Elderflower extravaganza!

The hedgerows are filled with creamy elderflowers. It’s time to forage!  Choose elderflower heads that are in full blossom and at their most fragrant to make delicious drinks, skin care and preserves.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen making elderflower champagne, liqueur, vinegar, sugar, oil and dried elderflowers too.  Here are the recipes.

Clearing the polytunnel for new plantings

This is the fifth in my series of blogs, explaining how to grow vegetables and herbs which can be sown now to see you through the winter and spring – no hungry gap in 2018!
I have added the category No Hungry Gap, so you can find all of the blogs easily using the search facility.

A cornucopia of summer soft fruit … with recipes for homemade cassis and blackcurrant wine

Perennial fruit bushes play a key role in my garden, producing an abundance of delicious berries during summer months. These I preserve, to enjoy year round: jewel coloured jams, cordials, liqueurs, chutneys and other delicious additions to my homegrown larder.

Basil flower tips and recipes

Basil flowers are beautiful to look at, smell gorgeous and attract bees and other beneficial insects. It is tempting to leave the flowers on because they look so pretty, but removing them encourages the plant to put its energy into continuing to produce abundant leaves for longer – for salads, pesto, preserving and summer cooking.

Small forest garden in pots

One of the plans for my back garden is to make the concrete areas more productive and beautiful. This one is quite near to the back of my house, where a shed was removed after storms a few years ago – a concrete base that had become something of a glory hole for stray pots, bricks and other things that could be useful so I didn’t want to throw them away, but hadn’t quite got round to storing them properly.

The concrete base is rather ugly with a low breeze block around it. This photo was taken on 30th January. The strange plastic covered blob is the outside water tap, wrapped up in case of cold weather.

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On 17th May Charles and I cleared the area of weeds and debris, making a neat pile of all of the ‘useful’ stones, bricks and slabs. I already had two pot grown apple trees, two red elders and a fig. A friend gave me a peach and two nectarines, too.

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This is the space in July. Everything here is grown in pots or reusable grow bags (these were free gifts with other purchases for the garden.) It is a beautiful polyculture, a multi-level mix of edible annual and perennial plants, with some non edible flowers for colour and wildlife. I placed the pots around the edges so that I have access down the middle towards the back fence.

 

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This is a productive and versatile use of a sterile, neglected space. The flexibility of potted plants means that after observing how I interact with this area, what grows well, what is not successful, etc I can reconsider this area in the autumn and redesign it for the winter and next year. So far, I have realised that having the washing line here does not work well (the laundry is knocking some of the fruit off, it takes twice as long to hang things out as I’m negotiating pots) and that I’d love to have a place to sit in here – two considerations for future designs for this space.

I am also going to use more plant trays to conserve water when watering. This is easily solved as I have a store of different sized plant saucers ready to use. Watering is an issue with pot grown plants. A water butt here would be idea, but I am not sure how I could fill it using rain water. A possible solution might be to run guttering along the fence – another idea to ponder!

The compost used is a mixture of homemade, store bought organic multipurpose compost, seaweed meal, rock dust and chicken manure pellets. They are fed using a homemade comfrey and nettle feed.

I have been thinking about ways of making the area around the pots less of a concrete monoculture. My first thought of spreading some of my stone collection was rejected as I thought it would make walking in there unstable. I may do this around the pots where I don’t walk, but need to take into account that I don’t want to create habitats for slugs and snails. A solution may be to have low growing plants in pockets created by stones or in plant trays.

There is an article in the next issue of Permaculture Magazine about growing a forest garden in pots, so I’m looking forward to reading that and getting some new ideas. My article about using the summer harvest is in this issue too.

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Pots are placed on the ground, on the low wall and stone piles – small ones are on top of the compost of bigger pots, too. In the background you can see a grapevine trying to join in.

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Different flowers bloom in the compost around some of the trees.

At the back a boysenberry its starting to climb the fence. A tomatillo and a tomato share a pot with a tree which is labelled ‘nectarine’ but I think the fruit looks more like a peach! Really I should have removed the fruits when I potted on the tree, to allow it to put energy into the roots but they looked so pretty and fuzzy that I couldn’t bring myself to.

The growing space next to this is joining in too – here is a caper spurge which has self sown itself next to a blackcurrant and the growing Pumpkin Nut is spreading itself across some of the pots. I keep redirecting it so that the space isn’t take over by large squash leaves!

Caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris ) is of course poisonous. I have a great fondness for euphorbias and grow several, but you might not want to grow toxic plants close to edibles if you have young children (or dogs) in the garden (my children are 17, 19 and 22.) The morning glories too have seeds which are toxic if eaten in quantity, so I didn’t grow them with edibles when my children were small.

This is a great area for wildlife. As well as benefitting birds, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects, my population of toads and frogs can enjoy the nooks and crannies here. The dish of marbles is for bees to drink from, I got the idea from a Pinterest post.

I’m happy that the sweet pepper and tomatoes (Garden Pearl) are fruiting outside, they were an experiment. I have two Garden Pearl tomato plants outside, both have been very productive and no signs of blight. I’m growing three different tomatoes in the large, reusable grow bag along with chamomile.

The small white flowers are on a tea tree plant!

More views of the forest garden. Ideally, I would like this to be productive as much of the year as possible but perhaps not this year as I need to change it around and implement new ideas. I may just add some easy to move over wintering herbs in small pots.

Edible flowers and a rose vinegar recipe

On Friday I harvested the first of my roses to dry the petals. The edible flowers here are beginning to bloom in abundance, adding beauty and colour to the garden and food, with the added bonus of smelling amazing and feeding the bees. My article on growing and using edible flowers, including many recipes, is in the current issue of Permaculture Magazine (International) and the new publication, Permaculture  Magazine, North America.

How to make tooth powder

I first came across the idea of using a powdered clay based toothpowder when I met a woman selling it at the Offgrid Festival three or four years ago.  Until then, I had been using a  fluoride free toothpaste from the local whole food shop (no artificial sweeteners, SLS etc) which was fine – however trying this was a revelation! It made my teeth feel really clean and felt so much healthier and pleasanter in my mouth than toothpaste. I love making things for myself rather than buying them where possible (I had to buy the ingredients but you know what I mean…), it lasts a long time, is cheap to make and can easily be stored in old jam jars, so doesn’t require any fancy storage or equipment.

When the powder ran out, I bought Bentonite clay from  Earthfare in Glastonbury in order to make my own using just three ingredients – Bentonite clay, sea salt and bicarbonate of soda. This toothpowder keeps my teeth clean, helps to remove toxins and also can help (according to what I have read) remineralise my teeth. It is also very cheap and easy to make.

Bentonite clay naturally detoxes and can help eliminate toxins, it is also full of minerals which are beneficial for gums and teeth.

Bicarbonate of Soda, which gently whitens and polishes teeth, is an ingredient found in many commercial brands of toothpaste too.

Sea salt is also rich in minerals, removes tartar, whitens teeth and is beneficial for oral hygiene. I make a sea salt mouth wash sometimes, a teaspoon dissolved in warm water, a technique recommended by my dentist.

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You need:

1 tablespoon of sea salt, finely ground (mine is pink because I used Himalayan sea salt)

4 tablespoons Bentonite clay

4 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda

A glass jar

Put everything in the glass jar.



Shake it to mix well!


And there you are – a jar of toothpowder. If you like, you could add some finely ground dried mint for flavour but I like it just like this. I keep a small jar of this in my bathroom cabinet, refilling it from the larger jar when needed. This helps to keep the powder dry and fresh.

To use, just dip your toothbrush in the powder and brush and rinse as normal.

Please read the disclaimer!!