Today I was showing the autumn group of community gardeners at Freshford one of my favourite flowers in the vegetable garden, Calendula officinalis. Arguably one of the best companion plants around, Calendula, more commonly known as Pot Marigold, has an uplifting range of colours on the yellow to orange scale, continuously flowers throughout the summer months and has the ability to attract slugs as well as white and blackfly. This unfortunate trait makes it a handy sacrificial plant, or an indicator that there’s a problem pest in the garden but to be honest, apart from one white fly incident in a polytunnel, that’s not something I’ve really noticed in the years I’ve grown it.
Calendula will always find a way into gardens I work with for its ability to attract pollinators, its vibrancy, and knowing that if I look at it often enough, one day I’ll finally get around to making the soft, healing hand and body lotions that Calendula is often associated with.
Calendula Seed Head – ready to harvest
At this time of year you might notice the petals falling off the plants and the seeds beginning to show themselves. As we’ve had such a dry spell recently, the seeds are setting naturally on the plants without rotting, something that often occurs during wet autumn days. The seeds can be gently removed and placed in brown envelopes, ready to sow again either in the springtime or undercover now for early flowering next year.
For centuries however, Calendula officinalis has been used medicinally in cultures around the world. According to Jekka McVicar’s Complete Herb Book, the inspiration behind the cupcake recipe below, there are some wonderful and ancient stories surrounding this herb. Among other tales, wreaths of Calendula were used to crown the gods and goddesses, the flowers added as an ingredient in love potions in medieval times and the leaves used in the American Civil War by doctors rushing around the battlefields treating open wounds.
For now however, I’ve been wearing a domestic hat and made the buns using the following recipe:
Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and flower into a bowl or food processor and mix together until fully combined. Add the milk gradually (pulse if using a processor). Fold in 1½ tablespoons of the petals then spoon the mixture into paper bun cases. Sprinkle the remaining petals onto the top of each bun mixture and add a small sprinkling of sugar on top. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and place the buns on a wire tray to cool.
This is a handy little cupcake recipe regardless whether you add the petals or not. The buns are light and fluffy and given the history of calendula, with each small bite I felt like I was connecting with our past, and of course, they must be good for us if they contain a medicinal herb 😉
Are you a Calendula fan? Have you noticed it’s abilities as a companion plant or used it medicinally or in the kitchen?
I’ve been a fan of nasturtiums (Tropaeolum minor) ever since we began growing our own food. They make such a colourful addition to the vegetable patch, plus they’re edible and importantly for us as gardeners who choose not to use artificial chemicals, they make great companion plants.
This year we have more than ever growing in a small area of the polytunnel. When I was sowing seeds this springtime I ran out of compost so rather than wait, I popped several nasturtium seed pods directly into the soil with the intention of replanting them outside once they’d germinated and the risk of frost had passed. I never got around to it and we are now blessed with a glorious display of flowers that are attracting all kinds of pollinating insects inside.
As a result of this unexpected crop, I’ve being doing a bit of research and have not only found several uses for nasturtiums, I also managed to create a quick and simple cookie recipe using their petals as a flavouring. First up, here’s a few uses for nasturtiums if you have them growing in your garden:
Five Uses for Nasturtiums:
1. Companion planting
Our number one reason for growing them in the vegetable garden, nasturtiums make fantastic companion plants. They’re often referred to as sacrificial plants as insects are so attracted to them. Cabbage white butterflies will often lay their eggs on the leaves and the baby caterpillars hatch, eating the nasturtiums and not your kale or broccoli. Nasturtiums also attract blackfly (that like to feed upon broad bean flowers) but thankfully hoverfly like the nasturtiums colourful petals too and their larvae will feed on the little black aphids.
2. A Source of Vitamins
The fresh leaves of nasturtiums are a good source of iron and vitamin C and because they’re edible can be added to salads, though as in the case of many herbs, should be treated with slight caution – guidelines suggest you should never eat more than 15g of leaves at a time or no more than 30g per day.
3. Beauty Benefits
Folklore suggests that nasturtiums are good for treating hair loss. A ‘tea’ can be made by soaking a cup full of flowers in a jug (litre) of hot water which is allowed to cool, before straining and the ‘tea’ massaged into the scalp before rinsing. It acts as a stimulant which is said to encourage new hair growth.
4. Floral Gifts
The nasturtium flower carries a significant meaning and according to the anniversary flower list, they are associated with the 40th Wedding Anniversary and carry the meaning conquest, patriotism, victory and impetuous love!
If you’d like to try cooking with nasturtiums, here’s a very quick and simple chewable cookie recipe that uses the flowers to spice up the biscuits as opposed to the usual biscuit flavourings of cinnamon or ginger.
Nasturtium Cookie Recipe
Makes about 25 (more if you make the cookie balls smaller)
Preheat oven to 160ºC, Gas 3, 325°F
125g/4oz golden syrup
50g/2oz caster sugar
1 tablespoon chopped nasturtium flowers
Half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
225g/8oz self-raising flour
Place all the ingredients except the flour into a saucepan, heat gently and stir until melted and combined.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir the flour into the mixture.
Roll the cookie dough into balls about half the size of golf balls and place onto lined and greased baking trays, leaving a space of about five centimeters between each one (if you want perfect cookies or closer if you don’t mind them all joining up as in the photo above) Cook for ten minutes in the pre-heated oven.
Leave on the baking trays for a few minutes to firm up, sprinkling a few shredded nasturtium petals on top. Remove from the trays and leave on wire trays to cool.
If you try making them, I’d love to hear how the cookies went down with everyone. My family tried them with faces full of suspicion which quickly changed to smiles of pleasure!
Do you grow nasturtiums in your garden and use them in the kitchen or had any success with them as companion plants?
Sometime’s it seems there are more bad guys in the garden than good. When we emptied a large strawberry container this week in a HSE garden that caters for adults with intellectual disabilities, we found four of the ten pests listed below in one container alone! When we’re gardening without chemicals it can be a challenge but not impossible to either get rid of, or contain the pests and the first step is identifying the good guys from the bad, something covered a couple of weeks ago with the 12 Friends We Want to See in Our Gardens blog post.
Companion Planting Nasturtiums
To identify the pests we need to see them first so the first rule of thumb when dealing with pests organically is vigilance. Check your vegetables regularly, daily if possible and if you spot anything unusual, try to find out what it is and deal with it immediately – it’s very unlikely it will go away on its own.
One of my favourite books to help identify pests and diseases is the RHS Pest & Disease book and I’d recommend it for all gardeners shelves. After vigilance there are several things we can do to prevent a build up of pests, from good soil management, hygiene, crop rotation, companion planting as well as learning pest life-cycles (the weevil below is a case in point), using fresh compost and encouraging beneficial wildlife – all topics covered in my workshops. To help you begin the pest ID, here are a dozen I’ve come across, though there are many more.
Cabbage white butterflies and moths start appearing around May and lay their eggs on the undersides of Brassica leaves (kale, cabbage, broccoli). The eggs hatch and the caterpillars feast on the leaves of seedlings you may have lovingly grown, leaving gaping holes and if left unchecked, no leaves whatsoever.
There are a few ways of dealing with caterpillars organically. First of all cover the bed your Brassica are growing in with netting made with holes small enough the butterfly can’t squeeze through to lay her eggs. Make sure the net is fixed to a frame and not sitting directly on top of the plants or the butterfly will lay her eggs through it. If you do spot signs of caterpillars, pick them off the plants and destroy them or move them to a sacrificial plant such as nasturtiums where they can chomp away without damaging your precious leaves.
4. Slugs & Snails
I could spend every lesson in every workshop discussing slugs and snails as they’re the bane of gardeners lives! Instead I wrote a blog post that has 15 ways of dealing with them organically and a few more comments have been added to the list. Take a look if slugs & snails are your nemesis.
Beet miner’s are maggots that have hatched from fly eggs laid between the layers of leaves. There’s no cure, organic or otherwise, other than vigilance. Once you spot them, remove the infected leaves and the plants will recover. This post explains them in more detail.
Lots of people were tweeting about gooseberry sawfly larvae damage last year – a caterpillar than can literary strip bushes bare in just a couple of days. They’re also partial to currant bushes which I learnt when they took a liking to our red currant bush. Here’s a post on how to deal with them. I heard a tip recently suggesting laying rhubarb leaves at the base of bushes to deter this fly – something I’ll be trying soon.
There are many more pests and just when we think we’ve seen them all, along comes a new one. Lots of people have mentioned the weevils this year and ants seem to be causing a problem too. Ants won’t damage your garden but they do harvest aphids, a sprinkling of cinnamon or semolina powder seems to sort them out however. I have a general rule of thumb in our garden – as long as the bugs aren’t trying to eat our vegetables, they can stay.
Have you come across any pests that have had you hopping mad at the destruction they’ve caused?
The beans have them, the chives have had them, the weeds have them and the windowbox lettuce is full of them…. do you have them? We’re talking aphids, greenfly or blackfly as they’re more commonly known and due to the warm weather there’s been a population explosion in the garden this year!
2013 might go down in the record books for high temperatures and fabulous fruit harvests but in many gardens it will also go down as the worse aphid invasion for many years.
Despite planting lots of companion plants to attract beneficial insects, hoverflies and ladybirds have been very scarce in our own garden this summer. We spotted the first of both only a week ago which is way too late to handle this kind of infestation.
Aphids on roses
In an attempt to control them, during the heatwave I washed the aphids off the roses and broad beans with the hose every other evening, holding the buds in my hand and rubbing the flies between my fingers as I sprayed to ensure that water wasn’t wasted. However, I soon realised that wasn’t enough to stop them reappearing a couple of days later so made a garlic soap spray for the first time in years which was carefully applied to rose buds and bean tops to halt the aphid breeding cycle. I haven’t removed the bean tops just yet which is usually recommended as the seeds were planted late and we need to see a bit more height in the plants before we halt their growth. Any day now I’ll be nipping the tops off and feeding them to our pigs! In the meantime the recent rain will help to control the aphid infestation.
Calendula (also known as Pot Marigold) is one of half a dozen varieties of annual flowers grown from seed in our garden. We add the vibrant petals to salads and one day I keep promising myself I’ll make hand cream from the pretty blooms. It’s been used medicinally for centuries and can also act as a companion plant by attracting whitefly so is a great lure, keeping the tiny flies off your tomatoes or beans (make sure to wash before eating). Are you a fan of this garden favourite?
Beans, Corn and Squash – Known as Three Sisters Companion Planting
Three sisters is a type of companion planting in the vegetable garden that the north Americans have traditionally used for over 6,000 years, both symbolically and beneficially.
Passed down through generations, the stories are that corn, beans and squash are sacred gifts from the Great Spirit. The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honour the three sister spirits.
Although we didn’t follow the traditional three sister planting to the letter in our own garden (I planted the seeds in blocks and not up and around each other), I can say without a doubt that we harvested bountiful crops of all three vegetables during 2010 when we experimented with this planting
Traditionally the beans are planted at the base of the corn stalks which are then used to support the growing bean stems.
The leaves from the squash shade the roots of the corn and beans and help to retain moisture. The also suppress the weeds and their prickly stems discourage pests. Also the roots from the beans are nitrogen fixers which benefits both the corn and the squash.
This method is quite different from the commonly grown rows of vegetables used in crop rotation, as here the vegetable families have been juggled up, but it works. Their growth habits and nutritional requirements are quite different but complementary to each other.
I’d certainly recommend giving this method a try to look forward to using it again in my own garden.
I adore Phacelia. It’s pretty, delicate flower attracts hoverflies as well as many types of bees into our garden. It’s easy to grow, hardy and it self seeds. Phacelia is a green manure that can be sown into vegetable gardens when they would otherwise be left empty.
It improves the soil if the plants are dug in or cut before they flower and left on the top of the soil to break down.
I’ve never managed to do this. The promise of a garden full of the colourful spikey flowers is too great.
When the flowers come to an end the seeds start to form, uncurling in a way that resembles barley.
This year I got carried away and sowed Phacelia in our flower beds too. Along with the borage, (another self seeding, bee attracting plant) it’s taken over so this afternoon’s job is to head out with my scissors and cut stems to fill vases all around the house, filling our rooms with it’s scent before clearing the rest of the plants away to the compost heap.
Have you tried growing green manures? Do you have a favourite?
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