Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mid Mountains Open Forest Gardens Day in review

by Kris Cervelle

At the end of November, with the support of Slow Food BM, we held the inaugural  

‘Food Forest’ Open Day in the the Mid-Mountains.  

Six gardens took part (including the Mid-Mountains Community Garden) - some following ‘pure’ permaculture methodology, others following the general principles.

Between 30 to around 60 people visited each garden.  Given that it was a bright, hot day, we were very pleased with this 

turn-out, and a good time seemed to be had by all.  One of the Open Gardeners commented:

I had a steady stream of people visiting all day, and even the neighbourhood diamond python came out to show off in the morning :-).  

Even more impressive was the fact that most visitors did not simply wander quickly ‘round the gardens;  almost all were keen to get the ‘guided tour’, ask questions, find sources for materials and plants, etc.  Some were ‘yet-to-begin’ gardeners, looking for some pointers on where to start;  others were seeking inspiration for designing their productive garden or extending what they had.

Participants said:

Congratulations on the superb Food Forest Open Day in our mid mountains. Thanks and congrats to all our wonderful garden hosts.  Just brilliantly diverse gardens and so many ideas and tips to bring back home. Loved the raspberries at “Tarraleah”.

It was great to see the different approaches employed across a range of well-organised productive gardens.  I came away with many ideas to help me set up my own garden, especially around setting up raised beds, constructing soft surface paths, and protecting produce from birds and other pests.  All the display gardeners were very generous with their advice and are to be commended on their fantastic bountiful gardens.

Thank you for the first 'Food Forest’ Open Day.  It was just fabulous.  I didn't get to all the gardens, but was blown away by the productivity in each.

Since hearing about the food forest open day I had great expectations of seeing gardens of Eden and learning how to grow anything. My dreams were partly realised as, within just a few kilometres of each other, the six gardens exhibit  features of permaculture and intelligent design;  optimising climate niches, soil types and the unique character of their creators. I still don't know how to graft a plum tree, but I did score some great jam, and I know who to ask. Looking forward to next year.


There seems to be some enthusiasm for holding a ‘ Food Forest' Open Day on an annual basis. In 2015 we may focus on productive gardens in the Lower Mountains - so if you have a productive garden (or know someone else who does) around Faulconbridge/Springwood/Warrimoo way and would be interested in participating, please get in touch with Kris (;  0458 626210).  The following year, we might go to the Upper Mountains;  then perhaps back to Mid-Mountains, or to Glenbrook/Blaxland area;  so that eventually we cover the whole Mountains, and visitors can get to see the progress in the gardens on their return.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Buying Fruit and Nut Trees

People often ask where to buy fruit and nut trees from. You can easily pick up Meyer lemons, Tahitian limes, lemons, mini dwarf trees to be kept in pots, and all manner of berries from Home Hardware in Katoomba. Along the highway in Faulconbridge the Fruit Shop there also sells trees. Oranges, lemons and other young trees available in post, around $30 each last time I looked, as well as herbs for companion planting. I picked up a variegated cumquat from another place just off the highway the other way, on route to Hartley, this was a particularly lucky find, there being almost no other fruit trees available there. 

Be aware that even local shops will sell plants and trees which may not grow in your yard as the climate changes so much from one end of the mountains to another. So it makes sense to do a bit of research first (see our list of what grows where) and talk to the staff if you're still not sure, before you suffer the lost of a tree (heartbreaking!). 

If you're looking for a wider variety, and heritage trees for, then mail order is your best bet. 
Up north, in warmer climes,  Forbidden Fruits have everything from Acerola Cherry  (Malpighia emarginata) Midyim berry(Austromytus dulcis) to the humungous White Sapote. 

Daleys Fruit Trees based in northern NSW have a terrific selection and heaps of buyers contribute to a community forum with lots of growing experiences shared. They also offer trees especially for container growing and at the other end of the scale, have a wholesale option for those of you looking to establish larger orchards.

Upper mountains residents in our cool climate may prefer to buy trees from similar cooler climates which need less acclimatisation on delivery to our mountain heights.

Woodbridge Fruit Trees is where all the heritage apple trees down at Katoomba Community Gardens came from over 20 years ago, and all but one still going strong. You can buy trees 'bare rooted' without soil attached and therefore less shipping costs from them in mid-winter mid July-August. They stock dwarf trees, crab apples, plums, apricots and quinces & 'step over' apples for those of use packing a lot of fruit into smaller spaces. Check out their guide to pollination to make sure of good productivity.

Pete the Permie is brimming with passion and knowledge about fruit trees, and on his site you can find excellent information about the range of different rootstocks something not well or easily explained elsewhere. Although based in Victoria and not inclined to post trees unless absolutely necessary, he will be travelling around a bit in Winter so pick ups can be arranged. 

Yalca Fruit Trees also in Victoria, delivering July/August stock a large range of fruit and nut trees including quite an extensive range of figs and ballerina apples (grow in one column).

Diggers, also based in Victoria, are perhaps better known for open pollinated seeds also sell a wide variety of heritage fruit and nut trees. The community gardens' pear trees planted there in the shelter of a long established hazel hedge in the community gardens are doing well. They also supply various 'collections' which ensure you have the right trees for pollination and/or supply with fruit throughout the season with early mid and late cropping varieties.

If you know of fruit tree sellers who should be added to this list please get in touch with the Fruit and Nut Tree Network via

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Autumn News: Jams at the ready!

Find ideas and events for Autumn and Winter, an outstanding saffron milk cap recipe, the Great Chestnut Challenge at Leura Harvest Festival in May, how to find the tastiest Apples and more all in the latest Fruit and Nut Tree Network Autumn/Winter Newsletter.

Now Leura Harvest Festival is a calling for your tastiest jams! If you're feeling a little confident about your jam making this year, or just want to find out what jams others are creating, then this is the competition for you.

Who really makes the tastiest jam in all the mountains?

We're delighted to see that this festival in May celebrating local produce, producers and providores and they're particularly welcoming local food initiatives, so if you've something to share or sell, and would like to book a stall contact the festival co-ordinator Lisa Doust on 0400 176 005 or email  

Monday, March 3, 2014

fruit file: Katoomba Plum Jam

by Cressida Hall

In my backyard is the most self-sufficient tree of all time. A plum of some description with dark flesh and lovely weeping branches. I do nothing to it. I don’t prune it, water it, or fertilise it. All I do is ignore it. As thanks it fruits abundantly each year. I remember it only when cajoling currawongs and screeching sulphur crested yobbos take up residence in its upper branches. The riot in my backyard tells me it’s time to harvest. Overcome with ennui I continue to ignore it letting the plums fall and the birds plunder. It seems a shame and a waste but what would I do with all those plums anyway? 

 While I assiduously ignore the tree my friend, Kat, has been keeping a weather eye on it. One evening she takes my giant laundry basket, braving knee high grass, and fills it overflowing with plums. The fruit sits on my kitchen bench ripening and reproving me. I hand out a few bags of squishy plums to family and friends but the volume seems undiminished. There’s only one answer I’ll have to make jam. The giant bottles of savoury plum sauce I made several years ago still languish in my pantry, so this year I’ll go over to the sweet side. 

 Pickling, bottling and jamming all interest me. I love them in theory, I read recipes in books and online, but I am woefully short on actual jam making experience. I consult Pam the Jam, author of the River Cottage book on preserving. She has a fairly basic recipe for plum jam – just plums and sugar. I decide that this can be improved on so I set to work on creating plum, orange and star anise jam. I cut, weigh and boil fruit and sugar to Pam’s instructions. But I add orange juice and carefully counted strips of zest and star anise. I put the fruit on to cook, slowly. But I’m overly cautious, Pam says that the jam will reach setting point in 10 – 15 minutes. Thirty minutes, then forty minutes drag by, the house is filled with a sweet spicy aroma, but still the thermometer and plate in the freezer tell me the jam’s not set. Bored (and a little worried) I up the temperature to a rollicking boil and in 10 minutes I’m there – 104°C with a positive crinkle test. My jam will set. I fill hot sterilized jars with warm sweet jam wishing I wasn’t making such a mess.

I’ve made kilos of jam, filling jars I’ve been hoarding in the room of doom for years. I don’t really eat jam so I promptly start giving it away. It feels nice to give a gift I’ve cooked from my own produce. I’m happy. My friends are happy. I decide that maybe next year I’ll show the tree a little tenderness, but with my black thumbs that might not be a good idea.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Making Wild Cider

There have been a lot of windfall apples this summer in Katoomba. A few big gusts when the apples are ripe is all it takes, and the community gardens has a whole heritage apple walk full of trees, so the faintest waft brings down a whole fruitbowl full. So over Christmas when the winds blew and the rain came, apples came along with it.

When suddenly faced with kilos and kilos of not entirely perfect apples there’s really only one thing left to do. MAKE CIDER

I rope in a couple of friends, and being 21st century pioneers, we follow instructions from the interwebs. We find many experts in the world of ferment online, and within that vast collective, some who seem passionate as well as thorough in their reporting of the process to earn them the title in our conversation as “proper cider geeks”. And so it is, that we (that’s me and my cider drinking chums) take the ‘one in seven chance’ that all the work we put into juicing may produce something which we can’t actually drink by following their instructions.

Why do this? Well there are yeasts out there in the wild in the air and which live on the apples themselves, its these guys we’d like to employ here. Most cider you buy in the shops is made by first zapping the local yeasts on the fruit and then introducing predictable cider producing yeast. We could do that but then we’d have non local yeast and not very complex flavours, and it would definitely work (where's the fun in that?). We’re putting our windfalls in the hands of the locals so if good yeasts make it out on top in this ecosystem, then we’ll have a truly local cider with interesting, complex flavours as a result. We may even feel confident enough to do it again. We have minimised the risk of introducing other bacterium by sterilising our equipment first, and hope that our diverse apple community brings with it some strong and healthy yeasts to produce a human friendly ferment.

The normal way to make cider is to crush the apples and then press them. However, unable to find a cider press locally at short notice (if you have one there are apples galore still to process, so please get in touch) a friend kindly offers the use not one but two juicers.


It’s not the same as crushing and pressing, but it is what’s on offer, so in the grand spirit of necessity being the mother of cider invention, off we go. We arrive at the house of juicers with two large and very strong reusable shopping bags full of apples. Two masticating juicers (these have slow rotating blades which emulate a chewing action to liberate maximum juice), chopping boards and knives are laid out at the ready, and our task is all the swifter for it. 


Much chopping and juicing ensues. We stop to allow both juicers to cool down a couple of times from our mammoth effort, and within 2 hours (tea break not included) we’ve cut off the very bad bits, and chopped and juiced 33 kilos of windfalls. Our haul produces around 15 litres of juice which we pour into a fermenter pail for a first fermentation. 

About 5cm of solid foam forms on top which we scoop off. Because we make beer at home we also have a hydrometer, we take a reading and it comes in around 1.044, which is a little lower than the recommended density, so if it works this cider probably will be relatively sweet.  We test the juice at this stage, which is sharp, acidic and very very appley.

yes, it's quite hard to get a reading

Now we just have to wait.  Primary fermentation takes 1-2 weeks. I’ll post and update and let you know how it goes. And if you make cider from apples let us know how you make yours, do you crush and press, or juice? 

There are plenty of apples to ripen still, come down to the community gardens on a Friday morning at 10am if you'd like to arrange to take some apples and try a cider making experiment yourself :-)


We can harvest a wide range of fruits and nuts locally each season.

Local fruit and/or nut gardeners are invited to make additions or suggest modifications to the following work-in-progress compiled by Lizzie Connor.


Across the mountains: loquat, mulberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late spring) raspberry

Best in the lower mountains: avocado, jaboticaba, lemonade


Across the mountains: apricot, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, currant (red, black, white), gooseberry, kumquat, loganberry, loquat, mulberry,nectarine, peach, plum, raspberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late summer) almond, apple, fig, hazelnut, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), pomegranate, youngberry

Best in lower mountains:lemon (Eureka), lemonade, lime, mandarin, orange, persimmon (non-astringent) and (in late summer) avocado, babaco, macadamia, rockmelon, wampee, watermelon

Best in upper mountains: jostaberry, lemon (Meyer), persimmon (astringent)


Across the mountains: almond, apple, chestnut, feijoa, fig, grape, hazel, kiwi fruit, kumquat, medlar, olive, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), plum, quince, raspberry (some), rhubarb, strawberry, strawberry guava, walnut

Best in lower mountains: avocado, babaco, cherimoya, grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), macademia, monstera deliciosa, orange, pine nut, pistachio, rockmelon, tamarillo, walnut, watermelon, white sapote

Best in upper mountains: lemon (Meyer), mandarin (Satsuma)


Across the mountains: apple, hazelnut, kiwi fruit, kumquat, pear (incl. nashi)

Best in lower mountains: grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), orange, tangelo

Best in upper mountains: avocado (Bacon), lemon (Meyer)