The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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new types of food to combat world hunger

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Given the state of world hunger where more than 13% of our fellow human beings are hungry, i.e., nearly a billion people!  The irony is that our world produces enough food to feed all 7 billion people who live in it.  Some people do not have the access or money to buy food, access to land to grow on it, some are hungry due to droughts or famines and some due to man made causes of war and violence. The difference between hunger and malnutrition is that malnutrition means the body does not have the necessary nutrients necessary to grow or fight off disease while in the state of hunger, people have little or no food, never mind the nutrition aspect of it.

Food is also being grown or sourced unethically (the recent highlight of fishing) or by polluting the environment, whether through pesticides or through genetic modification.  Bees which work tirelessly, pollinating our plants and thereby helping to feed us, are being killed off through use of pesticides or through destruction of their habitats.  By growing similar food year after year, not only are we reducing bio-diversity but also our own ability to digest different types of foods and our immune systems.

I recently had the chance to taste another type of food- food that could be produced plentifully without harming the environment, is nutritious and has protein.  This is insect food.  The photo above shows the insect pate I ate made from crickets.  Now that may sound rather strange but the truth is that insect are the most abundant terrestrial life form excluding bacteria. Today, 80% of the world still eats over 1,600 species of insects, from Jing Leed in Thailand to Escamoles in Mexico to Casu Marzu in Italy.  Even the prawns, lobsters etc that we eat are really a type of insects.  Cricket protein is supposed to be 20 times more efficient as source of protein than cattle based protein and typically need 5 times less feed than animal protein and produce 80 times less methane than cattle.  Insects are high in protein and low in saturated fats and sugars. They are a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, and have higher iron, calcium and B-vitamins content than beef. They are easy to raise and reproduce quickly, using minimal resources.

Cricket flour is being used for produce energy bars.  Having tasted the pate, I do not think it is any different than eating a prawn.  The most difficult aspect of ending world poverty by eating differently is not about economics, imagination or distribution but a change in our mindsets.

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Re-potting the Cuban way

In the short summer season of the UK, there is much to be done.  I have too many plants, I know and I have been remiss in taking care of them.  One of these was the bay tree that seemed to be stunted and suffering.  So I decided to take it out of pot. I found that the root ball was terrible mass of dead and live roots, twisted into each other.  Root balls are particular problem with container gardening.  These roots often strangle themselves, leading to the destruction of the plant itself.

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When I finally managed to get the plant out of the pot, this is what it looked like.  Simply working with my fingers or a garden fork did not disentangle the roots.  I soaked the root in water in a bucket for many days, taking it out from time to time and untangling the roots, gradually.  Once the roots were free, I cut away the dead roots.  In the meanwhile I prepared the pot by layering alternate greens, dry leaves  and bought compost.  This is a technique I had learnt from Cuban horticulturists who have created amazing inner cities farms to grow food after the embargo on Cuba was imposed.  As they were short of materials, they created techniques such as this layering of green and compost.

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This way I reused the tired soil, revitalising it with fresh material.  My final and deepest layer was of new compost into which I planted the bay tree again.  The plant definitely looks happier.  I have used the Cuban technique  for other pots and again the results have been good and have saved me money.

 


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Throw away delights

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Carrot leaves are often left attached to new season carrots to keep them fresh and taste better.  Thanks to a badly researched article, ‘The Toxic Salad’ in the New York Times published in July 2009, people assumed that carrot leaves are poisonous and ought to be thrown away.  However, people in India have been eating carrot leaves for centuries and being the world’s second largest population, a lot of Indians would have been dead and we have had certainly heard about it.

The reality is that they are very edible and loaded with vitamins and minerals. The New York Times article alluded to the presence of alkaloids in carrot tops that could make them ‘slightly dangerous for consumption’.  But alkaloids are a substance found throughout nearly every green leafy vegetable.  Indians use all types of spinach and leaves for cooking.

Having watched my mother cook carrot leaves, this is my easy recipe for carrot leaf dish. Just remember to use the leaves as soon as you can because they turn yellow and inedible soon.

As you see in the photo, I received 6 carrots in my organic vegetable delivery.  I used all the leaves shown here plus two of the carrots.  The alkaloids give a slightly bitter taste to the leaves (just many other greens) so I used the carrot itself to give the dish sweetness.

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Ingredients: A pinch of each of these- cumin seeds, fenugreek and onion seeds. One level table spoon of turmeric. A pinch of sugar. Salt to taste. Water. A tablespoons of oil for cooking.  I also added some chopped potatoes but you don’t have to.

Wash and chop the leaves. Peel the carrots and cut them into sticks (or any other shape you fancy!).

Heat the oil and add the spices.  When they ‘fatten’, add the leaves, the carrots and potatoes, turmeric, salt and sugar.  Add a little bit of the water and cover.  Do watch and add more water if the dish dries up during cooking otherwise the leaves will stick.  When the carrots and potatoes are done, then the greens are done too.

Eat with rice or wraps.  Healthy food at throwaway price!


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Yeast, Gluten and guilt free

I come from a rice eating background. I have noticed that although I am not allergic to eating wheat, I am sensitive to it. I would suffer from indigestion and some minor skin rashes after eating wheat.  So I have focussed on finding alternate ways of eating things I enjoy.

It is very simple, really.  I have done is substituted maize or potato flour or an equal mixture of both for many recipes.  For example, see this simple pizza I made with half maize flour and half potato flour.  The potato flour acts as a binder to the more rough maize flour grains.  I added some organic yoghurt instead of yeast (a trick I learnt from my brother-in-law who is a chemical engineer and likes to experiment with food).  Salt and a pinch of sugar and a few table-spoons of olive oil and water to make a dough (be careful with the water because maize flour is very tricky to form and you must add water little by little).  I left it to ‘develop’ for a about one hour.   Another version is with three equal parts of arrow root flour, potato flour and ordinary flour- although not entirely gluten free, it has one third of gluten, in case you do not mind.  After one hour, I shaped the dough into a flat circle about 6-10 inches diameter (you can make it bigger if you have a bigger base) and placed it on a steel base which had olive oil brushed on it. Put it in the oven at 190C.  I took the pizza base out after 6 minutes when it looked done and then added the toppings.

For toppings I added home made tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese or mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes- the later version being more ‘lazy’.  Then I stuck the pizza back in the oven for another 10 minutes until the cheese was ‘bubbling’ and some parts were ‘browned’.  Fried mushroom slices and my home grown basil leaves were added after taking the pizza out of the oven.

My ten year old pronounced it delicious!  It is also quite filling for such a small size pizza.  Money and time saving too- do try it and let me know how you get on-you may never order another Dominoes again!

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Maize and potato flour pizza with home grown basil and tomatoes.

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Left: I made the leftover dough into ‘arepas’ (Latin American patties) with with grated cheese, organic mushrooms and a ‘sunny side’ egg- perfect for lunch or breakfast.

Right: Pizza (with a mixture of arrowroot flour, potato flour and ordinary white flour), topping of home grown tomatoes, mushroom and basil.