A few people ask me what seeds we should plant now because there are lots of people out there that haven't gardened before.

As you can see, I've gardened before.

You can pick these up from any of your normal hardware shops Mr. Fothergills, Radish, broccoli and bok choy (pak choi), are my recommendations to start with.

 Seeds to grow in April in Mirboo North Gippsland at Jacican

I’m going plant bok choy seeds in the garden, and I'll show you how you do it.

It's really, really, really easy.

In the packet, you get a roll of seed tape, two lengths of 2.5 metres.

In a normal household, you would plant 1 metre at a time, which means you got to have five months’ worth of seeds, one meter at a time, once a month for five months.

What we do is scraped back some mulch, throw the ball for the dog in between.

Rough up the top of the soil, it doesn’t need to be very deep, and lay in the seed tape and sprinkle back over the dirt or you could use a little potting mix

That's it, you've planted some bok choy

Bok choy will grow the fastest, it maybe will only take 4 to 6 weeks before you are harvesting your own.

bok choy in the Jacican kitchen garden in Mirboo North Gippsland

It will depend on how warm the weather stays.

This is what you will end up with after about 4 weeks, bok choy ready to eat!

grow your own bok choy in the Jacican kitchen garden in Mirboo North Gippsland  grow your own bok choy at Jacican Mirboo North Gippsland


Jacican Cooking School's kitchen garden, Mirboo North Gippsland

Each year I grow a year’s supply of tomatoes in the kitchen garden. Usually, it’s three beds each holding 36 plants. After losses, I end up with about 100 tomato plants. All of them have different colours, shapes and sizes.

How to grow tomatoes at Jacican cooking school, Gippsland

All the tomatoes I grow, I grow from seed. I start tomato season in July, reviewing my collection of seeds, hunting out new ones to try, purchasing fresh seed. If you don’t get your seeds early, you rush when it’s time for planting

Sometimes around the middle of August, I spend an hour or two planting out the seeds in the glasshouse.

How to grow tomatoes at Jacican cooking school, Gippsland


How to grow tomatoes at Jacican cooking school, Gippsland

I use a 4 cm square seed raising trays that hold 24 plants. I’m a little bit lazy, so I buy fresh seed raising mix from the Mirboo North nursey. I fill each square with seed raising mix and poke a hole in the mix with a skewer. I then place a couple of seeds in the hole and push back over the dirt.

How to grow tomatoes at Jacican cooking school, Gippsland

Now the most important thing … remember to label. Each tomato gets an ice pole stick, with a handwritten label. I use Ice pole sticks, as they last a season, then break down into the soil.

Jacican grows all tomato seeding for the kitchen garden

Now water and wait. In about 4 months I’ll have tomatoes.


PS: You can only harvest your own tomatoes at Jacican, as a guest in a Harvest Lunch, when tomatoes are in season. This is usually between February and early May.

Jaci from Jacican cooking school picks fresh tomatoes in her kitchen garden, Mirboo Nortg, Gippsland

I don’t really like store brought tomatoes. They can be a little bland so I avoided buying them.

This has led me to grow my own. Each year I grow a year supply of tomatoes. The catch is I only have fresh ones when it is the season. The rest are bottled in the Vacola and turned into sauce or chutney.

Each year, I look forward to the summer when we can start sharing fresh tomatoes with you. Once they start to fruit – there are about 100 plants in my kitchen garden each year, all the colours, shapes and sizes I am happy to share. Often guests go home with a bag of fresh fruit for later!

Varieties I have grown in the past include Jaune Flamme, Brown cherry, green Zebra, Green grape, Amish paste, Italian Flat Roma.

What varieties will you find this year?


Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland  Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland  Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland

Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland  Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland  Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland

PS: You can only harvest your own tomatoes at Jacican, as a guest in a Harvest Lunch, when tomatoes are in season. This is usually between February and early May.

Jacican cooking school's kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland



Tomatoes in Jacican cooking school kitchen garden, Mirboo North, Gippsland




 Matthew and Neville Vaux Rosedale butchers

Third and second-generation butchers, Matthew and Neville Vaux, Rosedale butchers. Photo Jaci Hicken

At lunch, Susan is telling a story about how the bacon she is eating tastes like the bacon she had when she first moved from the UK to Rosedale, Gippsland, in 1982. The answer is, "it is, it is the same bacon."

It's not possible that its precisely the same bacon, but it is still made by the Vaux family in the same butcher's shop, using the same method, recipe and wood smokehouse, but now by the second and third-generation butcher. 

Neville Vaux, his wife Debbie and their son Matthew run Rosedale butchers, on the highway in Rosedale, Gippsland.

"We came here in 1977, then I did my apprenticeship with Mum and Dad. Debbie and I brought the shop in 1995. In 1997 Matthew came along and in 2007, he started his apprenticeship with us." Neville said.

The reason Susan thought the bacon tasted the same, from when she first moved to Rosedale, is the family still operates the smokehouse installed by Neville's father, Raymond Vaux. 

"We still use the smokehouse installed by Dad's father in 82, which aren't fancy. We use them to make all our small goods and bacon," Mathew Vaux said.

For the smoking process, carried out by Matthew, fresh forequarter, legs or loins of pork are pickled, injected with water and a salt, herb and spices mix. It is then cured in a pickling tub containing a brine of salt solution and water.  

After three days in the pickling tub, the pork is washed off and smoked anywhere from 14 to 18 hours. This becomes the ham or bacon that Susan remembers from 1982.

"It's exactly the same process from 1982," Matthew said. 

Matthew Vaux Rosedale butchers smokehouse

Matthew Vaux, Rosedale butchers with the families smokehouse in use on the premise since 1982. Photo Jaci Hicken

The butcher's shop and the attached house next door has been in the same place in Rosedale since the late 1800s. Before Raymond Vaux built the smokehouse to meet regulations, the fireplace was in the kitchen in the shop, "and they use to have rails above the fireplace. That was how originally the hams were smoked," he said.

Traditional smokehouses are run on a wood fire. To meet regulations set by PrimeSafe, the smokehouse at Rosedale butchers is run on gas that burns food-grade wood chips to produce the smoke.

Wattlebank Park Farm free-range pig farmer, Nadine Verboon uses Rosedale butchers to cut and pack her pork products, firstly for personal use, then for the last seven years as the maker of small goods for her on-farm butcher's shop.

Nadine Verboon at Wattlebank park farm
Nadine Verboon, Wattlebank Park Farm with her pigs. Photo Jaci Hicken

Using pigs that are raised at Wattlebank Park farm, Rosedale butchers make traditionally smoked bacon, cabana and polish sausage, that Nadine sells at Farmer's markets, online and through her butcher's shop.

"Rosedale does all our smoked small goods. We've been with Rosedale for probably 14 years," Nadine said.

Wattlebank Park farm runs saddleback and large black pigs and is currently trialling a Durco boar over their sows to breed to "get bigger hams."

"We are trying to keep those heritage breeds going. And the flavour that comes from them is just a phenomenal, beautiful flavour," Nadine said.

saddleback pig at Wattlebank park farm

Saddleback sow and piglets at Wattlebank Park Farm. Photo Jaci Hicken

At Rosedale butcher, they are finding that there is a move towards the old English breeds of pig, like the heritage breeds at Wattlebank Park farm.

"They are fatter, but you can also get some mix breeds that come out with plenty of flavour," Matthew said. 

"The quality of the product that comes in is the quality of the product that goes out. You can't go making gold out of bronze. To get a good quality product, you can have as big as you like, but as long as it's lean," he said.

Neville Vaux finds the quality of the pork depends on what feed the farmers give to their pigs.

"They don't give them the right grain, because the grain costs too much money, so they skimp on that. Then they give the pigs too much whey and that makes them fat. Then they give them too much bread, which makes them fat as well," Neville said.

"And too many vegetables makes them lean. We find that Nadine's pigs are lean," he said.

Only farming pigs for personal use, Caroline Van Oosterom recognises that you have to feed pigs feed with the "right animal protein percentage."

"The amount of protein you feed them is so important. Pigs need to have a feed that is high in lysine as a source of protein," Caroline said.

"We have taken the decision not to farm pigs commercially, only raise them for personal use, due to only being two abattoirs we can access, from Gippsland," she said.

The two licensed abattoirs that can take pigs are in Laverton on the west side of Melbourne and Orbost in far East Gippsland.  

Wattlebank Park Farm transports their pigs to the city, which are then returned slaughtered to Rosedale butchers. Rosedale butchers will know which pig carcasses belong to Wattlebank Park farm, by the pig tattoo number on the right shoulder of the animal. Pigs are not allowed to leave a farm without this identification.

Rosedale butchers then cuts, process and packs a farmer's pork into any cut they would like. The fresh cuts that can be included are roast, chops, schnitzels, mince and sausages, and small goods, Matthew Vaux said.

Watch as Rosedale butchers fill and twist fresh sausages. Video Jaci Hicken 

"Everyone’s product comes in different shapes and forms. There is always something you can do with it. It's just a matter of working out what cuts you require and what product you are going to get back," he said. 

"You've just got to work in with your butcher. Your butcher is your end product and the more you work with the butcher, the happier the butcher will be working with your product."

Visit Wattlebank Park farm with Jaci. Video Jacican

Just outside Mirboo North, at Milly & P’lette farm cottage you will find Mary Germano Smeriglio. Mary has always cooked and shared things we may have thought where weeds for her family. Learning from her mother, Mrs. Paolina Germano, at an early age, Mary’s recipe for Cosce Vecchie has now been past on to her daughters, as well as me.

Mary Smeriglio shares her recipe for Dandelion Greens with Jaci from Jacican

I was lucky to share a meal of Cosce Vecchie, homemade woodfired bread topped with olive oil, home-dried oregano and salt, Mary’s mother’s eggplant parmigiana and slices of fresh prosciutto with her and her husband Joe, when I called around to learn to cook dandelions.

Mary picks the nice tender greens. To pick the dandelion, she puts a knife under the flat weed and slides it across. She removes any dead or yellow leaves and you don’t eat the yellow flower stalks. You will have to wash thoroughly before use.

Cosce Vecchie (Dandelion Greens)

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add salt and the greens, pushing them down with a wooden spoon until they are all submerged under the water

When the leaves are tender, drain in a colander and press down firmly with a potato masher or small saucer to remove the excess water. Place in a large bowl and cut roughly with kitchen scissors. Loosen with a fork.

Place on a serving dish. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt. A squeeze of lemon juice finishes it off nicely.

Lunch at Mary Smeriglio of dandelion greens

You can find this recipe in Nonna's Secret Recipe Book, part of the Mirboo North Italian Festa


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