Steve Solomon, seeds and Serendipity Farm

Hi All

Today is going to be a little bit different to most of my posts. I headed off for a visit to Steve Solomon’s garden yesterday and this post is going to be all about my visit. Steve Solomon is an ex-pat American man that moved to Tasmania many years ago and calls my local area home. He developed a seed company in the U.S.A. that my good blog mate Christi who is a prolific author and gives us all her wonderful take on life in Western Washington at http://farmlet.wordpress.com/ regularly purchases her veggie seeds from. He has produced a range of seeds and fertilisers specifically for our local area with mindfulness of how depleted and ancient our soil is in Australia. The man certainly knows his stuff as this interesting article posted on Mother Earth website will show you (along with a free recipe for his great natural homemade fertiliser)

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2006-06-01/A-Better-Way-to-Fertilize-Your-Garden.aspx

http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/search?searchTerm=Steve+Solomon

This shows the proximity to the street from Steve’s vegetable garden. Note the espaliered trees along the front of the fenceline and the trellised kiwifruit. To the left you can see the feathery remains of a happy asparagus crop that he dug up to sell the crowns at $1.25 each crown and he got 900 crowns from this 10m bed. You can also see the brassica’s doing their level best to repopulate the earth

People wandering around the well ordered winter veggie beds. You can see the colour and structure of Steve’s soil in this photo. He credits his low water requirements to the composition of this soil and he also told us that he doesn’t mulch because he believes that mulch carries and shields too many pest species from view and harbours fungal pests so his plants are more widely spaced to minimise water stress and the soil is exposed but not compacted

Some of the people that came to hear Steve talk about his garden listening most intently to what he has to say. Steve is the grey haired gentleman in the blue jeans standing in the middle of the group. The man in the white pants is one of the Tamar NRM representitives present on the day. You can see how close Steve’s suburban block is to his neighbours

Everyone is sampling Steve’s delicious veggies in this photo. The poor girl on the left hand side with the purple fuzzy hat kept getting passed the plate. She must have thought that she looked hungry. The lady wearing the blue jeans with my backpack over her shoulder and the long dark hair is my friend in the witness protection and I was wandering about taking photos to share with you

As you can see there were quite a few people that turned up to this event. Most of them were interested in organic vegetable growing and some of them just wanted to get more out of their soil and grow better veggies. Steve gave his undivided attention to everyone but there was one younger man who just earned himself a felt hatters moniker. In the photo above he is the young sunglass wearing (on an overcast rainy day mind you…) man in the navy blue jumper and blue jeans standing just to the right of the elderly white hatted man. This guy just couldn’t shut up! I thought that I had a problem with being a bit of a know-it-all but this kid made me look like a mute! He had verbal diarrhea littered with as much scientific jargon as he could muster from his overcharged brain. Steve is a bit of an old hippy and admitted that “I just want everyone to be healthy” to which our sunglass wearing young entrepreneur asked “what is your marketing stragegy?”I rest my case! I could have forgiven him his verbosity if I hadn’t found out that he had booked a spot to gush on we less intelligent mortals at the upcoming Food Sustainability Day that I will be attending. At least I have forwarning and can take some ear plugs should the need arise to give my poor ears a rest!

This shot was taken looking back towards Steve’s lovely home to show you the other view of the garden

More of the garden looking back towards Steve’s house and you can see the green crops (lupins) that he is using to overwinter these garden beds and give them a nitrogenous boost with. As you can see, his garden is a decent size and produces enough to feed his family and to fill 7 CSA boxes a week for locals who love his fresh and delicious organic vegetables yielding him an additional $560 a month in income with very little extra work

The sun came out for 5 seconds and you can get a really good idea of how rich and red this lovely friable soil is. As you can see (when I can be bothered to stop taking arty shots and attempt to focus on a single garden bed for a change) this garden is set out in a very organised, logical way and when we asked Steve why he chose 10m x 2m garden beds he said “to make it easier to work out how much of my fertiliser to apply to them”. Good answer sir! 🙂

Some of the handouts and one of the free pens (in her left hand) being held by my friend in the witness protection. That lovely purple jacket that she is wearing contains goose down and by the end of the 2 hours spent sitting in a cosy warm room she was wishing that she hadn’t worn it! We all expected to be standing around outside in Steve’s garden for most of the talk but he was incredibly considerate of us all and brought us into his lovely home for most of the lecture.

Sorry it’s a bit dark but this is Steve sharing his passion for growing vegetables that are able to take up minerals from the soil. Our health shouldn’t be in the hands of supermarkets and “others”. We owe it to ourselves to eat the best and most nutritious food that we can. Steve is trying to make sure that we all do 🙂

I left Steve Solomon’s garden with a new passion for growing vegetables and with newfound hope that our soil may not be quite as bad as I thought that it was. It obviously isn’t as glorious as the red Ferrosol soil that Steve bought his property because of, but our silty topsoil covering a subsoil of clay and rocks will give us really good soil moisture retention. I am going to dig up as much comfrey as I can from my daughters place in town and plant it EVERYWHERE on Serendipity Farm. Comfrey is a fantastic perennial herb that has very deep penetrating roots and that should be able to deal with our soil and bring minerals and nutrients to the surface. I can then use its leaves to throw into and accelerate our compost making thus killing two birds with one plant! Yeh…I know…I mixed my metaphors…I was never one to adhere to metaphoric correctness 😉

The lovely book plate personally signed by Hannah, an amazingly talented young vegan cookbook author that is going to be affixed with pride as soon as my copy arrives from The Book Depository in the U.K. Check out her beautiful blog for all sorts of decadent, sinful but oh so healthy treats…
http://bittersweetblog.wordpress.com/

My new pumpkinescant best bud “Barbara’s” embryo’s arrived in one piece unmolested by the pumpkin police and hopefully not irradiated beyond an inch of their lives. Cheers to the effervescent and eternally opptimistic Bev from the wonderful down to earth and incredibly entertaining and education blog “Foodnstuff”. I am having a little chuckle here, as I had to head over to Foodnstuff to get the url and read the first paragraph of her new post that I am sure that she won’t mind me reproducing here…
“I know God hates me because I’m an atheist and when he sees me out in the garden, he sends it down.
He must have been otherwise occupied this morning because I actually got a lot of weeding done before he woke up that I was out there.”
Check out why I spend my mornings loitering about in the hope that Bev has posted again and I can sit there with a cuppa and a stiffled guffaw before anyone else is up here…
http://foodnstuff.wordpress.com/

Our Mise en plus all ready for starting on our 1/5th scale model…this nice neat pile is now a chaotic teetering stack bedecked with sawdust and slightly Earl nibbled timbers and discarded timber offcuts

The eggs in the carton are duck eggs and are a lovely green/blue colour. I use them in cakes but my daughters have expressed an interest in duck egg futures so I won’t feel the need to be constantly baking to keep up with their ready supply

This part of the post is pre-garden visit. Steve and I had a quick drive-by viewing and Steve’s garden is decidedly underwhelming at the moment but then again, most gardens in Tasmania’s north are the same thanks to a long, cold, hard winter. It will be very interesting to see what Steve has to say about gardening in our local conditions. It will also be very interesting to talk to him about how he developed his seed catalogue to get the best of them with our local growing conditions. According to Christi, his previous seed company, “Territorial Seed Company”, is the place to go to get seeds in her neck of the woods. I think that the word “neck of the woods” is most pertinent to Christi’s local area as I would have a cricked neck for a month from looking up at all of those amazing conifers that grow naturally where she lives.  I am particularly interested in one of his earlier books titled “Gardening when it counts: Growing food in hard times”. Steve says that he grows half of his families food requirements in his garden and it will be interesting to see just exactly what he grows to do this. All in all it will be a most interesting visit and at least Christi should be interested in this post :o).

These are the fluorescent coloured veggie burgers that Steve made for my birthday. My dear sister Pinkus said that they looked like sweets but they were deliciously savoury and full of flavour despite looking like they should taste of strawberries…

This is what the veggie burgers look like when they are cooked…a whole lot more like traditional burgers and no-one would confuse them for sugary treats any more!

A side view of a most delicious birthday tea with sourdough bread, salad AND delicious oven baked chips.

Here’s my delicious vegan wholewheat chocolate peanut butter cake with the only candle that we could find albeit somewhat bent from one of the kitchen drawers. This cake was a triumph and Steve is now my new Sous Chef 😉

We all got to sample some of the vegetables from Steve’s garden cut up raw and aside from some delicious carrot sticks and some lovely fresh cabbage there was a butter yellow coloured vegetable that was tinged with green that tasted as sweet as an apple but with a hint of brassica. We couldn’t work out what it was but assumed that it might be the “Tasmanian Butter Swede” that he had been developing for the seed market. Upon asking the man from the Tamar NRM who was busy passing platters of vegetables around we were told that it was kohlrabi! The only experience that I have had of kohlrabi have been decidedly unpleasant and I swore never to eat it again thanks to stringiness, an over pronounced cabbage flavour and a distinct bitterness from the specimen that I purchased from the supermarket. Growing your own vegetables allows you the freedom to choose what you grow as well as which varieties. You can sample your way through the vegetable catalogue and arrive at your firm favourites and then you can allow the biggest and best to go to seed and collect the seed for next year ad infinitum. Steve is very passionate about people growing their own vegetables and taking control of their own health and nutrition in the process. He is just about to start up a soil testing facility in conjunction with an American soil testing agency and as his first “clients” we were given the chance to have our soils tested, a consultation with Steve regarding our results as well as a personalised fertiliser compiled from the data assessed for $20. My friend from the witness protection and I turned to each other and both said “Bargain!” Steve took us all into his lovely home and proceeded to talk about his past life developing seeds and how he got into the nutritional profiling of the vegetables and soil that he dealt with. Steve has a new book coming out in November called “The intelligent gardener: Growing nutrient dense food” that teaches people how to analyse their own soils and how to redress the problems that present themselves in your soil profile. We now have the instructions for how the soil needed for testing needs to be collected and we will be collecting our soil samples, bagging them and taking them around to Steve’s next week to be sent off and within a month they should be back and we can begin finding natural ways to get the best out of our soil for growing nutrient dense vegetables.

A previously unused attachment for my overworked food processor that squeezes oranges which made The process of squeezing 6kg of navel oranges a WHOLE lot easier…pity there wasn’t an easy fix for the 24 oranges that I had to hand zest…

There are worse things than a sink full of oranges…say…a sink full of oranges that most of them need to be hand zested…sigh…

The reason for 6kg of juiced oranges, 24 zested oranges, 4kg of juiced lemons, the zest of 4 lemons and a coma worth of sugar is fermenting away nicely on its second day of mutual introductions…Dear constant readers meet…orange wine!

I may have lost my hot water bottle last night to a rubber perishing accident but the orange wine is nice and cosy settled down on a woolen blanket right next to Brunhilda’s gentle wafting sideways heat. I might take up residence on the other side tonight if it gets any colder!

I am racing to get this post ready to post and am going to leave it here. Again, I realise that I have barged my way into your heads with sustainability, soil profiling, horticulture and seeds and if this is so much “yawn*” for you I appologise. To the rest of you who are in similar situations and who can see just how chuffed I am with what I am learning and the potential of it all I share my excitement and my delight :o). Hopefully the rest of the week will be kind to you all and you will hit 5pm on Friday running and ready to spend your weekend productively however you see fit. Take it easy and see you on Saturday :o)

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18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kym
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 22:39:43

    Great deal for $20 Fran. I might look at that book too. Some of your photos didn’t turn out, wonder what happened there. Good luck with the verbose pain in the neck, try not to bash him Frannee lol. Orange wine sounds interesting

    Reply

    • narf77
      Aug 09, 2012 @ 00:14:00

      They all look fine from this end! Try waiting a bit for the page to load and then see. Remember that you can right click on the photo with your mouse and select “show picture” if there is an x inside a blank box and usually you will get to see the pic. I won’t bash him…I might throw organic fruit (or soil 😉 ). If the orange wine works out we will send you a bottle along with the lemon wine of course! Just got a few kilos of lemons given towards the cause today! 🙂

      Reply

  2. christiok
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 03:20:09

    I am green with envy — having Steve Solomon analyze your soil! You are a great reporter, Fran; I feel I was there with you, holding your backpack some of the time, and stepping on the toes of that irritating felt hatter. Thank you so much, and thanks for including the link to Farmlet. I, too, have been surprised at how yummy kohlrabi fresth from the garden is…that is, once I discovered that it’s a vegetable and not a middle eastern country.:) I’m learning a lot these days. The orange wine sounds delish — as I can tell your birthday feast was. Kudos to the chef!

    Reply

    • narf77
      Aug 09, 2012 @ 07:30:57

      Steve has bowed to the bearded one, by the way Christi…he is now to be known as “the gotee’d one” or closer to summer “the designer stubbled one” (designer only by the fact that he wasn’t as lazy as he usually is and he used the clippers rather than scissors 😉 ). I was SO excited to meet Steve Solomon and to find out that he was not only approachable, but a reprobate old hippy like us! I talked with him for a while about you, your situation and how you use the seeds from his old seed company and he was most impressed to hear about what you are doing and said this “I love it when people take their own health into their own hands and want everyone to be healthy and happy”. He also told us about his earlier reprobate days where he grew an acre of opium poppies for their oil and experimented on growing very strong poppies. I lamented our ability to grow hemp here for the seeds and he got a twinkle in his eyes and shared some funny stories about his experiences with growing his own “special” hemp. The felt hatted kiddo sat right next to my friend from the witness protection who I am SURE that you would love. She actually reminds me a bit of you in that she is a mellow hippy. I am the animated excited passionate creature who is tempered by her being an earth mother so we are allowed to walk freely in polite society because she cancels out my exuberance lol ;). Steve is still basking in the warm glow of the delicious meal that he cooked for me. It was seriously the best vegan home cooked meal that he has ever cooked and he has a natural talent that I sometimes envy after having gone to catering college and matriculating with an “A” and here comes this U.K. pie eating chip scoffing man who up until he met me limited his veggies to peas and potatoes who can cook fantastically! I guess that goes part and parcel with him being a dragon sign and me being a rabbit. Steve has this natural aura around him that puts old ladies, babies and animals at their ease with him even though he looks like a wild hippy and could care less about how he dresses in public. I am right there with you on kohlrabi. Who would have figured that it wasn’t some interesting sexual position out of the karma sutra but a brassica! The only reason that I knew what it was is that I made the mistake of being a nosy consumer and bought some from the supermarket (hideous!). I have a bad track record for buying hideous vegetable matter from the supermarket when I probably should give it a go in the garden. Okra is another hideous mass of nose mucous that I once tried and I am NOT fussy when it comes to veggies. I hear its lovely raw but as my mucilaginous mess on a plate put me off it for life I doubt that I could even face growing it as an ornamental! All of these Tamar NRM events have spurred me on to a frenzy of learning which is absolutely, positively my favourite way to learn. We all need a good frenzy every now and then to shake out the cobwebs and clear out the brainbox ready to take in some new concepts and weigh them up against the old. I love sharing with you all and I can’t wait to get that jam! I have been thinking how to give it the esteemed place that it deserves and have decided to sandwich some of it between one of Steve’s lighter than air spongecakes (which segues me back to my cooking envy nicely 🙂 ). Have a fantastic day today and know that no matter what you are doing…there is a poor aging student hippy on the other side of the world trying to insert glued cocktail stick dowels into a tiny little hole (without the aid of glasses) while her naturally slapdash husband is hovering around saying “HURRY UP we can’t take all day on this you know!”…Its the stuff that blog posts are made of 😉

      Reply

  3. Rhianna
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 08:01:35

    I have to admit to being a little jealous here! This looked like so much inspiring and heart warming fun. What an amazing day.

    PS: Good on you, Steve! They may be pink, but those burgers look totally delicious to me 🙂

    Reply

    • narf77
      Aug 09, 2012 @ 12:25:49

      Steve is suitably proud of his efforts and will be called on to make vegan cakes more often now (I can hear him groaning in the background! 😉 ). The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side of the fence! I envy you your ability to just head to a farmers markets. The only farmers markets around here are 60km away in Devonport! Perhaps we could start one ourselves…we have enough eggs! I love reading about how you grow things on your balcony. I might have 900 pot plants dotted all over the vista but I have NO food plants (aside from the avocado, walnut, hazelnut and chestnut trees that I am growing but they are too small to be called “food”) and you are doing this in a small apartment…I have 4 acres and can’t manage to organise my way into creating a single garden bed! Hopefully that situation will be remedied soon as I met a lady (also called Frances) the other day who is offering to teach permaculture principals cheaply on a weekly basis rather than a large block (2 week) residential course (which is what most of them are). I can’t wait to get the chance to learn how to put all of the horticultural information and knowledge crammed into my head into practical application. As they say…you can be the brightest spark under the sun but if you don’t know how to put what you know into practice, you may as well not bother! I really love your new blog format by the way and can’t wait to share it with my friends. I have already subscribed to it lol ;)!

      Reply

      • Rhianna
        Aug 09, 2012 @ 14:16:08

        Thanks for the lovely compliments and I cant wait to see what Frances can do for / with you!

      • narf77
        Aug 10, 2012 @ 06:32:48

        Me too Rhianna! I am hoping that I will be able to get this tangle of “ideas” out into the open and will be able to learn how to apply everything that I have learned to our situation. Nothing better than being able to learn something AND put it into practice. I will most certainly be posting about anything valuable that I learn (and knowing me…most probably a whole lot of non relevant stuff as well 😉 )

      • Rhianna
        Aug 10, 2012 @ 07:49:53

        Might help to get some of these thoughts out onto paper. Then you can incorporate them with Steve?

        Keep us updated 🙂

      • narf77
        Aug 10, 2012 @ 19:30:25

        Steve isn’t an “on paper” man Rhianna, he likes to wade out into the deep end and then work out if he can actually swim when he gets there…I like to have my swimming certificate, my water wings, a pool noodle, my mobile loaded with the phone number for the local surf lifesaving club AND the plug to the pool held firmly in my grasp…in other words we work in COMPLETELY different ways. I will be inside planning and Steve is outside digging, chopping and removing…one day we might just get it together enough to work together but I figure we are more likely to get peace in the Middle East! 😉

  4. Hannah (BitterSweet)
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 09:57:33

    Hehe, what a nice to surprise too see that strangely familiar bookplate again… 😉

    Desserts aside though, you’ve really got me craving a thick, hearty veggie burger now. I think that the bright pink pre-baked color is actually quite charming!

    Reply

    • narf77
      Aug 09, 2012 @ 12:19:01

      That would be the beetroot (beets) that we used. Steve hybridised lots of recipes and added our favourite things to arrive at these beautiful and most tasty babies. He really did exceed all of my expectations. I can’t wait for my book to get here! I am champing at the bit to get stuck into making your delicious cold treats this summer (just in time ;)). I read a review of your book on “Chocolate Covered Katie” (another stellar vegan sweet blog) and just HAVE to make those sprinkles now! You are a very clever and most industrious girl Hannah and very pretty to boot. I loved reading your last post and enjoyed how inventive you were in the use of photography and clever wordsmanship to illustrate your point. Clever girl ;). As you can see with the beet burgers, they certainly look more meatier and a more “natural” colour once they cook. I will be scouring the net later on today hunting for some more of your scrumptious recipes. I am terrible at waiting! 😉

      Reply

  5. foodnstuff
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 13:09:22

    And here was me thinking Steve Solomon was originally a Taswegian who went to America, saw how awful it was and came home! He is inspiring, though!
    Your birthday feast looks awesome!
    Thanks for the rapturous blog reviews; I think I can feel my head expanding.

    Reply

  6. Kym
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 18:49:24

    Yes the photos did indeed appear, thanks.

    Reply

    • narf77
      Aug 10, 2012 @ 06:40:03

      I am glad as from this side everyting looked normal. I think because I am adding comments to my photos it might be putting a bit of a strain on the pictures (as my comments are as long as paragraphs lol 😉 )

      Reply

  7. bakermom
    Sep 02, 2012 @ 01:00:13

    Your post is so full and I think of comments as I go, then by the time I get to the bottom…I think I need to take notes.
    But for one thing, what an amazing cake! I am in awe. Wholewheat is one thing, but vegan? And peanut butter? How do you make a cake without eggs? Oh, about the candles, I have several of those bendy kinds in my drawers too. I should sent them to you so you would have a matched set. My older sons birthday is in jan, just a couple weeks after Christmas. For some reason I never have candles around for his birthday. I dont even think of them until its time to light up the cake and I am always rummaging around drawers looking for anything that will hold a flame. I even have a picture of everyone singing happy birthday to him as a teenager holding a big fat scented candle all lit up.Good thing he is good natured. Why dont I just pick some up when its not a birthday just to have on hand? It just never crosses my mind.
    This same son is always wanting to raise ducks. I envy you the eggs. I hear they are wonderful to bake with. We have chickens already, so he is just going to have to be content. No duck raising in this urban homestead.
    Right now I read this while jogging back and forth to the kitchen to remove and replace cookie sheets full of cookies. I am baking for tomorrow, where I sell pastries and cookies at church. Today it is chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin and later some gluten free something or other. In between it is banana nutella bread and the list goes on. I try to work before it gets too hot, but your posts are calling to me…
    Thanks for all the garden pictures. They are worth a thousand words as they say. The weather looks like Berkeley to me or thereabouts.

    Reply

    • narf77
      Sep 02, 2012 @ 07:10:31

      Replace the word “full” with “verbose” and you have hit the blogging nail on the head! I have the most incredible difficulty in narrowing down posts. I try my hardest but in the end it all wants to come out so I have the opposite of most people, I don’t have writers block…I haver writers flood! The vegan cake was for my birthday and Steve made it. It was delicious, moist and entirely scrumptious. I have been a vegan for a while now but its not something that I want to blow trumpets about. Its just a health and lifestyle choice. I love food and I love good food and we have never compromised our diets because of it, we just hunt out “good food” in my new choices :). The funny thing is that most people’s hens stopped laying over winter…ours didn’t! Steve loves eggs but not every day and so we have been giving eggs away left right and centre all year. Now it’s spring they have gone into overproduction mode and we are getting so many eggs we are thinking about leaving eggs in our neighbours neighbours mailboxes! We lost one of our ducks and now we have a lonely duck that wanders about quacking for her sister. She hangs about with the rooster and its sad to see her racing after him to protect her when he could really care less about this strange waddling quacking thing that insists on hanging about. She hadn’t laid an egg for a fortnight since her sister disappeared but laid one for the first day of spring and it was blue! We had one that laid white eggs and one that laid blue and the blue girl is still here. We are in the process of getting her some female companions at the moment as ducks need company. I love that you bake for church. Where we live is right next door to a church built by convict labour in the 1800’s. Australia was colonised because it was on the other side of the globe from the U.K. and they sent all of their reprobates here. Australians are well known for their lack of pretension and class systems (although there are many people trying to change that 😉 ). Tasmania was the Penal colony inside a penal colony because as an island, they put the worst of the worst here. The church is still used today and very well attended. I have a January baby as well. My eldest daugher was supposed to be born on December 25th but hung off until they insisted that she be born on January 21st. I believe she just wanted to keep on swimming in there as she has always loved water ;). The garden is where we are making changes here. We have an amazing view of the river from our deck but we want to maintain an amazing degree of plantage out there too. Its all about working out what will work for here. No idea where Berkeley is but thank goodness for Google Maps as now I can see where people are talking about lol ;). I hope that Berkeley is nice…its nice here 🙂 Have a great sunday and I hope that all of your hard work is duly appreciated 🙂

      Reply

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