The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Energy garden project

Last year, I started a project with my charity, Charushila, for a concept called ‘Energy Gardens’. The Energy Garden project is a partnership project delivered by the NGO Repowering London and environmental charity, Groundwork Trust, with Transport for London. In time, 50 of London’s Overground stations will be transformed into community ‘Energy Gardens’ with thriving gardens that will incorporate food growing plots and solar panels providing on-site renewable energy for lighting, water pumps or other station amenities.  In addition to improving the daily commute of people going to work the creation of the gardens will also help people get into work through training opportunities and paid horticulture apprenticeships for young people.

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Charushila was a partner in facilitating the project at one of the stations, Acton Central.  The first year was spent in community engagement which provided a blue print for what the local community wanted and getting ideas for the project that people felt were of local importance.  The engagement was also about securing future commitment to the project in terms of maintenance and ownership.  In all, about 200 local people were consulted for this project- including residents, passengers, station staff, school children and local businesses.  The project has been taking shape slowly and many ideas are yet to be implemented. Some of the planters have already been adopted by local organisations, so if you’d like to adopt one, please let us know.  We are looking for volunteers to plant, water and weed, so please come along if you live nearby.  

But even though it is yet to be finished (these community projects involving gardens always take a long time!) , it is always heartening to get compliments from people getting in and out of the trains (a man said, “wonderful to see this work!”) and even better to eat the produce.  My two recent recipes involve spinach and pumpkin flowers (these flowers were about to be thrown away!)

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Spinach, Bangla style:

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This is about 500 gms of spinach but as you’ll see when it cooks, the volume reduces!

Heat couple of spoonfuls of cooking oil in a wok- I used organic sunflower oil. Throw in a teaspoonful each of mustard seeds, black onion seeds (Kalonji) and Fenugreek (Methi) seeds, one birds eye chilli pod, a tablespoon of turmeric and a small ball of jaggery/molasses or if you can’t find that, then a teaspoon of sugar will do.  I also added some chopped carrots.  Put in salt to taste- the spinach is slightly salty anyway, so put in less than you might do for other dishes.  Put on a lid and relax with a cup of tea while the spinach cooks.  In about 20 minutes, take off the lid and check- it should look like this- IMG_4168.JPG

Pumpkin flower fritters

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Wash the flowers carefully and and take out the hard stalks and petals at the bottom of the flower but make sure you keep the shape of the flower.  Dry them on a towel.

This is for three flowers- so if you have more or less, do adjust accordingly.  In a small bowl, mix a teaspoon of freshly crushed coriander and cumin seeds, add salt to taste (and paprika powder to taste if you like chilli taste).  Add three large heaped tablespoons of chickpea flour and carefully add water so that you get a runny consistency.  When you dip each flower into it, the paste should stick evenly to the whole of it, otherwise adjust the water so that it does.  If you make too much of it, you can always add chopped onions and make some bhajjis with the same paste!  These are now fried in hot oil and you can eat them with ketchup (like my son does!) or with tamarind chutney-

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Our charity project is coming along

These are photos from an ‘Energy garden’ project we are doing on a London Overground station.  The intention is to have vegetables, herbs and flowers growing on the platform, with rainwater harvesting, composting, and recycling.  So the vegetables and flowers have been planted and are doing well- thanks to the station staff who look after them.  A mural and slate plaque are planned for later this summer.

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This work is being done as part of the environmental design charity I started, Charushila.  For more information see www.charushila.org

This video introduces the Energy Garden concept which is a partnership between London Overground, Groundwork Trust, Repowering London and local organisations like ours-


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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.