The Canny Gardener

how to grow, cook and use plants, plus some philosophy!


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Container garden experiments

Summer has sort of started in the UK and so I am starting on a container garden experiment.  Rather tired of growing conventional stuff and losing them to slugs, insects and weather, I am going to be a bit daring.  Three weeks ago, I bought some seeds as written about in the books by James Wong, the best selling author of many books including ‘Grow your own drugs’.  James trained at Kew as an ‘ethno-botonist’ and has worked with herbalists and other experts to write his books.

These are some of the seeds I will be using-

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These include many unusual container vegetables- Chopsuey greens, Mooli, liquorice, Chinese chives, callaloo and Samphire.  I chose these ones because I usually eat them and buy them at exorbitant prices from supermarket.  For £2-49 each, it was worth a try!

The Chinese chives have already started to come through- see below and note how I am protecting them from slugs by using crushed egg shells.  Unlike an ordinary garden, my terrace is protected from rats so I can use egg shells.

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Above you can see the tiny liquorice and one samphire plant coming through in my improvised egg carton seed tray.

James Wong also writes that Hosta is edible, but when I got round to seeing why my Hosta plants weren’t coming up, I realised that slugs had also found them equally tasty!  However, I managed to salvage one tuber although at that point much its leaves had also been chomped through.  Re-potting them, and protecting the remaining leaves by using some crushed egg shells, has made new leaves come through.  I can’t wait to try them in a stir fry.  I will be posting stories of this experiment through the summer (including recipe successes and disasters!) and I hope this helps others who might be minded to try the same thing.

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feeling summer

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I tried this winter to grow something but thanks to climate change, it was all very unpredictable.  I shall have to think of something to beat this chaotic weather for next year.  I am beginning on an exciting community garden project which I will report another time.

For now, I am using the summer harvest to good use in the chilly winter.  This is my chilli oil.  The ingredients consisted of a base of a neutral oil (I used 100 litres of organic sesame seed oil) which I heated for 30 seconds in the microwave.  Then I added four birds eye chillies, two sprigs of rosemary, a few sage leaves and four peppercorns.  You can adjust the chilli according to your needs- my children seemed to love the chilli taste.  Then leave to infuse in a jar for at least two weeks before using.

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One does not need a dog

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I have recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis.  This is bad news not only because I am relatively young, but also that the disease has hit my spine.  I have read a lot about the condition and how it can be avoided or its onset reduced.  I have been prescribed Vitamin D and calcium tablets but it is not enough to swallow tablets.  Being outside in the actual sunshine is more important.  But Britain does not have enough sun all through the year and in the winter months, it is particularly difficult getting the right amount of sun every day.  So as soon as I see the sun coming out, I am impatient to get out- sunshine is like precious gold, I have decided.  Having seen how dog owners are quite healthy, I have been going outdoors and reading or walking for most days- even when it is raining or cold. No, one doesn’t have to have a dog to go outside- having children can help but even if you don’t have either of those, going out helps. And it certainly costs less.  I also enjoy watching children playing- their joy is infectious.  In this photo taken this afternoon, these boys were black with mud but really totally engrossed in their muddy football.  It brought a smile to my face.

In a recent study at the University of Exeter lead by Matthew White, it was revealed that the health benefits of being outdoors is as much as about a third of the impact of getting married (minus the costs!) and a tenth of the impact of being employed.  So it shows that one does not need to be married or employed to get the benefits of being outdoors.  In the Netherlands, a study of almost 350,000 people, found that the people were less likely to have 24 of 35 diseases and in Japan, another study found that elderly people were more likely to live longer if they used open spaces.  The positive effects of being outdoors last longer than the euphoria that comes from winning the lottery or getting a pay rise or promotion.  And with little stress involved!

I remember a documentary about the children’s author, Judith Kerr, who is now 93.  Come any weather, she talks a walk for two hours every day.  How amazing she looks and how creative she is.  Engaging with nature influences our mental being by raising our spirits and exercising our mental abilities.  Many mover and shakers and authors have described how their creativity is helped by walking- Thoreau, Gandhi, and many others along with Kerr were walkers.  Further, walking is in streets is better than no walking- the health benefits of a weight bearing exercise like walking outweighs the risks from pollution.  So get your precious gold today- one doesn’t need a dog!