Sundry on storage, processing and preserving, recycling, wildlife and livestock
Salads are often thought of as food for summer days. Indeed they are then often most welcome when hot weather makes heavy cooked meals seem unappetizing. But in many ways we need to eat more salads at this time of year when the range of fresh fruit and vegetables is so much reduced. It is easy for us to slip into a nutritional rut with our meals. We can find ourselves piling on the potatoes and pasta, filling up with stews and casseroles, eating far more dairy products, meat and fats, all in order to fend off the cold.
An old boy said to me the other day something quite true of his carpentry that applied equally well to most of gardening. “A good carpenter spends more time setting up and tidying up than he ever does actually cutting wood.” Even more does this apply to hedge trimming and pruning. It is so easy to trim a shed load of bits with shears, secateurs or saw but then it takes as long again to dispose of all those bits. Careful planning and methodical work can reduce the effort considerably after all you do not want to pick up and move anything more often than necessary do you?
There are many good reasons why we do not commonly grow the more unusual fruits and vegetables. But on the other hand there are some very good reasons why we should.
I live in East Anglia, the driest region in the country with an average of only 18-22 inches rainfall per year, and moreover I live on the east side of Breckland in the driest part of all. Right in the very middle of the bulge into the North sea I am sheltered from the south westerly winds that bring most rain and also far from the moist sea winds coming off the East coast. Without exception during the growing season water is in short supply. True the last couple of years we have had plenty of winter rain and even a little during summer but there is never enough.
Whether or not you think anyone should smoke or snuff Tobacco it is still an interesting plant horticulturally. It was widely used as an extremely powerful pest killer, however it did for several gardeners along the way. The actual active substance nicotine is a strong nerve poison and one drop can be absorbed through the skin to kill. A cigarette or two contains more than enough to slay you if you absorbed it all. A by-product of the tobacco industry nicotine was often the gardeners poison of choice, and always under glass, as it was so effective even if hazardous.
Often the problem is not of growing a crop but of having it when you want it. The majority of our crops come in summer and autumn, as is their way. Most plants find it preferable to flower and fruit within the annual growing period. (A few are more difficult, of Mediterranean origin, used to milder winters they endeavour to carry fruits through the colder months to ripen the following year.
These apparently useless bits of junk are actually one of the most useful items a gardener can obtain. They can be easily turned into tanks and water butts, coldframes, hotbeds, compost bins and propagators, root, apple, potato, seed and tool stores and much much more.
Hands up any gardener who has not at least one recycled plastic bottle in use as a cloche! Where would we be without these handy growing aids which are seen in gardens almost everywhere. These are very effective as we all know and of course free. But I've often wondered who made the first one?
At talks and question times over the years I have heard so many tales of woe but not caused by what you may expect. At first thought it is the insect kingdom who generally get the blame for causing the most garden damage and losses. They are surely culpable of a lot but often it is bigger creatures who are as much to blame. Maybe they are not as numerous but their size makes their depredations far worse, and with many of them it is not the loss of what they steal but the collateral damage they cause in the process.
Weeds can be looked at as useful because of their ability to thrive in adverse conditions, their hardiness and their value as green manures -particularly because of their accumulation of scarce minerals. But more importantly they are essential for maintaining populations of beneficial insects. In this article I am now going to ask you to broaden your outlook even further and to appreciate pests as extremely valuable allies to us gardeners.