Well-known ethnobotanist, James Wong, talks us through how simple it is to get a tasty return from gardening and a few tips on making plants work harder – so that you don’t have to.
Can ‘growing your own’ become a path towards better flavour and mean better nutrition?
To me, the best thing about growing for flavour is that pretty much all the horticultural tricks that improve crop quality also result in increased nutritional value. Put simply: the more flavourful a tomato, strawberry, cherry or grape is, the higher its nutritional value is likely to be.
In tomatoes for example, a compound like methyl salicylate, which gives tomatoes some of their leafy, herbal notes, works like aspirin to thin the blood and reduce inflammation.
What’s the relationship between what we taste and how nutritional food is for us?
We have become rather adept at removing bitterness from our diet, and not without good reason. Most toxins have a bitter flavour, so we have evolved to be sensitive to this taste. However, it is precisely the bitter chemicals in watercress, broccoli, red wine and tea – phytonutrients – that are behind their so-called ‘superfood’ status.
There are simple tips and tricks that could improve your crops’ nutritional value, even if that is at odd with mass flavour appeal.
Can a complete novice grow fruit and veg successfully?
The more stress the plant is under, the more flavour it has and less work you have to do. Crops grown harder (i.e. with less water, fertiliser and general coddling) actually taste better, are more resilient to threats like pests, taste better and can even be more nutritious. Hurray!
What top tips do you have for people who are keen to grow their own?
Growing fruit and veg is easy – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In terms of top tips, studies have shown that apples at the sunny tops of trees can contain more antioxidants and up to twice the sugar of those that grew on the shady bottom. Five minutes of pruning to take out any crossed or congested branches lets light in evenly across the plant, spiking the potential sweetness and nutrition of your fruit.
Another top tip is to pop half a soluble aspirin tablet into a litre of water. Spraying this onto your tomato plants can boost their sugar content a whopping 150%, including a 50% increase in Vitamin C.
Back to tomatoes. Firstly, stop watering them every day. All this does is create flavourless, watery fruit on wimpy, moisture-craving plants. The moment this daily watering is suspended, these lush leaved plants collapse into wilt, locking you into a cycle of lavish watering. By weaning off irrigation to an absolute minimum after planting, you will notice a massive flavour difference and forgo hours of battling with the hose. OK, your yields will be less generous on smaller, stockier plants, but your flavour will be second to none. All for less work!
Get touchy-feely. Seeds grown indoors can start to grow long and leggy in the warmth and low light levels of the average windowsill. They will have a monumental reality check when they are finally planted outdoors. One simple trick can make your young plants up to 37% stockier, increase their cold tolerance by a whopping six times and even improve their establishment rate by 70%. When your seedlings reach about 3cm high, slowly and gently stroke their surface backwards and forwards. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Many commercial growers actually have specially designed robots to do this job for them. No kidding!
Do you know of any equipment or tools that people with low dexterity and limited strength could use in the garden?
The new Fiskars Light range of digging tools is light as air yet sturdy as steel. Fiskars thought long and hard about ergonomics, comfort and need. Super light, well proportioned, rather stylish and perfectly designed for those who would rather enjoy a little lightweight gardening.
Fiskars super-ergonomic PowerGear pruners have a rolling handle mechanism that makes pruning a breeze. They have a patented gear design that generates power without any strain on the hand and works as a natural extension of the body for unrivalled functionality and comfort.
The steel claws of Fiskars Weed Pullers are so impressive I feel like the Terminator every time I use it. Locate, eradicate, dispatch. Mission over. Fiskars is on a mission to encourage more gardeners to become weed and chemical free.
Fiskars garden tools are available nationwide in garden centres, DIY stores and online: www.fiskars.com