The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Homemade shampoo

In the spirit of the wave against a throwaway culture and also of Konmari methods, I decided to use whatever I had in the house to make a homemade shampoo.  This also meant that I did not buy the spice/coffee grinder that I was going to get from Amazon. After having browsed the website for days, and even got a free gift card, so I wouldn’t have had to pay anyway.  I also looked into buying a manual grinder.  But I was conscious that I would buying something that needed manufacturing, transporting and packaging, not to mention maintenance and cleaning.  Some of the reviews were good and a few were bad but these days, one cannot trust online reviews either as many have turned out to be fake.  Thirdly, using the heavy mortar and pestle is actually good for my joints as I have osteoporosis. I’ve been recommended weight bearing exercises and this appears to be a two things for one!

So this morning, I dug out an old mortar and pestle that had been found lurking in our old house and I had cleaned it some time back- I wrote about how to remove rust then.  Then I found several things in my cupboard which I have substituted for the original recipe as some of the ingredients cannot be found in the a ‘Western’ country easily. Here is my recipe for a homemade shampoo, suitable for dark hair. But if you used dried hops or camomile, you can use this for blonde or lighter hair.   These are traditional herbs that have been used for thousands of years, so they are tried and tested on humans. However, I am not a herbalist and I suggest you try a small portion on your skin before you put this on your scalp.IMG_0853.JPG

Ingredients:

  1. Four tablespoons of reetha powder ( I used my old heavy mortar and pestle to pound up this powder from dried reetha fruits I already had, after removing the black podlike seed inside)
  2. One tablespoon fenugreek seeds
  3. One tablespoon chickpea flour (substituted for green gram flour in the original recipe)
  4. One tablespoon dried Tulsi powder (already had but now easily available in Western stores)
  5. One tablespoon dried rosemary (substituted for dried curry leaves)- this is good for dark hair

One teaspoon dried amla lying in the house (again pounded up using the mortar and pestle) but you can omit if you can’t find it.IMG_0848.jpgThis is what it looks like when ground up together. Don’t worry too much if you don’t seem to have a fine powder- it still works because you need to soak it in water for at least two hours before use.

One it has been soaked in a small amount of water, you can see the soapy liquid forming. Use a bit of rosewater for this if you have any- I used Nealsyard rosewater but ordinary water will do fine as well. Best of all it smells very sweet, can’t really describe it but so much better than any shampoo I’ve used so far, even if they claim to be organic and natural.

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Before use, massage your head with some coconut oil, said to encourage hair growth.  Leave it for about 20 minutes and then apply this paste to the head and wash off.  It is such a lovely Sunday treat! Best of all, it was free to make with what I had in the kitchen.

 

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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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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.


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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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camping at home- and living without

I was brought up in India, a hot tropical country. We did not have many ‘modern amenities’ for most of my life- things that would be considered almost impossible to live without, for example- the fridge, telephone and the TV.  Now I live in London, a country of temperate climate.  In 2011, I decided on an experiment to switch off my fridge and freezer.  Initially I used an old fashioned ‘food safe’- a Victorian metal cabinet which I left out in my balcony- to store perishables.  As I was away on and off for eight months of that year doing research for a book, it was a particular challenge to manage food and food waste.  However, needless to say, my fridge and freezer had been usually empty as I cook with fresh ingredients and do not usually buy frozen or chilled foods anyway.

Initially I made mistakes, mostly with rice.  I usually eat rice as I am on gluten free diet.  Gone off rice is dangerous because it harbours spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning.  If the rice is left standing at room temperature, the spores can grow into bacteria. These bacteria will multiply and may produce toxins (poisons) that cause vomiting or diarrhoea.  In order to save time, I cooked more rice than needed but it was more than I could eat. I was sick.  So l learnt not to cook more than I needed.  I learnt to give away extra food to people when I was going away.

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Of course, my two children did not like that their eccentric mummy did not use a fridge (‘all our friends have fridges and their mums don’t sing while they cook!’ were the complaints I heard).  Amongst all other things, apparently cold milk is a necessity, I realised for children who have been brought up in the city and do not realise that fresh milk from the cow is actually warm.  When we wanted ice cream or ice, we bought it and used it straightaway.  I did not use my fridge for two years!  After much complaints about the milk temperature and my singing, I decided to switch on the fridge and freezer only for the summer.  This year I found someone had left a good quality insulated picnic box outside our place. I got it and washed it; and have been using this- again left out on the balcony.  Delicate herbs like coriander keep quite well outside in a small cup of water and hardy mint actually grows roots (and I have planted some of it). The coriander you see in the photo is a week old (from the supermarket)- in the fridge it would have rotted by now.  The mint is several weeks old!

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Thanks to climate change, as the weather is still cold enough, I am not using the fridge at the moment (even the milk is cold enough for my children).  So what are the advantages of not using the fridge or freezer?

1. I buy only what I need (my food bill has gone down immensely)

2. Food is cooked fresh, using fresh ingredients.

3. Zero or nil food waste.

4. Although not enough to be huge difference, my electricity bill has gone down slightly.

5. Due to being forced to have fresh food, we buy local and thereby save on food airmiles.

6. We’ve had to cut down on several high calorie foods such as butter, cream, etc as all these foods need the fridge- this is actually good.

7. Best of all, I don’t have to clean the fridge or freezer- I am using them for storage at present.

Wacky or canny- you decide!!!  I am still singing though!


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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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A year later!

I started writing this blog as a diary of transformation of my garden.  See my first post from May 2013 and this photo of how it was-

Starting out

This year I have managed to put some effort into the garden which is what you will see below.  Many of the pots were got from street, some from charity shops, some given- only one was bought.  Most of the plants were either grown from seeds, rescued from somewhere or given and a few were bought as ‘baby plants’.  I have used wooden pallets found on the streets, tyres, home made compost and bits of furniture to create a container garden.  I love the fact that not everything grows all at once- there is always a new surprise all year, especially summer.  There is a bit of everything- things to eat- herbs, salads, tomatoes, potatoes;  things to look at- ornamental cultivars; and wild things- nettles, wildflowers, dandelions- all of which I use for cooking or decorating.  Someone once said that they spend about one hour each day, on the garden and from this experience, I concur.  A lot of the work is upkeep, rather than simply planting.  Again, I think, container gardening is harder than conventional gardening- the amount of moisture in the soil, the nutrients and the placement of pots are very important and take planning and time.

 

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