The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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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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Natural slug deterrent

With the wet and warm weather recently, there has been a deluge of slugs who are busy chomping up my salads and leaving slimy trails on my tomatoes.  Urggh- I have looked at them and can’t seem to like them. In fact I think I prefer spiders to slugs!  Having read many tips from books and on the internet, I have settled on one tip that works brilliantly on container gardens.  That are egg shells.  They are cost free in the sense that they are waste products of the eggs one has eaten. They are natural and easy to use.  I collect them and then put them in a plastic bag and crush them.  Then I lay the pieces in the containers.

The crushed eggshells deter not just slugs but also snails and cutworms because they can’t slither across the sharp edges of the shells. As a bonus, the egg shells also contain calcium that the plants love. If you have a compost pile, then putting these into it gives a calcium rich compost which are good for your tomatoes.  If you like feeding birds, then crush up the eggshells and add them to a dish near the feeder. Female birds, particularly those who are getting ready to lay eggs or recently finished laying, require extra calcium and will benefit from the extra calcium.

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Late harvests

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Perhaps it is climate change, perhaps it is a surprise gift, and perhaps it is a sign of my increasing gardening skills- I have these lovely tomatoes still growing in their glorious reds and sunny yellows brightening up my garden.  Some salad leaves are still growing along with the nasturtiums.  So here is my lovely late summer, near autumn salad, simply served with a splash of olive oil and served with love- delicious!


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Summer abundance chutney

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I returned from a three week holiday to find that there had been storms in the UK and my little garden was a little wrecked.  My prized crop of italian plum tomatoes which had not ripened were on the deck and there were raspberries which needed to be eaten, otherwise they’d go off. Well, we ate as many raspberries we could and then I thought about making a chutney with the rest.  Chutneys which originate from India are an accompaniment to a main meal, eaten at the end.  In the West, chutneys are eaten with crisp breads, cheese, salad and meats- just about anything.

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This is an easy recipe which can be adjusted to any amount of fruit lying around (which is what you see in the second photo of unripe tomatoes and raspberries).  I used a tablespoon of sunflower oil and put it on medium heat.  When the oil was ready, I threw in a pinch each of cumin and fenugreek seeds; and two birds’eyes chillies until the cumin seeds ‘swelled up’. Then I put the cut tomatoes and whole raspberries in.  When they softened, I added molasses- one and half tablespoon.  Molasses are a good alternative to white sugar as they contain fibres, minerals and iron and more, see link below-

http://greenlitebites.com/2010/11/11/sweetener-comparisons-honey-agave-molasses-sugar-maple-syrup/

Molasses are used in traditional Indian cooking, sugar being an unknown ingredient.  I also added a pinch of turmeric.  After less than 15 minutes, the chutney was ready. With a bit of zing- this is a delicious chutney!

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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.