Those pesky pesticides

Having written, the other day, about growing your own food to avoid unwanted chemicals, I’ve been doing a little more thinking. A friend asked me whether washing vegetables in dilute vinegar would help reduce pesticide residues more than washing with water alone. My initial thought was that, even if this did work, it would only help with surface residues, not pesticides that the plant had absorbed. I did do a bit of reading around and I didn’t find an answer to the original question but I did come across an interesting piece from Cornell University, entitled Can you wash pesticides off your fruits and vegetables? They note that various heat treatment (e.g. pasteurisation, canning and frying) have been found to reduce pesticides, as have milling, brewing, baking, malting and wine-making, but that drying and dehydrating can increase pesticide levels. Their conclusion:

Washing your produce certainly removes pesticide residue from the outside, but there’s no clear data showing whether it reduces pesticide exposure compared to consuming organic fruits and vegetables.

So, it does seem that the safest option is to grow or buy fruit and vegetables that have not been exposed to pesticides in the first place. At this point, it’s worth noting that some pesticides are acceptable in organic systems, so buying something that is labelled ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean that it is pesticide-free.

With home-grown produce, you need not worry about pesticides if you know you have not applied any. This means that when it comes to preparation, cooking and storage, you can relax and do what you like.

Since my (pretty-much chemical-free) garden is now at the beginning of its most productive period, I’ve already started preserving some of the bounty. I’ve made mint sauce, I’ve frozen some of the raspberries I’ve picked and I have some oregano hanging up to dry in the limery. There’s a small bowl of tomatoes in the fridge ready for conversion into passata, which I freeze if it’s only a small quantity or bottle if I have large amounts.

I love all the potential at this time of year. I know that by the end of summer I will be sick of courgettes, but now as I watch the first fruits swell, I can hardly wait for my first harvest. How about you? Is there something you love to grow and eat?

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2017 Courgette #1

Three Things Thursday: 15 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, baking cake. Today it’s a lime drizzle cake. A joy to make and to eat… do call in for a slice if you are passing later, but don’t leave it too long!

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Ready, set, bake…

Second, chillies. This morning Mr Snail picked another 17 chillies from our two lemon drop plants… they are so beautiful and very tasty (if you like that sort of thing).

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Lovely lemon drop

Third, mint. I love our apple mint both for its culinary uses and for the abundance of bees, butterflies and hoverflies that visit the flowers.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

 

Living in an orchard

My sister moved house earlier this year and has been working really hard in her garden, with me giving encouragement by telephone. It’s been lovely to have someone to share seeds and plants with, and it was particularly lovely to visit this week, deliver some plants and see the progress she has been making.

The house she moved into had a garden with quite a lot of lawn, a vegetable patch, a filthy chicken house, dilapidated greenhouse and a tatty plastic pond. In three months she has transformed it into an orchard with a productive vegetable garden (boosted by all that chicken poo she shovelled out of the coop) and herb beds. I am always inspired by other people’s achievements; I thought you might like to be inspired too and see what she has been up to.

There’s lots of fruit

As well as herbs and vegetables:

And there’s still room for ornamentals and the relocated pond:

Plus some practical features:

What a brilliantly productive garden it’s going to be… with hens and a fruit cage planned for the future too. She only started doing any serious gardening a few years ago, but there’s no stopping her now.

What’s up, dock?

I am trying to establish a useful ground flora in the fruit cage, including aromatic herbs and flowers that attract pollinators. I have several mints, lemon balm, comfrey, strawberries (supposedly a good weed-suppressor), thyme, rosemary, chives and oregano.

Unfortunately, I also have ryegrass, nettles and docks… I don’t mind the first of these too much , but I could do without the other two. I try to garden without chemicals, so wouldn’t normally use any weedkiller and, anyway, it’s not an option in the fruit cage. Whilst nettles are good for a range of insects, they are no good for my bare arms and legs, so I am cutting these back regularly and putting the wilted tops on the compost heap since they are a good compost activator.

Chickens find freshly-cut docks highly entertaining.

Chickens find freshly-cut docks highly entertaining*.

The trouble with docks is that they are vigorous and seed very freely. If you dig them up, it’s likely that you will leave pieces of root in the ground, from which they will resprout. In addition, if you dig them up, you leave a bare patch of soil that is an ideal seed bed for new docks, or other unwanted species. I am, therefore, trying to eradicate the docks slowly. This year, I let them grow until they produced flowers and thus used up lots of resources, then yesterday I cut them back to the ground. I removed all the cuttings from the ground and spread them out on the concrete path for the chickens to enjoy.

In theory, now the hens have lost interest, I could now compost this material, but I’m cautious in case any of the seeds have already formed – I don’t want to be propagating even more docks. So, I’m going to dry out the material and them we will use it as fuel for our Kelly kettle… a good use of a ‘waste’ product from the garden.

-oOo-

* Please note, Perdy has not lost her head in the dock-related excitement, she’s just looking over her shoulder.

Fifty shades of green

Apparently a woman of my age should be enthralled by the book ‘Fifty shades of grey’… erotica unburdened by plot or believable characters if my niece is to be trusted. She tells me that she can’t believe that she wasted hours of her life on the whole trilogy. She’s more than twenty years younger than me, but I have always found her to be thoughtful and reliable, so on her recommendation I am going to spend my time on a colour other than grey.

Lettuce, oriental greens and rocket in my polyculture bed. Alas the dwarf french beans rotted in the wet.

Of course, my colour of choice has to be green. The transformation of the British summer from washout to glorious sunshine has revealed that not everything in the garden is beyond hope. There may be no red tomatoes or golden squashes, there may be precious few runner bean flowers or vibrant black and yellow hoverflies, but there are lettuces in a variety of shades of green… from ‘Flashy butter oak’, which is green mottled with a deep burgundy, to ‘Emerald Oak’ with its crinkled vibrant green leaves. All hues seem to be there in the salad crops, whether lettuces or oriental leaves.

The photograph does not adequately show the contrast between the dark green of the potato leaves and the downy grey-green apple mint.

But other crops are showing their true colours in the sunshine too – potato leaves, contrasting with the grey-green downy foliage of apple mint. Even some of the corn and squashes are finally starting to flourish, though it seems rather too late for the production of mature winter squashes that will store well or bursting-with-sweetness corn, straight off the plant and into the pan of boiling water (in the style of Bob Flowerdew). In the greenhouse (how appropriate) greens abound – deep shiny green lipstick peppers, sickly yellow-green Amy sweet wax pepper, plus another brighter green-shading-to-red Hungarian wax pepper. And quite a few green tomatoes… which I hope will not remain so for too much longer.

Oca… plus a Calendula flower that just opened today

Elsewhere in the garden, the yellow-podded mangetout are starting to flower, purple against their subdued green foliage. Field beans (planted very late because of the bad weather) have abundant flowers amongst their grey-green leaves and oca (masquerading as shamrock) has soft green trefoils nodding in the wind. The glaucous leaves of breadseed poppy are surmounted by both purple flowers and newly formed seed pods (which should not open when they are ripe, thus preserving all the seed for me to harvest).

Squash and corn… flourishing in a compost-filled dumpy bag.

I could go on… salsify, leeks and bunching onions are just starting to show signs of resuming growth, ginger mint and lemon balm look and smell delicious as I walk through them in the fruit cage to collect raspberries off the old and slightly tatty canes in the midst of new fresh green canes that will bear fruit next year (or later this year for the Autumn variety). But, it’s time to stop now and go and enjoy picking and eating some of this bounty. So, when asked to choose a colour, I say ‘no thank you, grey… give me shades of green any day’.

-oOOo-

Of course, there’s no such thing as an original idea… Diggitydigg beat me to it!

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