The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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when life gives you lemons…

Lemons, preserved or not, are really great for many types of foods from Western to Eastern, stopping by at Middle eastern, so really universal.  Lime is sweeter than lemon and is used more in Eastern dishes but you can interchange them as I discovered if you have one and not the other.  I have been experimenting with lemons and limes recently so here are some of my discoveries and money saving tips.

  1. To keep lemons and limes fresh for a long time, do not put them in dishes and display them on dining tables as they show in home improvement shows.  Instead, put them in a jar and fill it with water and keep in the fridge.  This way, they keep for a long time instead of becoming dried and unusable.  Lemons and limes are quite expensive, so this is a good money saving idea.IMG_0990.JPG
  2. Lemon rinds can be dried at home, before you use the juice for cooking, so try to buy unwaxed limes and lemons and make lemon peels instead of throwing the peels away.
  3. It is quite easy to make preserved lemons however, the cost and time required are not worth it, according to me.  So it is cheaper to buy organic preserved lemons than making them at home.  Plus you can buy these anytime of the year- if you choose to make them at home, lemons can be quite expensive in the summer, so you have to wait for winter to make them at home. However, one money saving tip I have discovered is not to throw the fleshy bits as many of the Moroccan recipes suggest and only using the rind. In fact, once you cut everything in bits and discard the inedible internal skins and bitter seeds, you can use everything up. I have so far used these in Moroccan style lamb and chicken; and Italian style pork.  I have used grape juice to sweeten the dish as the lemon bits can be quite sour.IMG_0985.JPGIMG_0996.JPG
  4. Both lemons and limes can be used to make lemonades. I prefer a quick version using squeezed lime and lemon juice and some sugar and a pinch of salt- then mixed with fizzy water and ice. You can thrown in the used rinds and some mint leaves if you have them.  A cheap cool drink for the summer.


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Easy pumpkin seed snack

It is autumn and pumpkins are readily available.  Use them for your Halloween pumpkin and then make pumpkin soup from that.  But don’t throw the seeds or the gooey stuff around the seeds.  That gooey stuff attached to the seeds can be taken out easily using water as this Youtube video shows.  The gooey stuff can be thrown into your compost and the water used for the plants (so don’t use running water to clean the seeds as the video shows but use a bowl of water instead)  The cleaned seeds can be used for snacks.  Many of the recipes use shelled seeds and some don’t- you can use what you prefer.  Due to some health issues, I can’t have the shells so I have used bought pumpkin seeds for this recipe but you can do the same with your seeds with shells. I have also let go of the olive oil used in many recipes because it is not good in the heat but used coconut oil instead. You need much less oil this way.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.  Put your oven tray in for a few minutes to warm it, get it out and then put a tiny (I used a teaspoon) of coconut oil. It will melt.  Spread the oil around the tray evenly and then put in a teaspoon of cajun spice or you can use garam masala.  Mix the oil and the spice and blend in the seeds so that you have a even one layer of seeds on the tray.  I also sprinkled some Himalayan sea salts on the mixture- again a small amount.

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Stick the tray back in the oven for about 10 minutes or so until the seeds have turned crispy and become a lighter colour.

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The finished seeds should have golden light colour- see the difference in the photos above and below.  Then they are done. They are so yummy, low fat, free (if you have the pumpkin) and so simple to make! Its great party food plus very healthy-with nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc. They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants.

Because these are high-fibre seeds, they’re able to boost your fibre intake, helping you reach the ideal amount of 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed and keep your bowels clear.  You can also take them as snacks for work or to the park because pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration.

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canny planting

An important part of being a canny gardener is thinking about how to do the most with least (thereby save money).  Some could be about buying perennials, some could be about plants that re-seed/re-grow  by themselves every year and some about plants that do two or three things. Here are some easy plants that have worked for me because they are easy, need little watering and resistant to common pests while attracting bees and good insects.

  • Eating and looking/smelling good– Edible Chrysanthemums, Chopsuey greens (extreme right), pansies and lavender.  Shown below (left) is the edible chrysanthemums and my thai rice noodle made with it.  I am going to use the flowers and the pansies, along with the nasturtiums to make a ‘flower salad’ later.

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  • Buy one and get many for free– Calla lilies, Hosta, Alpine sedum, mint (both mint and sedum work well as ground cover, saving time on weeding. Shown below is my Hosta plant which has had many babies and survived slug onslaughts (slugs love Hosta).  When the leaves are young, you can eat them as greens.

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  • Reseeding by themselves- Mexican Daisy, poppies and Marigold. White flowers spring through fall. All needs medium to low water.  With the daisies, you can also divide and get many from one small pot that you buy.

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  • Perennials– Clematis, Agapanthus, Lobellia Fan Scarlet, Canna (many of the South African flowering plants will also grow in the UK and Europe, needing only little watering and care and producing gorgeously vivid blooms) . Shown from left to right are the Californian poppy (that occasionally becomes perennial!, calla lily and agapanthus, Erysimum (Bowles Mauve) and Clematis.

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  • Useful weeds– Herb Robert, Dandelion, common geranium, nettles- I have got these free from the heavens- they are medicinal herbs, good for bees and grow with no problems! Shown below are nettles which I use for food, fertiliser and tea and also wild geraniums.

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Elderflower tests

Elderflower juice

This photo shows some of my elderflower cordial being sold at my son’s school fair- it was very popular and sold out soon, even though it was not the sort of weather for it, i.e. cold and rainy.  I made the cordial this year with a little added Chinese wine vinegar which appeared to have improved the taste.  Now the elderflowers on trees are slowly turning into elderberries, so soon it will be time for compotes.  This summer I tried some more experiments with elderflowers.  Here are couple-

1. Growing elderflowers in a pot

My previous potted elderflower died- they do not like containers but that is all I have, so I have to keep trying to grow them.  This year while getting the flowers for the cordial I made above, I managed to tear down an entire small branch. Racked with guilt, I didn’t want to throw it away.  So I thought, why not try to plant this in the pot. I kept it for a few days in some water and then using some rooting compound on the cut stem, I put it in a pot. It seemed to a be failure and I was about to throw it away yesterday but lo behold, it seems to be growing. Now I need to see what happens- will keep readers updated and if any of you have have success with growing elderflowers in a pot, please let me know.  Apparently they need severe pruning in early spring or late autumn and they may die after three years (as it happened with my last one)

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2. Elderflower tea

I did a taste test between dried and frozen elderflowers.  In samples tasted by four people who didn’t know which one was which, all concluded that the dried elderflower worked the best for tea. So next year, more dried elderflower tea (the good thing is it doesn’t need any kind of sweetener- it is lovely as it is) and has many health benefits.  Elderflower is rich in bioflavonoids, mostly flavones and flavonols. The most abundant flavonols in elderflower are quercetin, isoquercitrin and anthocyanins, which have antiviral properties as well. Elderflower also contains chlorogenic acids, such as cinnamic acid, which may help with allergies, regulate blood glucose levels and have a laxative effect on the body (so take in moderation!). Triterpenoids, especially β-amyrin, erythrodiol, and oleanolic acid, are also found in elderflower. These triterpenoids offer a variety of health benefits including analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

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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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Nourishing Nasturtiums

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Nasturtiums are one of the easiest plants grown from seed at home and at present, in October they are still flowering.  So I decided to use them in a potato salad to make a mouth watering and hormone balancing dish today.

Ingredients:

500gms waxy potatoes such as charlotte or pink fir

6 tsps mayonaise (shop bought is fine!)

3tsps greek style yoghurt

1 tsp Dijon or English mustard

4 Spring onions, chopped

handful of Nasturtium leaves, stems and flowers, including seeds- chopped.

Sand and ground pepper to taste

Cook the potatoes as directed- 15-20 minutes but make sure they still hold the shape.  No need to peel. Make the dressing using the next three ingredients. Once the potatoes are cooled, then add the dressing and lastly, add the chopped Nasturtiums leaves, flowers and seeds.  The seeds are a good and cheap substitute for capers.

Nasturtium leaves have a high concentration of Vitamin C and are also a natural antibiotic. Eating a couple of the peppery leaves at the onset of a cold can stop it dead in its tracks. The gentle antibiotic reaction makes it ideal for treating minor colds and flu, especially at the start of autumn.

Here in the photo I grilled a mackerel and added it to a bed of marinated onions.  Mackerels are rich in beneficial vitamins, minerals and oils.  Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids occur in high quantities in this fish. It contains vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K. Various minerals also occur richly in the fish. These include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium and selenium. Trace minerals include zinc and copper. The fish also contains protein and the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10. Onions are good for thyroids.


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Late harvests

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Perhaps it is climate change, perhaps it is a surprise gift, and perhaps it is a sign of my increasing gardening skills- I have these lovely tomatoes still growing in their glorious reds and sunny yellows brightening up my garden.  Some salad leaves are still growing along with the nasturtiums.  So here is my lovely late summer, near autumn salad, simply served with a splash of olive oil and served with love- delicious!