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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.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Broccoli and Almond Soup

We are always on the lookout for new recipes to try particularly for when vegetables are in season. At the moment its broccoli time and as the weather is getting colder it's also time to enjoy lots of lovely lunchtime soups.

This soup combines broccoli and ground almonds to produce a deliciously creamy soup. If you have a surplus of broccoli cook up a big batch and freeze in portion sizes to enjoy later.


Olive oil
6 cups of vegetable stock
1 chopped onion
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1 medium sized potato peeled and cut into small chunks
4 cups broccoli florets
Half a cup finely ground almonds
4 sprigs of fresh parsley cut finely
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic until tender. Add the vegetable stock and the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before blending and re-heat when required.

Enjoy. Goes well if served with some freshly made crusty bread.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

10 Ways to Preserve Tomatoes

Tomatoes are such a versatile and nutritious fruit and you can never grow enough. The first ripe tomato of the season is always a joy to taste and even at the end of the growing season you are left with unripened green tomatoes that can be used in a variety of ways,

If you are lucky enough to have a glut of tomatoes the following are ten ways to preserve some of  your crop to enjoy throughout the year. But don't forget to keep some of each variety to one side to provide seeds for next year.

1. Make your own tomato puree http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2012/07/make-your-own-easy-tomato-puree.html

2. Make your own tomato juice http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2012/06/make-your-own-tomato-juice.html

3. Make your own sun dried tomatoes http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2012/06/make-your-own-sun-dried-tomatoes.html

4. Freeze tomatoes whole and peeling them once defrosted will be easy and they can be used in any recipe which requires fresh tomatoes.

5. Tomatoes can be bottled (or canned) whole or chopped and there are numerous recipes and step by step instructions available.

6. Make a tomato chutney, there are some many recipes to choose from depending on your taste preferences from hot to mild.

7. Make a batch of tomato soup and freeze in portions relevant to your needs.

8. Pickle green tomatoes towards the end of the growing season.

9. Make tomato jam, there are numerous recipes to choose from.

10. Make your own tomato and vegetable bouillion or stock for use in many recipes.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Garlic - 25 benefits and uses

The following are reasons why you should plant and use your own organic garlic.

1. Make your own pickled garlic.

2. Treat athletes foot by placing slices of garlic between your toes daily and in contact with the affected area. Wear socks and shoes, leaving the garlic in place all day. Garlic with its ant-bacterial and anti-fungal effects will clear the infection after a few days.

3. Treat cold and flu by eating raw garlic.

4. Treat sore throats by making a garlic gargle, chop a few garlic cloves finely and pour over boiling water. Allow to stand for two hours and strain liquid into a pre-sterilised jar and use as a gargle.

5. Make a garlic pesticide useful against aphids and other bugs by boiling some crushed cloves in water, straining and once cold use as a spray on affected plants.

6. Rub garlic on your skin to deter mosquitoes.

7. Remove deep splinters by bandaging sliced garlic over the area and the splinter will work it's way to the surface.

8. Include both raw and cooked garlic in your diet to benefit your heart by acting as a blood thinner.

9. Antioxidant properties mean garlic damages bad cholesterol but boosts good cholesterol..

10.Garlic with it anti- bacterial properties boosts your immune system.

11.Garlic contains 30 anti-cancer compounds and anti-oxidants.

12. Treat coughs by extracting juice from 10 garlic cloves and mixing with 2 tablespoons of honey. Use 3 times a day whilst cough persists.

13. Rub crushed garlic on insect bites and rashes to treat and stop itching.

14. Treat warts by applying a sliced garlic kept in place by a plaster.

15. Make hummus.

16. Use garlic leaves for recipes to replace chives

17. Make garlic and lemon tea as an immune booster.

18. Plant garlic as a companion plant to deter insects from tomatoes and peppers.

19. Plant garlic around the base of citrus trees to reduce curly leaf problems.

20. Plant garlic among cabbages, spinach and broccoli to deter caterpillars.

21. Crushed garlic can be used as a paper glue.

22. Garlic cloves can be used as fish bait.

23. Garlic increases insulin release and helps regulate blood sugar levels for diabetics.

24. Make a disinfectant spray by adding crushed garlic to lemon juice and white vinegar.

25. Treat cold sores by applying cut cloves to the sore several times a day.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Grow your own popcorn

We enjoy the occasional snack of popcorn, drizzled with honey, a healthy snack being low in calories, high in fibre, iron and protein. Popcorn is also rich in vitamins B and E, magnesium, thiamine, riboflavin and phosphorous. So why not try growing our own next Spring. We have prepared a bed by adding well rotted manure and which will rot down over winter. 

Popcorn is made from a variety of corn whose kernels contain air pockets. When the dried kernels are heated these air pockets expand and the seed pop open. You can expect to get about a kilogram of popcorn from each plant so a small block of 6-8 plants is plenty, as a third of a cup produces an ample serving.

Popcorn is grown in the same way as sweetcorn. It needs a position in full sun and a well draining soil. If you are growing other varieties of sweetcorn then allow at least a month between sowing's because they cross pollinate. We will sow our popcorn in early March, germination takes about 10-12 days and popcorn matures in about 4 months. Sow 2 seeds at 3 cm deep and  space the 35 cm apart in blocks to assist wind pollination. 

When seedlings have developed their second set of leaves thin to leave the strongest plant. When the plants reach 50 cm earth up around their base to about 15 cm to encourage root formation and to provide support against wind damage. Popcorn requires regular watering until the cobs mature

Popcorn cobs remain on their plants until fully mature but as soon as their tassels start to turn brown it's best to net them to discourage hungry birds. The husks can be left on the plants until they are completely dried by the sun. Apparently you know when they are dry enough when it becomes difficult to twist a cob with a hand on each end. 

Once completely dried the kernels can be removed by rubbing two cobs together over a large bowl. Discard any kernels which are broken or dis-coloured. 

The kernels should be placed in a plastic container and frozen for two days to kill any bugs that may be in the seeds. After freezing the popcorn will keep for several years if kept sealed in a jar in a dark cool area. Cook as required and sow some saved seed every year to replenish your stocks.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

How to plant an Olive tree

We finally decided to dig out and replace our pear tree with an olive. The pear has been struggling to stay alive since we planted it about four years ago. We think the pH level of our soil did not suit its needs even with lots of added lime and wood ash to try and improve the pH level. So we gave up on it yesterday and planted a young olive which within a few years will provide us with a good crop.

Planting olives is best done between October and November to provide the roots with plenty of time to become established before the peak growth period of Spring.

The following steps will ensure your olive will have the best possible start:

1. Dig a planting hole slightly deeper than the pot the tree was sold in and loosen the soil below.

2. Remove the tree from the pot carefully to avoid disturbing the root ball and try and keep its surrounding soil intact. If the tree is staked leave the stake in place and remove it once the tree has outgrown its need.

3. Plant the tree just slightly lower than its pot depth and gradually return the soil, firming slightly, to support the tree. The trunk area should be slightly mounded to encourage water away from the trunk and avoid rot. Do not add any additional compost or fertilizer as the tree should be allowed to get used to its surrounding soil which will encourage its root to grow outwards.

4. Water in well, by providing a mounded circle around the tree, and water every time the soil starts to dry out until the tree is established.  Once established olive trees are one of the most drought tolerant trees you can grow.