Become a food gardener

More and more people are realising the importance of growing their own food. It’s not only about feeding the body and reducing one’s vulnerability to the whims of the market place. It’s also about building a strong immune system by eating fresh, safe, nutritious and tasty food grown on healthy soil that is packed full of life-giving minerals and cosmic vibrations.

More than this, the body’s natural ability to cope with sickness and disease is taxed to the extreme by the deluge of microbes and toxins from our polluted environment and the stressful lifestyles that we have fashioned for ourselves.

Food gardening provides exercise, fresh air, sunshine and mental relaxation that are vitally important for boosting one’s defence system. If you haven’t already started your veggie and herb patch, get going and give yourself a break – in more ways than one. Don’t think for one minute though that if you don’t have a plot of land that you cannot grow at least some of what you eat.

Here are a few simple, cost- and space-effective ideas for growing some ‘life-support’ on your sunny kitchen window sill or outside the backdoor.

Start an organic farm on your kitchen windowsill.
It will save you time, money and water. Sprouts are the easiest-to-grow, most power-packed, year-round food. They grow very quickly, are always fresh and are, uncontaminated by pesticides. You can eat them everyday in salads, stir fries and sandwiches, in soups and stews, or just as a snack. They are the most economical food and use very little water to grow. The rinsing water can be used in your garden, or added to the cooking pot.

Clive McCay, professor of nutrition at Cornell University, once described soya bean sprouts as an almost perfect food – ‘A vegetable which will grow in any climate, will rival meat in nutritive value, will mature in three to five days, may be planted any day of the year, will require neither soil nor sunshine, will rival tomatoes in Vitamin C, will be free of waste in preparation and can be cooked with little fuel…’ And cheap, into the bargain.

Some seeds from your kitchen cupboard that you can sprout: Lentils, chickpeas, soya beans, peas, peanuts, mung beans, fenugreek, mustard, and alfafa or Lucerne. You can even sprout onion and broccoli seeds, but make sure that you never eat the seeds from the packets that you buy for planting in your garden. They may have poison on them!

How to go about sprouting:
• Place one tablespoon of seeds in a large, clean glass jar.
• Cover with water and leave to soak overnight.
• In the morning drain off the water and tie a piece of mesh over the top of the jar. (An old stocking or an orange mesh bag will do the job just fine). Rinse the seeds with clean water at least twice a day. You may need to put the bottle lid over the mesh covering to prevent the sprouting seeds from drying out in between rinsings.
• Keep the seeds in a warm, dark place until the tiny roots and shoots appear, and then put them in a sunny place so that the baby leaves turn bright green.
• On the fourth day, depending on how warm the weather is, the sprouts should be ready to eat.

P.S. 1 tablespoon of alfafa seeds will give you about 250g or more of sprouts.

Grow your own baby greens
Sprouts are not all you can grow on the kitchen window sill. Turnips, beetroots, radishes and carrots are usually grown for their roots, but their leaves (especially young ones) are delicious and very nutritious. Next time you harvest (or buy) any of these vegetables, cut off the crown, about ½ cm from the top. Eat the root, cooked or raw, and save the crown. Stand the crowns in water in a shallow tray in a sunny place. Water regularly and, within a week, the first new growth will start to show.

Pick the new, baby leaves when they are about 10 cm long and add them to a salad or a stir-fry, or sauté them in a little olive oil as a side-dish. Carrot tops taste like a cross between coriander and parsley and make an unusual addition to your food.

And while we’re looking at growing veggies in a rather unusual manner, try growing sunflower seeds, lentils and dhanya in discarded polystyrene trays, cottage cheese containers or any other suitable discarded packaging. Fill the trays to about 1 cm from the top with compost or good garden soil. Sow the seeds so that the soil surface is pretty much covered (only one seed deep though) and cover them over with a light sprinkling of soil, compost or vermiculite. You can even cover them with wet newspaper or kitchen towel but you will have to keep looking to see when the seeds are sprouting so that you can remove the cover and allow them the light they need to grow further. Water them lightly and make sure that the soil remains damp while they are germinating. Keep in a warm, sunny place.

The young green shoots are ready to eat in about a week to ten days. Snip them off with a pair of kitchen scissors and pop them into your salad, a sandwich, or the juicer. The lentils will regrow a few times, but the one sunflower seed gives you one juicy sprout. So often one sees bunches of wilted, very sad-looking dhanya in the supermarkets. Growing your own, as described above, means having it crisp and fresh all the time and, like turnip and beet tops, dhanya is rich in Vitamin A which is so essential for boosting the immune system. What could be easier than creating a minigarden in your kitchen?

Careful planning and succession planting will ensure that there is always something fresh and green to add to your meal. Wheat and barley greens are just as easy to produce. However, since you do not a have a full set of grinding molars like true herbivores, young shoots will have to go through a juicer to extract the goodness.

If you don’t have space on the window sill, use wall space to create a vertical garden. A simple construction of wooden planks and rope hung up on a north-facing wall provides vertical space for growing a variety of plants and sprouts which will add essential nutrients to your diet.

Some other examples of what you can grow:
• Two carrots in an old milk box or bag.
• A parsley plant in an old chamber pot.
• Chives and spring onions in a plant pot.
• Thyme and oregano.

Herbs added to your food improve the flavour and reduce the necessity of added salt which plays havoc with blood pressure. Use your imagination to come up with interesting and practical containers