It’s not easy eating greens

Maybe it’s a careless-vegetarian-with-low-level-iron-deficiency thing, but I’m often hankering after greens. Thankfully, the green leafies seem to be one of the few foodgroups to which brushtailed possums, rats, bandicoots, brush turkeys and chickens – the non-human beneficiaries of my most of my horticultural efforts – all seem relatively indifferent.  When things were very barren in the yard recently, my sorrel plant, a marvellous perennial that, with the deep taproots of a potential weed, soldiers on with minimal attention, was munched by something with a sophisticated palate for citrus flavours and a high tolerance of oxalic acid.  Occasionally some beastie has a light snack on my other trusty standby, the rainbow chard, but on the whole my favourite  greens seem immune to animal predation.

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Having failed to grow them from seed, the Warrigal greens I bought from Daleys have been a cracker.  They’ve threaded their way through a garden bed that, with only a couple of hours sun a day, has pushed the envelope for even shade tolerant plants like Davidson’s plum, macadamia and callicoma serratifolia.  Andy Ninja regularly scratches her way through that neck of the woods, grubbing for remnants of trad, but she hasn’t managed to loosen the Warrigal greens from their moorings, and we’ve had it in everything from lasagne to dal to quiche without any visible dent appearing in the supply.  Rumour has it that they self-seed prodigiously, so there’s promise of more next year.

During a couple of La Nina years we had watercress soup on the menu for about 18 months on the trot thanks to a semi-shaded spot near the chook run: boggy in torrential downpours but otherwise ordinary garden soil.  A soft spot for umbrelliferous flowers and the aphid eating critters they attract, and a lazy habit of chucking decrepit parsley plants under my fruit trees as mulch has meant that Italian parsley pretty much dominates the seed bed in the herb garden and food forest around the back door.  Whenever the moisture level and the temperature is right, a new generation surges forward underneath the potted makrit lime and the Cavendish banana and even between the paving stones.

I had rocket doing the same in the veggie patch a couple of years ago, until I put the kibosh on it by over-zealously collecting the contents of the papery pods.  I must have been indulging in some herbal fantasy of seed saving, and so I have feral rocket no more.  At least for the moment.  Because of the tedious necessity to earn a living, I’m never on top of the weeding, and as the years pass I’ve started to recognise the seedlings of my favourite plants wherever they appear so I can “edit” the garden rather than, in that hateful bit of business-ese, attempting to “grow it”.

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However, a particular favourite has proven to a more difficult proposition.  I love bok choi and all its cousins, but especially the look and taste of red bok choi, an F1 hybrid that’s really a luscious purple, a perfect match for the “house” beans, Purple King; the salad enriching Giant Mustard and the beautiful but apparently impossible to grow purple brussel sprouts.

I have spent far too much time, money and mental energy over the last three years trying to produce an anemia-busting harvest of bok choi.  In year 1, following the gospel of Jackie French, I tried to shelter my precious cruciferous greens in a guild of fellow travellers, with limited success.  In year two, I went for a guerilla strategy – my choi germinated under the cover of the great hairy leaves of my zucchini.  I was optimistic but the cabbage whites were not so easy to fool.  But I have made a break-through, thanks to a “chuck all the seeds in the bottom of the packets together and hope for the best” approach.  Coriander!  So impossible to grow in Sydney, always starting so well and then going to seed before you’ve even got a garnish out of it.  But apparently, you can keep the barn door closed (to moths? where is this metaphor going?) even if your coriander has bolted.  The bok choi that grew in amongst my incorrigible coriander was completely untouched.  So under the shelter of brush turkey-thwarting hoops of wire and the modest veil of a rather tattered veggie net, in goes bok choi and sacrificial coriander along with the aragula and the mizuna, the watercress and the daikon.  If I can crack this one, the purple brussel sprouts are next!

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