Saturday 28 November 2009

The Clever Cucumber

A friend of mine just forwarded me an e-mail full of interesting things to do with a cucumber. We had a very bountiful harvest of cucumber this year, although Garden Boy munched through them all before we had any time to wonder what to do with them. However, if you don't have a cucumber munching Garden Boy of your own and found yourself with a surplus this summer read on...

This information was in The New York Times several weeks ago as part of their "Spotlight on the Home" series that highlighted creative and fanciful ways to solve common problems.

1. Cucumbers contain most of the vitamins you need every day, just one cucumber contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Zinc.

2. Feeling tired in the afternoon, put down the caffeinated soda and pick up a cucumber.  Cucumbers are a good source of B Vitamins and Carbohydrates that can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours.

3. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower?  Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror, it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.
4. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds?  Place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long.  The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drive garden pests crazy and make them flee the area.

5. Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going out or to the pool?  Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumbers along your problem area for a few minutes, the phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite.  Works great on wrinkles too!!!

6. Want to avoid a hangover or terrible headache?  Eat a few cucumber slices before going to bed and wake up refreshed and headache free.  Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache!!

7. Looking to fight off that afternoon or evening snacking binge?  Cucumbers have been used for centuries and often used by European trappers, traders and explores for quick meals to thwart off starvation.

8. Have an important meeting or job interview and you realize that you don't have enough time to polish your shoes?  Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe, its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.

9. Out of WD 40 and need to fix a squeaky hinge?  Take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problematic hinge, and voila, the squeak is gone!
10. Stressed out and don't have time for massage, facial or visit to the spa?  Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water, the chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber with react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown the reduce stress in new mothers and college students during final exams.

11. Just finish a business lunch and realize you don't have gum or mints?  Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath, the phytochemcials will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath.

12. Looking for a 'green' way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel?  Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won't leave streaks and won't harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean. 

13. Using a pen and made a mistake?  Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing, also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls!!

I will be hiding a few cucumbers from Garden Boy next summer to deter the slugs, wake me up and clean away crayon... and Garden Boy if you feel hard done by, just remember you are the one stopping me sleeping at night and you are the one trying to add your own original art work to the walls!

Thursday 26 November 2009

Snow Soil

Six plant pots currently sit in our airing cupboard, warming up to allow the seeds to germinate. They are wrapped in plastic bags for additional warmth and will stay there for a day or so just to make sure the soil and seeds are fully warm before we move them into a sunny indoor position. Eventually, when they are growing well, we will move them all into the greenhouse and hope for the best, as when Christmas arrives in our house there will not be space for all the plant pots!

We planted basil, curly and flat leaf parsley, coriander, mustard cress and cress. Other than the cresses, I have not grown any of these at this time of year before so I have no idea if they will grow or not, but it would be nice to have some home-grown herbs for Christmas salads. The decision to put all the pots in the airing cupboard for a few days came when Garden Girl, quite rightly, suggested that the soil we were putting in the pots felt as cold as snow. It was so cold that not even Garden Boy could bring himself to pick up a handful to throw over his head. I'm hoping the extra warmth will just give the plants a better start.

And with the herbs all cosy in their pots it is time to start some sprouting again. We gave this a go earlier in the year with mixed results, but getting distracted with all the things growing outdoors we neglected to try again. Following protestations that 'snow soil' is too cold to use, sprouting seems like a good option for maintaining our Little Garden Helpers interest as well as adding something a bit different to our Christmas salads. I'll let you know how it goes this time.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Enthusiastic Optimism

On Monday it was wet, then sunny, then wet, then sunny but our Little Garden Helpers and friend wanted to go outside so when it looked dry we put on coats, wellies and hats, stepped outdoors and within moments it had started to rain. Ignoring the rain Garden Girl continued to show our friends the things growing in our garden. The Brussels Sprouts are looking particularly inpressive and if you look beyond the outer slug eaten leaves, the cabbages are also fairly impressive. The cauliflowers measuring in at one centimetre diameter are however, a little disappointing, as are the purple sprouting broccolli's which look like giant weeds.

Still, Garden Girl enthused about our produce enough that I started to believe we had done some good work and with the sun shining today we might just head outdoors and sow some herbs to germinate in the house then leave in the greenhouse over winter. How stausfying it will be to make some long overdue headway in the garden!

Sunday 22 November 2009

No... Not the Hoover.

Yesterday we took a family trip to the Imperial War Museum to look at aeroplanes, tanks and old toys, but we were hoping to be outdoors this afternoon planting more broad beans and finally tidying up the strawberry bed. Instead we are sitting indoors playing with play dough and watching the trees wave at us in the wind. Although it is currently dry everything is dripping from the downpour earlier. I may be forced into pulling out the hoover and doing some housework, something which gardening will usually excuse me from guilt free. I need to think of some things to have growing in my greenhouse at this time of year so I have an excuse to be pottering in there on wet Sunday afternoons. Any ideas?

Friday 20 November 2009

Out of Sorts

With half the children at Garden Girl's playgroup absent with a bad winter cold it was inevitable that Garden Girl would eventually wake up one morning feeling rough and that day was Wednesday. Grumpy and 'out of sorts' is a fairly accurate description of her early morning behaviour and by 10.30 this was replaced with 'upset, tired and ill.' Instead of going for our usual swim and then enjoying what was quite a nice autumn afternoon outdoors, Garden Girl spent the whole day on the sofa watching children's TV and movies with little interest and drifting in and out of unsettled sleep. I was not allowed to leave her side. Luckily when we sorted the loft a few nights ago Garden Dad had discovered some little cars he used to play with as a little lad and these kept Garden Boy amused for much of the day while I gave Garden Girl the attention she needed. And I did manage to get some online Christmas shopping done while I was chained to the sofa.

Thursday dawned and Garden Girl had a bit of bounce back but not enough for her to return to playgroup so we spent another day warm and cosy indoors. It was with relief therefore, that we left the house this morning, all healthy, to go painting at a local museum and then on to the supermarket to restock our kitchen cupboards. At least we can now enjoy the weekend free of nasty germs and the garden might get some attention.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Happy Smiles and Rosy Cheeks

It was lovely to be planting again. For so long we have been harvesting and pruning and weeding and watering. Garden Girl and Garden Boy were as enthusiastic as they were back in spring and eagerly helped to fork over the soil and take it turns to push the wheelbarrow around the garden. Garden Girl copied Garden Dad's 'finger dibbing' to create holes for sowing the garlic and delighted in dropping the bulbs into the holes and covering them up. Garden Boy meanwhile, was clearly reminiscing over spring and reindulged in his taste for soil, munching through a snack sized handful or two. They then got going on the broad beans while I made dinner. Forgetting completely about the cake they had made earlier in the day, they came back inside only when it started to turn dark, wearing happy smiles, rosy cheeks and a good coating of soil. What better way to spend a cold but sunny autumn afternoon?

Sunday 15 November 2009

Hard Working Helpers

It has been a hectic couple of weeks. We have been very, very busy in the garden, clearing away the old, to make way for the broad beans and garlic we will be planting this afternoon. Then Garden Dad and our Little Garden Helpers have been having fun digging. Although we have a raised bed system, which theoretically is a no-dig system, our soil is so bad we thought that, for this first year, it would benefit from some digging over and improvement. The soil is much, much better than it was this time last year, thanks to the work of all the vegetables we planted this year, but the extra digging will definitely help along next years crop. Everybody has been working so hard in the garden, so much so that last weekend Garden Boy fell asleep just climbing onto the sofa for a well deserved rest!

We have also been researching fruit trees. We want to have a couple in the garden, but in pots, so we can move them about a bit depending where our strawberry bed is each year. Wanting potted varieties means we have to be a bit more selective, so we have been visiting garden centres and reading about trees.

And then there has been the Princess costume. When it has been wet and/or dark I have been so busy sewing together Garden Girl's costume that the computer has become neglected. I am a novice seamstress. Garden Dad is better at sewing than me. But I am determined to learn how to use my sewing machine before Garden Girl starts school and requires school play costumes, halloween costumes, fancy dress birthday parties etc. And what better way to practice than for her friends Princess birthday party? I was pleased with the results. Garden Girl loved the dress and I enjoyed the sewing. I just hope that as I get better at it, I will get quicker at it!

For the moment though, its back to the garden and some autumn planting though, not wanting to exhaust Garden Boy so much again, we have been sensible and our Little Garden Helpers have been making a cake this morning, ready for our afternoon tea break!

Sunday 1 November 2009


Two happy looking pumpkins are grinning at me through the window. Garden Girl insisted that her pumpkin must be smiley and happy and not at all scary and why not? Pumpkins after all seem to be the most fun vegetable available. The seeds are large and easy for a toddler to plant carefully and when they start to grow they weave and wind themselves around the garden, their tendrils crawling and climbing. Their flowers are large and colourful and then they grow into lovely large orange balls which seem to get bigger every day... Well, if they grow successfully that is... ours stopped growing when it reached the size of a medium cabbage and failed to turn orange in time for halloween. But despite our own failure the pumpkin remains the best toddler vegetable.

Because our pumpkin was clearly not going to be ready for halloween, a couple of weekends ago we headed to Luton Hoo Walled Garden's Pumpkin and Apple Gala and had a brilliant day out. The pumpkins were the highlight of the day. There was a large area with pumpkins growing where Garden Boy ran around trying to pick up steadily bigger pumkins until he eventually settled for climbing on top of the biggest one and sitting there proudly with a huge grin on his face.

There was also a stall of pumpkins and a variety of wierd and wonderful squash. I asked our Little Garden Helpers to choose a pumpkin, but they were both determined to choose one they could carry, or stumble with, themselves so we ended up with two medium sized pumpkins.

But the fun of pumpkins does not end there. There was a wonderful display of decorated pumpkins from local primary schools which had us all smiling and then our Little Garden Helpers delighted in painting there own. When we got home and the paint had dried Garden Girl then added faces and two tiny pumpkins now sit on top of our TV smiling down at us. Garden Girl and Garden Boy also loved the 'scarecrow pumpkins' posing for photos with them. Choosing a face to carve into their own pumpkins provided hours of amusements, with endless drawings of round faces each with a different design, all carefully created by Garden Girl and shown to Garden Boy for approval. Then there was the delighted faces when they first saw the carved heads, glowing in the garden. They both stand at the window trying to blow out the candles through the glass, pull faces at the them and 'beep' their noses.

And then there is the pumpkin soup which Garden Girl loved and gobbled up in no time. Usually the last to finish her meal due to her delightful dinner time chatter, we ate our pumpkin soup in relative quiet while she wolfed it down.

How many other vegetables can you turn into scarecrows, decorate in a variety of brilliant and inspired ways, use to test your strength, sit on, dive over, roll about and carve into happy faces? The pumpkin might be associated with scary halloween but in our house they are all about grinning and fun.