Many people find gardening relaxing, something that is good for their soul. Countless hours may be spent, digging and planting, turning the soil and weeding. But it seems to be a special talent to get things to grow, and much more to have them thrive. Recently, the trend seemed to be bigger houses with less lawn and less garden, and certainly for many that is still true. But for many others, there is a change happening- turning our backs on mass production, and fresh fruit and vegetables being bought at big retailers. Instead we see the popularity of farmers markets increase, and the concept of ‘farm fresh’ and ‘paddock to plate’ becoming more important to a large percentage of the community.
There is a lot to be said for understanding where food comes from. As old fashioned as it sounds, I believe it is of vital importance to bring your children up in the garden and in the kitchen too. That is where they will begin to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and understand that the food they choose sustains them and helps them thrive also.
As a family, we longed for a patch of land where we could begin growing our own food, as well as give the kids an everyday experience where they are encouraged to touch, feel and get dirty without concern. Oh, and what fun we have had since moving! 😄 So far our kitchen garden has provided literally kilos and kilos of zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, snow peas, corn cobs, cherry tomatoes, celery, chilies, rocket, and different lettuce varieties. We are also waiting on our crop of broccoli and silverbeet.
My husband certainly takes the reigns in the garden (as our resident horticulturist, I wouldn’t expect any less), but the vegie patch and the herb garden have somehow remained mine. Our herb garden has been thriving and we have had more than our fair share of mint, basil and parsley. We also have dill, lemongrass, rosemary, oregano, chives, purple basil.
Some may say it is because I am a control freak that I feel the need to label everything. My response is usually something to do with attempting to make things easier for others, you know so things can be put back in the correct spot or so that you know what is what. So after I had happily planted my seedlings I set about looking for some garden markers. Who knew anything nice was so expensive!!?? I really could not resolve the idea of just leaving the labels on or using those plastic white labels you can get from the hardware store so here are some of the ideas I found;
I found some raw wood spoons in a dollar store and took to them with my sharpies based on the above idea. I started just by roughly positioning the letters on the spoon in lead pencil. Then when I was happy, I penned them in and then added a greenery based design to each, unless it particularly called for colour.
Whether you are happy to buy some of what you need, or you want to make do with what you have around the house, any of these options make great additions to your garden. And it goes without saying that the kids love getting in and getting their hands dirty.
As this cold weather continues to send shivers down my spine, I have begun to rely heavily on my slow cooker and I know I am not alone. If nothing else, for a mum with two young children, it is actually a relief to get dinner organised first thing in the morning, long before the mad rush of the afternoon park play and before baths or showers can be done.
I have found that the key to tasty winter cooking (other than cooking it low and slow) is herbs! Take old favourites to a new level and make one pot wonders for the whole family adding fresh, versatile herbs straight from your garden.
Rosmarinus officinalis, is an attractive woody stemmed perennial herb that is fragrant and has evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia. Rosemary is attractive, is easy to grow and is pest resistant, and can withstand lengthy periods or little or no water. It makes a great shrub as it grows quite large and can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges or even for topiary if your heart desires. Alternatively it grows well in pots.
Rosemary is ideal for flavouring meats such as roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey, and is great to use in stuffings. It works well with lemon and garlic.
As rosemary is easy to grow and care for, it makes an ideal addition to your herb garden. It can be propagated from a ‘cutting’ from an existing plant simply by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil. You will certainly make things easier on yourself if you start with a nursery grown plant, and you will be able to enjoy adding it to your food a whole lot sooner.
When we planted our first herb garden together, top of my wish list was Coriander as we love Asian flavours. Eager to please, hubby is determined to pick me a healthy speciman, so heads off. Upon getting home and removing the plant from the punnet, I was bitterly disappointed to find that it was Celery, not the Coriander I had hoped for
Thankfully, I was not disappointed for long. How many stews and casseroles do you know that start with a mirepoix base of onion, carrot and celery? A bazillion. So the celery flourished in our herb patch and was used almost every second day. Celery is now firmly up near the top of my wish list due to its versatility; I use it in stews, soups, casseroles and even salads.
The distinction between herbs and vegetables seems clear most of the time but celery is one exception to the rule as it has a herb like leafy top, and vegetable like stalks. Herbs are strongly flavoured plants which we use in small quantities to flavour other foods, including vegetables which tend to be less flavoured by nature. Celery is a stimulating, nourishing, and restorative herb. There is a pungency to celery, which is closer to what you get with herbs; a sense of strong plant chemicals exploding up your palate and flooding your mouth with flavour . It is hardly a surprise then to find that Celery is a part of the Apiaceae family, the same family of plants that includes parsley, caraway, cumin and coriander. Celery also has phthalides, a chemical that has the ability to intensify other flavours, which is perhaps why it so often forms the base to various recipes.
There are several varieties of bay leaves: Bay laurel, California bay leaf, Indian bay leaf, Indonesian bay leaf, West Indian bay leaf and Mexican bay leaf.
Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae (Bay Leaf) are used either fresh or dried in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves themselves are not meant to be eaten, although it is safe to do so. They have a sharp, bitter taste.
The leaves are generally used whole, or in a bouquet garni as they are easier to remove, however they can also be crushed or ground to impart more of their desired flavour. Crushed or ground leaves are generally placed within a muslin bag or tea infuser so they can easily be removed.
Bay leaves are great to use in bolognaise sauces, or in soups, stews, braises and pâtés. Bay leaves were used as favouring as early as the Ancient Greeks. They are also featured in many Mediterranean cuisines, French cooking, some Thai (massaman curry) and Indian dishes (Biryani) as well as the dishes throughout the Americas.
Bay leaf is also an ingrdient of Garam Masala.
They are a great addition to any garden. They require a sunny position and can grow quite large given the correct care.
We use branches of the bay tree within our pantry to keep meal moths (weavels) flies, cockroaches and silverfish under control. The bay leaf has repellant properties.
Petroselinum Crispum is a biennial plant in temperate climates, and an annual herb in subtripical/tripocal areas. Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained soil, with full sun. It grows best between 22–30 °C and usually is grown from seed. Germination is slow, taking four to six to eight weeks.
It is native to the central Mediterranean region.
Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish, finely chopped and sprinkled on top of potato dishes, risottos, steaks, chicken, as well as stews and casseroles. Continental parsley is widely ised in Middle Eastern cooking, European, Brazilian and American cooking. It is the main ingredient in Salsa verde (minced parsley, basil, capers, anchovies, lemon juice and olive oil) served on fish; used in England in their roux based Parsley sauces; a main ingredient in a traditional bouquet garni; a main ingredient in Gremolata (a traditional accompaniment for Osso bucco made with parlsey, garlic and lemon juice; and the main ingredient in Tabbouleh, a popular middle eastern salad.
Want to try something different to a risotto for a great mid week meal? This Pea and Parsley Risoni is sure to be a hit.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a member of the onion family, closely related to onion, garlic, leeks and scallions yet have the most delicate flavour. They have a slight hint of garlic, together with delicate onion like flavour. Chives are popularly paired with potatoes and sour cream. While Chives and Spring onions are similar, they are not the same; one is a herb, the other is an onion. Often they can be interchanged in recipes, but not always.
Chives are a hardy, drought resistant perennial. Whilst they can be grown from seed, it is long process to get it to a useable plant. The Chives will die off somewhat throughout winter, and not look as healthy as they do throughout summer, so if you want continuous supply, leave your chives in pots and bring them inside during the colder months.
Chives also have insect-repelling properties so they are great to have in your garden to control nasty pests. Love it.