gardening

Repurpose

When perusing a seed catalogue with a view to vegetable planting for the coming season, it’s easy to have eyes bigger than available plot space. I have experienced this in the past and with novice gardener’s enthusiasm have attempted to grow too many varieties resulting in what can only be described as a crowded, unsuccessful tangle. This season I am narrowing my selection to three plantings based on what will grow best and what we will actually eat. It’s all very well sowing several rows of hollow-crown parsnip seeds, but what do you do when upon harvesting your glut, everyone at the table pokes at the mash suspiciously or makes polite excuses? So this winter, I plan to slice the heads off cauliflower and broccoli and uproot a good supply of leeks because these are the staples that appear in many of our cold weather meals. There will also be some fenugreek seeds going in, a herb to be added to winter Indian curries, and based on the fact they will prosper independently in terracotta pots, they won’t be part of the head count.

When you keep chickens, it’s amazing how generous people are with their empty egg cartons. I have accumulated a tremendous supply from well-wishers who I suspect, like me, are not comfortable tossing away these resourceful cardboard packages and share a collective relief that there is a good home to be found for them. There is however, a limit to how quickly my brood of five can fill them, so I do have a considerable stockpile. You can then imagine how pleased I was when I saw these gems planted up as seed sprouters, that when the seedlings have reached maturity, can be planted out directly in the garden within their own biodegradable pods. Less shock to the seedlings and nothing to be disposed of – a perfect gardening scenario.

When sliced down the centre, the bobbly half of the carton with the 12 egg craters is filled with seed-raising soil (after being pierced with a skewer for drainage). Simply insert the exact number of seeds in each pod and gently water with a spray bottle. Each of my seed planters sits in its own aluminium baking tray and is covered with cling film to create a mini hot house. The cardboard lip that was formerly used to close the carton is a fabulous place to write the name and planting date of the seeds.

The plan is, once the sprouts have appeared, all but the strongest in each pod will be culled – survival of the fittest, natural selection, runts of the litter – whatever biological theory you subscribe to, will be the way the most superior, robust seedlings with the greatest chance to produce will go forth to the great outdoors and provide us with a groaning table of winter veg. Well, that is my theory. For now they sit lined up near a sunny window and I have a new daily task assigned to lift the cling film, give a light spritz of water, watch and wait.

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gardening · health and wellbeing

Sowing

Little Red Hen

It’s usually when I’m knee-deep in dirt that my most profound thoughts occur, and to follow suit as I recently pushed the pitch fork into the neglected vegetable patch, this came to me: you reap what you sow. Obviously not an original light bulb, but one that spurred me to dig deeper as weeds resisted and motivation waned. To keep turning that soil and uprooting a winter’s worth of tangled roots, the mental picture of what would be thriving in a few months fuelled the progress.

So as fork struck earth, as it so often does my mind took that thought on quite an expedition, concluding at the realisation that all we reap from life does in fact come from all the effort of our sowing.

This row of infant beans will be fed, watered and watched over. Should environmental factors threaten, they will be protected, mended and secured once more to their trellis. My hopes for these beans are that they grow tall and are healthy, producing a bounty for our table.

Row of new beans

Like these beans we nurture our children, nourishing, shielding and guiding with hopes of healthy, robust individuals emerging. And it is through these sowing and cultivating years that can be so challenging we know to persevere, as the ripening of resilient people is the greatest reward.

And our friends, the cheerful petal-faced people, that brighten our days as their horticultural counterparts do from their vases, flourish with our attention. Considered time and effort is a necessity to keep flowers blooming – and so it is with our companions. Both to be treasured.

flower seeds

All of the delicious meals, fascinating stories and masterful accomplishments in the workplace began with cognitive seeds, given time to develop. Pause and reflect on the satisfying fruits of your recent labour and know that it was your careful sowing that resulted in their fruition.

scarecrow

Postscript: Mind you, there are times when no matter how carefully you sow and how expertly you guard, the crows of life can intervene ….

family · gardening

Sprout

sprouted seeds

To have the privilege, be the silent observer of life unfolding in its most rudimentary form, has great impact on the psyche of the young. To know the grain will become the tree, plants the seed of understanding regarding our own place on this terra firma. And holding this belief, I have enormous gratitude for my mother, who in recent weeks, arranged a sprouter for the youngest in our family, so he too could make this cognitive connection for himself.

Seed sprouters have certainly made significant leaps since my early days. Ours, being ice-cream lids or saucers lined with damp cotton wool, played the role of propagators to handfuls of wheat. Every kindergarten nature table in the 1970’s displayed them proudly. The sprouting science did not stop there, but continued on into early high school. ‘Controlled experiments’  were devised to prove hypotheses around photosynthesis – one poor saucer being sentenced to a darkened cupboard whilst the other basked on the sill. After a short space of time it became abundantly clear to us all, as we extracted the yellowed, wispy lifeless growth from the pitch, that plants do indeed require sunlight to thrive. Basic conversion of light to energy – simple chemistry.

If you believe that your grasp (and that of your progeny) of your collective place in the scheme of things is quite sound, rendering a seed propagator superfluous, then there’s more to be learnt. Once their educational role has been performed, these lovely shoots will become nutritious accompaniments to your sandwiches, salads and stir fries. Think alfalfa, radish and broccoli (below) for your sandwiches, adzuki beans, mung beans and lentils for your salads and chick peas and soya beans for extra protein in your next stir fry. Who knew that simple germination could yield such results?

seed sprouter

Postscript: and for the Breaking Bad fans amongst us, in the words of Walter White: always respect the chemistry.

gardening

Poppy

Red poppy

For reasons unknown to me, I have always had an affinity to the wayward. A being with its own mind who surges forth without heed has never failed to capture my imagination. Fickle natured cats, colourful friends and the odd eccentric uncle are dotted fondly throughout my history. So therefore, it should not come as a surprise, that in the floral arena, a poppy will win me over faster than any long-stemmed dozen possibly could.

As far as my experience is concerned, poppies are a law unto themselves. Try cultivating them into obedient rows similar to zinnias or marigolds and you’re bound for frustration. Poppies emerge from where poppies choose. As evidenced above, this rogue poppy produced itself unannounced from a flowerpot that had been designated for another species. Not particularly fussed by this, the poppy is flourishing happily with a lamb’s ear. Like anyone who has sat in a contorted position for a lengthy period in order to accommodate a sleeping feline, so the lamb’s ear will need to withstand its sardine-like confine until the poppy finishes flowering.

If I cast my mind back over previous seasons, the most glorious poppies that have ever existed in my garden were not the ones whose seeds were carefully laid on the soil and devotedly watered, but those whose seeds were captured by the breeze and laid unattended until sprouting time was deemed appropriate. Poppy life experience has taught me to shake their desiccated heads randomly across the garden beds, and to be enchanted when, without notice, a poppy appears. You can sprout the seeds in small pots or trays and transplant, but the mortality rate is often high. Those that survive though, will give you the most spectacular display and boost your horticultural ego to dazzling heights.

Tall poppies are just that. They rise high above their herbaceous neighbours and steal the limelight – because they are successful and glorious. It is pointless though to cut them down, as their vase life is very limited. Like the human variety, they should be left in their own environment to shine.

As a gardener, if I can persuade you to do nothing else – grow poppies.

Postscript: these red poppies are now pods, beautiful heads full of maturing seeds. If you would like to share in the progeny, leave a comment and I will send you some at seed harvest time.

health and wellbeing · recipes

Crunch

To have a jar filled with toasted grains, nuts and seeds sitting on the countertop, to be scooped from when a nutritious snack is in order, is a wonderful thing.

As our chilly grey mornings have now turned to sunny ones, I’m ready to rest the tight-knit oats and opt for a more scattered breakfast – in the form of granola. Such a simple breakfast it is, with everything seedy and nutty premixed, that all that’s left to do is add the skim milk and you’re away.

The granola in our kitchen really earns its keep, as not only does it provide a breakfast staple, but is regularly topped with yoghurt and a splodge of jam to keep body and soul together between meals. Occasionally it has even been known to be the ‘crumble’ on top of hot stewed apples and passionfruit.

Granola really is a mix of grains, seeds, nuts, spices, dried fruit and a sweetener, and how you put yours together will entirely depend on the sorts of ingredients that meet your approval. Here are mine, feel free to add and subtract as you will (and should you come up with a winner – keep me updated).

6 cups oats
1 cup almonds
1 cup pepitas
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey or rice syrup (depending on the flavor you prefer)

Pre heat the oven to 325 degrees celsius.

Toast sesame seeds gently in a frying pan and cool. Combine oats, nuts and seeds in a large bowl. Mix well. Add the cinnamon and salt and mix through. Warm the syrup or honey in a saucepan so it comes to a pouring consistency and add it to the mix. Turn the granola over thoroughly so that it is all well coated with the sweetener.

Spread the granola over a very large (or two) baking sheets lined with baking paper and place in the oven. Bake for 30 mins, regularly opening the oven and turning the mix so it browns evenly. When it is browned to your liking, remove from the oven and cool before storing in a sealed jar.