Food from your Organic Garden
As a child I remember experimenting with mustard and cress seeds on blotting paper at school. This was perhaps my first encounter with vegetable gardens. Later, more adventurously, we sowed some radish seeds and peered at them hourly awaiting the results!
My parents grew vegetables and I have continued the tradition. During the war years everyone was encouraged to grow their own produce, and most people with gardens certainly did. If you didn’t have a garden, you could use an allotment (a portion of land rented for cultivation) and there are still many of these dotted around the country. Interestingly, it is said that the population of the country was far healthier then than now.
There is no greater feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment than walking into your own vegetable garden, picking some of the organic produce, preparing and eating it. Not only does one become self-sufficient but also the yield is free from pesticides and insecticides, and is extremely fresh and nutritious as you can pick just before you start preparing a meal. Added benefits are fresh air and exercise, doing something to help the health of your body.
What to grow
Onions and garlic are both relatively easy to cultivate. They look after themselves and also help ward off harmful predators from the less sturdy brassicas (e.g. cabbages) in the patch. Both are said to give a protective action on our circulatory systems. Together with leeks they contain properties capable of clearing the sinuses (recollect the unstoppable crying when pealing strong onions). When eaten regularly they help to keep infections away as they have strong antibiotic qualities. My personal favourite is to bake cloves of garlic in their skins for about 10 minutes – absolutely delicious. They all add excellent flavour to soups, stews and stir fries or, when sliced, add colourful variety to salads, particularly red onions and deep green leeks, and they stand up individually as baked vegetables.
Potatoes are such useful friends and also very nutritious. When baked many of the nutritional properties especially potassium are contained in the delicious jackets. They contain good fibre, B vitamins and some important minerals. Alfred Vogel suggests using raw potato juice to help with arthritis and digestive disorders. Ferreting for small ‘new’ potatoes is a June delight and the later varieties can be stored for winter use.
Carrots, which are rich in beta-carotene, are an excellent antioxidant. Perhaps we should sing ‘A carrot a day...’ Carrot juice is widely recognised for maintaining a healthy liver. Carrots are colourful and versatile in the kitchen – they can be used in salads, stews, casseroles and soups or raw with dips. Likewise, one of my favourites – beetroot with its rich velvet colour – can be adapted to many different uses whether raw or cooked. Baked or boiled they give excellent colour and flavour. Traditional borsch soup is a real winter warmer.
Beetroot has long been recognised for its blood cleansing properties and is widely used for convalescents and those suffering from fatigue. Both the liver and digestive system will benefit from its use.
Lettuce which gives us vitamin C and vitamin A is a must – there are a huge number of varieties and they can keep you in fresh salad most of the summer. They can be fitted into the vegetable garden around other plants, which will be harvested later on in the season.
For those with busy lives it is most rewarding to select, prepare, serve and eat a lettuce within a few minutes of seeing it growing in the garden. Brassicas, such as cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale and broccoli are all said to have properties which fight off infections, protect us against harmful diseases, assist our joints and support our skin and eyes. Again you can select from numerous varieties but the most attractive plant growing in the vegetable garden is broccoli. It sits up waiting to be picked and, since it is also rich in iron, it is helpful for those with anaemic tendencies or those suffering from fatigue.
Broad beans are a most rewarding crop. From each seed a plant about 4 feet (over 1 metre) tall will grow yielding large amounts of a very versatile vegetable. Use it raw, steamed or whizzed up to make a dip or sauce. They are said to be helpful for the circulatory and respiratory systems. Their flowers also add colour to the ‘patch’. Peas are really easy to grow and pick and they come from pods not frozen packets, as some children believe! No vegetable garden would be complete without courgettes and tomatoes, grown in greenhouses or outside.
Nettles, which probably creep into most kitchen gardens, are rich in minerals and known for their blood purifying powers. When we were young my Mother used to send us out with rubber gloves and a bucket to collect new young leaves for dinner when she used them instead of spinach (similar in flavour) or she added them to soups. The iron content is high which can help with fatigue and skin problems.
We make our own compost from the organic vegetable waste from the kitchen and seaweed powder, which is rich in nitrogen and potash. We also plant marigolds in between rows of seeds. They act as a natural pesticide as predators do not like the smell of this plant. Nasturtiums are also useful as not only do their leaves and flowers look extremely attractive in salads or as decoration on other dishes but slugs are shy of their peppery flavour! And it can be helpful to have a hedgehog or a frog in your garden as they also devour smaller prey which live on our nurtured food.
Sprouting could perhaps be called indoor kitchen gardening. Personally I use a BioSnacky germinator with organic sprouting seeds. It only takes a couple of days and ‘Hey Presto!’ a wonderful crunchy colourful addition for salads. When using the three-tier system one tray should always have sprouts ready to eat. You can buy organic seeds from various sources including the HRDA organic organisation at Ryton Gardens near Coventry which has a very comprehensive catalogue. The Soil Association is also helpful for other suppliers.
Why not give it a try – allocate part of your garden for vegetables. It doesn’t need to be a large area to begin with. But once you have tasted the fruits of your labours and get that feel-good factor, you may really get the organic gardening bug...
Lizee McGraw is a Nutritional Therapist, Dunblane. www.BANT.org.uk