A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.

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Hay fever time…

Ah, how we love the summertime – the sun, the long evenings, beautiful blooms, blossom and wisteria, the chance to eat outside and, of course, weekends full of gardening. But, for 18 million people across the UK, the warmer months also bring the misery of hay fever.

The top offenders on the list of hay fever inducing plants changes every year and so do the symptoms and severity of suffering. So, it’s important to know what to look out for and what to avoid each year to ease discomfort as much as possible.

The pollen calendar

  • Tree pollen – late March to mid May
  • Grass pollen – mid May to late July (accounts for 95% of hay fever cases)
  • Weed pollen – end of June to mid September
  • Pollen levels are at their highest on warm, dry days. You can view a five day pollen forecast as metoffice.gov.uk

1. Think about your diet

Altering your diet during hay fever season can reduce your symptoms. For example, reducing how much coffee you drink naturally reduces the body’s production of histamine, which can accentuate a runny nose. Green, white or nettle tea is much more beneficial.

There’s lots and lots of information online about trying to minimise the impact of hay fever. According to Netdoctor, the following diet changes could help hay fever sufferers:

  • Ginger – eating ginger acts as a natural decongestant and anti-inflammatory.
  • Sugar – eating refined sugar causes blood sugar levels to spike and prompts your body to produce more histamine. Opt for fruit instead.
  • Fruit and vegetables – hitting and exceeding your five a day will make sure your vitamin C levels are constantly high and that the immune system is at its strongest.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods – berries, currants, grapes, avocados, oily fish and healthy oils (pumpkinseed and flaxseed) will all help to naturally reduce inflammation of the nose and eyes.
  • Honey – local honey naturally contains grains of local pollen which, when consumed, will help the body develop an immunity to them. Although there’s no scientific evidence to back this up, it’s a well-used, natural method for many.

2. Prepare your home

There are lots of things you can do to try and keep the pollen out. These include opening your windows at the right time, cleaning properly (your house and your pets!) and looking after your bedding.

If you don’t know exactly what type of pollen you are allergic to, it can be difficult to know at what time your allergens are at their highest. However, most flowers pollinate in the morning, between 5am and 9am. So, it is advisable to keep your windows closed at these times. Try to open your windows towards the end of the day, as there will be less pollen circulating the air.

Avoid using feather dusters, as those just lift the dust particles into the air, for them to settle again. Instead, use a damp cloth so that dust and pollen get collected and removed.

3. And finally… relax!

Higher than normal levels of stress and anxiety increases the levels of cortisol in the body that, in turn, can negatively affect the immune system. Stress can also reduce sleep which can have the same adverse affect on our immune system… 

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Posh rhubarb!

It’s rhubarb time! It seems to be a good year for it and you can spot the massive leaves lurking in people’s gardens all over the place. Partner in crime writing, Julia, grows rhubarb and has been giving it away to friend and neighbours as she can’t keep up with this year’s crop! Fortunately, she also enjoys drinking prosecco, or cava (she isn’t fussy!) so I’ll leave her to tell you her latest rhubarb discovery…

“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so you won’t find me turning out rhubarb crumble or pie, I simply stew it, keeping it quite sharp and eat it with yogurt for breakfast… but you can only eat so much of it and can only get so many tubs in the freezer! 

In desperation, I began looking online for other uses for rhubarb… and came up with a very easy idea for putting a zing into your summer drink selection!”

How to make a rhubarb prosecco cocktail:

First, make a rhubarb syrup:

Makes about 250ml

  • 450g/1 pound fresh rhubarb cut into disks
  • 100g/3.5oz cup sugar
  • 125ml/4.2fl oz cup water

Method

Put all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the fruit is very soft. Turn the heat off and cool in the pan.

Strain through a fine sieve into a measuring jug. Leave the fruit to drain for a few hours and then use a funnel transfer to a bottle or other suitable container. Keeps in the fridge for up to four weeks!

Next, add the alcohol!

Put 1tbsp of the luscious pink syrup in a glass

Top up with prosecco, cava or, if you are splashing out, Champagne

The rhubarb syrup will keep for up to a month in the fridge so why not make a big batch and invite all your neighbours round!

If a cocktail isn’t your thing, it’s also delicious as a porridge topping or drizzled on ice-cream!

 

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Never mind Eastenders, this is Dartmoor Soap!

I enjoy watching Countryfile on BBC One, it is always full of interesting stories and last week’s was no exception. One item focussed on South Devon where we are based and I was particularly taken with the lady making her own soap – the main ingredients of which were beeswax, goat’s milk and vegetable oil! What started as a cottage industry has suddenly take off in a big way and, since being featured on Countryfile, I think they have been somewhat swamped…

The Dartmoor Soap Company operates out of the tiny and picturesque village of Belstone, high up on Dartmoor. When Sophie Goodwin-Hughes’ son was born four years ago, he suffered from eczema, so she decided to create a completely pure bar of soap from the most natural oils. The results were almost immediate and within days his eczema had disappeared.

Sophie says: “This discovery got us thinking about our own skins and how they were affected by the products we use on them. We researched the debate surrounding the use of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) in skin products, familiarised ourselves with the role of parabens and became obsessed with reading labels, much to the annoyance of many a shop-owner!”

She embarked on a mission to put her soap-making skills to the test and created a range of beautifully scented, yet 100% natural soaps and The Dartmoor Soap Company was born.

The soap is handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. The soaps are free from chemical irritants such as Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, parabens, petrolatum and artificial colours and made without the dreaded palm oil.

In a mission to support and raise awareness about Dartmoor’s natural environment, 5p from each bar sold is donated to Butterfly Conservation, a registered UK charity that is working to protect butterflies, moths and the environment. Among other projects nationwide, the charity is working hard to combat declining numbers of the Fritillary butterfly on the moors.

The range of soaps Sophie makes is wonderful and I have to say, my absolute favourite is her Dartmoor Gardener’s Soap – a hard-working soap with olive oil and pumice. It is great at removing dirt and leaves your skin beautifully soft. An absolute winner! There are lots of other products to choose from and they would make gorgeous gifts

Goodness knows how she finds the time, but Sophie also runs soap-making courses… I think I might just have to take a drive across the moor to Belstone before too long!

PS. You can follow them on Facebook too.

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Vampires and wild garlic…!

Today we have a lovely guest blog from my foraging writer friend from Pembrokeshire, Julia Horton-Powdrill. I know I have written about wild garlic before, but its arrival every spring is always so wonderful that I don’t think there’s any harm revisiting it…

“I know everyone is probably already fed up with wild garlic otherwise known as ramsons (allium ursinum), but it is one of the most available and exciting ingredients around at the moment in Pembrokeshire – and Devon! To preserve wild garlic put 500g clean dry wild garlic leaves in a food processor with 500ml olive oil and blitz. Store in lidded jars in your fridge where it will last for ages (I have some from last year which I am still using). Every time I take some out I top up the jar with a little more olive oil. This garlic flavoured oil is useful on its own to drizzle a little emerald colour onto salads, soups, etc.

Remember that you can eat the whole plant, the bulbs, flowers, seeds and stem as well as the leaves and if any of you are suffering from vampire problems, wild garlic will keep them away! Of course if you eat lots of it there is the distinct possibility that it will keep everyone else away too….

Wild Garlic has been used to treat asthma and other respiratory disorders and during the Middle Ages the herb was instrumental in treating cholera and in preventing the plague. Fresh juice from the small bulbs was also an important wound dressing and they were chewed to aid breathing and to treat digestion and intestinal gas.

This altogether stinky plant has regained popularity and it is always wonderful to see the bright green leaves coming through to herald the onset of spring. As the season wears on these plants, which favour damp and woody areas, produce beautiful white star-like flowers and can often carpet a woodland floor along with the bluebell. Together they make a wonderful sight although the smell of garlic overpowers everything else!”

Here’s a lovely veggie recipe for you to try – a delicious aubergine dip. Happy foraging!

Julia

BABA GHANOUSH WITH WILD GARLIC

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons wild garlic preserved in olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Lightly grease a baking tray.
  2. Cut aubergine in half and place cut-side down on oiled baking sheet. Roast it for approximately 30 minutes or until soft.
  3. Cool slightly then scoop out flesh into food processor along with other ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Chill in fridge before serving.
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