The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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making the most of basil

As I have mentioned before, it is worth buying potted herbs from shops, rather than trying to grow your own from seeds.  Growing from seeds has been lengthy and bit of a hit and miss. I do still try.  Recently I read about making the most of shop bought herbs.  One of the tips was to re-pot the herb after buying and the other tip was to cut off the tip.  I tried both techniques and this is what happened-

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The pinched basil is more bushy, the leaves more rounded and tasty.  In the picture to the right, I am holding up the type of three leafed bud that needs to be taken out.  The re-potted one which has flowered as well, has more pointy leaves which are less tasty and a bit woody.  However, it might be worth doing both things- re-potting and pinching to encourage even more growth and I shall do that an dlet you know the outcome.  Both plants were bought about 3-4 weeks ago and I imagine should last me the whole summer if not more.


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where to spend and where to save

There are many things that people do during the summer planting season when they get enthusiastic about growing.  My neighbour plants tomatoes for instance every year.  Tomatoes, potatoes and some herbs (Rosemary, chives, mint in particular) are easy to grow from seeds or cuttings. Sometimes people plant too many and I am lucky to have got plants from neighbours who then wanted to get rid of them.

However, having tried growing some herbs and berries from seeds, I would advise that it is definitely easier to buy some of these than growing them.  These include Basil, thyme, parsley and strawberries.  Supermarket herb pots (as recommended by some blogs) have been a disappointment so I tend to buy them from small nurseries or Kew Gardens.  Strawberries can be notoriously difficult to grow from scratch, especially given the erratic weather.  Here are some of the bought herbs compared to ones I grew from seed- see the parsley and thyme.

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Home grown Parsley and thyme toward the bottom.


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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.