Garden

F Is For Fruit Trees & Flowers

When I was young, my grandfather, who was born in 1889 or so, grew our food in this very space that I garden. It was different then. The yards in my village were intended to provide a place for families to live and grow food except grains, which were grown on bigger patches of land outside the village. There was a big vegetable patch and a huge orchard with orange, peach, clementine/naartjie, apple, grape, and apricot trees.

Then there was the lone fig tree, hidden right at the back of the orchard. Sometimes we forgot about the figs, too busy enjoying the citrus fruit in winter and the rest of the fruit in summer. The trees were old by the time I came along and the other gardeners before me were more interested in growing annuals.

I'm going to plant as many fruit trees as possible over the coming years and in my orchard, there will be more fig trees so that in summer our kids can enjoy the sweet, juicy stickiness of a fig picked off a tree after playing outside for hours on end. But that's not going to happen this April (figs are planted in Spring, not Autumn, from what I understand).

So in the meantime, I'm going to chat about flowers, with a special focus on marigolds and nasturtiums, as I grow a lot of them almost year-round.

 

How To Grow Marigolds

Preparing the soil: Marigolds can very easily grow in sandy, loamy or clay soil, as long as they get full sun. You can make sure that the soil is moderately fertile and well-drained, though I've had seeds grow is some pretty inhospitable places.

The planting process: You can sow the seeds directly into the soil in Spring once the soil is warm, or you can start seeds indoors about a month to 6 weeks before the last spring-frost date. In warmer areas, you can grow them almost year-round. Last winter I had a beautiful showing of flowers that lasted through mid-winter.

My sowing differs based on specific gardening needs: I broadcast seeds all over my food garden. These flowers are for pest control, as marigolds are supposed to repel animals and insects. I also plant them as starts to be transplanted to strategic places in the garden.

Caring for the plant: Marigolds transplant exceptionally well. Ideally you can transplant them after six weeks, though I've moved much older plants, some of them even close to starting their buds.

Different varieties of marigold have different sizes, so you need to check your seed packet to make sure what amount of space you need between your plants. Also do your best to control how many plants you grow in each bed, as they can very easily take over either in quantity or size, and you don't want that unless your intention was to focus on marigolds as your crop.

Harvesting and uses: When you pick marigolds for flower arrangements, strip off any leaves that might be under water in the vase; this will discourage the overly pungent smell. You can also munch on them as a quick snack, throw them in salads or make a body cream with them.

 

Growing Nasturtiums

If you think growing marigolds is easy, then you haven't grown nasturtiums. These flowers prefer poor quality soil. How cool is that? So you can grow them in all those awkward and unsightly places you've been wondering what to do with.

They self-seed quite well too, so once you've planted then in an area, you can be sure that they'll keep coming back. Unless you live in a warm climate region like mine, in which case they'll be perennials. Pretty way to tidy up your yard, no?

Planting: I usually just soften then soil in these awkward places and then take a walk, sticking the seeds in the depth almost up the first bend of my finger. I then water the area regularly (4-5 times during the height of summer, twice a week in winter) until they break through.

Caring for the plants: Eeh.. I'd be lying if I said I did anything to care for the poor things. In rainy season, they're on their own once they've broken soil. In summer, I may water them twice a week. Or they accidentally get watered while I care for something that's planted near them.

Serving suggestions: I usually pick the flowers while I'm gardening, just as a quick snack because I like the taste. I also like throwing them into my green salads, especially when I have different types of greens in there. Tasty, and looks pretty too.

I've also heard that a couple of leaves a day can help clear up acne and that the tea, where you allow a cup of the flowers to simmer in boiling water for 15 minutes and then cool, can be used as a toner, but I haven't tried this myself.

A very big cautionary: I have many other edible flowers in my garden - borage, basil, chives, fennel etc- and you probably do too, if you have a garden. However, we all need to be cautious when we eat flowers, especially if we use fertilisers or insecticides etc. Here is a guide about edible flowers that I found online.

Going Green: Tips For A Green Holiday Season

With the holiday season quickly approaching, here are a few tips from Simon Gear on making your holiday season a little bit greener.

Buy Simple Presents

Too many of us allow the whole holiday gift-giving thing to become far too much of a strain and we invariably land up buying gifts for the sake of it, rather than finding things that are actually going to be used and appreciated. The best possible piece of advice I can give here is to make a list of everyone you will be gifting and then take yourself off to your local organic market. In about half an hour you can fill up with the most fantastic range of sweets and preserves, all of which will be appreciated and all of which will cost neither you nor the planet much at all.

Give Green Year-End Gifts To Your Workforce

The opportunities to change people’s lives with fairly simple gifts are boundless, particularly if you employ people who live well outside the big city centres. Start by chatting to your workers and getting a sense of what sort of lives they lead back home. You may well find that a simple gift like a basic solar-powered LED lighting system or a hot box cooker could make a huge difference. Other opportunities include a seed set for a trench garden (plus a company training day to teach people how to plant it); ceiling boards for RDP houses; or water barrels to keep veggie gardens hydrated. Expand the footprint of your business out into the lives of the people who work with you.

Reuse Wrapping - Buy Gift Packets/Bags

Words cannot express the joy I felt when, about a decade ago, the fashion arose of no longer wrapping gifts but rather just plunking them in one of those gift packets. I’ve never been able to wrap any package without it coming out looking like a parcel bomb post-explosion, so to spend a little extra and just pop it in the packet right there in the shop, felt like a personal blessing from the Ghost of Christmas Present. And then it got even better. Because you don’t really do anything with the bag but carry it straight over to your girlfriend’s house and hand it to her, everyone now has a collection of these packets in near mint condition. We should never have to buy wrapping paper again.

Buy Gifts Online At Charity Sites

You never think of it until it’s too late so I’m suggesting it now. Probably the best way to give great gifts that also have a sustainable aspect to them is to start doing your gift shopping online at charity websites. These days almost all of the large charities have some form of online shop. The merchandise available ranges from stuff very specific to the work of that organisation to pretty comprehensive collections of guide books, organic products and clothing. If you're in South Africa, browse around, but www.ewt.org.za and www.panda.org.za are good places to start.

Paperless Christmas

If you celebrate Christmas, www.paperlesschristmas.org is great fun. It is a virtual advent calendar with video clips and so on behind each door. The site is run by BRF, a British church-based charity, and the site is a good example of crossing the boundary between tradition and technology. The clips are very kiddie friendly and the whole site is slick and well managed. The thinking behind it is partially to set up paperless alternatives to traditional Christmas favourites, such as advent calendars and cards. Of course, I found that it served to remind my son of his chocolate-filled real word calendar, rather than to distract him from it. But it still proved a fun way to start the day together throughout the Christmas period.

Get A Real Tree...But Not A Whole One

I’m not a huge fan of pine trees. They are completely wrong for the South African landscape; always looking somehow dirty and bedraggled, and their habit of poisoning the soil at their base makes them an appalling choice for a garden. But when compared to a plastic tree, they sneak in above bottom. The thing about Christmas trees is that there is no reason to have a whole one. Assuming you want to go traditional and have something pine-like in the first place, simply finding a pine tree and sawing off a lower branch provides you with a perfectly sized tree for the living room. Otherwise, finding an interesting piece of drift wood or just bringing in an entire pot plant is likely to work just as well. The nice thing about fetching a likely pine branch is it rapidly becomes one of those annual Christmas memories for dads to share with their kids.

Gardening During The Drought

South Africa has been going through a bad drought and there are huge water shortages in Phokeng in the North West province where I live. A lot of articles in the media talk about the water crisis, its impact on farmers and communities and what government is doing to help alleviate the problem.

Sometimes I find myself laughing hard at what people say, not because it’s funny, but because I want to cry and laughing stops the tears. On the one hand we are encouraged to grow as much of our own food as we can to help reduce the spiraling food costs, yet the water shortages make it extremely hard to do so. How do I grow my own food when drinking water is limited?

I’ve tried to be as prepared as I can for the extreme heat and semi-arid climate of Phokeng (located just outside Rustenburg), where every year mid-summer temperatures skate close to 40 degrees Celcius and the water shortages are becoming a norm, even when nationally nobody talks about drought.

The odd advantage I have is that I inherited my home from my parents who invested heavily in self-sufficient practices during the apartheid years, as they had no access to municipal water. They dug a borehole, which supplies a 5000 litre tank linked to my household supply. When I started to grow my food year-round, I also invested in a 10 000 litre tank, which provides for the garden solely. You’d think with all that storage drought wouldn’t be one of my biggest issues right now, would you?

The problem is that access to water in my community is a sporadic thing. So those of us who have stored water or boreholes end up sharing what we have until municipal water starts running again.

I’m never sure when the water will come back, so I ration to the water from the 10 000 litre tank very carefully, with every household allowed 40 litres daily, where there are no children, and 80 litres for households that have children. So far, the system sort of works for all of us – my gate is always open, and everyone knows how much they can take.

Water Tank

But, back to food gardening, my conundrum is this: how can I water my food garden, which is supposed to provide up to 80% of our vegetables and 100% of our herbs, when my neighbours don’t even have water to drink, cook, bath or flush their toilets? I’m afraid it would feel like a slap in their faces to watch me “throw water onto the ground,” when they need it to drink. So for now, I don’t water my garden. Much.

My poor garden is still standing though. And it’s still productive, though not as much as I would like. Here are some of the strategies I’ve employed /plan to employ to aid my food garden’s survival:

Plant Early

Phokeng is always hot in late Spring and Summer and rain remains sporadic due to the climate. So right from the beginning, I’ve had to learn optimal times to plant so that by the time the daily heat is high, my plants have a strong hold on the ground.

Choose Plants That Do Well With Limited Water

I’m still struggling with my plant selection, trying to find vegetables that can survive prolonged droughts and heat year after year, but which my family will enjoy eating. It’s no use growing cactus-based plants if my family won’t eat it!

So far, I’ve found that root vegetables like carrots, beetroot and onion do OK but not wonderfully, in drought periods. I also struggle with cabbage, though kale and rape do well enough. For now, my garden is restricted to very basic crops: greens like spinach, chard, kale and rape; a variety of beans, zucchini (summer squash) and artichokes. My onion and leeks are struggling. It is my hope they’ll survive the dry spell.

Mulching Is Necessary

Irrigation is not only about watering the garden; it’s about retaining whatever moisture the soil may already have. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.

Reduce Competition For Water In The Soil

When there are big amounts of rain, I’m happy to let my garden to grow wild and for seeds from previous seasons to unexpectedly sprout and surprise me. Unfortunately, when there is a water shortage I don’t have that luxury. All the weeds and unplanned seedlings have to go, so that the crops that I’m nursing through the process can have as much water as the soil can retain.

Grey Water Adds Much-Needed Moisture

So far we water with grey water when we remember to carry it out of the house with buckets. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it, because I can water my garden without any feelings of guilt. So next time I have two cents to rub together, I’m going to invest in a piping system from the house, so the water automatically goes to the garden.

Collect Rain Water (When It Comes)

When I was growing up, my grandfather had several tanks collecting rainwater from the roof gutters. We used some of the water for the garden, and the rest for laundry and cleaning in order to save money on the petrol we required to run the generator for the borehole. When we began to get municipal water, we relaxed on that, thinking we didn’t need to collect rainwater anymore. That was a mistake. It’s better to collect as much rainwater as we can, when we can, so that we have some stored for dry periods such as this one.

Cover And Shade

My garden is a busy mix of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, all interspersed. Long-term, the fruit trees will provide shade for plants that are sensitive to the sun, so that they can grow midsummer without going crispy. Big leafy plants such as artichokes also provide shade for smaller plants like chives, spring onions and “cut and come again” lettuce.

Mostly, I find myself constantly re-evaluating my gardening practices to check if they can help me keep my family fed while also using as little water as possible. What can I change without compromising my crops? What can I do in terms of planning for the medium-term because clearly, this drought is not a once-off thing? Chances are, next year and the year after will also be dry, and as a result, food prices will keep climbing and my garden will become a critical part of my regular food supply.

I hope that other gardeners will also start exploring this topic and proposing possible solutions that can help those of us who rely on our gardens for most of our meals.

E Is For Eggplant (Also Called Aubergine / Brinjal)

By now you might have gathered that I really enjoy gardening and cooking what I grow. My nephew and I have a lot of fun in the kitchen experimenting with food where I try out new recipes on familiar foods or introduce new-to-us vegetables and herbs to dishes. In addition to using him and his friends as my food tasters (brave people!), he also loves creating recipes for marinades and sauces using our garden herbs, and bakes incredible-tasting pizzas - an excellent dish to add grilled eggplant to.

How To Grow Eggplant

Eggplant grow easily in climates where summers are long and warm, so our semi-arid region where temperatures usually range from warm to extreme heat are ideal for growing this vegetable. You can still grow varieties that mature quickly or grow them in containers if your summers are shorter, if you start out your seedlings inside weeks before Spring officially begins and have a way to keep the starts heated well enough to germinate.

Preparing The Soil

Eggplant grows well in fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny area. Make sure that you have not previously grown eggplant/green peppers or tomatoes on that site for at least two years though, as these types of vegetables tend to be very unhappy if you do (I'm still suffering the consequences of ignoring that rule with my tomato crop). I compost my clay soil with cow manure very thoroughly weeks before I plant eggplant, though I've never measured the pH to make sure it has the recommended 5.5 -6.5 pH.

The Planting Process

I tend to plant my seedlings directly into the soil. That works for me because of my climate, but it's not necessarily the recommended treatment for propagating eggplant in areas where there is a proper winter, complete with frost or even snow. If your summers are short, start your seedlings indoors six to nine weeks before your average last frost. Soak seeds overnight to encourage them to germinate and then sow them ¼ inch deep in flats or cell-type containers and then keep them warm. The seeds will sprout in seven to ten days.

Once the temperatures have warmed up enough outside, you can then transplant them to chosen spot. I tend to grow eggplant as a short-term perennial, so I'm very careful to put them in an area I have no plans to use the next year or so. Make sure that there is room for them to grow too (around 2-3 feet apart) as the more space they have, the more productive they'll be. I interplant my eggplant with lettuce, green beans and marigolds to fill the spaces inbetween.

Plant Care

Once the seedlings are secure in their place, I just water them thoroughly and regularly and try to keep them weed-free. In the years I've grown it, I haven't had to deal with pests, but I understand flea-beetles can be a very big issue.

Harvesting Eggplant

The first time I grew eggplant, I wondered how the emerging veggies were going to hold up in the relatively small bushes, but they did. To test for ripeness, press its skin. If the skin does not springs back, then it's ready for harvesting.

D Is For Dill

This year I planted dill for the second time, my current dill seedlings are growing happily. Some tips and information about this lovely herb:

Planting

Once again, I'm just turning the soil, then inserting the dill seeds to a quarter inch deep and 18 inches apart. Make sure that you plant in a sunny area, but that is also protected from winds, as the plants grow very big and you don't want them to keel over. I found out, the hard way, that it does not transplant very well, so make sure you plant the seeds where you want them. Also be sure to have enough room for your plant to grow around 12 inches apart.

Plant Care

Dill just needs me to water it on a regular basis and let it fend for itself. You may need to eventually thin it though if you grew the seeds too closely.

Harvesting

You can start picking dill leaves as soon as the plant has four to five leaves. If you have a lot of plants, you can pinch off entire stalks. You can stop harvesting when the plant starts growing flowers, but no worries, Dill is a self-seeding herb, so if you leave the plant there long enough, the seeds will germinate and soon you'll have fresh dill again.

Serving Suggestions

One of my favorite salads is a combination of cucumber, yogurt, feta cheese, and sprinkled with dill. Pick, wash, and dry the dill. Remove the thin stems with delicate leaves from the thicker main stems, throw away the thick stems, and finely chop thin stems and leaves. Thinly slice three English cucumbers, add the dill and stir to combine. Add yogurt to the cucumber-dill mixture, stirring to coat all pieces of cucumber with yogurt. Gently fold in feta, being careful not to over-mix. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, serve immediately, if you wait too long the cucumber starts releasing water and making the salad soggy. If you know that you're not going to serve your salad immediately, you can slice your cucumber ahead of time, sprinkle a little salt on it, and then put it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Drain it the following day and then make your salad. This salad is excellent with freshly baked bread, or wrapped in a fresh lettuce leaf or wrap. Dill can also be used to make a yogurt dip for fresh, crunchy vegetables, or simply enjoyed as an addition to any green salad.

Hunger, The Body’s Search For Minerals

95% of our body’s activities are dependent on minerals, not vitamins. Each cell contains over 4000 enzymes. Those enzymes are only ever fully activated when the major minerals and trace minerals are present in significant quantities. The higher the concentration of minerals in a food, the better that food is for you.

What then is hunger?

Simply put – it is the body’s search for minerals.

When you feel hungry, it is your body saying - ‘give me minerals, so I can activate enzymes and make this body function as it should.’ It is not your body saying, ‘please stuff in whatever junk you can find, so I can spend the rest of the day struggling to digest and eliminate it.’

It is virtually impossible to over-eat mineral-rich foods. Eating mineral-deficient foods on the other hand, leaves you wanting more. The reason you still feel hungry and have the tendency to over-eat is not because your body is looking for more of the same mineral-less foods, but because it hasn’t found the minerals it was looking for in the first place.

Foods fall into 4 Food Quality Classes according to how many minerals they have:

  1. Commercially Grown – these are plants that have been hybridised, genetically modified, sprayed with insecticides, pesticides, radiated and grown in low quality, de-mineralised soil.
  2. Organic – Organic foods are free from the nasty chemicals and sprays and represent foods of a much higher mineral and nutritive value.
  3. Home Grown – With home grown foods you can skyrocket the mineral content of your food by growing it in organic soil, adding kitchen leftovers to the soil, or adding volcanic rock dust to the soil. Volcanic rock dust is available from any good garden nursery. Plus home grown plants thrive on TLC.
  4. Wild Plants – Wild foods contain on average, 50 times more minerals than commercially grown plants. It’s no wonder that in the ‘old days’, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc, were virtually unheard of. Our ancestors were living off WILD mineral-rich foods. On a physiological level all disease can be traced back to a mineral deficiency of some kind.

So when it comes to choosing your foods, think: MINERALS, MINERALS, MINERALS.

 

image: Rishi Bandopadhay

C Is For Chinese Cabbage

Cabbage is a very popular vegetable in our household, but I've struggled quite a bit to grow it in our garden. The reasons for the pathetic crops were varied depending on the season: the roaming chickens ate the seedlings one time, then we had drought, and then the bugs got to them and then the plants themselves got sick. Ha! It's a wonder I managed to get even a small harvest at all!

So when someone suggested I try growing Chinese cabbage, I was eager for something different. And different it is. The seeds sprouted very quickly and the seedlings are plentiful. This April I'm planting a new batch of seeds to ensure a succession of harvests.

How to grow Chinese Cabbage

Where: Chinese cabbage likes the kind of soil that keeps/retains water in a sunny area, though your summer crops would prefer a shady area to prevent bolting. The soil in my garden, which is red clay, was previously fed with homemade compost and cow manure.

Online research says you should lime your soil if it's acidic. This is to prevent clubroot disease, a fungal organis.

Planting process: I generally plant directly into the soil but I expect the space and depth of soil requirement is similar for your seeds whether you plant in the soil or container.

The only difference kicks in when once your seedlings are starting to grow, then the rules for container gardening kick in (e.g. water more often, move container to shade if it's too hot, make sure plant has room to grow a head etc). Anyhoo, make sure your seeds be around 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 38cm (15in) apart.

Intentionally planted too tight, so I'm thinning it.

Caring for Chinese Cabbage: I've found it to be very low maintenance. Keep it watered and thin the seedlings to around 30cm (12in) apart to allow for the large heads to grow or to 15cm (7in) apart for "cut and come again" salad leaves.

Like all other brassicas, Chinese cabbage is prone to bolting when exposed to too much heat. So water it well before a dry spell or the onset of drought to keep the soil moist.

Harvesting: This morning I went into the garden to thin one of my beds, which I'd planted very densely. Some of the seedlings are being transplanted into beds where they will have the space to grow big heads. Some will be grown into salads leaves. The rest I'm giving to my sisters (and inlaws) and friends as gifts, to keep near their own kitchens.

Serving suggestions

I decided to use some of the leaves I thinned from the garden to make stuffed cabbage wraps for lunch today. I was inspired by these Asian Stuffed Napa Cabbage Rolls from Aggie's kitchen except, I didn't want to cook fresh as I had leftover mince and rice to kill.

I mixed the two, chopped some more onions, green pepper and chives from the garden into the mix and added paprika for a smoky flavour. Then I spooned it onto a big leaf, wrapped it over and held it together with a toothpick.

I used more leaves to wrap the mix where they were small, put them in a baking dish, sprinkled a bit of salt, black pepper and some olive oil, covered with a foil and put in a 150 degrees Celcius (302 F) oven for 30 minutes. The idea is that they slowly simmer, not cook quickly. We had a bunch of these wraps served with freshly chopped tomatoes and cucumbers for lunch.

You can get creative with whatever leftovers you have in your fridge, but try to make sure you have something starchy to hold your veges and meats together. Or you could chop up some meats and veges, stirfry them just like you usually do and then wrap them. I love chilli, so sometimes I sprinkle my own dish with chopped chilli from garden.

The meal works regardless of the size of your cabbage leaves. Some people prefer to blanch mature leaves before wrapping them, but I've never found that necessary, so use your taste and texture preferences to decide when making the dish.

B Is For Beans

I started the day in the garden doing the day's harvest, which included a bowl of fresh, immature beans.

I like to start picking beans when they are young like that because the flesh is really tasty, especially when steamed and seasoned with a bit of salt, black pepper and margarine/butter/olive oil.

I personally feel that beans get a bad rep. For some people, the concept of eating rice and beans implies being broke, poverty or a lack of choice. Unless you're vegetarian or vegan or from a country where beans are a staple, of course. Then they're just delicious food.

In our household, beans are one of our main staple foods (not a cultural thing; just what we like). We eat them with at least four main meals a week and as a quick addition to snacks.

I used to buy most of mine dry and some in cans, but last year I started planting a bigger crop so I can buy less.

I also grow them in my ornamental garden. BTW, even if you don't like eating beans, you should grow them if you have the space. Your soil loves them, as they give it nitrogen which is very nutritious for the rest of your plants. Just dig them out when they are about to flower and mix them up with your soil.

According to my planting calendar, April is a good month to plant broad beans/fava beans. This is my second batch of beans, with the first batch planted last month.

How to grow broad beans (fava beans)

Where:

Broad beans grow best in a sunny area but sheltered from winds. They do well in well-drained soil that holds water well. My soil is mostly red clay, generally fed cow manure and home-made compost and they seem to do well enough with that.

The Planting Process:

I usually prepare the soil by adding compost and watering it thoroughly a couple of days before I plant. However, once I've sowed broad beans, I don't water the soil for at least 10 days, as the seeds are very prone to rot.

As it's Autumn, I'm choosing a variety that's appropriate for planting at this time. I'm told there is another variety that's suitable for planting in windy area.

Make sure that there is a good proportion of space between the plants. Broad beans grow very big, so they need to be able to space out OK. Also remember that airflow is essential for ensuring your beans don't catch fungal disease.

In line with this, your seeds should be sown 5cm (2inches) deep and 20cm (8inches) apart. Dwarf varieties of broad beans can be sown 15cm (6in) apart. Broad beans are best sown in double rows, with the rows 20cm (8inches) apart. If a second double row is needed this should be positioned 60cm (2feet) away from the first. Sow a few extra seeds at the end of the rows to fill in any gaps produced by seeds that don’t germinate.

Caring for broad beans: I've found that broad beans sprout very easily and don't need a lot of care once the seedlings are established. You do however need to remove the tips of the two leaves attached to the small seedling as soon as they show up, to make sure that Blackfly does not damage the plant later.

I've been lucky so far, in that, I haven't had a Blackfly problem, even when I didn't know I was supposed to punch out the bean seedlings. Now I just do it as a preventive measure. I usually steam the baby leaves I've cut out, sprinkle them with a bit of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil and voila, we have a nice additional veggie dish.

Stake the plants once the seedlings have grown a bit, to prevent the fragile stems from bending or breaking and pods being damaged. I usually just use a couple of sticks to stake mine, though I know I should look into making something stronger. The plants need plenty of water when they are in flower though.

Harvesting broad beans: I've found I can pick pods when they are 7.5cm (3in) long and cook them whole (ja, I'm back to stealing immature crops!). Around 25 weeks, you can start picking pods to shell. Make sure you pick the beans while the scar on the bean is still white or green. Once it grows black, the beans will be very tough to eat.

Serving suggestions:

My favourite recipe for broad beans is chickpea and bean dal with caraway potatoes. I got the recipe from the Food Lovers One Pot, published by Trans Atlantic Press, recipes selected by Marika Kucerova.

Of course I adapt it to suit me based on the availability of ingredients. For example, I usually use canned chickpeas rather than dry, and may exclude some of the seeds if I don't have them on hand.

Ingredients:

  • 2 and 1/4 cups or 400g chickpeas (same size as a 400g can)
  • 2 and 1/4 cups broad beans
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 onions
  • 2 green chillies
  • 2tbsp butter or oil or margarine
  • 3 cups vegetable broth/stock
  • 1tsp freshly grated ginger (sometimes I just use the powder)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 and 3/4 pounds(800g) potatoes
  • 1tsp caraway seeds
  • 1handful spinach leaves
  • salt and pepper for taste

Method:

1. Soak chickpeas and broad beans in water overnight and drain.
2. Peel and finely chop the garlic and onion. Cut the chillies in half.
3. Saute the onions and garlic in hot butter /oil /margarine in a saucepan, then pour vegetable stock.
4. Add the chickpeas, broad beans, chilies, ginger and crushed coriander seeds. Cover and simmer gently for 50-60 minutes.
5. Peel the potatoes and boil them with caraway seeds for around 25 minutes.
6. Wash the spinach and add to the add to the dal at the last moment, then season with salt and pepper.
7. Drain the potatoes and serve them on plates, add dal and serve.

Quick And Easy Vegetable Garden

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while

learning to see things from the plant's point of view.”  H. Fred Dale

Many people think a vegetable garden involves hours of daily labour. It doesn’t have to. By working with nature we can reduce unnecessary work. Here are some shortcuts to growing and maintaining a quick and easy vegetable garden.

Quick starter vegetable garden

This is a simple way to get started and be growing your own food within a day or two.

  1. Cover the lawn with a thick layer of cardboard, wetting each layer thoroughly before placing the next on top, until the cardboard is about 5 cm thick.
  2. Mark out the pathways and beds, making each bed about the size of a door. Use logs, bricks or stones to edge the beds.
  3. Lay gravel, straw or bricks over the pathways.
  4. Cover the cardboard inside each bed area with a 15 cm layer of compost mixed with topsoil and well rotted manure (a third each).
  5. Leave it for a day to settle then start planting your seedlings and seeds!

Low maintenance shortcuts

  • Don’t dig up your garden when you want to plant a new bed, rather use No Dig Gardening. Digging is bad for your garden – it upsets the soil balance, leads to moisture and nutrient loss, unearths weed seeds and kills beneficial insects. Enrich the soil by adding compost, manure and slow release organic fertilisers to the surface of the soil. Nature will do her thing and incorporate them into the lower layers. One simple rule:  never walk on the soil or it will become compacted. This is why you have small beds surrounded by pathways.
  • Regularly mulch the surface of beds with leaves, straw or compost. This provides food and homes for beneficial insects, smothers weeds, retains moisture, prevents water runoff and disease transfer and keeps the soil an even temperature.
  • Pack beds with as many plants as each can hold. This retains moisture, creates a microclimate beneath the resulting canopy and prevents weeds.
  • Plant a variety of vegetables and herbs in each bed. Diversity encourages beneficial insects and helps prevent disease.
  • Do successive sowings for continual harvests.
  • Leave some plants to go to seed for a self-sufficient vegetable garden.
  • Don’t harvest whole plants; just pick leaves from a few.
  • Keep records of what you have sown where.

Quick and easy vegetables and herbs

Chives

Much easier than onions or garlic but adds a similar flavour to dishes.

Spring Onions

Leave a few to flower and set seed and you will never need plant them again.

Swiss chard

Grows throughout the year, is relatively hassle free and you can continue to eat it even when it goes to seed.

Beetroot

A multipurpose, quick growing crop. You can eat the leaves and root

Lettuce

Do successive sowing to ensure regular harvesting.

Rocket, mustard, Bok Choy, mizuna

Easy to grow and will seed themselves.

Radish

Quickest vegetable from seed to harvest.

Beans and cherry tomatoes

Easy to plant and grow and give mammoth harvests throughout summer.

Gem squash and courgettes

The easiest and most prolific of the squash family.

A Is For Arugula (Also Called Rocket)

My biggest challenge with growing arugula has never been how to plant or care for it... the thing grows like a weed even when unattended ... but how to keep it contained so it doesn't take over the whole garden.

I generally plant it in inhospitable areas of the yard, or where I have a weed problem and I put it there to overwhelm the weeds. That way, it can happily take over, reseed whenever, and I can pick baby leaves when I'm in the mood for the salad but largely ignore it. Not that I don't love the salad. I do. It's one of my favourite munchies while I garden. But like I said, the thing grows and grows....

So if your gardening space is limited in some way, it would be advisable to grow your arugula in a container.

How to grow arugula

Arugula grows well in Autumn and prefers full sun or semi-shade and well-drained soil. Turn the soil over, work in compost, rake it even and water thoroughly the day before you sow. Sow the seeds 1-1.5cm deep in rows that are 30cm apart.

Water it well as it grows, preferably at the end of the day, ensuring that the soil is always slightly moist, otherwise it will go to seed too quickly.

You can start harvesting the baby leaves after a month of planting. Pick only a few leaves from each plant and remember that the older the leaves are, the stronger their flavour will be. Also keep in mind that the frequency with which you nip out the flower and seed buds will determine the duration of your arugula harvest.

For a continuous harvest, you may choose to sow some arugula seeds every couple of weeks. I tend to let one or two plants go to seed and let them reseed the patch.

Here's a very simple recipe that I found online and which I adapt and use quite often:

  • 450g/1lb tomatoes chopped into chunks
  • 50g/2oz arugula, stalks removed
  • A dash of salt
  • A dash of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3-4 tbsp good quality extra virgin oil

Put the tomatoes on a salad bowl and toss with salt and pepper, add the rocket leaves and toss again, then drizzle the salad with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Sometimes I add strawberries with feta, apple chunks or avocado to the above recipe. For a warm rocket salad, I add freshly roasted pumpkin, butternut or squash with nuts into the mix, with or without the tomato.

You can also throw in a few arugula leaves into your lettuce salad from extra flavour, or put it into a casserole or stew to use as a herb/add flavour, though I haven't tried the latter yet.

Anyhoo, try it; grow it in a small container if you're not sure you'll like the taste of it. At worst, you'll end up with a container full of pretty white flowers:-)

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