The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Until death do we part

I have been very guilty of loving my houseplants too much- by overwatering, over-fertilising and doing every other over-the-top thing.  I have lost many plants and also money.  So now I have reduced what I buy- though I still love to have plants in the house.  Contrary to the view that houseplants hugely increase the amount of carbon dioxide during the evening and night and therefore it is not good to have them inside the house, it has now been calculated that they only increase it by a very small amount.  This amount of carbon dioxide does not have any health disadvantage and the benefits of having house plants outweighs everything else.

During the late 1980’s, NASA did some research on houseplants as a means of providing purer and cleaner air for space stations. The plants filter out certain harmful compounds in the air and make it much healthier to breathe. My top three maintenance free and double use houseplants are-

  • Spider plant (which can absorb 90 percent of the toxins inside the house by absorbing mold and other allergens, small traces of formaldehyde and carbon monoxide; and best of all, live on practically nothing and yet produce ‘little babies’ that can be detached and given away as gifts!)
  • Aloe vera (the juice of which can be used for burns and insect bites)
  • Peace Lily (which improves the indoor air quality by as much as 60 percent by reducing the levels of mold spores, keeping bathrooms free from mildew and absorbing harmful vapors from alcohol and acetone.  The peace lily also produces beautiful white or pale flowers- bonus! And after reducing my watering, it has finally produced a beautiful flower after many years of being flowerless.
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Over the years, I have drastically reduced the numbers of houseplants but I was still overpowering them with water.  But simply keeping water levels low or watering them every 2-3 weeks works well.  A tip I got about watering houseplants when going away was to leave an ice cube in the pot- this has also worked well.  This time was the first time I didn’t find my houseplants nearly dead from overwatering after I returned from a three-week holiday (previously I used to sit my houseplants knee deep in water!).  My nearly dead poinsettia has even come back to life with glorious red leaves as you see below. I am now working on the orchid on which I will report later.

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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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three benefits of gardening

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I have but a modest little balcony to adorn with flowers and it has given me such valuable benefits, apart from the food I grow in containers.  Here the three main benefits-

1. Exercise- bending, straightening up, kneeling, stretching, lifting (carefully!), lifting up on your toes- all these positions that we use while gardening are also poses used in Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises.  With care, these can become a  part of our daily routine- and time saving as well because you can exercise while doing something else .  Gardeners are some of the healthiest and fittest people I have seen.

2. Mental health- The gardener’s concentration skills and calmness are also affected positively by what they do and how they do it.  I suppose that is why Zen monks take such good care of their gardens. It is a two way process- creating beauty with very little (some Zen gardens are just raked sand and stones) which in turn gives the benefits of creativity and calmness. Spending time outdoors is also healing.

3. Building better bones- I recently had a health scare when my blood test revealed very little Vitamin D.  The lack of vitamin D can lead to bone pain and tenderness due to a condition called osteomalacia.  Despite doing Yoga and stretching, I was still suffering from aches and pains (and am due to visit a physiotherapist).  I have been prescribed Vitamin D tablets now.  However, I was surprised to learn that these tablets by themselves do not do much- they still need sunlight to make them effective.  Sunlight has UV light that helps Vitamin D to absorb the calcium from food.  Particularly for women after the age of 30-35 when bones start to disintegrate and for older people, sunlight is essential.  However too much UV exposure can lead to melanoma and pre-mature skin ageing.  So I was scared of going in the sun.  However, if you do your outdoor gardening before 11-00 am and after 4-00pm, when the sun has lost its fierceness, you will be be fine as long as you don’t let your skin burn.  About 5 minutes exposure to white skin is fine while darker skins should be out for longer.

My 81 year old Japanese friend who looks at least 20 years younger, gave me this tip- she exposes her palms and lower arms to the sun for about 20 minutes and she has had no problems at all.  This can be done very easily when gardening.

 


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Nettle and plantain dish

Nettles grow wild in the UK and most throw them away as weeds.  However, nettles are quite nourishing with health restoring properties.  It is a slow-acting nutritive herb that gently cleanses the body of metabolic wastes. It has a stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, enhancing the excretion of wastes through the kidneys. Nettle contains iron and vitamins C and K. It is reportedly specially beneficial to pregnant women.  It is also anti-lithic and nephridic, breaking down stones in the kidneys and gravel in the bladder.

I had a recipe for a spinach and banana dish in which I decided to swap for nettles and plantain.  I used plantain instead of banana to overcome any possible strong reaction with the bowel because plantain slows it down.  Pick the nettle leaves carefully and put them in some hot water which makes them stingless and then they can be chopped up roughly.  To couple of spoons of hot oil, I added a pinch of cumin seeds and birds eye chillies and fried for 1-2 minutes until the cumin seeds were puffed up. Then I added four chopped garlic cloves, half chopped onion and one tomato, quartered, along with the sliced plantain and chopped nettle leaves. Stir until all done- takes about 4-5 minutes with a lid on during last few minutes.  Serve with rice and salt to taste.

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