The Canny Gardener

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


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Natures does not make waste

I used to wrap sweetcorn in aluminium foil and bake it- along with countless other times of using the aluminium foil for other things.   I learnt a more eco-friendly way to bake sweet corn from my vegetable delivery company last week.  And it is very simple too.  Just soak the sweet corn in water for 30 minutes without taking off the outer husk- it also keeps in fresher and sweeter for longer.

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Then without taking off the husks, bake it for about 25-30 minutes in oven 180 degrees.  Take it out but do not remove the husks until the last minute- they will keep warm.  Then serve with lashings of butter and a little salt if you like, delicious!  You can also barbecue the sweetcorn in this way, instead of using the oven.

I can reuse the husks to cover other stuff instead of using foil and they cover tricky shapes like ovals and circles as they stretch. Foil is of course, recyclable infinitely but the raw production of it is very energy intensive. Foil can be reused but most people throw it away after one use.  Used husks below are very easy to use- and after the second use, I have now put them for composting- Nature does not make waste!

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I found the following information about aluminium foil. http://www.green24.com/lifestyle/foil.php

Up to six tonnes of bauxite ore (the raw material for aluminium) is needed to produce one tonne of aluminium metal. Lot of of fossil fuels are used to mine, transport, and refine the ore (embodied energy). Foil in a landfill is said to last at least 400 years before breaking down. Burning aluminium foil with the waste from landfill sites (as many people don’t bother to re-use or recycle it) releases toxic metals and gases.  Health concerns have been raised about using aluminium cooking vessels so using foil should have similar concerns.  So why not use a totally biodegradable and natural material to bake or barbecue your sweetcorn?


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canny composting

I have been trying to make compost for some time. Living in an apartment, I do not have access to soil- all my plants are grown in containers.  I looked at buying a composter but found not only the costs and maintenance difficult but after reading reviews, realised that not all composters work effectively.  I don’t have the money to try experiments to see which composter might work.

So working on the principle of Hügelkultur, I put all my cuttings from gardening and cooking, leftover soil from pots and some shop bought compost as a ‘starter’ and wrapped it in plastic sheeting and left it for a year inside a used tyre.  Today, I unrolled it. Apart from the slugs, spiders, wood lice and earthworms, I have lovely black compost!  It felt warm to the touch, so it must have been composting and some weeds have taken advantage of this!

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Hügelkultur is a composting process where one creates raised planting beds on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds.  This idea replicates the natural process of decomposition that occurs on forest floors. I had previously used this idea in the planter itself, copying this from the Cuban urban gardeners who had to work with poor soil inside cities.

 


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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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Palette clever

Last week, I created a plant and tool tidy from a palette. I am not a great carpenter and because I have arthritis, can’t do heavy sawing or nailing.  This is very simple to do and I used whatever stuff I had at home, being a believer in re-use and of course, being canny.  All you need a good quality palette, some pin nails or a stapler, a hammer and plastic containers and trays that you get from supermarkets and takeaways. If you can’t find a good quality palette (those are not easy to find, just use what you have)

1. First I nailed the trays and containers on the central timber stringer.  This can be a bit tricky because even though I have small fingers and used a small hammer, it is not easy to nail in the corners or the inner sides.  However the timber is soft and the pins go in quickly. I used pin nails as they are small. You can try a stapler gun on the outsides if you wish but this is simpler.

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2. Then I screwed in a hook to bottom of each of the top stringers to hold a variety of garden tools. I now turned the palette the right way up and put in the plants and the tools- Voilà it is ready!

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Because I used the supermarket trays, they also fit the pot sizes.

You can personalise this- perhaps write labels on the timber near the plants, perhaps have more hooks to hang things from or even paint it.  You can see I have a micro greenhouse for the ginger plant I am growing and you can add your own things as you need them.  In the winter, I intend to make a plastic cover for it and it will become my herb green house. Perfect for small patios and balconies.