Thursday, 12 June 2014

Thank You

We would just like to say a big thanks to everybody who uses or has used our blog - 100,000 hits is amazing. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

How to make and use vinegar in the garden - 12 uses

Vinegar making is started by washing either grapes or apples and then extracting their juice. After measuring the volume of juice, strain the juice into a sterilised container, add brewing yeast, sufficient for the volume of juice used and insert an airlock.
The juice is left  to ferment and turn the fruit sugar into alcohol. Once fermentation is completed, expose the liquid to the air which will permit acid making bacteria to convert the alcohol to vinegar. This process can be speeded by adding half a cup of organic vinegar to the liquid.

Whilst the process is taking place a cheesecloth over the container to keep out insects or dirt. The liquid needs to be kept at between 15c and 25c and stirred daily during fermentation which takes between 3-4 weeks.

Your vinegar is ready when it smells and tastes like vinegar. Once fermentation is complete, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth several times to remove any remaining yeast  and stop the fermentation process. To permit long term storage your vinegar must be pasteurised by heating to 75c, use a cooking thermometer to determine the temperature, for about 10 minutes.  Pour your vinegar whilst still hot into sterilised glass bottles and store out of direct sunlight in a cool area. 

If your vinegar tastes too strong it can be diluted with water.

Once you have a batch of vinegar the number of uses are many. Listed are ten of our gardening favourites.

1.  Use full strength vinegar to kill weeds and grass on paths and other hard to reach areas.
2.  Deter ants by spaying vinegar on their trails or ant hills.
3.  Soothe bee or other bites by rubbing vinegar on affected areas.
4.  Cleans any bugs off of freshly picked vegetables by adding vinegar and salt to a bowl of water.
5.  Use diluted vinegar to clean glass.
6.  Get rid of any rust on garden tools by soaking overnight in vinegar.
7.  Remove any vegetable or fruit stains on your hands by rubbing with vinegar
8.  Drown fruit flies by placing a cup of vinegar in a jar (see image) and add a couple of drops of washing-up liquid.
9. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of sugar to cut flowers in a vase to help preserve them for longer.
10. Kill slugs by spraying with vinegar 
11. Kill snails squirting with a solution of half vinegar and half water.
12. Make your own organic weedkiller http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/make-your-own-organic-weedkiller.html

Friday, 25 April 2014

Green Almonds - another Superfood?

Almonds have been described as a Superfood. A label which given to any food considered especially nutritious or in some way of benefit to our health.

I would be the first to admit that I have always been put off by such descriptions and we have always thought that eating a balanced diet which includes lots of fruit and vegetables and which avoids too much sugar, salt and saturated fat is all we needed. But if you investigate these foods it would be silly to ignore the extra nutritional and health benefits they can provide. 

Apparently green almonds are now being promoted as a new Superfood. We have three almond trees and at this time of the year, for about an 6-8 week period, green almonds are available. The unripe whole almond which is soft, has a fuzzy green skin and the nut, at a very early stage, in the centre are eaten all over the Island and have been so for centuries. 

Scientific studies have revealed these nuts have a very high nutritional value, loaded with healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, proteins and antioxidants. And added to which almonds are one of the lowest calorific nuts and have more calcium contents than any other nut. So maybe they are a Superfood. Not only do almonds lower bad cholesterol levels in the body but they can reduce and protect against the risk of heart diseases. 

The almond, is native to the Mediterranean, and by far the most popular nut tree grown in Cyprus and its beautiful blossom can be seen all over the island in January. To enjoy almonds, you will need to plant at least two almonds for cross-pollination for nut production.  

A great way of enjoying green almonds is to lightly fry a handful for a snack. Wash and trim the tops and bottoms, cut in half and fry for a few minutes (turning occasionally) or so in olive oil. Add salt and lemon juice to further enhance the flavour. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Quick fizzy citrus drink

Lemons, oranges, grapefruits and limes are all in season at the moment. This recipe is a quick and easy way of producing a refreshing and vitamin packed drink. 

Wash and chop one fruit or a combination of citruses and place in a blender with enough water to blend until smooth..

Strain into a jug and top up with sparkling water. Enjoy as it is or mix in honey to sweeten to taste,

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Reduce food costs - Grow your own frugally

Growing your own food organically will not only provide you with healthier food but will significantly reduce your ever growing food bill. But it's easy to get carried away when starting out growing some of your own vegetables, herbs and fruit and purchase expensive gadgets, tools, equipment and spend large amounts of money at garden centres. But there are alternatives and the following tips will hopefully go some way towards keeping the cost of growing your own produce to a minimum.

Start your plants from seed - Buying packets of seeds is relatively cheap in comparison to buying plants. Keep an eye out for end of season sales when most seed merchants reduce their prices. There are usually too many seeds in a packet to use, so consider swapping some of your seeds with gardening friends or join an exchange club which is a good way of halving the cost of your seeds. Once plants are growing, try saving your own seeds and you will have plenty of seeds for yourself, to swap or share with friends. You can even remove seeds, and successfully germinate them. from supermarket produce. This can save money on some expensive seeds such as cherry tomatoes and peppers. Don't throw out seeds just because the expiry date has gone, the germination rate will reduce but you may still get a 50% success rate from seeds where the expiry date is up to two years. After four years past the expiry date most seeds are no longer viable.

Keep some of your harvest for re-planting the following season, this works well with potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, yacon and garlic. You can also plant out any potatoes or garlic that have sprouted before use.  

Multiply your plants - By propagating and dividing plants, you can make more plants. Most plants can be propagated by one method or another and these can also be swapped with friends, allowing you to obtain plants you don't have and these can themselves, once established, can be multiplied into yet more plants. There are various methods of propagation and the choice of method is dependant on the plant. Always choose a healthy plant for propagating and research the appropriate method for the plant to be propagated before proceeding. Even with care, only between 60% to 70% of propagations will succeed. Before proceeding, you will need a sharp pair of secateurs, pots, rooting compost and rooting hormone. Always ensure your equipment has been thoroughly cleaned before re-use. 

Temperature control is a very important factor in ensuring successful propagation. The ideal temperature for most cuttings is between 10C and 21C. The easiest way to ensure a constant temperature is by using an electric propagator which will re-pay the initial outlay very quickly in producing new plants and also allow you a head start in seed germination.  

It is also important to ensure moisture is controlled by either placing and securing a plastic bag over the pot, by propagating cuttings in water or by regularly spraying cuttings placed in an electric propagator. 

Cuttings can be taken from softwood or hardwood depending on the plant to be propagated. Most perennials are propagated from softwood cuttings in the spring or summer. Always select new growth for cuttings and ensure the stem has not flowered or fruited. Take a 10cm to 20cm cutting just below a leaf joint  which has at least two leaf joints and insert half your cutting, after dipping in rooting hormone, into your rooting compost. Tomatoes can be multiplied by taking cuttings as stems readily root. 

Many fruit trees and bushes and vines, such as blackcurrants and grapes, are propagated from hardwood cuttings in the autumn or winter. Take 15cm to 45cm cuttings from new growth which has not fruited or flowered and with at least two leaf joints. These can be rooted directly in the ground or in containers outside, after brushing the tip with rooting compound, and will root, depending on the parent, in between two and twelve months. 

Bud cuttings are used for plants with long stems. such as grape vines. Remove a section of stem between two leaves and insert, after dipping in rooting compound, below a bud into your rooting compost. Alternatively, take 8cm cuttings with a bud in the centre. Remove a slither of wood on the opposite side to the bud and insert horizontally into a mixture of sand and peat with the cut edge downwards. Just cover the cuttings, place in a propagator and germination usually occurs within 2-4 weeks. Pot-up the plants once leaves appear and once established plant out.

For plants consisting mainly of leaves, with very few or no stems such as the prickly pear, leaf cuttings may be used for propagation. Cut off a fully mature leaf and cut sections of 2.5cm across the leaf and, after dipping in rooting compound, insert upright halfway into rooting compost. 

Root cuttings are used to propagate some trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials such as the passion flower. Expose the roots and take cuttings of 2.5cm to 7.5cm from roots which are at least 0.6cm thick. Cut flatly at the top of the root and diagonally at the bottom end, the cutting should be fully inserted into the rooting compost with the diagonal end first. 

Plants such as strawberries and globe artichokes can be propagated by planting off-shoots. Strawberry offshoots can be placed into pots and cut away from the parent once established. Globe artichoke offshoots can be detached carefully from the parent, replanted and kept well watered until established.
Layering can be used for plants such as rosemary, jasmine and fruiting bushes such as kiwi and blackberry. Bury the tips of stems and after a period roots will develop on the buried tip and the new plant can be detached from the parent. 

Removing suckers, from figs and raspberries for example, is another propagation method. Carefully expose the base of the sucker and cut as close as possible to the parent. Plant as soon as possible after removal and keep well watered until established. 

Division is a further method of propagation and can be used for plants such as lemongrass and comfrey. Use two spades to split established plants down the middle and replant. 

Free Containers - Do not throw out containers such as milk or juice cartons, cardboard egg boxes or toilet rolls. These can all be re-used for sowing seeds. Toilet rolls are good for raising peas, beans and even beetroot, which does not like being transplanted, just fill the toilet roll with compost and when the seedlings are strong enough plant out. The toilet roll will help retain moisture and eventually rot away. Cut off the tops of cartons, wash out and cut drainage holes in the bottom to use as pots. The bottom section of egg boxes can be filled with compost and used to raise seedlings. Like toilet rolls, these can be cut apart and planted into the soil where they will rot down. You can even try making your own pots from newspapers by rolling round a cylinder and folding  into the base to secure. 

Manure, compost and mulch - To keep your gardening costs down, make your own compost, obtain manure from friendly farmers of livestock keepers and use a variety of materials for mulching. Mulches can be made from shredded newspapers, seaweed, coffee grounds, hay, leaves, sawdust, wood shavings and black plastic.    

Organic Pest Control - Don't rush out to buy expensive organically safe products when pests or diseases appear or to kill weeds, firstly try and make your own. There are lots of recipes available on the internet. As a start try using lemon juice and vinegar as a weedkiller by following this link http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2013/02/homemade-organic-weedkiller.html

Monday, 3 March 2014

Yacon Syrup - A healthy homemade sugar alternative

We are always on the lookout for new vegetables to try and have been researching into Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) a South-American perennial white tuber. The tuber has the added benefit that it can be turned into a syrup which is a healthy alternative to sugar. A syrup which is glucose free and does not increase blood sugar levels.

Thanks to a kind donation we have planted some propagules on 13th February and they are growing well.

The tuber looks like a baking potato but apparently tastes more like a cross between apple and celery. Its high liquid content means it can be used to make a syrup. The tubers are a close relative of sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes and grow up to 2 metres tall with yellow flowers.

The plant produces two types of underground tubers, small reddish rhizomes used for propagation (propagules) and large brown tubers for eating. The larger ones can weigh anything between 300 grams and a kilogram. Apparently any rhizomes left in the ground, in non-frosting areas, will re-emerge in the Spring. For frosting areas, brush off any soil and leave a couple of small tubers on kept tubers which will provide water for the propagules. Store in dryish compost with a perforated lid to avoid condensation in a warm area. Take out of storage in early Spring and remove propagules for planting individually into small pots. Grow on as needed until its time to plant them out.

Plant in loosened soil at 3 cm deep and about 100 cm apart. They do not appear to be too fussy and will apparently thrive in most soils but prefer a soil rich in organic matter. Mulch deeply and the plant will grow through the mulching. Has moderate water needs and needs to be kept moist rather than soggy. The plants reach maturity after about 6 months and are harvested after the flowers and stems die back. Apparently drying the tubers in the sun for up to 2 weeks will sweeten them.

The tubers can be enjoyed raw or juiced but can also be boiled, steamed or baked. Strips can also be sun dried to produce a sweet crunchy snack. However enjoyed the tubers have the added benefit of being high in fibre but low in calories.

Making Yacon syrup is a simple process. Twelve kilograms of tubers will make about one litre of syrup. Thoroughly was the tubers to remove all soil, peel, chop and blend in a food processor. Squeeze the pulp into a bowl to separate the juice and add the pulp to your compost. Put the juice into a large preserving pan and heat gently, removing any scum that floats on top. Continue heating for quite a few hours, stirring quite often, until the juice through evaporation reduces to a syrup. This may need to be done over a couple of days to get a thick syrup. The last step is to pour the syrup through a fine sieve, the thicker syrup left behind can be used as a sweetener in recipes requiring sugar. The fine syrup can be stored in a pre-sterilised jar in the fridge. Where it will keep for a year until your next yacon crop is ready.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

8 Edible seeds to grow and store.

Seeds can be used in a variety of ways and just five portions a week can have many health benefits. They can be used in many ways, eaten whole, ground or made into butters and added to sweet or savoury recipes. 

Seeds are very nutritious, providing the body with fibre, essential vitamins, protein and minerals such as potassium and phosphorous. Nuts are, however, high in carbohydrates and oils and should be eaten in moderation.

Growing your own organic seeds is, therefore, very beneficial for health reasons but can also save you money, as the price of seeds can be very expensive. With the added benefit that they can be stored for at least 6 months in an airtight jar in cool conditions.

Seeds such as celery, caraway, sunflowers, flax, poppy and sesame can be grown seasonally and pumpkin seeds used rather than discarded.

8 seeds to grow 

Caraway: Prefers a fertile soil rich in humus, full sun and a pH in the range of between  4.8 to 7.8.  Sow flax seeds very thinly in March at 6mm deep. Seeds will germinate in about 8 to 12 days and thin or transplant them to 20cm apart in stages. Plants can grow to 45cm to 60cm high. When the plants are established they will only require watering in very dry periods or in periods of very hot weather. Harvest seeds about 4 months after sowing. Caraway seeds shatter easily when dry and can easily self seed. Stored in a jar, the seeds can keep for months.  Harvest by cutting the plants from the base and shake inside a bag to remove the seed. The seeds are high in fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins A, E and C, copper, iron, zinc and calcium. Caraway seeds have many health benefits including helping digestion and has diuretic properties. The seeds can be brewed in a tea to help with stomach aches. Seeds are chewed raw to freshen the breath and can be used in bread making, salads and as a condiment. 

Celery Seed: Leave one celery plant until the plant develops seed stalks.  These will grow up to 1 metre tall and will produce feathery green flowers on top of which the seeds will grow.  Wait until the stalks start to turn brown and dry out before removing the stalks and drying thoroughly in a cool but dry place.  Once dry, place the flower heads inside a bag and shake to dis-lodge the seeds.  After cleaning, to leave the seeds, store in a jar for up to 6 months after which they start to lose their aroma.  The seeds contain antioxidants, omega 6 fatty acids and chemical compounds which help thin the blood.  The seeds are diuretic and assist the body in ridding excess water.  The seeds have a very strong flavour, so a small pinch goes a long way.  Can be added to salads, coleslaw, pasta dishes and soups.

Flax: Prefers a fertile soil, full sun and a pH in the range of between  5.0 to 6.5.  Sow flax seeds very thinly in September. Seeds will germinate in about 10 days and thin or transplant them to 30cm apart in stages. Plants can grow to 1.2 metres tall and may require some support. When the plants are established they will only require watering in very dry periods or in periods of very hot weather. Harvest seeds about 4 months after sowing  The leaves on the lower part of the plant will start turning yellow and falling off.  The seed pods will rattle if shaken. Pull the plants out of the ground and hang to dry in a warm, dry and airy location.  After a few weeks the plants can be threshed inside a sack to remove the seeds. Sift and clean the threshed plants to extract the flax seeds. You can producelinseed oil when the seeds are cold pressed.  The seeds are edible and are rich in magnesium, vitamins, fibre and omega 3 fatty acids. Evidence is mounting that the seeds prevent inflammation; relieve arthritis; retard and prevents tumour growth and boost the immune system. 

Mustard Seed: Mustard is a spice with a strong flavour and seeds come in either white, black or brown varieties. Black has the strongest flavour, followed by brown then white.  Mustard will grow in most soil types but prefers a well drained and fertile soil. Has a wide range in pH tolerance from 4.2 to 8.3.  To get two harvests a year sow seeds thinly about 6mm deep in early March and September, keep moist and weed free, and seeds will germinate in around ten days. Plants mature in about two months and are ready to harvest for seeds when the plants turn yellow. To harvest the seeds cut the plants at their base, tie into sheaths and sun dry for 5 days. The pods can be shaken inside a bag to extract the seeds.  Whilst growing the leaves are an excellent addition to salads or cooked.  The seeds are used for pickling and used, sometimes ground, to make sauces and dressings. Store harvested seeds in an airtight jar and in a cool and dark place. The seeds are rich in minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Some of the health benefits are: said to relieve migraine, an aid to digestion, have anti-inflammatory properties and due to the high magnesium content assists people with high blood pressure and asthma.  

Poppy: The seeds have a nutty flavour and are used widely in baked goods, especially in Southern Europe where they are added to the dough when making bread. Sow seed thinly and directly outside in March or October and poppies will germinate in about 7-10 days. Choose a sunny but well drained site but poppies will grow in most soils. Poppies prefer a pH in the range of 6.6 to 7.5. Water until well established and keep weed free. To harvest the seeds, at the end of their growing season, cut the heads off the stems into a paper bag. Break the heads into a second paper bag and leave to dry thoroughly. Sieve the seeds which will remove any chaff and store in a jar in a cool but dark area. Poppies left to seed will self sow readily and with the wind will ensure poppies pop-up all over your garden. Poppy seeds are not high in vitamin content but contain many essential minerals. 

Pumpkin: Grow your pumpkins and to harvest pumpkin seeds, slice open the pumpkin and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Wash in warm water to remove the pulp and spread out to dry on a tray for twenty-four hours. The seeds are then roasted in the oven in the same way as sunflower seeds. The seeds are very nutritious and contain large amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and most of the B vitamins. They are also a good source of protein and polyunsaturated fats. Due to their high nutritional content, the seeds are beneficial for healthy bones, bladder and kidney problems, in reducing cholesterol and for prostate health in men. The prepared seeds should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and eaten within 2 months.

Sesame: The tiny seeds are widely used in Cypriot cuisine in baked goods or to make tahini, or sesame seed paste. Tahini is also one of the ingredients used to make humous and the confection helvah. The seeds also make a good addition to salads and as a topping to steamed vegetables. Sesame seeds should be sown directly at 6mm deep into a friable soil in early spring. Sow in rows at 60cm apart and keep moist until germination occurs which is usually 8-15 days. The plants should be thinned in stages until 25cm apart. Once established the plants are extremely drought tolerant due to an extensive root system. Sesame prefers a pH in the range of between 5.6 and 6.6. The plants grow, depending on the variety, up to two metres in height. The seed capsules develop at each leaf axil, starting at about 30cm from the ground, and are gradually produced up the stem. The seed pods are usually ready for harvesting from 90 to 150 days after sowing. Watch carefully, and harvest dried pods regularly and pop open into a large container. The seeds are exceptionally rich in calcium with 90mg present in every tablespoon. Once harvested the seeds can be lightly roasted in a frying pan, which has been wiped with olive oil, until they go light brown which should only take one to two minutes. Once cooled, the seeds can be stored in an airtight jar, at room temperature, for up to four years.  

Sunflower: Sunflower seeds make a delicious snack  but have to be processed to make them edible. Sunflowers are easy to grow and prefer a rich, fertile soil and full sun. Sow seeds directly in early March at 2.5cm deep, in a soil with a pH of between 5.7 to 8.0. The seeds will germinate in about eleven days. Keep watered until well established, after which sunflowers are quite drought tolerant. However, to grow sunflowers to their maximum height regular watering and additional fertiliser is required. Thin to 60cm apart in all directions and provide support against wind damage. Sunflowers will reach maturity in about 85 days and reach a height, depending on the variety, of between 1-2.5 metres.