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Monday, 28 January 2013

Pesticides in our food

One of the primary reasons we started growing our own vegetables, herbs and fruit, over twenty years ago in the UK, was the worry over what we were feeding our young family.The over use of  pesticides which are toxic chemicals mainly used to kill weeds, insects or fungal growth leave residues in most of the food we consume. These toxic chemicals can harm our health, wildlife and the environment. Every year agricultural workers are accidentally poisoned or after constant exposure to these harmful chemicals many suffer from long term health problems such as cancers. After researching the control of pesticides, I found that the government tests thousands of foods a year for pesticide residues. These results are published by the Pesticide Residues Committee quarterly. 

These reports show that between a third and half of all fruit and vegetables sampled contain detectable traces of pesticide residues and somewhere between 3% and 4% have residues over the legal limit. Residues get into the produce when overused on crops or when crops after harvested too soon after pesticide usage but can even be detected if used according to the pesticide manufactures instructions.

A few thousand tests are a very tiny percentage of the fruit and vegetables consumed and can only provide an indication of which produce are more likely to contain residues. A high dose of chemical residues may cause a short term problem such as a stomach ache but I am more worried about the long term damage caused by small amounts of a chemical cocktail. Although the manufactures tell us that individually these chemicals are safe in minute doses, it is the damage caused by a lifetime of exposure to a cocktail of chemicals which has never been tested.

The amount of pesticides applied to crops is high and one crop may be treated with several different chemicals all leaving residues. For example, a lettuce may be treated up to five times and strawberries about twelve times.  

So it is wise to grow as much of your own food as you can. Or alternatively buy organic fruit and vegetables. If using conventionally grown crops - thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables and scrub root vegetables, discard the outer leaves of leafy crops, don't use the peel or zest for cooking and for small children peel all fruit.. 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Homemade Mint Jelly

If you enjoy mint jelly with your roast lamb why not try making your own with fresh mint gathered from your garden. All you need are the following ingredients and some time. Mint jelly is best made in small batches as it can only be stored for about three weeks in the fridge.

1 bundle of freshly packed mint leaves
300ml of water
1/2 Kg of tart apples

Wash the apples and cut them into small pieces including the cores and peel. Put the apples pieces into a saucepan with the water and most of the mint and cook gently until the apples are very soft. Allow to cool before pouring into a jelly bag and leaving overnight to strain into a bowl.

The following day measure your juice, pour into a pan and add 225g of sugar to each 280ml of juice. Heat gently and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to the boil and add about 1 teaspoon of chopped mint for every 280ml of juice. Boil rapidly until the jelly sets when tested and pour into a pre-sterilized jar and seal. Once completely cooled store in the fridge and use within three weeks.

Cyprus Gardener - Jobs for January 2013

January is the coldest of the Cypriot months with temperatures averaging between 13c to17c. The days can still be warmish at lunchtime but become very chilly as the sun sets. The month is also on average the wettest month with an average of eight days of rain.

There are plenty of jobs to keep you busy during January. It's the month when the major garden cutback and clean up can take place, with the pruning of flowering shrubs and fruiting trees (if required) such as almonds, olives, apples, plums, citrus trees and figs.

The vegetable plot is now producing rocket, spring onions and garlic whose stems can be chopped and added to salads, parsley and radishes. The peas, broad beans, onions, leeks, garlic cauliflowers, cabbages, spinach, carrots, beetroot for early spring harvests are all developing well.

Late in the month it will be the time to dig holes in the beds intended for growing marrows and melons and fill them with a mix of well rotted manure and compost. They will be sown with seeds under plastic or planted with propagator raised plants later in the Spring.

If the conditions are right you can sow beetroot, mustard greens, pak choi, carrot, parsley and salad leaves.

You can start seeds like okra, borage, cayenne pepper and tomatoes in the propagator.

Happy gardening and harvesting for the month and if you require any further information go to www.cyprusgardener.co,uk or http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Homemade weed killer

Lemon juice and vinegar both contain acetic acid which can be used to make a very effective organic homemade weed killer.

While most table vinegar's have an acid content of around 5% to 8%, a more concentrated solution of 10% to 15% can be achieved simply by exposing vinegar to the air and allowing it's water content to reduce by evaporation and so increase it's acidity level. The higher the acidity level the more effective your solution will be at killing weeds.

At high strength this organic weed killer will kill the leaves of any plant it comes into contact with but will not kill its roots, so it's best used on young weeds which lack enough energy to re-emerge. Repeated spraying destroys any more established weeds.

You can make your own organic weedkiller by mixing 150 mls of lemon juice and 1 liter of strong vinegar.

Use your mixture to directly spray weeds and the most effective time to do so is during the heat of the day.