Moving Compost

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We’ve actually got around to ‘turning’ a compost heap over.

That is quite and achievement here. We often fill compost heaps so high that we can’t possibly turn them over without creating a collapse similar if Everest gave way.

But we did it, in two hours in the rain. We kind of had to do it because, well, I needed more space for the onions and garlic. I’ve planted somewhere around 250 onions… we were given quite a few but it was good seeing as the cats have already dug some up…

But yes – back to composting – why do we ‘turn’ compost over? Why do we compost in the first place? Why not chuck it in one of those bins?

For shame.

Right, compost: organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as fertiliser and soil amendment. Compost is the KEY ingredient to organic farming. Despite the slug pellets, that is what we aim to do.

Have you ever read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stemple? Do, its great.

You make your compost out of basically anything in the garden – that can be cut grass, leaves, old plants, some people choose not to include their weeds but I do because I like dumping them somewhere and feeling like I am recycling. You can also put your food waste in it. This might attract rodents, of course, but what about your tea bags, banana peels, veg scrapings? Those are all really good to rot down and so not worth giving to the bin man. You can put cardboard and paper on too – covering the heap with cardboard is a good way of helping it to rot down.

But why should I compost?

  1. Saves money – do you know how expensive compost is?
  2. Saves resources and reduces negative impacts on the environment by avoiding chemical fertilisers.
  3. Improves soil – it feeds it with a diversity of nutrients, improves soil drainage and increases soil stability.

Compost takes time. It can look messy. But it is so worth it for a gardner. It is an investment.

So, if you don’t know already, ‘turning over’ the compost bed is aerating it. It gives it a flush of oxygen that encourages the bacteria breaking it down not to remain sluggish. It therefore speeds up the process, sometimes by weeks.

To aerate your compost, fork or shovel the compost into a newly set up enclosure next door to it. It is that simple. If your pile isn’t as big as a mountain.

Mustard

Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice ( Collecting Mustard Seeds). Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment we buy from the supermarkets. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.

The word mustard is derived from the Latin mustum or must, the grape juice that the Romans mixed with honey and the ground seeds of the mustard plant (sinapi) to create their mustum ardens, or ‘burning must’.

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(Photo from the internet – I don’t have many clear pictures of mustard plants despite there being such a huge quantity in my veg patches…)

Some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in Hellenistic and Roman times but it is historically noted that: “There are almost no archeological records available for any of these crops”. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be located in west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However, historians have concluded: “Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations”. Encyclopædia Britannica states that mustard was grown by the Indus Civilisation of 2500-1700 BCE. According to the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, “Some of the earliest known documentation of mustard’s use dates back to Sumerian and Sanskrit texts from 3000 BC”.

The mustard plant was brought to Britain by the Romans via France and there are numerous Roman recipes that use mustard as an ingredient. However serious mustard production was first recorded in France in the 9th century, usually based in religious establishments and this then spread to Britain in the 9th century. By the 14th century mustard was being grown in various parts of the country including the area around Tewkesbury, where the mustard was mixed with horseradish and took the name of the town. Most mustard produced in the Middle Ages was based on using the whole or crushed seeds, mixing them with liquid and letting the mix mature. The mix was often dried, making it easier for transportation, and then liquid added again when required for use.

In the 18th century, with the developments in milling techniques the husks of the seeds could be more easily removed and the seeds finely ground. The first record of the production of mustard flour is credited to Mrs Clements of Durham in 1720 who managed to keep the milling technique used a secret for some time allowing Durham to become the centre of mustard production in the country and allowing herself to accumulate considerable sums of money selling her mustard flour. Once her milling secret was discovered, other entrepreneurs began to invest in mustard production. Most notable in the 19th century was Jeremiah Colman who began milling mustard at his flour mill in Norwich. His mustard became the English mustard, a finely milled flour, yellow in colour (assisted by the addition of turmeric) and very hot in taste.

Mustard is now a world-wide condiment and there are numerous companies involved in making, using and marketing the product. The whole or ground seeds are still an important ingredient in cooking, especially in India and Asia, while in Europe and the Americas the processed seeds are still used as a table condiment.

There are three main varieties: white (Brassica alba) brown (Brassica juncea) and black (Brassica nigra).

Recent research has studied varieties of mustards with high oil contents for use in the production of biodiesel, a renewable liquid fuel similar to diesel fuel. The biodiesel made from mustard oil has good cold flow properties and cetane ratings. The leftover meal after pressing out he oil has also been found to be an effective pesticide.

We use mustard as green manure. Green manure is created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment.  Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering. Green manure is commonly associated with organic farming and can play an important role in sustainable annual cropping systems.The value of green manure was recognized by farmers in India for thousands of years, as mentioned in treatises like Vrikshayurveda. In Ancient Greece too, farmers ploughed broad bean plants into the soil. Chinese agricultural texts dating back hundreds of years refer to the importance of grasses and weeds in providing nutrients for farm soil. It was also known to early North American colonists arriving from Europe. Common colonial green manure crops were rye, buckwheat and oats. Incorporation of green manures into a farming system can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for additional products such as supplemental fertilizers and pesticides.

Benefits of using mustard or any other crop as a green manure:

  • When allowed to flower, the crop provides forage for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which allow for a reduction in the application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.
  • Suppresses other weeds from growing.
  • Green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils by generating humic acid and acetic acid.
  • Incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material.
  • Releases nutrients that improves the soil structure.
  • Reduces likeliness of plant or insect disease, notably verticillium wilt of potatoes.
  • Controls erosion.
  • Used for animal grazing, especially poultry.
  • Contains nitrogen that fertilises the soil without the need of commercial products.

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So I’ve continued to harvest mustard seeds to put in homemade curries, but my mum has gone one step further – she has started harvesting little young mustards and adding them to her egg sandwiches at lunch time. Here is her recipe:

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Egg and Mustard Green sandwich open (with beetroot in it and lettuce on the side)

Egg and Mustard Green Sandwich

(Serves 1)

-1 egg -2 slices of bread (or 1 large cut in half) -Butter -1 tbsp mayonnaise -1 handful of mustard -Lettuce, tomatoes or other salad, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Stick a pin into the top of the egg and remove. Put the egg into the pan of boiling water and leave until it has become a hard boiled egg (completely solid). This could be between 5-10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, drain the hot water and cover the egg in cold water, leaving it to cool.
  3. Spread butter over the bread so that both halves of the bread are covered on one side.
  4. Once cold, remove the egg from the pan and peel away the shell. Cut the egg into thin slices, then dice so that it is in lots of cubes.
  5. Mix the egg into the mayonnaise and then spread over the buttered bread. Add the mustard greens on top. Close the sandwich and serve with salad.

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Orach

Atriplex is a plant genus of 250–300 species, known by the common names of saltbush, orach or orache. It belongs to the subfamily Chenopodioideae of the family Amaranthaceae. The genus is quite variable and widely distributed. It includes many seashore and desert plants, as well as plants found in moist environments. The generic name originated in Latin and was applied by Pliny the Elder to the edible orachs. The name orach is derived from the Latin ‘aurago’ meaning golden herb. The name saltbush derives from the fact that the plants retain salt in their leaves.

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A native of Europe and Siberia, orach is possibly one of the more ancient cultivated plants. It is grown in Europe and the northern plains of the United States. A cool season plant, orach is a warm season alternative to spinach that is less likely to bolt. It can be eaten fresh or cooked. The flavour is reminiscent of spinach and is often combined with sorrel leaves. The seeds are also edible and a source of vitamin A. They are ground into a meal and mixed with flour for making breads. Seeds are also used to make a blue dye.

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An annual herb, orach comes in four common varieties, with white orach being the most common. White orach has more pale green to yellow leaves rather than white. There is also red orach with dark red stems and leaves (the one we grow) Green orach, or Lee’s Giant orach, is a vigorous varietal with an angular branching habit and rounder leaves of dark green. Less commonly grown is a copper colored orach variety.

I purchased our red orach seeds from Real Seeds Company that sells lots of heritage and exotic seeds. I planted them out last year and they self-seeded and re-grew this year.

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Orach contains significant levels of vitamin C and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, carotenes, protein, anthocyanins, zinc and selenium tryptophan, and dietary fibre. Orach improves the digestion with the dietary fibre, improves the function of kidneys with its diuretic and laxative effect. Orach contains antioxidant compounds that prevent cancer from developing, the proteins, minerals, and vitamins stored in orach can help everything from hormonal regulation to enzymatic reactions that are required to keep our body functioning and boosting our metabolism. The high levels of iron and calcium boost red blood cell creation, circulation, and oxygenation of the tissues and organ systems. Orach possesses almost twice the amount of vitamin C as lemons or kiwis which are often considered the top fruits for acquiring vitamin C quickly, making Orach a very attractive plant if you want to keep your immune system running.

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Similar to spinach, but less than spinach, orach does contains significant levels of oxalic acid. This means that if you suffer from kidney stones, gall stones or gout, it might be a good idea to avoid orach and find these nutritional elements elsewhere and for others to eat small amounts of it raw.

As the seeds contain some protein, it is a good plant for vegetarians to grow as it provides some homegrown protein to add to their daily meals.

You can eat the seeds and leaves raw, or you can cook them. Cook the leaves like you would do to spinach. For the seeds, they can be fried or boiled. Add them to a salad or any other dish that includes grains like rice or quinoa or bulgar wheat. My first taste of the seeds was when I added them to a tomato risotto and they were really nice.

Broad Beans – Tomato Risotto. Add the orach seeds when the rice is starting to absorb the liquid. You can omit the broad beans if you like and just make a plain tomato risotto.

Here is another recipe I made including orach seeds…

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Garlic Mushrooms, Leaf Beet and toasted Orach Seeds

(Serves 2)

-200g brown rice -1 knob of butter -6 button mushrooms, finely sliced -1 large garlic clove, diced -6 leaves of leaf beet, perpetual leaf spinach, spinach or swiss chard, de-stalked -2 handfuls of orach seeds -Runner beans or another vegetable, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the rice and turn the heat down to a simmer for about half an hour or until the rice has absorbed the water and is cooked. Leave to one side.
  2. Bring another pan of water to the boil and add the runner beans or another green vegetable you would like to serve with it. Remove from the heat when cooked, drain and leave to one side.
  3. Put the butter in a frying pan. Turn on the flame and leave it to melt, greasing the pan with it. Add the finely sliced mushrooms and fry for a minute before reducing the flame to simmer. Add the leaf beet followed by the diced garlic. Stir. Add the orach seeds allow them to toast a little before stirring them into the mixture.
  4. Remove from the heat and serve over spoonfuls of rice and vegetables. Refrigerate left-overs.

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Collecting Mustard Seeds

I was making curry for my birthday on Saturday (hello 22!) when I realised, to my horror I had forgotten to buy more mustard seeds from Sainsbury’s and we were all out 😦 But heh, never mind. Then mum got really excited and vanished off to the garden to pick some lettuce and returned with a bowl of mustard seeds she had harvested from the vegetable patch, aka the weeds I am always trying to get rid of.

Now, the two irritating weeds that flourish in my garden despite my best efforts (apart from nettles that just pop up everywhere from the manure we use, that I am at war with constantly after one stung me on the face last week and made me feel like a fool!), the most common to find are a) goosegrass, and b) mustard.

This year it has been even harder to keep the weeds under control after being absent for only a couple of months and it is harder to pull up the mustard when it starts flowering and your mum wants to keep it because the bees like it…

But we tried frying the mustard seeds in the curry, and I tried a fried one on its own, and it was really good! So I’ve started putting the unwanted weeds to good use and I am harvesting mustard seeds to store. I felt like a bit of an idiot for buying them for so long when they have been flourishing in my garden for years!

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It is really easy to harvest them. When the seed pods have formed and are dried out so that they are brown and crispy, like paper bags, get a pair of scissors and snip off the pods (or stems with the pods on, the pods are very delicate and will break easily and spill the seeds everywhere) into a container. Open each pod and empty the little mustard seeds into a container for storing, it is that simple!

We bought brown coloured mustard seeds from the shops, but our homegrown ones are black which are the variety my mum has tried to buy for so long to make curries. Apparently, they come from one of three different plants: black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown Indian mustard (Brassica junga), or white mustard (Brassica hirta/Sinapis alba).

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Grinding and mixing the seeds with water and vinegar creates the yellow condiment of prepared mustard.

An archaic name for the seed is eye of newt. Often misunderstood for an actual eye of a newt this name has been popularly associated with witchcraft ever since it was mentioned as an ingredient to a witch’s brew in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

These mustard seeds are known in Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi as sarson. They are also planted to grow saag (greens) which are stir-fried and eaten as a vegetable preparation, called sarson ka saag in Urdu and Hindi. Sarson ka tel (mustard oil) is used for body massage during extreme winters, as it is assumed to keep the body warm.

Mustard seeds generally take eight to ten days to germinate. They can handle a cold atmosphere and relatively moist soil. Mature mustard plants grow into shrubs.

Mustard grows well in temperate regions. Major producers of mustard seeds include India, Pakistan, Canada, Nepal, Hungary, Great Britain and the United States. Brown and black mustard seeds return higher yields than their yellow counterparts.

In Pakistan, rapeseed-mustard is the second most important source of oil, after cotton. It is cultivated over an area of 307,000 hectares with annual production of 233,000 tonnes and contributes about 17% to the domestic production of edible oil. Mustard seeds are a rich source of oil and protein. The seed has oil as high as 46-48%, and whole seed meal has 43.6% protein.

Use mustard seeds in these Indian curries:

Courgettes – Red Lentil Dahl

Okra – Curried Okra

Curried Potatoes and Bread maker Naan Bread

Cucumbers – Paneer Curry