach for my slippers and gown in early April and nor do the tomatoes turn up their toes. If this is climate change, then we need to rethink our crops and our planting schedules here in Sydney…no longer is the advice on the seed packet, gospel!

Still picking large tomatoes (green, coz I always do) and corn planted in January….whaaarrrrttttt. Variety that is sweet and not as dreadful as the popping corn that doesn’t pop!

It has been a challenge for me to get to love a Sydney Autumn as to me it is the start of a a veerrrry long football season with the football lovers in my family…in particular, one extremely passionate roosters supporter and it also means the brain drain of trying new tactics to defeat the white cabbage moth! As I get better at what I’m doing, I figure the more time, money and effort required to keep the pests away, the more time I could grow something else successfully.  I think this is something we need to consider if we want to call ourselves “ethical growers”. What if there is another vegetable that has the crunch of broccoli but is easier to grow and more pest resistant.  Shouldn’t we grow that instead? I haven’t found that edible yet but I’m sure there is one.

January footpath corn with Cairns garden…bromeliads in flower!!  My favourite!!!!
One lonely pumpkin…this is supposed to be “white cushaw”.  One lonely pumpkin!  I think it may be one golden nugget.  We had heaps last year 😦


Butternuts still going strong!  We’ll have enough to get through another year and have been selling them as well!  #sustainablepunkers
January Footpath Corn

Maybe in order for me to get over my “end of Summer sadness” I need to think of and Autumn as “late Summer”. 1 September is never the start of Spring despite the nursery hype around this time so listen to the earth, watch your plants and your growing space and plant accordingly.

Free Ranger Jaqx

The Glenfield Girls

The permanent members of the Glenfield Girls are Leonie, Gabby, Jenna, Khali, Rhonda, Rhonda’s chooks and extended family and neighbours.

This is the only “before” photo I have…of Glenfield front yard…sorry about the head chop, Leonie 😦
First vegie beds at Glenfield were cardboard, grass clippings and some terrible soil from a landscape supply company…but terrible bought soil is a whole other blog!


January 2016

Here is a photo of last summer.  There was the palm (the bain of our edible garden existence) and an olive tree that was blown down in a storm just over a year ago.  The Glenfield Girls’ properties back onto crown land that is so peaceful and bushy it’s hard to believe you’re in Sydney. I love it.

February 2017

Fast forward a year and the seeds from the compost have taken over here.  I always question how there is hunger when pumpkin seeds turn into pumpkins that can feed a family for a whole year (well ours did).  We did have a successful grosse lisse crop here this year but only due to netting.  Here you can see a butternut pumpkin that has decided it wants to be a rose and a geranium and climbed into bed with them.  We have a sweet potato that has taken over the “lettuce greens” and we are hoping for an abundant supply of sweet potato as it’s growing in Panania, Glenfield and Bankstown. I think this is what they call nature.

And still the lorikeets get under the net!  Two separate nets – tricky photo!

The palm stumps of the long forgotten bain, provide a little seat/shelf and we are still working to bring the soil back where the palm stood all those years. The cut up palm trunk is also used as garden edging out the back. Waste not, want not!

The start of the “tromboncini” bed…cardboard, grass clippings and much-loved toys for weights!

At the end of last year, Rhonda’s husband Sam cut up Gabby’s swing set.  We were going to trellis tromboncini up the swing set with reo or wire. The tromboncini and exotic pumpkin varieties didn’t take but we did get a few large zucchinis.


No tromboncini’s.. but another feral pumpkin…we do love ferals!

We finally had one plant take off and of course it was nothing we planted. Another compost pumpkin! Rather than go to the effort of pushing it up over the swing set, we just let it go. The earth wants it to be there if it has survived the compost and competing plants and no irrigation. We started this vegie bed to solve a problem. The grass that was there prior to the pumpkin has a seasonal tap root vegetable (that someone else grew) all through the grass in Spring and Summer.  It just looked like an invasive broadleaf weed to me.  We tried our cardboard trick, with a handful of compost and grass clippings from every mow. I can’t wait to see what’s underneath the pumpkin when we pull it up. Perhaps after the pumpkin is gone we stop fighting nature and learn to live with and eat this vegie that grows through the grass like a weed!


I believe bees are on the agenda for these two fruitful neighbours. I think we need to pull out all stops to get watermelons here for all the Glenfield Girls next year.  We’ll keep you posted!

Welcome to Bankstown International Peace Garden

This week at Bankstown has been overwhelming.  We have had so many neighbours and passers-by stop to praise, comment, offer advice, ask for advice, give us recipes and tell us their stories. We all left the farm today high on humanity.  Being out in the community in the garden in this way it’s easy to push aside the crappy goings on overseas and the politics of fear and hate. As one lady said today “you call your neighbour sister and brother so when you need something, you can knock on their door”. Good to see Trump evil hasn’t infiltrated our favourite multicultural city.  We came away today thinking that the “Bankstown Farm” has it’s own healing powers and a grander purpose than four walls on a suburban block.  We thought a rename to Bankstown International Peace Garden was more fitting.

Welcome to our newest volunteer, Carolyn Phillips…yaaaay!!! I think I can safely say she’s had a great two days at Bankstown and Glenfield, getting her hands dirty!

Today started off with one of the neighbours across the road asking us about growing and soil.  Her English was not great and I wrote down some products for her and gave her an eggplant and a Vietnamese mint runner.  She was so happy.  Next door to her is Dragana (that’s not her name) but my untuned Macedonian ear cannot pick up her name. She came over to tell me again that the watermelon wasn’t ripe and something else I wasn’t picking up.  She said “what did you give to my friend” and I told her and she went away empty handed.  Later I thought that perhaps she was upset that the neighbour got something and she didn’t, so I left an eggplant seedling on her verandah and she reciprocated with coke.  Next came Sylvia.  I haven’t met her before and she started the conversation in the usual way “I love the garden”. She told me how she lost her eggplant in the heat and asked me about the sweet potato growing in the front.  Sylvia is a cook and I really didn’t want her to leave…I hope I see her again so I can write down the eggplant recipe.  She also had an interesting bean one that had about 3 ingredients…damn you, failing short term memory! We are getting so close to tapping in to this multicultural local food network and it’s really exciting!  Anyway, Sylvia told me that “when I die, no god, no church, put me in my garden”.   Syliva was so excited with her sweet potato runner and her new eggplant to replace the scorched one that she gave me a kiss and a hug…awwwwwwwww!  Petra on the corner has a garden full of banana chillies and was watching all the goings on and so I dropped her over an eggplant as well. I was being SW Sydney Oprah today…”You get an eggplant…you get an eggplant…you get an eggplant”!

Just a quick thank you to Fiona and her family for allowing us to share their space. You’ll never know the extent of how much your faith and trust in us has meant in terms of adding joy to our lives and all your neighbours.  You’ll have to start taking Friday’s off again 😉

Not even 12 months ago….

The front yard at Bankstown looked like this.


Then this….



Now it looks like this…

I guess I can understand why the neighbours are so interested in the progression of this yard.  It really isn’t that normal to take a front yard and fill it with edibles. Now the farm house, has it’s farm.


Some coriander that volunteer Skye thought would never come up…


The bit that I get really excited about is dirt!  I love seeing the transformation when you do a few small things.  This in turn, not only creates great food but a whole suburban ecosystem of bugs and bees that didn’t exist in this space.


Cheat Day: Tumors, Azaleas and Green Tomato Pickles

Today’s #30days30mealschallenge is a major cheat.  As you can see I have a cancer-load serving of bacon and eggs (because our egg suppliers are still away) green tomato pickles, parsley and sundried tomatoes…out of a about a kilo of tomatoes there are a handful left!

Last night, not interested in the cricket, I decided to phone an old friend (she won’t mind me calling her old) she turned 80 last year.   Her daughter answered and I could tell by her voice something more than the annual visit to her mother was going on.

She said she wanted to meet me as her mother had always spoken well of me. Then she dropped the bomb that her beautiful mother and my old friend has a brain tumour and only has a few months. I guess I knew something was up because I didn’t receive a hand-painted christmas card, out of the blue on New Years Eve I wanted a brandy and dry (her favourite drink) and received no phone call to wish us the best for the new year.

The page is getting blurry. When I reluctantly came back to Sydney in 2005, a sole parent of 3, I started gardening and mowing for friends while I was at uni, trying to create a future for my kids.  My friends and family rallied around me at this time and a friend of a friend gave this lady my phone number and from that day on, I was someone that was charged with the caretaking of her garden.  I was to do some pruning and weeding because apparently mower men don’t weed and due to her severe arthritis she could no longer get down and her gnarled fingers couldn’t grip the secateurs. Our relationship was more than boss and employee, she became like a grandma. Her garden allowed my kids to have dance lessons. As we got to know each other better, we made lots of rude jokes while out in the garden, she’d laugh at my bum crack always hanging out of my shorts, always ask about the kids and gave me some of her paintings.  She loved my stories about political rant letters in the paper and guerilla gardening. I could see that she thought I was of villainous character but she liked me all the same.  I didn’t know then, she was the start of the therapeutic horticulture journey that I am now on.  Back then, it didn’t have a name.  She is very active and to watch someone being weighed down with increasing health burdens isn’t nice to watch – it reminds us of our own mortality and the things we will lose as our life goes on.

She lives in a beautiful spot on the river with river views depending on the growth rate of the Moreton Bay Fig.  The trees are as old as time and the azaleas are at least a hundred years old and taller than me (just over 5ft). They form a hedge. A hedge that has one beautiful flush of flowers a year depending on how much rain we get. Through the years, her garden became part of me.  She loves a lot of plants that I had no affinity with because you can’t eat them but to her they were memories of travels, friends and family.  She taught me about these plants. She was an art teacher at a boys school in a rough area, had a husband with severe health problems and ended up caring for her elderly parents till their deaths and raised a daughter on her own.  She loves to sit on the balcony and look at her garden and it brings her peace through what was a pretty rough journey.  Like most people with a balcony in the trees she puts out a plate for the rainbow lorikeets.  She would call out to me regularly when I was on my belly weeding the azaleas to make sure I hadn’t disappeared entirely.

I’ll never forget the look on her face when I went north for a couple of years and she had to replace me. It was then that I realised that to some people, family isn’t just blood relatives. When the universe propelled me back to Sydney again, heartbroken by life I would do a few jobs for her like getting down her winter blankets, taking her shopping for plants or just having a coffee. I was determined to leave the gardening “career” behind but realising now, it’s one of the only things that I enjoy and gardeners are usually awesome, passionate people.

Last year I took her a jar of green tomato pickles which she loved.  She admitted to sitting and eating it by the spoonful in front of the tele. I gave her some more and she sold them at church.  I started writing to her last night to let her know what a big part of my life she’s been and how lucky we’ve been to spend so much time in a beautiful garden. Eyes are leaking again but so glad she won’t need the stair chair to get up to the balcony from the ground floor to look at her river and azaleas and she will get to go in her piece of paradise that she has nurtured and loved for 80 years.

I hope I can take her some green tomato pickles and we can sit on the verandah and watch the river with a brandy and dry before she goes.


30 Days/30 Meals – struggle town



I won’t lie, today’s meal was hard.  All this thinking about what I eat, is quite a challenge!

My body (actually, that’s not true) my mind is craving more than salad and fermented veg. The only heavy type vegie that we have, that we grew was the butternut pumpkin.  It is officially one year old this pumpkin and the last of our pumpkins for summer 2015/2016.  I think that’s really awesome that we have survived a year buying no pumpkins…even through pumpkin soup season!

Ingredients: kale, roasted pumpkin, fermented cucumber, non fermented cucumber (will explain later) heirloom white carrot, cherry tomatoes and fermented pesto (kefir added).

I popped the lid off the fermented cucumbers and they were, as suspected a bit soggy, so that’s why I cut up a normal cucumber. I was a bit disappointed but by the end of the meal, it didn’t bother me…the salt and garlic cushioned the blow!

What did bother me, was another meal with kale! I have found out that the best way to eat it (for me) is lightly simmered.  It’s quite nice – it’s just the mental hurdle of having it 3 days in a row.  I’m eating the oldest veg first, of course and so I still have a few more meals with kale yet 😉

I wasn’t real happy with the pesto last night but the fermentation overnight has helped the flavours and now I quite like it. If you’d like to try some, let me know your favourite flavours ie chilli, garlic, nuts, cheese etc and I will make you up some or you can try some of the batches I made last night. Heating the pesto kills the probiotics in the pesto so it needs to be put straight on top your spaghetti or bikkie, whatever you prefer.

The kefir now has separated into curds and whey and so I will turn it into a cheese later tonight by pouring the contents into a muslin cloth and letting it sit over a strainer and squeezing every now and then.  Meanwhile after I’ve done some farm tidying up I will later consult some of the fermenting recipe books for some more ideas.

Please feel free to send me some recipes or ideas or place a photo on instagram #struggletown…












Stuck for what to plant…

Planting now in January for the Australia – temperate zone
(also Love-lies-bleeding)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Asparagus Pea
(also Winged bean)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Beans – climbing
(also Pole beans, Runner beans, Scarlet Runners)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Beans – dwarf
(also French beans, Bush beans)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
(also Beets)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
(also Gobo (Japanese Burdock))
Plant in garden. Harvest from June.
Carrot Plant in garden. Harvest from May.
(also Garden chives)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Cucumber Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
(also Aubergine)
Plant out (transplant) seedlings. Harvest from April.
Kohlrabi Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Lettuce Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Marrow Plant in garden. Harvest from May.
Mustard greens
(also gai choy)
Plant in garden. Harvest from March.
(also Ladyfinger, gumbo)
Plant out (transplant) seedlings. Harvest from April.
(also Pot Marjoram)
Plant in garden. Harvest from March.
(also curly leaf parsley or flat leaf (Italian) parsley)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Radish Plant in garden. Harvest from March.
(also Queensland Jam Plant, Roselle)
Plant in garden. Harvest from July.
(also Swedes)
Plant in garden. Harvest from May.
(also Vegetable oyster)
Plant in garden. Harvest from May.
(also Swiss Chard or Mangold)
Plant in garden. Harvest from April.
Sunflower Plant in garden. Harvest from April.

Ally’s Beetroot Relish


Clever Ally has made the last of the Panania Free Ranger beetroot crop into a delicious beetroot relish. It is special because it contains the candy-striped chioggia beetroot as well as the more familiar bull’s blood beetroot.

We are only selling five jars (sorry but we want to eat the rest ourselves) so get in quick or you’ll have to wait until our next beetroot crop grows before you can have some.

Pick up from Panania.

Buy Ally's Beetroot Relish

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