Thursday, November 26, 2015

Baking Soda in the Garden

Checking to see if the soda bubbles!
Gardening is a funny old business. Many is the time the lines between gardening and other domestic pursuits are blurred, especially in the kitchen.  

Is emptying the vinegar out of my pickle jars onto weeds gardening, or recycling the kitchen waste, or both? Then there’s cooking, is that just an extension of tending vegetables?
Sometimes I think too much. 

One thing that I do know is that a lot of items in the kitchen cupboards can be used for pest and disease control and if used correctly could do away with buying any garden chemicals. I’ve mentioned vinegar, but what about Bicarbonate of Soda? I’ve been looking through old articles and apart from using it to whiten teeth, clean ovens, freshen carpets and pet beds, stripping paint and cleaning toilets, I can’t see that I have ever mentioned it’s virtues in the garden. Until now.

Baking Soda
Baking soda is an absolute 'must have' in the garden and it’s very cheap to buy if you get the non-brand named packets in the baking area of the supermarket. It’s a natural product but should still be used with caution. Here are some of the things we can be doing with this white powder. Just to clarify, baking soda is the pure Sodium Bicarbonate and baking powder is soda with added ingredients like cream of tartar for cooking.

Make a Spray to Prevent and Treat Powdery Mildew.
Powdery mildew can be a problem for many plants. Plants prone to damaging powdery mildew include cabbages, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, melons, cabbage, squash.
Cucumber and squashes are particularly susceptible powdery mildew which can eventually affect the plants immune system and kill it off. A simple mixture of baking soda, water, and washing liquid can really save your cucumber crop or deter the mildew from even happening.
Invasive Caterpillars
Sprinkle Baking Soda on cabbages (and other Brassicas) to stop caterpillars, aphids, ants, silver fish and some beetles. Put directly onto slugs to kill them.
Cabbage Worms
Make a 50/50 combination of flour and baking soda, and dust it all over whichever plants the cabbage worms are eating. The mixture is good for most vegetable plants particularly cabbage, broccoli, and kale plants which caterpillars love. Repeat as necessary if the mixture is washed off.
More Ideas
Paving Cracks. Simply pour or sweep a thick layer of baking soda into patio cracks. The baking soda will kill any small weeds that are already there, and prevent new ones from sprouting.
Tomato Sweetener – Some say sprinkling baking soda onto the soil around the plants sweetens the fruit.
Rabbit Deterrent - Sprinkle baking soda around your garden to keep the rabbits from eating your herbs and veggies.
Control Postharvest Diseases on fruits.  Baking soda is more effective when combined with yeast organisms that prevent diseases from growing than expensive chemicals.
Clean Garden Tools.  Baking soda is the perfect abrasive to clean all of the gunk and organic build-up on your garden tools.
Keep Seeds Dry. Keep an envelope, box, sash, or what have you of baking soda inside of your seed box to keep your seeds dry.
Clean Nails & Cuticles. All gardeners have at least one thing in common and that’s dirty fingernails and feet. For soft, clean nails without a trip to the manicurist, simply dip your hands and feet in a bowl of warm water mixed with baking soda.
Clean Fruits and Vegetables . Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda and a drop of vinegar to a bowl of water to clean fruits and vegetables. Rinse well afterwards.
PH level. Wet soil and take a small amount of baking soda and sprinkle onto soil, apparently if it bubbles your soil is acidic with a PH level under 5.
Black Spots on Roses. Mix 1 Tbsp. of baking soda and 1 tsp. of washing up liquid in a bucket of warm water. Spray on roses every ten days to prevent and treat black spot disease.
Keep cut flowers fresh longer by adding a teaspoon to the water in the vase.
Soak dried beans to a baking soda solution to make them more digestible.
Rubber Gloves. Trouble getting on rubber gloves? Just sprinkle in some baking soda and they’ll slip right on.
Baking Soda kills moss and slimy green / black stains. Baking soda isn’t harmful to the rest of your lawn and plants, but it will cause lawn moss to turn brown and die within a week. Baking soda mixed with either water or vinegar to make a thick paste will completely get rid of moss / fungal stains.
Remove labels from garden pots and garden decorations . There's nothing worse than buying a beautiful ceramic garden pot, pretty patio accessories or dishes for your next bar-b-que and you can't seem to remove that pesky price tag or manufactures label. Here's a homemade sticker remover that will save you money from having to buy a professional adhesive goo remover. Mix 1/3 cup baking soda and 2/3 cup of vegetable oil. It works every time. And you don’t even need to get the WD40 out.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Guerrilla Grafting

Urban trees can be beautiful and a hazard

Apparently up to 80% 0f the population have never used a road map when traveling in the car. Satellite navigation became popular in the nineties and it looks as though there are a lot of younger drivers on the road who started with a clunky screen on their dashboard and have progressed to using their phone to find a destination.

I’m one of those people that ‘progressed’ from the Collins road atlas straight to a phone and as handy as it can be they are not perfect (some say it’s me but I am in denial) Last week I headed down to Enniskillen and set the map to my location before setting off.  The default setting is to take the fastest route and what a route I went. I was taken down onto tiny single track roads more suitable for tractors. If my phone battery went I would probably still be there trying to miss the potholes.  Without the navigation taking me off the beaten tracks I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen as many beautiful autumn tree colours. Farmers along the route have done a wonderful job of planting colourful native and non-native trees along the roads and fields. A real joy to behold.

Guerrilla Grafting
Planting trees doesn’t always get a seal of approval though. Every year in urban areas the councils are usually inundated with complaints about fallen leaves causing a hazard , either by clogging up gutters or being slippery.  In contrast there is a group who thinks that urban trees are a really underused source of food and like guerrilla gardeners who go around planting vegetables in city centre roundabouts and throwing seed bombs, they are heading out and grafting fruit stock onto ornamental tree branches. 

The group of fruit lovers in San Francisco call it “guerrilla grafting” they graft fruit bearing branches onto fruitless, ornamental trees.

In many built up areas, councils make sure that flowering fruit trees don’t bear any fruit, in order to keep fallen fruit from making a mess on pavements and attracting vermin. Most public trees are fruitless, a fact that the Guerrilla Grafters obviously don’t like. While authorities see urban fruit-bearing trees as a nuisance, these agricultural rebels see them as an opportunity to provide fresh, healthy produce for free to anyone who walks by.

Noble Gesture
One member on their facebook page tells us “Guerrilla Grafters is a grassroots group that sees a missed opportunity for cities to provide a peach or a pear to anyone strolling by. Their objective is to restore sterile city trees into fruit-bearers by grafting branches from fertile trees. The project may not resolve food scarcity, but it helps foster a habitat that sustains us.” Their mission, they say is to make delicious, nutritious fruit available to urban residents through these grafts.
It is a noble gesture but guerrilla grafting is illegal and classified as vandalism by San Francisco’s Department of Public Works, but unless someone is caught in the act, there’s not much the police can do.  Apparently it is hard to catch anyone because it’s hard to know what an illegal graft looks like; maybe it’ll be like a fingerprint in future as everyone will develop a particular style.

However, some people seem to think guerrilla grafting is a very serious problem. “It gets very dangerous very quickly,” said Carla Short, an urban forester for the San Francisco Department of Public Works. “I mean the minute that fruit gets crushed on the sidewalk, it is slippery. We certainly don’t want people to get injured.”

The intention of doing guerrilla grafting is, says a member, not so much for the sake of challenging authority, but to set a working example. Plus they promise, every grafted tree has a steward, someone who promises to check up on it regularly, making sure it doesn’t cause any problems. How this will pan out on a legal basis is yet to be decided. Does a ‘steward’ have a legal obligation and what if someone put in a claim against them? 

Many fruit lovers in California do try “legal channels” One member wanted to plant a fruit tree in front of her house and was fully prepared to care for it herself. But her efforts were repeatedly thwarted by the department and by San Francisco non-profit Friends of the Urban Forest. So she began connecting with other frustrated residents who wanted fruit trees and they started using social media to delve into underground channels.

Movement member Tara Hui says “The hope is that through this one small act (of grafting) we can reconnect with a shared space and reconnect with each other.” Ultimately, I think codes and regulations should respond to the reality of people’s lives. Just taking an evening stroll, and then you see a fruit and you reach over and now you’re nourished.” Unless of course you slip up on it covering your clothes with ripe fruit and get stung by wasps. In a lot of towns, pavement slabs are taken up and replaced with asphalt because of insurance claims, so I can’t see many ‘grafters’ around here just yet.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is there such a thing as Superfood?

I think we can safely say that apart from eating our own heirloom, non GM chemical free, organic home grown vegetables we are risking a load of health problems. Well according the World Health Organization anyway.

The WHO recently did a survey testing over 940 different substances and found only one of them to NOT be a cancer concern. If you are wondering which chemical is safe, it’s called “Caprolactam” and is found mainly in yoga pants. I’m still not sure if this is meaning wearing the pants or eating them is the safe way and probably never will. The WHO has also been busy with presentations, some of them more successful than others; the bacon scare comes to mind… Here’s a recent report from that puts an interesting point across humorously. 

Two pigs
Last week the World Health Organisation retracted a study that revealed a connection between bowel cancer and bacon after an alert staff member discovered that the doctor presenting the results was actually two pigs dressed up in a long white lab coat.

“The presentation he gave was certainly impressive with lots of graphs and pie charts,” said Dr Hermione Trotter, head of ontological research at WHO. “No-one questioned his credentials because he had a stethoscope around his neck. We were on the verge of recommending a worldwide ban on bacon and sausages when one of our secretaries noticed something out of the ordinary.”
“I happened to see a little curly tail poking out from the back of his lab coat”, said UN stenographer Penny Stencil. The bogus bacon study follows on from a similar attempt to discredit chicken nuggets carried out by seven chickens dressed up as an expert on heart disease.
“We’ve stepped up our screening procedures and any doctor wearing anything longer than a poncho will be x-rayed on the way into the building,” said WHO security chief Warren Truncheon. “You’ll have to excuse me; I’ve got to go to a lecture on the dangers of horse meat that’s currently being delivered by a doctor with a really long face.”

It just goes to show that we can’t believe everything we hear about food and diet. There have been a long list of “Superfoods” over the years and as one comes on the market to convince us to eat more healthily to counteract the ‘harmful’ foods. 

Foods that have been elevated to superfood status in recent years include those rich in antioxidants (such as beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, E, flavanoids and selenium) and omega-3 fatty acids. They come and go with marketing, well except chocolate (yes that is a superfood some of you will be pleased to know) then there are blueberries, goji berries, oily fish, wheatgrass, pomegranate juice, green tea, broccoli, garlic and beetroot. The next big thing will be products from the fast growing Moringa tree native to South Asia and now found throughout the tropics. Its leaves have been used as part of traditional medicine for centuries. You will soon see products with the tree leaves as an ingredient promising good health. You heard it here first.

There is no official definition of a "superfood" and the EU has banned health claims on packaging unless supported by scientific evidence. But that hasn't stopped many food brands from funding academics to research the health benefits of their product.
The superfood trend exploits the fact that healthy lifestyle choices, including diet, can reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer. The food industry wants to persuade us that eating some foods can slow down the ageing process, lift depression, boost our physical ability, and even our intelligence. Many of us want to believe that eating a single fruit or vegetable containing a certain antioxidant will zap a diseased cell.

The problem is that most research on superfoods tests chemicals and extracts in concentrations not found in the food in its natural state. Garlic, for example, contains a nutrient alleged to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. But you'd have to eat up to 28 cloves a day to match the doses used in the lab. A friend of mine says she had two cloves a day for a week and it made her really aggressive so you’d need to avoid her if she ate 28 of them.

While the concept of a "miracle food" remains a fantasy, it's pretty well-established that obesity and alcohol are the two most common causes of major long-term illness.  Diet plays an important role in our health, but there is concern that too much focus on individual foods may encourage unhealthy eating.

"No food, including those labelled 'superfoods', can compensate for unhealthy eating," explains Alison Hornby, a dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA). "All unprocessed food from the major food groups could be considered 'super'. All these foods are useful as part of a balanced diet.”

"If people mistakenly believe they can 'undo' the damage caused by unhealthy foods by eating a superfood, they may continue making routine choices that are unhealthy and increase their risk of long-term illness."

Dieticians avoid the term "superfood" and prefer to talk of "super diets", where the emphasis is on a healthy, balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods.
So again, it’s conclusive evidence that growing and eating our own veggies is a healthy pursuit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Chat with Denise Dunne at The Herb Garden

I was chatting to Denise Dunne who runs the Herb Garden in Naul, County Dublin this week. Denise runs training courses, sells herbs and seeds online that have culinary, medicinal and fragrance as well as decorative uses in the garden. The Herb Garden is a Certified Organic Herb Nursery, established by Denise in 1995 and also produces certified organic salad, flower and native Irish wildflower seed to compliment the herbs.

I asked Denise what initially got her interested in Herbs “One of my earliest herb memories is standing on a chair in the kitchen, beside my Mam, and picking the thyme leaves off the stem for stuffing, rissoles, or our family special, ‘pigeon pie’. Picking the tiny thyme leaves was a tedious job that required patience, but not a huge amount of skill, so it was the perfect way to introduce a child into the world of plants and cooking. I felt the attention to detail was important and I was very careful to pick out every last bit of stem that fell into the bowl.”

Denise knows how important good food is to a family.  “We were practically self-sufficient long before it became fashionable”.  She tells me “Mam and Dad planned and developed a lovely garden themselves in our new home and transformed a barren plot into a miniature paradise, with an orchard, soft fruits and beehives.”

It wasn’t always easy for a teenage Denise though “When I was growing up all the neighbours called us ‘The Good Life’. I did find it quite embarrassing, especially when the hens escaped onto the street.  It is only with hindsight that I realize what a wonderful gift my parents gave to us all. They both put so much effort into providing the best food possible for their family. It is only natural that cooking and eating together was always a special occasion and still is an integral part of any family celebration.” Denise concludes. 

As it’s coming to the end of the season I ask Denise if she can give us any tips and advice about how we can preserve herbs for the winter before the frosts come. 

“Herbs for preserving should be harvested on a dry, sunny morning, after the dew has evaporated. To obtain maximum flavour and nutritional content, material for preserving needs to be at its very best. This will depend on the part of the plant that is required.
  • Leaves should be harvested just before the plant flowers.
  • Flowers are at their best when they have just opened.
  • Fruit should be just ripe.
  • Seed is ripe when it changes from green to brown. For seeds in pods, shake the stem. You will hear the seeds rattle when they are ripe.
  • Roots are at their best when the top growth of the plant has completely died back, in autumn or winter.

Cut the stems just above ground level. Trim and discard any discoloured or damaged leaves. Tie into small bunches and hang in a dark, dry, airy place, or put them in a paper bag punched with holes, to eliminate light and dust. When the plant is completely dry, it will become brittle. Remove the leaves from the stems and store in airtight jars, in a dark place. To retain maximum flavour, it is best to store the leaves whole and crush, if necessary, just before using.

Freezing is the best method for preserving the colour, flavour and nutritional content of herbs with soft, lush, green leaves, (eg. chives, dill, basil, mint, tarragon). Wash the herbs, if necessary, and shake dry. Freeze them in plastic bags, in bunches, on the stem. There is no need to thaw before using, just add at the end of cooking.
Alternatively, chop the herbs finely, put them in ice-cube trays and top up with water. Flowers, especially borage, can be frozen in ice-cubes for adding to drinks.

Preserving in Oil/Vinegar
Herbs preserved in oil or vinegar are very useful for adding flavour to many dishes.

Herb Oils
Fill a wide-necked, sterilised jar with fresh herb, broken into pieces with your fingers. When the jar is as full as possible, cover with good quality olive, sunflower, safflower or almond oil, preferably organic. Put on a tight fitting lid. Stand the jar in a warm or sunny place, covering it with brown paper if it's in a sunny position. Shake at least once a day for 14 days. Strain and store out of direct light.Suitable herbs - basil, garlic, fennel, lavender, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme. Spices, chillies and orange or lemon peel can be added.

Herb Vinegars
Bruise the herb and fill a wide-necked jar. Top up with warm (not hot) wine or cider vinegar. Continue as for herb oils.
Suitable herbs - bay, chervil, dill, elderflower, garlic, fennel, lavender, mint, rosemary, tarragon, thyme. Spices, chillies and citrus rind can also be added.
Fruit vinegars are made by the same method. Roughly chop the fruit in a food processor first.
Suitable fruits - blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries.”

You can find more tips and advice about herbs and seeds and a newsletter on Denise’s website      

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