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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Make your own tomato juice

Tomatoes are now in full production and if you have a glut there are a number of ways to preserve your crop. One way to do so is to make your own refreshing and healthy tomato juice and freeze it. Your juice can be defrosted for drinking or used in cooking.

If you have made your own tomato juice before you will be surprised that the colour is not as red as commercial juice. To redden your juice you can add a cooked beetroot for every 3kg of tomatoes.

Thoroughly wash your ripe tomatoes, cut out any bruises or blemishes, quarter and cook for about 20 minutes in a pan to which 1 cup of water and the finely cut beetroot has been added. Whilst cooking, use a masher to squash the tomatoes. Salting is not a requirement and is entirely dependent on your taste buds.

Once cooled, strain the tomatoes through a cheesecloth or fine mesh to remove all the seeds and pulp from the juice and then squeeze the pulp to ensure all the juice is extracted. Freeze the juice in sterilised containers, leaving enough room for expansion. Or alternatively, freeze into ice cubes to use for cooking. And don't discard the pulp, if you don't want to use it immediately you can freeze it and use it to add to soups or stews.

For a variation to your juice, you can add onions, carrots or celery during the cooking stage.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Vegetables to grow in part shaded areas

It's a common mistaken belief that all vegetables need full sun to grow. Although this is true for vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and marrows, there are others where partially shaded areas will still produce a good crop. Partially shaded areas are those which still enjoy about 4-6 hours of daily sunlight. Thses can be areas under trees or shaded by buildings, walls or fences. As an added benefit vegetables grown in partially shaded areas will not need as much water.

As a basic rule, plants grown for the fruit or roots need full sun but those grown for buds, leaves, or stems are suitable for partially shaded areas.

The following crops will happily grow in partially shaded areas:

1.   All types of salad crops
2.   Broccoli
3.   Cauliflower
4.   Peas
5.   Brussels Sprouts
6.   Radishes
7.   Swiss Chard
8.   Spinach
9.   Beans
10. Kohl Rabi

Knowing these crops will succeed in shaded areas will allow you to better plan your garden to grow the maximum amount of produce.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Make your own marrow and ginger jam

The number of marrows this year has been plentiful and we use them by including marrow or courgettes in lots of recipes but our favourite remains stuffed marrow. If you have a glut of marrows, one useful way to continue enjoying your marrows after their season ends is to make your own marrow and ginger jam.

The basics of jam making can be found at http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/how-to-make-your-own-jam-basics.html


3kg of marrow (peeled, de-seeded and diced); 2.75kg of sugar with added pectin (or simply add a finely chopped apple for pectin or use homemade pectin - a recipe for which can be found at http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/making-your-own-apple-pectin.html -; the juice and zest of 4 lemons and 5tsp of dried ginger.


1. Place the diced marrow in a bowl, stir in the sugar, cover and leave overnight in the fridge. This permits some of the water from the marrow to be released.
2. Pour the marrow, add the lemon juice and zest and ginger into a preserving pan and heat to boil, whilst stirring, Continue boiling until setting point is reached.
3. Pour into sterilised jars and tighten lids. Once cooled store in a dark cool place and your jam will keep until your next crop of marrows are ready.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

10 Home remedies for bee stings

A bee sting can be very painful but here are 10 home remedies to relieve the pain relief. Before applying a home remedy it's important to remove the stinger, which can be seen as a black spot, do this quickly as you can reduce the amount of venom released into the area. The best way of removing the stinger is by using tweezers to pull it out. Then thoroughly wash the stung area with soap and warm water before trying one of the following remedies to relieve the pain.

1.   Sprinkle the area with baking powder and then spray with vinegar.
2.   Cover the area with honey.
3.   Apply ice to the area.
4.   Crush parsley and basil and apply to the area.
5.   Squeeze an aloe vera leaf and apply the liquid to the area.
6.   Cover the area with mustard.
7.   Rub the area with apple vinegar.
8.   Apply toothpaste.
9.   Rub mud into the affected area
10. Cut an onion and rub into the affected area.

10 gardening uses for homemade vinegar

The vinegar making process is started by washing either grapes or apples and then extracting their juice. After measuring the volume of juice, strain your 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 taste 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.  Kill snails squirting with a solution of half vinegar and half water.
10. Make your own organic weedkiller http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/make-your-own-organic-weedkiller.html

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Make your own sun dried tomatoes

With tomato plants now producing lovely ripened tomatoes daily and the sun shining strongly, there is no better time to make your own sun dried tomatoes. Sun dried tomatoes can be used in many recipes and add a lovely flavour to salads, soups and stews.

Sun drying will remove between 80% to 90% of the tomatoes moisture content but they still retain their many nutritional benefits.Smaller tomatoes, or even cherry tomatoes, which are ripe but still firm are the best varieties for drying. It will take about 11kg of tomatoes to produce 1kg of sun dried tomatoes.

For every 2kg of tomatoes you will need just under one cup of coarse salt. Wash the tomatoes thoroughly,  cut them in half and place the tomatoes, cut side upwards, on a tray. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and place in full sun covered with netting to deter insects from helping themselves to a meal.

Bring the tomatoes in after sunset and your tomatoes will need between 15-20 days of sun drying to thoroughly dry. Once fully dried, place the sun dried tomatoes in a sterilised jar and cover with olive oil and, if you want to add even more flavour, include basil or oregano with the oil. Keep you jar in the fridge and they will keep for a very long time. Alternatively, you can freeze your sun dried tomatoes in a freezer bag and they will keep for 6-9 months.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Make your own orange cordial

We drink a lot of water but in hot summer months but a glass of cordial with plenty of ice works wonders in quenching your thirst.

Just reading the labels of a commercially produced cordials gave us the desire to make our own. Homemade cordial is a much healthier alternative and you avoid added preservatives and artificial colourings. Homemade cordial also allows you to control the sugar level to the desired sweetness or tartness required and you can actually taste the fruit.

The following recipe is for orange cordial but you can use any fruit or mixtures of fruits you desire. Try orange and lemon which produces a lovely taste.

1. Squeeze enough oranges to provide one litre of juice.
2. Finely grate the zest of two oranges.
3. Add 1kg of sugar to 1 litre of water and bring to the boil whilst stirring till all the sugar is dissolved.
4. Mix the juice and zest into the sugar syrup.

Once fully cooled it will keep in the fridge for a month, if it lasts that long.

If you have a glut of any particular fruit  your homemade cordial can be frozen.

Friday, 1 June 2012

How to grow and 7 uses for ginger

We purchased some ginger rhizomes, which are the part of the plant that is eaten, when we were last in the UK. They were planted out in early Spring and are now thriving.

Ginger is a tropical plant where it can be left outside all year round but in Cyprus it will require replanting annually but even cooler climates it can be grown in large pots under heat, as it requires a temperature of 30c or over whilst growing.

We planted the rhizomes under an olive tree at 20cm apart, as ginger prefers filtered sunlight. We added well rotted compost before planting, as the plants enjoy a rich soil, and we ensure the plants are moist but never waterlogged. A weekly watering, with a good layer of mulch to preserve the moisture, is usually recommended.

The plants will grow for 8-10 months before they start dying down and turning brown which is the stage to harvest your ginger. The rhizomes are broken-up, cleaned and dried for storage but keep some with growing buds to re-plant when the danger of frost has passed in early-spring.

The uses for ginger are many and varied, here are just a few.

1. Make ginger tea which is said to be good for digestive problems, colds and headaches.
2. Use in numerous recipes and for baking - especially for my favorite ginger biscuits.
3. Make your own pickled ginger.
4. Dry and powdered it can be used in baking or to make ginger ale.
5. Make your own candied ginger.
6. Make your own ginger jam.
7. Make your own ginger juice.

Building a wood fired earth oven

We started construction of a wood fired oven by building a square dry wall base up to waist height to make using the oven easier. The stones had to be transported by wheelbarrow about 100m and it took quite a few trips to get enough stone and quite some time to select stones with a flat enough sides to use.. The top layer was leveled off by using a spirit level placed across each wall on a long beam and although it's not perfectly level - it's pretty level.

The next step was to fill the center with more stone (thankfully of any shape or size) and any other. Once the center was filled to within 25cm from the top, the next layer was added which was mixture of straw and soil, mixed to a mud, to provide an insulation layer. Small stones were used to fill in any gaps in the walls and finally thick stone tiles were placed into the center to provide the oven floor. The gap between the oven floor and wall edges were filled to the same level as the oven base with a mud mixture.

The next stage was undertaken in the Spring which allowed time for settling and when it was warm enough to start building the earth oven, allowing the mud mixture to dry well..

Wood fired ovens (fourno's or firin's) are seen throughout Cyprus and have been used for many centuries. They are fired-up traditionally using olive and carob wood and once white hot the ashes and charcoal are swept to the edges of the oven. Once up to temperature the oven is ready to use for the next four to ten hours. Traditionally used to bake bread or kleftico (translated as stolen meat) which is a lamb which has been basted in olive oil and oregano and then cooked with garlic, onions and new potatoes. A wood fired oven reaches 370c and this high temperature when baking bread causes dough to rise very rapidly producing a wonderfully thick crust but at the same time trapping air bubbles inside to produce a light and very airy bread. And the even heat is ideal for cooking kleftico and other casseroles or to provide fast pizza.
We finished the project in March 2012 and baked bread successfully. What follows is a step by step guide on how we built our earth oven.

Step 1 - Planning - deciding on the size of the earth oven. How big you build your oven is dependent on how often you are going to use it and what you are going to use it for.  If it's for a occasional pizza it doesn't have to be that big but we wanted an oven large enough to make four loaves of bread.  An oven's size is ultimately determined by the width and length of the base floor you build. Our base is 1m deep and 1.15m wide. 

Our oven wall was built in three layers and is about 18.5 cm thick. This left the oven with an interior width of 68cm and a depth of 53cm and we decided on an internal height of 50cm for the oven.  Apparently, for airflow purposes, the ideal height of an oven door should be 63% of the internal height of the oven and the door width of between one third and a half of the ovens internal diameter.  So our oven door is 30.5cm tall and 34cm wide.  Our oven internally is large enough to fit four loaves of bread comfortably.

Step 2 - Mould - We made a mould using two and a half wheelbarrow loads of wet sand to the height and width of the interior of the oven and this was extracted after the oven walls had completely dried.  A length of bamboo was used to provide a guide for the height. The mould once competed was covered with layers of wet newspaper to keep the sand moist and to mark the beginning of the mud layer. This proved valuable when we dug out the mould. We made a template for the door which was also as wide as the wall, to avoid having to cut out an opening afterwards. This mould stage was completed on Tuesday 20th March 2012

Step 3 - Construction of the walls - we constructed the oven wall in three layers and each layer was allowed to dry before the next layer was added. Drying time is important as it decreases the likelihood of cracking.  We used a mixture of 50% sand and 50% soil but included straw, which acts as an insulator, in the second layer. The soil was dug out after removing 40cm of the top-soil to access the more clayey sub-soil.  The sand and soil were thoroughly mixed before adding sufficient water to make the mixture workable but not too sloppy. Handfuls of mixture were worked into a ball before applying to the mould and worked in to ensure there was no gaps between each handful applied.     

The first layer - which is called the thermal layer was 8cm thick.  It took us two hours to complete on Wednesday 21st March and we allowed this layer to dry for three days. 

The second layer - the insulation layer of soil sand and as much straw as we could mix in was completed in two stages each 4 cm  thick.  It took two and half hours to finish on Saturday 24th March and this layer was allowed to dry for a week.

The third layer  - known as the finishing layer was 2.5 cm thick and was completed on Saturday 31st March and took one and half hours.

Step 4 - Removing the mould -  The earth oven was allowed to dry for a further week which was hot and sunny before on the 1st April the door template was removed and the mould dug out.  This allowed air to circulate and speed up the drying process.

Step 5 -  Finishing touches - Some surface cracking appeared so we made up some mud mixture to fill the cracks  and also to build a rim for the door. We also used the door template to cut out a metal door and attached a wooden handle.  The inside of the door will be covered with foil when the oven is in use to reflect the heat.

Step 6 - Drying - On Saturday 7th April we lit a series of three small fires to complete the drying and ensure no further cracking appeared.

Step 7 - Test run - On Sunday 8th April we lit a large fire and kept adding wood to permit the fire to burn for two hours. We then removed the ashes and mopped out the oven floor before we baked four loafs of bread which took about 30 minutes. After the bread was baked, we baked some ginger biscuits in around 10 minutes and cooked a chicken casserole which was left in the oven for quite a few hours.