Grow with the flow …. and "knowledge philanthropy"


One of the first words my twin boys learnt was “bird”. As toddlers they stood at the glass doors looking out into our courtyard and were far more interested in the life before them than the plastic toys behind them. While they were in pre-school I joined them in their love of birds and spent a year illustrating birds for a brochure on the birds of the Blue Mountains and also for a book called Wild Neighbours. You could say we had an above average fondness for feathered creatures … that is, UNTIL I started gardening.


There’s nothing guaranteed to make Blue Mountains’ gardeners give up gardening more than BIRDS! They devour almost everything. Everything, that is, except red mustard. In my first years of gardening here my frustration reached such giddying heights  that I was tempted to make a t-shirt with “I hate bower birds” emblazoned across it in blood red letters. I reached an all-time low last summer when I almost made myself sick eating all my fruit green rather than letting the birds get to my crops first. Fortunately I’ve mellowed … or perhaps it’s just that I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had time to garden anyway. I’d prefer to believe I’ve mellowed.

Anyway, all that aside, after a season of complete neglect my garden decided to take matters into its own hands. It has simply begun filling up with self-seeded plants that the birds have no interest in. In the photo above there’s a self seeded flowering broadbean, some rocket and jonquils, some parsnips and lots of red mustard! And this, in the dead heart of winter in Bleakheath. The great thing about red mustard is that while it is as hot as wasabi in the middle of summer, in the middle of winter it’s so mild that you can use it on your sandwiches as a lettuce substitute.

Here’s another red “green” (if you can call it that?) … ruby chard!



and here’s some red kale … yet another red “green”:



All self seeded …. all extremely healthy … all growing when you wouldn’t think anything could … and all yucky to birds … yeeha!

The Greeks have an extremely delicious and healthy accompaniment to many of their meals called horta. It’s a mixture of greens boiled and then served with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. With the joy of a bird I raided my garden and cooked myself up some “red” horta …. deeeeelicious and dramatically attractive at the same time.



So, go figure. One of the freshest most delicious meals I’ve had all year has been no thanks to any effort on my part. It looks like nature is trying to give me the message to just relax and go with the flow.

Coincidentally, nearly all the most interesting bits of information I’ve gleaned in the last week have not resulted from hours scouring the internet, but from casually talking to

friends and family.

One friend had just returned from leading a trek to Everest and had the shocking news that Everest was closed to foreigners … only the Chinese were being allowed through. Nothing on the internet about that!

My sister, who writes the Statistically Funny blogspot,  rang from Washington and we spoke for over an hour. She had just come home from the inspiring Wikimania – the annual international Wikimedia conference about all things Wikipaedic. She was all fired up because she was writing a blog about it for Scientific American called “Are You a Knowledge Philanthropist? If Not, Why Not?”. You can now view her full article here.

Jimmy Wales said at Wikimania: “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” Quite. It’s up to all of us, isn’t it? At the very least, stepping up to fix some of those places tagged [citation needed] is worth doing. It’s going to require some persistence. But surely knowledge philanthropy is a habit worth forming.


I was particularly impressed to hear her comments about how the Wikimedia foundation is run as one of the world’s largest and most successful collectives – it is a genuine community based on knowledge philanthropy. Someone at the conference said: “It’s free, not as in beer, but as in speech!”

OK, that’s it … I’m off to the Wikipedia Teahouse to get involved and add my bit. There’s even a Red Mustard wiki which needs some work.

PERSONAL ACTION: Starting again! … growing with the flow… and eating from the garden.

POLITICAL ACTION: Writing this blog again, getting the news about Everest out and beginning the process of contributing to Wikipedia.