Spotlight on Tomatoes and Basil

What’s so good about Tomatoes?

From Tumbling Toms and Ailsa Craigs, to Marmande and Heirlooms, tomatoes are a firm British favourite thanks to their versatility and full flavour. Whether you like them sliced in a crunchy salad or prefer to whiz them up into a tasty pasta sauce, eating tomatoes regularly is good for your health.

Here are some juicy facts about tomatoes:

  • Tomatoes can come in different colours – from dark red, to orange to green! Contrary to what people might think, the colour doesn’t have much affect on the taste but they all include lots of essential nutrients.
  • Tomatoes are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Potassium
  • They’re low in fat, high in fibre and a low-calorie source of many vitamins and minerals.
  • Research suggests tomatoes have another important nutritional benefit – they’re packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that gives them their bright red colour and may also have a role to play in lowering the risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Just one tomato or seven cherry tomatoes counts as one of the 5-a-day and contains just 15 calories and 0.3g fat. Try snacking on cherry tomatoes instead of crisps when hunger hits or make up a batch of homemade tomato soup to help fill you up.

Did you know there is a British Tomato Week? It runs from 19th – 25th May this year and it the tenth anniversary of the event so look out for tomato themed activities taking place around the country.

Brilliant Basil!

Basil and tomatoes are a wonderful cookery combination, especially within Mediterranean cuisine. Basil, an aromatic herb belonging to the mint family, is perhaps best known as the key ingredient in pesto, but here you can find out some fun facts about this aromatic plant.

  • Basil now grows in many regions throughout the world, but it was first native to India, Asia and Africa. It is prominently featured in cuisines throughout the world including Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian.
  • The name “basil” is derived from the ancient Greek wordbasilikohn, which means “royal,” reflecting the culture’s attitudes towards a herb that they held to be very noble and sacred. Basil is also revered in other cultures, for example in India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.
  • Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese; a very good source of copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C.

Feeling stressed out? Basil can help to relax you. It contains phytochemicals that studies suggest may lower cortisol, a hormone secreted when you’re tense. 
Add a few leaves to  your salad or pop a few in a glass of chilled ice tea for a relaxing drink.

 

Organic food growing 2 – companion planting good and bad plants

In the second of our mini series on organic food growing at home we have provided a table of favourite varieties and their good and bad companion plants!

It is generally thought that all plants will grow happily alongside each other, but this is not the case. There is a lot of competition between individual plants for light, space, water and nutrients.

Some plants will excrete toxins via their roots into the soil to act as a growth inhibitor. These we think of as bad companions and in food plant gardens we make sure to keep them apart.

Others plants such as legumes (peas and beans) will release nitrogen via their roots to encourage plant growth – good companions. It is this ‘plant science’ that we turn to our advantage to make the maximum use of space available in containers and veg patches.

Marigold plants will excrete a substance through their roots that kills harmful soil nematodes and there are plants that contain strong smelling volatile oils that deter or confuse harmful pests.

Good and bad companion plants

The table below highlights the principals above for a select group of edible plants:

This mini series is brought to you from the Seed Pantry team members Mike and Neil.

Mike says: ‘Good and bad companion planting can really help you make the best of growing your own food, it’s always good to use nature in your favour rather than pesticides’

Neil says: ‘I am sowing seeds right now ready to go in next month, so I will be carefully considering what to plant where, to make the most of my crops, I have beans and peas shooting up and beetroot so I’ll be careful not to plant them next to each other!’

Look out for the next post in the mini series, we’ll put a table of companion plants to attract beneficial insects…

 

Organic food growing – companion planting in 6 steps

Plants that help each other grow!?

In the first of a mini series on organic food growing at home we have a quick master class onCompanion Planting for you. Enjoy picking up a few tips to help you grow gourmet food at home, organically!

Companion planting is the practise of growing 2 or more species of plants close together; either to their mutual benefit or, in our case, to the benefit of the food crops we want to eat.

The principles behind companion planting are not complicated, here’s 6 easy steps:

1. Plants with beneficial nutrients

Plants that can “lock” beneficial nutrients in the soil to the benefit of the food crop are a great idea for any food growing space and will provide you with more healthy nutritious crops to eat.

Example: Peas and beans produce nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots that will benefit any leafy crop, so grow lettuce close to them during growing or a crop like cabbages can be grown on top of the roots after the peas or beans have finished cropping and have been cut down.

2. Plants for attracting predators

Certain plants will attract beneficial predators such as ladybirds, hoverflies, and lacewings into the food garden, the emerging young will then feed on unwanted bugs such as aphids that could be present on the food crop.

Example: The poached egg plant (it does look like a poached egg!), Limnanthes douglasii is very good at attracting hoverflies which will feed on aphids and pollinate your plants too.

3. Plants that confuse unwanted pests

Plants can produce scents that confuse and distract the pest by masking the scent of the main food crop.

Example: A great traditional combination is growing basil or dwarf tagetes amongst tomato plants to confuse whitefly.

4. Sacrificial plants

Plants that are used as sacrificial plants to attract pests that then lay their eggs on them so that we can gather the eggs or caterpillars and destroy them.

Example: Grow nasturtiums between brassicas that attract cabbage white butterflies away from the main brassica crops.

5. Plants that secrete unpleasant (but harmless to people!) toxins through their roots

To control soil borne pest and diseases certain plants have defence mechanisms.

Example: members of the dwarf marigold family can be interplanted amongst the main food crop to control harmful soil nematodes such as wire worms.

6. Plants to control weeds

Plants that can be used to control invasive weeds.

Example: Growing Tagetes minuta which has displayed some control over ground elder and convolvulus (bindweed). Again the roots secrete toxins that are poisonous to the plants that need to be suppressed.

This mini series is brought to you from the Seed Pantry team members Mike and Neil.

Mike says: ‘For me I practice all the methods above, but when starting out I think the top 3 are great ideas for this spring and summer’

Neil says: ‘I love the fact that nature simply has the answers needed to grow healthy crops without using harmful chemicals, for my food growing, which is mainly in pots and containers, I will be planting lettuces around my peas and beans this spring’

Look out for the next post in the mini series, we’ll put a table of companion plants together for you…

WIN a case of wine – the foodies perfect Christmas

Seed Pantry have asked our friends at Cono Sur if they would help us to add a little Christmas cheer to some lucky winners!

Leading up to Christmas and during Christmas week we’ll be giving away a total of four cases of wonderful organically produced wine from Cono Sur.  We’ll be doing this via our newsletter and social media sites below. So sign up and get liking and following to keep upto date.

We work with Cono Sur for three reasons:

  1. Firstly they are advocates of growing your own seasonal food and matching their wines to great seasonal dishes – take a look at www.conosurseasons.com for inspiration and more prizes!

  2. They are commited to nature and sustainable wine production, being at the forefront of sustainable agriculture and organically produced wine, supported by ISO 9001 and 14001 certificates, regarding quality and environmental realted processes, respectively.

  3. Finally, we think these methods produce some excellent wine that tastes great!

More about the wines the lucky winners will receive:

Organic Pinot Noir £8.99 -  A deep vibrant red with complex flavours of blackberry and cherry, enhanced by slightly toasty hints, this wine matches well with meat dishes. Stockists: Alfred the Grape, The Co-operative, Matthew Clark Wholesale , Mumbles Fine Wines, Yourfavouritewines.com

Organic Sauvignon Blanc £8.99 – Herbal hints and notes of white flowers and melon make this expressive and refreshing wine a great match with fish and poultry dishes, as well as cheese. Balanced and juicy, this wine has a long mineral finish. Stockists:  The Co-operative, Dylans Wine Merchants, Matthew Clark Wholesale, Mumbles Fine Wines, Yourfavouritewines.com

We’ll doing more with Cono Sur in the New Year with tips on fruit and vegetable growing and matching seasonal food to wines, with a few random musings about the seasons to boot! 

Square Foot Gardening

My problem in life is that I just don’t know when to stop – this applies to spending, talking, eating, and….sowing seeds.  Once I have that seed packet in my hand, I just want to sow them all.  Immediately.  And, whilst it’s satisfying at that moment, it’s not so good a few weeks or months down the line when we’re trying to think of new ways of cooking, eating or knitting kale.

Exhibit 1: Example of my oversowing – how long would it take people to eat these onions?

During some aimless internet surfing, I came across the square foot gardening (SFG) method and thought that this might be just the thing to curb my profligate ways with seeds. 

The basics of SFG were stated as follows:

– Raised beds - that don’t require cultivating and which you do not have to walk on as you can reach every part of the bed from outside the bed;

– Addition of a special mix of compost/vermiculite/peat;

– Division of beds into square feet - clearly marked with string or something more permanent so that the divisions are visible as crops grow;

– Intensive planting of different crops within each square foot;

– Successional sowing - so no gluts and a continuous crop throughout the growing season.

 

So, for each square foot you sow a specific number of seeds depending on the crop so that you don’t waste seeds and also you don’t have to thin out plants that are overcrowded.  Common spacing is:

– 1 plant/square for larger plants like cabbage or broccoli

– 4 plants/square for medium plants like lettuce

– 9 plants/square for medium-small plants like spinach

– 16 plants/square for small plants like carrots and spring onions.

Anything that takes up lots of space through their habit such as runners or courgettes are grown vertically on frames or supports.

So far, so good.

Of course, I didn’t decide to follow it precisely – who doesn’t read the instructions for something and think “ooh, I don’t think that applies to me?” or “I can’t really be bothered with that it so I’ll adapt it for my own lazy ways…….”  I did use raised beds and I did divide up into the square feet but I decided to cultivate the soil that was in there and add some soil improver in the autumn to help with my clay soil structure and also to add some nutrients (I didn’t need peat – stay peat free!).

 

    

   2Dividing into square feet & putting up protection.

 

 

 

 

 1. Cultivating Soil

Next..deciding what to grow?

I mainly went with salads and lots of carrots which I love but also grew some kohl rabi because it looked cool in a picture I had seen!  I then went into overdrive with a crazy spreadsheet that had 32 columns and nearly 300 rows (representing each day) – OMG I was trying to plan to the nth degree – what to sow, how long it would be in the ground when it would be out and so then when I could sow the next lot.  

Duh!  I now realise that all I really needed to do was sow everything once in their respective squares and then wait for it to germinate.  Once a particular crop in a square had come up then to do a second sowing in any free square I had and continue doing this until the seed packets said that it was too late to sow or I ran out of squares.  Some crops like kohl rabi I didn’t need so much of so I sowed less often.

    

3.  Very neat and tidy at the start           4.  Now, growing well..slightly crowded

 

 

Some observations..

– Crops like radish mature very quickly so their square comes free within the season to be sowed again with something else.

– Some crops like carrots were tall and shaded other plants/flopped into other squares – next time I’ll make sure I sow these crops on the North of the bed so they don’t shade the other veg and will also put up some Heath Robinson affair to stop them flopping into the other squares.

– It takes quite a lot of discipline to do this as you have to be sowing quite often – I have to admit that I wasn’t as attentive as I could have been *hangs head in shame*.

– The main pests in my urban garden are foxes, squirrels and cats so with the raised beds, it was easy to put up some protective netting and whilst they aren’t cheap they are very strong and I can see them lasting for ever.

– I haven’t had gluts which has been brilliant – no new knitting patterns for kale required!

Overall I think this is a great way to grow veg in a confined space and with a bit more discipline I think it will be even more successful next year.

 

This post written by the Seed Pantry guest: Nell Jones.

Nell recently studied Horticulture as a career change from 20 years in recruitment and now works at the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden. 

You can read Nell’s own blog here: http://capabilityjonesblogs.blogspot.com/

 

Growing my toms, chillies & peppers – stage 2

Late April / May I potted on my tomato, chillies and pepper plants into the Seed Pantry 9cm rice husk pots that are a perfect size to continue growing your own summer veg.  By early June the young plants roots were poking out of the bottom of the pots and had grown to a height of 10cm to 20cm.  This means they where then ready to be planted outside in our small backyard in London.

To plant them in their final growing positions, which can be outside or inside, gently ease them out of the pots by tapping on the bottom, perhaps use a plant marker to run round the inside edge to loosen the soil, be careful not to damage the plants.  I prefer to use the rice husk pots several times as they are sturdy like plastic but entirely biodegradable, great!

Get your final containers, window boxes or pots and hanging baskets ready with some peat free compost in the bottom, I used the Seed Pantry coir Compost Blocks to add moisture retention to the pots.  Just soak them in 3 litres of water to make 9 litres of compost!

Add your compost and then the plants with enough space around them to grow into – around 10cm to 20cm is good. Add more compost and firm them in gently. Give them a good drink of water to help them settle into their new environment.

They like to be in a fairly sheltered and warm environment for continued growing and once they start to flower they will need a regular organic feed to help produce excellent juicy and spicy hot fruits (for the chillies!).

I’ll report back on stage 3 once they flower and start producing baby peppers, chillies and tomatoes.

Growing my toms, chillies & peppers

There’s plenty of options for growing your own veg and sowing seeds at the moment, but a must for me in our small backyard in West London are a few tomatoes, plenty of chillies and peppers too.

You can get them going on your window sills using mini compost disc’s or you could try recycling yogurt pots filled with compost and pop a hole in the bottom for drainage. Sow 1 seed per pot/disc, put them in a sunny place and keep watered. Then move them into a slightly bigger pot after they have 3/4 leaves, the seedlings in the picture above are ready for this stage, use a 9cm wide/tall pot or perhaps a used soup tub. Move the young plants outside in around 4 weeks once they are 10cm to 20cm tall, transfer to either larger pots of 20cm wide or more or 3 plants to a grow bag.

I’m growing Tumbling Tom tomatoes in 2 hanging baskets as well as the varieties from our new Heirloom Tomato Seeds box: Outdoor Girl which is more of a bush type plant with smaller fruits, Marmande with big beefy fruits and Alisa Craig with medium sized juicy fruits.  Apache chillies and sweet spanish peppers are also in the mix.  

If you’re keen to grow your own veg then these varieties are easy to grow and will produce excellent flavours in whatever space you have spare.  They do really well in pots on the patio/backyard/courtyard or on balconies and roof terraces with a little shelter…

 

Urban Digger – September 2010

Food growing doesn’t stop when it gets cold! You can continue to grow your own food in autumn..

and through to winter by sowing autumn vegetables…what are they I hear you ask?…well things like Pak Choi, winter lettuces, chard and oriental mustards are a good start for urbanites. If you can find a little room on a window sill they can all be grown now outside.

September is a time when there are still plenty of vegetables to be picked from summer like French beans and butternut squash. Often you have more veg than you know what to do with, so get the recipe books out and make the most of harvest time, there are lots of wonderful recipes in the Seed Pantry forum too.

Seed Pantry at the Start Garden Party…

For most of September I have been really busy with Seed Pantry exhibiting at the Start Garden Party, held at Clarence House. This has been an exciting and informative event all about inspiration for making simple steps to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Start is a new charity run by the Prince of Wales Trust aimed at helping us all to be a little bit more sustainable in the way we live.

There were loads of things to see and do from clothes swapping parties, a pledge tree to make your pledge to do something sustainable – like growing veg!, a dance floor that generates electricity and a solar powered greenhouse. My personal favourites were the many innovative ways to produce urban veg with an eye on future cities using every available metre of space and all types of recycled containers for food growing across the four seasons. 

There is loads of information from food growing, shopping to cycling and driving at the www.startuk.org website.

Growing food around my flat..

In the flat I’ve been busy sowing autumn salads on the window sills to replace summer varieties to last for the next few months. With cities being warmer than rural locations it does mean you can grow food all year round with extended seasons where you can experiment with pushing the boundaries of producing veg varieties.  

For sowing and growing autumn salads you can use the same methods as you did the summer varieties of leafy salads in window boxes. Take your window box and add a layer of gravel or broken pot bits in the bottom, add the compost to abut 3cm below the top, firm this down gently, sprinkle your seeds evenly and thinly across the surface for cut-and-come-again leaves, then add a layer of compost over the top about 1cm and firm down, then gently water until the soil is moist. They will survive colder spells and frosts are a while off yet.

My running total of savings is up to around £107 over four months, I would estimate that over the year you could save around £300 by growing your own food in spare spaces…great!.

In the backyard, which is still like a jungle, the production line continues with tomatoes and French beans, Swiss and rainbow chard, and carrots. 

Next month I’ll probably be clearing out the French beans and other crops that are no longer producing to make room for some late sowings of autumn veg – although there are no signs of this yet! I want to try and grow food in the city all year round to show that tasty rewards can be achieved will a small amount of money and work in a small space!