We are what we eat
2007 was an important year for humanity. Do you know why? Because for the first time in history, the number of inhabitants of cities and large centres surpassed the number of inhabitants of rural areas and the country.
The cities have always been congested and polluted areas and the situation is not destined to improve with population increase. This is particularly the case with respect to food production: the shortage of agricultural space has made people less knowledgeable about food, now just another merchandise distractedly bought at the supermarket freezer section. Yet we are what we eat and so it makes no sense to attribute such little importance to our nutrition. It is essential to know what has happened to our food before it arrives in our homes.
How can we resolve this problem? Simple: the re-appropriation of urban space such as gardens, unused lots or even roof space for cultivation. Urban vegetable gardens are now an established reality on a world level. From the Prinzessinen Garten of Berlin to the gardens of the roofs of Brooklyn, each city has its structures and it is increasingly easy to become engaged in agriculture that is amateur but able to sustain a family. You can even achieve great results in the home. There are many ways to cultivate our vegetables and aromatic herbs away from the soil, without drastically changing the organisation of our homes and with more than adequate results. A fresh bunch of herbs always to hand is now possible!
Let's start with the basics, HOW to grow in the home.
You do not need to make radical changes to your home, all you need is a sufficiently bright and not too dry corner, away from radiators or other sources of heat. The temperature of our homes, that varies from 18° to 25°, is just right for plants. Find some pots or containers, perhaps made of recycled material. It's important that they have a drainage hole on the bottom. You may also decide to try vertical planting on a wall using as a recycled pallet. Place a few centimetres of expanded clay to ensure better water drainage before filling the container with soil. You could also experiment with a hydroponic system, in which soil is replaced by a sub-stratum consisting of clay, coconut fibre, mineral wool, pearlite and irrigated with a nourishing solution.
Once you have planted the seeds or shoots in the soil, you must make sure that these remain moist and the plants have the correct amount of nutrients to survive. Try to use natural fertiliser, perhaps compost. Your local nursery will be able to help you out. With respect to the light, it's important to remember that many plants need direct light and may even require a special lighting system. There are many types of lamps to promote growth on sale.
Those based on LED technology are certainly the best with reduced electricity consumption and high performance, with a light spectrum specially designed for the growth of the plants. Just like human beings certain plants are more demanding, others less so, and you need to know what they require.
Now that we know the basics, let's see how we can cultivate the perfect vegetable garden with exotic touches to reap the benefits of the best plants all year round. Knowing what we eat is the first step towards well-being. Cultivating and looking after the growth of the plants is better still.
Now highly popular due to its nutritional superpowers, it is relatively simple to grow in the home and your body will be eternally grateful. It can be used in hundreds of ways, raw in salads or in fruit and vegetable juices. It is rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and a great source of vitamins and minerals. It is a great health aid thanks to its ability to prevent cancer, protects the cardiovascular system and urinary tract.
Sowing: all year round, except June, July and August
Kale is considered a winter plant, but may also be cultivated in spring in a shady spot. Redbor, Curly, Premier, Siberiano…just choose the variety that takes your fancy. The pot must be rather large to allow the roots to expand sufficiently: at least 30 cm in diameter and 40 cm in depth. The plant grows very tall and so is best placed in an isolated position to avoid competing with other plants. It must be frequently watered, particularly in summer, but make sure that the water does not stagnate at the bottom. To make the most of the taste, leave it outside before eating in the winter. The cold and the ice of the winter night will tenderise the rough leaves. The leaves can be eaten when the plant is at least 20 cm tall. They should be harvested quickly to ensure that they do not harden and become more leathery. Cut the plant at 5 cm from the base, so that it is not damaged by pruning and continues to produce leaves. Surround the plant with aromatic herbs such as mint, sage and thyme to keep aphids and others parasites away.
Coriander, otherwise known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, has a very intense aroma and is very versatile and increasingly used in cooking all over the world because of the strongly aromatic flavour that it imparts. It has remarkable curative properties for the digestive system, is a powerful plant that should be used sparingly in either your stir fry dishes or soups.
Sowing: in spring, between April and June for the seeds, otherwise all year round.
From the same family as Cumin and Fennel, the Apiaceae, Coriander is a native of the Mediterranean basin and has been used since the times of the ancient Egyptians. You can use the fresh leaves or the fruit as a dried spice, it's up to you. The plant is best suited to a mild climate, protected from the cold and above all exposed to a direct source of light. Grow coriander in a pot that is at least 20 cm in depth, with a layer of gravel or expanded clay. The shoots will appear around 2 weeks after sowing. When it is 10 cm tall you can prune it for the first time to ensure better growth. Use the freshest leaves as the older ones tend to have a slightly bitter taste. The plant is not very demanding in terms of soil, just make sure that it's moist, well-drained and fertilised with compost. Watering should not be excessive, once or at most twice a week.
Zingiber Officinalis, a native of China, is a magical root that needs no further introduction. With a fresh and spicy taste, it is undoubtedly a superfood that should not be missing from our cooking given its many curative properties. It is an antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. You can cultivate large quantities and use it in a tea with honey, grate it fresh in salads or sprinkle it on vegetables and fish. All that it comes into contact with becomes delicious.
Sowing: all year round, preferably from February to June
How many times have you spotted a piece of organic ginger sprouting in the cupboard, heedless of the laws of physics? Ginger is a resistant plant that sprouts easily if has not been treated. If there are a number of sprouts, you can subdivide and plant them separately. When the first green shoots appear, you can place the root stock in water for 12 hours and then transplant it into a large pot, at least 30 centimetres in diameter. Do not bury the roots too deep, just a few centimetres is enough. Be careful with the type of soil, it must be well drained to ensure that water does not accumulate, a real threat to the plant. Ginger plants love warmth and damp, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Water the plant once a day, preferably in the evening to ensure that the moisture level of the soil is right. Wait until the leaves are completely dry before picking. You will have to wait 5-6, or perhaps even 10 months, but time will bring health benefits with no travel involved!
We are all aware of cumin as a powdered spice, yellow as the sun and as aromatic as India, with its extraordinary healthy and curative properties. The use of this root in its raw form is increasingly common and soon you won't be without it in Golden Milk to warm your winter evenings.
Sowing: All year round, preferably in spring
Cumin is part of the Zingiberaceae, just like ginger. It can be grown from the root stock using the same methods as that for ginger. Cumin is an excellent plant for your flat as it does not tolerate low temperatures. It prefers temperatures from 20° to 35°, so it is perfect in the living room, protected from direct sunlight. Its beautiful flowers will delight as it grows and you wait until it is ready for picking. If you plant in spring, it will have all summer to grow. In winter when the flowers and leaves naturally dry as part of its physiological cycle, you can collect the root stock, which is similar in appearance to ginger but has a yellow-orange pulp. You can use it fresh or store it, leave it to dry out in a dry and airy place for around a month, crush it into a powder with a kitchen aid and store in containers so it's always available.
Apart from being one of the tastiest foods in the world, they are a recognised source of B-group vitamins and antioxidants, as well as mineral salts such as phosphorous, potassium and selenium. They protect the cardiovascular and immunity system and are a veritable natural antibiotic. The varieties are infinite as are the range of tastes that they impart. The oriental varieties, such as Shiitake and Reishi, are even considered superfoods with their innumerable medicinal and curative properties, and it's no coincidence that they are used by traditional Chinese medicine.
Sowing: all year round
Growing mushrooms in your home couldn't be easier. There are kits designed especially for home growing, and just a few tricks will make sure that you always have fresh mushrooms under your roof, in just a little space. A highly innovative project by two Italians uses coffee remains for the cultivation of indoor mushrooms: Funghi Espresso (www.funghi espresso.com). They collect the coffee from coffee and roasting shops to create the perfect sub-stratum for cultivation that is rich in minerals and substances that encourage growth. In this way they make use of a substance that would otherwise become waste, adapting it to support another vegetable form in a completely natural way without the addition of chemical products.
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