Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Pollard willows

Thinking of Holland, I see a landscape of pastures and small paths between two ditches of water with on both sides rows of pollard willows. These willows are not only planted to hold the path firmly between the water, but for centuries, these trees provided farmers with sticks and wood for the garden, brooms, the fireplace, fencing, and other domestic functions.

January and February are traditionally the best months to top the willows; it is the month in which farmers and gardeners do not have much tasks to finish. It's an easy cut; just remove all branches closely to the trunk. Then strip the branches you would like to keep (the straight and thick ones) from its side-branches.

It is a good idea to have one or more pollard willows in or close to your garden. Every one or two years it provides you with nice firm and flexible sticks for your garden, such as for bean stakes or partitioning. The thinner and more bendable twigs can be used in making a small wired twig fence (google 'making a willow fence' for some pretty ideas). Also think of great little green huts or arches! Every willow twig that is put in the ground, no matter how small or terrible you cut it, will grow and produces green leaves, and eventually more twigs to continue this process.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

For all you garlic lovers

Garlic. I know many people who are absolutely crazy about this one. But did you know that it's so easy to multiply just one clove into a full fresh garlic bulb yourself? Indeed, that little green center that you see when cutting a clove is the beginning of this. It already grows without water and soil, so a garden or big pot does not even seem necessary. How convenient, that now (February and March) is a perfect time to plant garlic!

Grow your own garlic:
1. Every clove becomes a bulb, so take as many cloves as you plan to harvest full bulbs. You can just use garlic from your greengrocer, dried or even ones you kept too long in your cupboard.
2. If you have a garden, or a little piece of soil situated in a sunny place, just prepare the ground by digging it a little. No extra fertilizer is needed.
3a. Make a little hole of about 2,5 cm deep and put a clove with the narrowest tip upwards in the cold earth. Put the next ones 15 cm further away. Be careful not to push the cloves with too much pressure in the ground. Once planted, do not replant the garlic.
3b. Growing garlic in a pot on a balcony is also a good possibility. It requires the same preparations as described in the previous steps. The only negative point of growing crops in pots is the bad draining, so make sure the rainwater can get away, and don't let the plants dry out.
4. At the end of the summer (just let nature do all the work and watering), the green stem leafs will turn yellow, dry and begin to droop. When this phase is complete, you can carefully dig up the bulbs and leave them to dry in the sun. If it rains, dry the garlic under a shelter.
5. Hang the garlic in a dry and cool place for storage. Garlic will stay good for a long time in this way. Don't forget to save some cloves for next year!

Edit 22-2-2013: as Anonymous pointed out below, October and November are also perfectly good to plant garlic.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Oh sweet vegetables

In Western cuisines exist quite some rooted restrictions, and fixed combinations of ingredients. However, taboos are being broken and cooking now becomes more and more an act of experimenting. Take for example the division between vegetables and fruit, which is often associated with the opposition of savoury and sweet; sugar or sweeteners are very incidentally added in lunches or diners, and vegetables are not often used in desserts or sweet bakeries. Carrot is one accepted exception, which is used as a sweetener since centuries. 
Owning a vegetable garden triggers you to find new ways of processing bulks of the same crop. If you think you used up all your vegetable inspiration, it is time to expand your sweet baking skills with vegetables! Think of carrot cookies, pumpkin cheesecake, parsnip cupcakes, beet-chocolate pie (my favorite, see picture below) or zucchini cake.

Beet-chocolate pie

In this way, you do not only present something original and eccentric to your guests, but it also makes these calorie bombs a little healthier and less heavy on the stomach. The vegetables make the cake smoother and fresher in taste and structure, while replacing massive cake contents.
Below, I will present the recipe for zucchini cake. In this one the zucchini does not define the taste, but makes the cake very soft and spongy (like pandan cake).

3 eggs
130 gr caster sugar
200 gr flour (+ some extra)
2 teaspoons baking powder
a little salt
150 ml sunflower oil
1 grated and drained zucchini (250 grams)
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Beat the eggs and sugar for some minutes until it becomes thick, light and creamy. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt and stir it together with the oil lightly through the eggs. Then add the zucchini, zest and ginger. If the batter is way to fluid, add a little flour. Prepare a round baking tin (24 cm) and bake the cake 50 to 60 minutes in a 180°C preheated oven. Optional: top the cake with cream cheese mixed with lime juice, and caramelised or candied zucchini slices.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Seeded gifts

Seeds and plants are always appropriate as presents when you do not really know what to give, or on the other hand, when you want to gift someone with something special and useful. Many plants have a specific meaning and are therefore ideally suitable for special occasions (think of forget-me-not, sunflower, four-leaf-clover).
Next to selected packages of different veggie seeds to create little vegetable gardens, another variation is a mix of seeds to grow herbs for tea. This is one of my favorite, since these include more unique plants which aren't often found in gardens and shops. Chamomile, mint, st. John's wort and marigold seeds would make a fun and healthy assembly!

Here are two other original seeded gifts I stumbled upon: tiny postcard gardens in the shape of a garden or botanical garden.

The second one is also a great invention: recycled paper filled with seeds. After use, you can put it in the earth, and with some water and patience the seeds will grow into anything that flowers! You can buy it on the internet, or make plantable paper yourself!