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Gardening

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GardenGardening

The best part of a meal at a nice Italian restaurant, especially when you show up hungry, is that basket of warm homemade bread. Come to think of it, it can also be the worst part of your meal, since when it comes out, you Autumn upon it like a ravenous beast, and end up having to take ¾ of your entrée home with you in a box because you shoved three baskets of bread into your face. You’re usually given a plate or a small bottle of infused olive oil for adding that extra punch to your bread, and that’s what really makes it.

Infused olive oil is bursting with flavour From the GARDEN

Infused olive oil is bursting with flavour—commonly rosemary, thyme, sage, or pepper—and when it comes to finishing your breads, soups, pasta dishes, and meats, there’s nothing better. You can purchase really tasty infused artisan olive oils for cooking, but it can be expensive, and you are limited to what you can find in stores. Luckily, creating your own oil infusions is very simple, and it will allow you to experiment with any flavour combination you can think of, and using ingredients harvested from your own garden.

Olive oil
Olive oil

Olive oil isn’t the only thing you can infuse in your own kitchen. Using similar methods, you can infuse vinegar to pair with the oil you’ve made, honey, and water. Infusing liquor is an excellent way to add a kick to your cocktails, and create totally original drinks for your celebrations.

When it comes to what you can put into your creations, you can experiment with any clean dry herbs and spices.

For your safety and the safety of those who might be tasting your infusions, stick to dried ingredients only, particularly with olive oil. Using moist ingredients, like garlic or citrus, can increase your risk of developing some pretty nasty bacteria in your infusion that can make you and your guests incredibly sick. If you have a food dehydrator, dry out moist ingredients completely before you add them to olive oil. While it is possible to add moist ingredients to olive oil, put it in the fridge, and use it up immediately, you are safest just using only dehydrated materials (we don’t want you to get sick any more than you do!). Give all of your infusing ingredients a good rinsing to remove any dirt or contaminants before dehydration. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can sun dry or oven dry your ingredients. Moisture-free is key.

Dry Herbs
Dry Herbs

You will need several air-tight glass bottles, jars, or containers to store your infusion while the magic is happening.

If you are infusing water or liquor, you can use infusion jars with spigots so you can serve right from the jar when it’s ready. For honey, you can use mason canning jars, and there are loads of decorative bottles in which you can infuse oil and vinegar, especially if you are creating gifts. Just be sure that your containers have a tight seal, and that you’ve cleaned them thoroughly before use.

To create the best infusion possible, make sure that you use good quality stuff—after all, your fresh homegrown herbs, fruits, and vegetables won’t matter much if your oil, spirits, or honey aren’t very tasty to begin with.

At this point, making the infusion is simple: bruise your botanicals to better release the plant oils, add the desired amount to your infusion container, and add the liquid to be infused. Seal your container, and place it in your pantry, in a cabinet, or some other cool dry place where it can soak undisturbed. How long you will let your infusion sit depends on your taste, the ingredients you are steeping, and what you are infusing. Keep in mind that the longer you let some things sit, the more potent they’ll become. Cayenne, habanero, or jalapeño peppers from the garden are delicious when infused into oil or tequila, but if you let them sit too long, the slight spicy kick that you desire will become lava hot.

Don’t let the tea get bitter

If you are infusing with green or jasmine tea, leaving your infusion sitting too long will cause the tea to get that over-steeped bitter flavour. So, occasionally, test out your infusion to see how it’s coming along. When you are satisfied with the flavour, you can strain out the solids and rebottle the liquid.

How about a little lavender vanilla bean honey? Maybe an ice cold lemon and mint infused water? Give your bloody Mary a boost with a rosemary, basil, and pepper infused vodka. And, don’t forget to keep that classic Italian spice infused olive oil around for your own irresistible homemade bread. The combinations are endless!

CompostingGardening

Composting is nature’s process of decomposed, biodegradable, organic materials into a nutrient rich fertiliser known as compost.

It is an entirely natural process, by providing an environment where decomposers can flourish; you are merely accelerating the natural circle of life. Further acceleration can be achieved by way of a wormery system. When implemented, this system converts organic matter into compost with the help of earthworms.

Why Bother?

Around about 60% of household waste is organic, and therefore suitable for your compost heap. By disposing of your own environmentally friendly waste you are saving space in British landfills and reducing the amount of waste-disposal Lorries on the road.

The home composting programme launched in 2004 by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows just how much of an affect home composting can have, the programme had the aim of getting a million Britons composting at home for an estimated diversion of 400,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. That is a significant amount of waste!

How to Make Compost
How to Make Compost

As well as the greater good and large scale benefits, there is also the simple fact that compost, the by-product of composting, is an excellent, natural fertiliser which can improve soil structure, water retention and drainage in your garden.

More advanced/sophisticated composting systems will allow for a collection of liquid fertiliser which is an excellent plant feed when diluted with water.

What is suitable for composting?

You may be surprised about the things that can be thrown onto your compost heap:

  • Home waste – vacuum cleaner dust, hair, egg boxes, newspaper, toilet roll.
  • Kitchen waste – vegetable peelings, fruit skins, food scraps, egg shells, teabags, coffee grounds, kitchen roll.
  • Garden waste – pruning, grass clippings, leaves. (You should though, avoid pernicious weeds, like bindweed and couch grass, as these are very difficult to get rid of.)
  • Animal waste – manure, bedding sawdust, shavings, hay.

However, the following compost ingredients should be avoided on the smaller scale compost heaps as they do not produce sufficient heat to kill all bacteria:

  • Avoid – Manure from non-vegetarian animals including cats and dogs, dairy products, oil, fat.

To increase the efficiency of your composting you need sources of cellulose and protein :

  • Cellulose or carbon – straw, sawdust, wood-shavings, dry leaves, cardboard, newspaper.
  • Protein or nitrogen – grass cuttings, leafy weeds, animal dung (chicken manure is recommended), fruit/vegetable peelings.

Composting with worms

Your compost heap will cool down once all of the initial bacteria action has slowed and there will still be a lot of decomposition to be done, this is where the worms lend a helping hand.

Worms are able to eat their own bodyweight of matter in a day and so they assist with the composting. They are also beneficial because:

  • They are quick workers, nature’s fastest composters in fact.
  • They can reduce the composts volume by 85%
  • They produce vermicompost, a great fertiliser.
  • They operate effectively on small heaps.
  • They help prevent bad odours.
Composting With Worms
Composting With Worms

For the healthiest, most efficient compost heap you should look to get specialist worms as opposed to just collecting them from under the slabs in your back garden.

An effective wormery system requires a lot of worms, about 1kg per cubic metre in fact. However, once you have bought your worms you will not need to do so again as they are prolific breeders and will naturally regulate themselves to suit the amount of waste that is provided for them.

Litter dwelling worms are the best and most commonly available species for composting:

  • Dendrobaena veneta – This is a striped worm and it is a big eater. This type of worm will thrive on leafy waste as their natural habitat is woodland floor.
  • Eisenia andrei/fetida – This worm is also known as the Red Tiger worm and is perfect for composting because of its rapid waste consumption rates and rampant breeding.
  • Lumbricus rubellus – This is another type of red worm – like the Eisenia – that can survive at lower temperatures than other worms although a temperature drop to below 10 degrees Celsius will see its waste consumption decrease dramatically.

Although this is a surface dwelling species, the Lumbricus can tunnel deep into the soil to escape from the elements, making it a good choice then for outdoor compost heaps and cold winters.