Edible walks – a single step is the start of any change

A couple of years ago I was walking beside the River Orwell in Suffolk and among all the oaks and horse chestnuts we came across an elderly cherry plum tree, bows bent low with ripe fruit. We gorged ourselves and filled our pockets with cherry plums to take home. This single tree made the walk memorable for everybody and had me dreaming of creating “edible walks” all over the island of Mallorca.Image

One of my favourite folk tales is The Man Who Planted Trees (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Man-Who-Planted-Trees/dp/1860461174/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372007391&sr=8-1&keywords=The+man+who+planted+trees ) I’ve read it innumerable times as a bedtime story to the kids. It contains a simple altruism which appeals to something deep within me, but whereas the protagonist plants oaks and beech trees, in my head it is pears, dates, avocados (above: the result of some avocado stone planting in my garden) and loquats.

Last week I saw an article about Seattle’s edible forest. This has been planted in the middle of the city for any of its residents to eat from. It’s self-sustaining and offers a myriad of fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, nuts and berries.

Since being given Amerigo’s apple tree (see last post) which he grew from a pip, I’ve developed a “stick-it-in-a-pot-and-see” fetish. So far this has resulted in some spindly papaya seedlings from a Mercadona fruit (pictured below), a goodly number of avocado trees, a loquat (and I only planted two seeds in yoghurt pots, so next year I’ll plant more) and many mini-date palms – which so far have not been attacked by the dreaded red beetle.Image

As I have run out of space in my garden, many of my experiments are being surreptitiously planted on walks I take with the dog. Once each one has been dug in, it is given the contents of my water bottle and an earnest prayer that one day it will give fruit to a future family, making their day memorable in the way that the cherry plum tree did for us.

Praying for clement weather …

After all the wind we have endured my tomato plants are looking far less bountiful than they usually do at this time of year. Only the cherry tomatoes are making a valiant effort to thrive against the elements. However, I’m not anywhere near “glut stage” yet, but in the hope that things will suddenly improve I thought I’d post my three favourite cherry tomato recipes for using up all the extra bowlfuls I’m willing to arrive.Image

Cherry tomato and couscous salad

300g couscous, 300ml boiling vegetable stock, several handfuls of cherry tomatoes, 2 avocados peeled and cut into chunks tossed in the juice of half a lemon, 100g stoned black olives, a handful of chopped nuts, 150g chopped feta cheese, ground black pepper.

Mix the couscous and stock and leave to cool. Gently mix in the rest of the ingredients and enjoy.

Cherry tomato and cinnamon jam

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but of all the jams I make for the family this is my personal favourite. Take 400g of cherry tomatoes, 200g sugar, 2 sticks of cinnamon.

Wash and dry the tomatoes before halving them. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar and cinnamon. Stir and leave to ooze together for 30 minutes. Gently bring the mixture to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Boil the syrup hard for 5 minutes until it has thickened. Put the tomatoes back in and cook gently until it is thick. Pour into warmed jars and seal.

Cherry tomato and chilli chutney

500g cherry tomatoes, 1 red onion diced, half tsp salt, 1 clove of garlic crushed, 1 red chilli chopped, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of red wine vinegar, black pepper.

Gently fry the onion, salt and garlic. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, chilli and pepper. Bring to the boil. Cook until the mixture looks jammy. Put into warmed clean jars and seal.

Once sealed both the jam and chutney are quite happy in your store cupboard for a year.

After wind, plants need some love

After all the wind the island has experienced during the past ten days, I noticed many of our plants and trees had leaves that looked dead around the edges. Although we’ve enjoyed some refreshing rain, large shrubs and trees become dehydrated far quicker by wind than by drought, and unhappy leaves are a sure sign they’ve been affected.Image

So, in spite of the rain, most of my garden (apart from the vines) has been treated to a little extra water plus a good dose of copper spray on their leaves (including the vines).

Copper spray acts as a general fungicide so plants that are susceptible to black spot or mildew will benefit from regular use. Citrus trees and avocados, in particular, seem to become glossier almost over-night following treatment. When you visit your local garden centre you may see tell-tale bluish-brown dollops on plant leaves. This reveals that they’ve been given their strengthening medicine recently.

If there are late heavy rains, after vines and trees have already produced dense leaves,  the risk of mildew is increased. This problem ruined all our grapes a couple of years ago. After this experience we discovered that a thorough copper spraying could have saved both leaves and fruit before the problem became acute. It’s also useful on pear and apple trees if you see any evidence of fire blight disease. This is when the tips of leaves and shoots blacken and droop into crook shapes. Remove and burn any black parts and then spray the whole tree with copper spray, reapplying in a fortnight if the tree is still looking poorly.

Although copper spray is certified for use by organic gardeners, if you wish to go even further down the green road some gardeners claim that liquid seaweed achieves much the same results. This is said to work by boosting beneficial fungi which then counteract any bad ones.

Something is better than nothing …

Whether it’s exercise, saving the pennies or growing some of your own fruit and veg, I’m solidly of the opinion that something is always better than nothing! To know exactly where some of your food has come from is always a plus as, even when you believe you’re consuming a thoroughly healthy diet, you can come across daily shocks that make you sit up and think.

A few years ago I was eager to grow some avocado trees. A South African friend had told me that in her country, whose climate is similar to Mallorca’s, avocados grow along the roadside and are considered to be one step up from a weed.

“They’re the simplest thing in the world to sprout,” she assured me; yet try as I might I managed zero response from the pips from my Mercadona-bought pears.

In frustration I contacted Richard Handscombe whose wisdom on growing fruit and veg in Spain is documented in the two books he has written with his wife Clough, Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain.Image

I discovered that most of the fruit and veg imported onto the island had been irradiated and so seeds would not germinate. Richard kindly packaged up a couple of pips in a jiffy bag and put them in the post. They are now over two meters high and have been joined by others I bought from local markets – these may look small compared with their supermarket cousins but they haven’t been tampered with and so they will grow.

Very few people can eradicate all irradiated fruit and veg, additives, artificial preservatives and e-numbers from their diet, but reducing them in some measure at least leads to the feel-good-factor that you’re “aware” and attempting to stem the avalanche of unknowns.

Whether you’ve got a window box or a casa senorial with an army of gardeners, it’s worth growing something edible. Most people, like those depicted in the hit show The Good Life, fall somewhere in the middle, and whereas I might not go as far as Felicity Kendal and have a pig in the back garden of a suburban semi, you don’t have to be living in the heart of the countryside to enjoy a real difference in your diet.

My own home is so close to Palma’s infamous Plaza Gomila that hoards of teens become my kids’ best friends every Friday and Saturday night so they can crash onto one of the stack of mattresses I keep specifically for the purpose – not exactly rural isolation, yet we have hens laying eggs and trees laden with fruit.

Clough and Richard Handscombe’s books are full of tips for the terrace gardener right up to those who have large tracts of land. From herbs to tomatoes and even citrus trees in pots, they describe how much can be achieved in an apartment, the message is: you don’t have to have a garden to be a productive gardener.