The lazy gardener’s way to save garlic
GARLIC is due for harvesting and this usually happens here in mid-to-late January. I wait until the weather is hot and settled then pull the cloves, lay them to dry in the sun for a day or two, before cutting off the tops and storing them in baskets. They continue to dry and cure over the next month or two and the lean-to at the back of the house is redolent with the smell of fresh garlic. It goes into lots of dishes and is shared around.
These days I’m also sensible. I sort the seed garlic when I cut the tops off and store it separately with a label which says “Hands Off! Saved for Seed!” I put it up high as well as I don’t trust the household when those luscious big
cloves are so tempting!
The lovely purple flower heads of the giant garlic also get kept and become drying/dried arrangements until they get that old, tired and dusty look and are thrown out to start their growing cycle again. Dropping the dried seeds into a worked-up spot of ground and keeping it weed-free will result in heaps of tiny seedlings. The leaves can be used like chives in your cooking, and if you leave some uncut they become an ongoing foodproducing, insect-repelling feature.
I used to bundle the garlic up, tie it with a strip of harakeke (flax) and hang it under the verandah eaves but these days I am finding it keeps better with the tops off and in open baskets. More air movement perhaps? Plaits of garlic look great but I am just not patient enough, and there is so much more to do! THE RAIN GAUGE is often empty for long periods at this time of year, although weather bombs can strike at any time.
Attention to moisture maintenance is essential as summer progresses. Lack of moisture on growing plants can weaken them and open them up to insect damage, disease and compromised growth.
Keeping crops growing strongly is essential if we are to have good harvests of winter keepers such as pumpkin and potato, corn and onion, carrots and parsnips.
Adapting to heat also means providing shade for plants such as lettuces or they can easily turn tough and bitter to taste.
Trolling the aisles at our new supermarket, I spotted a lushly luxuriant mass of verdant foliage spilling out of its cellophane packet. Just beside the apples, and spilling into the bananas. A watercress plant.
Something deep in the near-dormant recipe compartment of my memory went ‘ping’ and I recalled a recipe for a watercress salad with walnuts and balsamic vinegar. Into the trolley it went, along with six other items not on my grocery list.
Once home I remembered the plant in the car – most unusual – and I even read the instructions on the label, placing the tiny root-bound mass in the recommended 3cm of water on the windowsill. I then promptly forgot all about it.
My husband found it 24 hours later, rescuing what was now a wilted and dried-up frizzle. What is it about the word Watercress that doesn’t indicate it might need a heap of water? Lesson one.
Watercress ( Nasturtium officinale) is an aquatic plant. In the wild it grows more in the water than out, its hollow branching stems and foliage trailing for up to a metre underwater with just the top 10-15cm visible above the water’s surface. From early summer to mid-autumn, small, white to purplish white, mustard-like flowers are borne at the tips of the stems.
Watercress is originally from somewhere in western Asia, but is now found in most temperate climates, growing thickly along the margins of fresh running water, especially if it has a high lime content.
Commercially-sold watercress is grown in specially-prepared beds fed by clean running water. It is reliably perennial and can fill a gap in spring and autumn when mesclun and spicy salad greens are in short supply.
Culpepper said that the bruised leaves or juice would ‘free the face from blotches, spots and blemishes…’ so I tried it on a persistent dose of eczema on my right leg. I mashed up some leaves and slathered it on for a pleasant, instant, cooling effect. Sadly I did not repeat the treatment and there was no lasting effect, other than a trail of macerated watercress gunk on the carpet where my makeshift bandage leaked. I decided it might be safer – and tidier – to eat the leaves instead.
My semi-revived watercress plant is now in convalescence under a leaking tap in the garden. It’s not looking too hot so I’ve hedged my bets and taken some cuttings which are rooting nicely on the windowsill, and also ordered seeds. This will be the first time I have asked my husband not to fix a leaky tap!
NEW EVIDENCE suggests that watercress may lower the risk of prostate, breast and colon cancer and counteract the processes by which these cancers spread.
Its anti-cancer activity may stem from its ability to increase anti-oxidant levels and protect DNA against damage.
This was shown in a promising eight week study at the University of Ulster, where 60 men and women ingested 3 ounces of watercress daily for eight weeks. Results showed a 17% reduction in basal DNA damage and significantly increased antioxidant levels. Beta-carotene increased by 33% and lutein levels increased by a whopping 100%.
Watercress is a member of the broccoli family ( Cruciferae), and is especially rich in phytochemicals, in particular nasturtiin which hydrolyses to produce phenyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). PEITC inhibits the liver enzymes which activate many carcinogens in animals, and induces other enzymes which enhance carcinogen excretion.
Studies on rats show watercress may also help protect healthy tissues during radiation and chemotherapy treatments.