Sunday 25 September 2016

Coming up rosehips | Pai Skincare

When you start exploring organic skincare, you almost inevitably get sucked in into the world of plant oils. And what a confusing place it is! Different oils vary by their composition, weight, and feel, making them work for some skin types and not others. Throw in the fact that essential oils are not the same as carrier (also known as base or fixed) oils, and that each month there seems to be a new hyped up contender vying for your attention, it can be very overwhelming trying to figure out which is the real and which is a flash in the pan.

Rosehip oil is one of those base oils that has really proven itself many times over. The plant from which the oil is obtained is sometimes referred to as rosa mosqueta, but the term actually covers the three main species of rosehip plants used for oil: rosa rubiginosa, rosa canina and rosa moschata. Rosehip oil in beauty products is likely to come from the Andes (Chile or Argentina) where the shrubs grow wild, but rosa rubiginosa and rosa canina (dog rose) are also native to Europe  and Western Asia (dog rose also comes from North Africa).

Rosehip seed oil is considered to be a dry oil, meaning it absorbs fairly quickly and without living residue. Like with all oils, it is advised to apply it to damp skin so it can lock in the moisture. This oil is particularly rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it great at bringing plumpness back to the skin and helping it retain moisture (as we age our skin starts to lose moisture quicker, so the topical use of oils rich in fatty acids becomes particularly beneficial). On the other hand, the presence of these polyunsaturated fatty acids also means that rosehip seed oil has a much shorter shelf life and is not as stable as some other carrier oils. In the case of rosehip oil it appears that cold-pressed isn't necessarily best, and instead, Pai Skincare uses supercritical CO2 extract.

This extraction method uses carbon dioxide as a solvent, but at the end of the process, there is no solvent residue. CO2 is volcanically sourced, and the method not only makes the rosehip oil more stable with a longer shelf life, but the oil ends up having more of the good stuff like carotenoids which act as antioxidants.

Typically rosehip oil used in cosmetics refers to just the seed oil, but Pai also uses the fruit extract. Rosehips are similar in size to cranberries, the flesh is fairly thin, and the inside is filled with tiny seeds and tiny hairs (the hairs are really irritating). Before turning into oil rosehips go through a process of drying, de-hipping, and removal of irritants. Using the extract from both the flesh and seeds gives more of a nutrient-rich profile to the oil.

Rosehip oil is one of the rare oils that is beneficial to many skin types from oily, to sensitive and even to very dry skin. Of course, like with most things, there is a possibility of a reaction for some people. Particular benefits reported are the improvement of the skin tone, scars, and skin elasticity.

The hero product from Pai is naturally their Rosehip BioRegenerate oil, which contains CO2 extract of both fruit and seeds. You only need to use 2-3 drops, and as it is so light, it is a wonderful product to use at night without overwhelming your skin. The great thing about their rosehip oil is that not only can you use it as a face serum, but also as a targeted scar treatment, or even a body oil if you like. Containing twice the sterols and five times the amount of carotenoids than the seed oil alone, it deserves its place on the top shelf. However, this is far from the only product that is benefiting from the wonderful qualities of rosehip in the Pai skincare range. Rosehip BioRegenerate rapid radiance face mask also contains both the seed and the fruit extract. It is designed to calm sensitive skin and give it a moisture boost. Rosehip seed oil is excellent for cuticle care and is great for nail health, so it is no surprise that you can find it in Instant Hand Therapy Cream. You may have heard of the effectiveness of rosehip oil on stretch marks, and if you take a look at the ingredients of Pai stretch mark system, you will notice that the oil contains rosehip seed oil, and the cream sports the rosehip fruit extract. Of course, we can't forget the Chamomile and Rosehip calming day cream. Here, the rosehip seed oil is used for its reparative properties and to protect skin from environmental stresses.

Rosehip oil is really versatile and it is great not only for facial care but all over, and with potentially beneficial results from as little as 10% of a formulation, you really don't need to use it neat if you prefer creams. Pai Skincare has you covered whether you want a quick boost from a mask, something gentle and long-term like their face cream, or a really potent treatment in the form of the BioRegenarate oil. Whatever product you decide to go with, your skin is bound to reap hips of benefits!

Friday 23 September 2016

Beauty from the sea | Voya

Seaweed beauty maybe all the rage right now, but like with many things, in a way, it is a revival of an old forgotten tradition. It seems that therapeutic properties of seaweed have been long known along the Irish coast, and seaweed baths used to be quite a popular thing with around 300 seaweed bath houses in Ireland at the beginning of 20th century. The picture changed towards the end of the century, and with the popularity of other types of treatments, this tradition practically disappeared. Yet to Neil Walton the revival of a the seaweed bathhouse tradition in his hometown of Strandhill became somewhat of a mission, and in 1996 with his family he did just that: opened voya seaweed baths. Fast forward to 2016 and Voya is a global business with deep family roots, proud of their beginning, and their organic beauty products line is celebrating 10 years.

The beauty range first launched with one product, Lazy Days, organic seaweed combined with dead sea salt, for a seaweed bath in the comfort of your own home. Now there are many more products, all centered around the wonderful properties of seaweed.

Fucus serratus, commonly known as toothed or serrated wrack, is an olive-brown seaweed from North Atlantic that features in a few of Voya products. This seaweed is full of minerals and antioxidants, making it amazing for skincare. Voya harvests their seaweed by hand, making sure that the marine life is not harmed and only a small portion is taken at a time.

With my love for oils and citrus based products, it is not surprising that I was very curious about Angelicus Serratus body oil. The scent is mild with sparkly notes of mandarin, lemon, lime and an ocean breeze. Combination of sunflower oil, evening primrose oil, rosehip oil and fucus serratus seaweed extract creates a really nourishing base, skin is left velvety soft to the touch. This oil makes an amazing follow-up to the seaweed bath experience that will make you feel like your home has turned into the most relaxing spa (especially if you can persuade someone to give you a massage with this oil).

If citrus doesn't really float your boat, Voya will be launching their total tranquility collection over the next few months, and Mindful Moments body oil will become available from the 1st of October. This body oil will be infused with lavender essential oil and as well as leaving you with super soft skin, it premisses to relax your senses and aid with getting a restful night's sleep. The seaweed extract in this body oil is that of himanthalia elongata (sea spaghetti).

Voya range is very extensive, you can find skincare, haircare, and a variety of body products. They even have a small selection of organic teas! You can find the line in some breathtakingly luxurious spa locations around the world, as Voya are available in 37 countries, alternatively you can get your hands on the products by ordering on-line.

However much I wish for it to be otherwise, a trip to Kandolhu in Maldives is not really on the cards in the near future, seaweed beauty experience in the comfort of my own home... Now that I can do!

Thursday 22 September 2016

Shopping for DIY Organic beauty ingredients

Making your own beauty products can be a lot of fun. From single use recipes using things found in your kitchen, to longer lasting oil blends and massage bars, there are a lot of things that you could safely create in the comfort of your own home. Once you have a few ideas of what DIY beauty products you might want to make, it all boils down to getting your hands on ingredients. As it is Organic Beauty Week, we put together a list of stockists who supply organic oils, butters, and herbs in small quantities, perfect for your DIY beauty experiments.

Neal's Yard remedies. As well as their large range of beauty and wellbeing products, they carry a range of base oils, butters, beeswax, essential oils and dry herbs. Majority of the ingredients stocked are certified organic with soil association, they are all clearly labelled when you are looking through the descriptions. What's more, you can even find various sized bottles and books with DIY beauty recipes (have a look in the aromatherapy and wellbeing sections). If you are just starting to explore making your own beauty, this can really be a one-stop shop to get everything you need.

Primavera. In addition to their skincare and body care products, you can find a small selection of single carrier oils and a really great selection of essential oils. The carrier oils are in the section with organic body oils, but the single oils are also perfect for use in facial serums too, just take a look at the ingredients list to make sure you are getting the right thing.

Akoma Skincare. Here you can find so many different ingredients for making your own products, even those needed for fairly complicated recipes. The selection of organic essential oils is not huge, but the selection of organic carrier oils is really great, you can even find prickly pear and sacha inchi oils, these are certified with Soil Association. They also stock organic cocoa and shea butters. The best thing about Akoma is that you can buy really small quantities, starting from 30ml for some carrier oils.

Oshadhi. Pretty much everything you want for aromatherapy you will find here: carrier oils, essential oils, hydrosols and butters. There are a lot of certified organic oils and waters, but not everything is, however they do dedicate themselves to stocking really pure ingredients. If you are interested in finding out more about aromatherapy in general, there are lots of information in their education section.

*All of the above stockists ship worldwide.

In celebration of Organic September (#organicseptember), we’d love to hear what ‘certified organic’ means to you by taking part in our little survey (here). We truly need and value your opinion and we promise it takes less than 5 minutes. Thank you!

Thursday 15 September 2016

Organic beauty experiment.

Whenever I meet people in person, and on these virtual pages, I keep going on about how important organic standards are to me personally. However, if you look inside my beauty cabinet you will find plenty of products that are not certified. The truth is that there are no legal requirements for a beauty brand to be certified to have organic written somewhere in the description of the bottle (and yes even having organic as part of the name is also acceptable), as long as they comply with Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulation. What it means in real terms, is that in the absence of a clear definition of natural and organic, there is room for personal interpretation and what I or you think of as organic, is not necessarily what we will find inside a cosmetic bottle.

Instead of diving into the woods of trying to figure out who is and who isn't trying to mislead you, trusting a third party certification body like Soil Association can be a viable option for many, who are not particularly interested in scrutinising every bottle, trying to make sense of the ingredient lists. If you want to find out what is behind the Soil Association logo on cosmetic products, I have recently interviewed them for the peridot mag

I am actually quite fussy when it comes to what is inside my products (be they certified or not), but again I find myself not always agreeing with other green bloggers on the type of ingredients I choose to avoid, and I think, in the absence of definitive or in-depth studies on many of the things used in cosmetics today. that is only natural (yes, I just gave myself a pat on the back for this pun).The one thing I have never done however, is look through my beauty products and see how many of them are certified organic.

This Organic September I wanted to do an experiment, use only cosmos or soil association certified beauty products for my routine (including makeup). Now if I went shopping that wouldn't be so tough, instead I wanted to use what I already had. The first fail was toothpaste and deodorant, while what I have is 'natural', neither of them have organic ingredients (let alone certification). The second fail is more of a semi-fail, my green people shampoo and conditioner duo is certified organic, but not by cosmos or soil association (although green people do have SA certification for some of their products).

I have managed to find a surprising amount of products (a mixture of things that I have purchased myself, brought home in goodie bags, and a few things that have been sent over for a review). Instead of grabbing absolutely every certified product, I tried to pick products that were already open and not more than 3 of the same type of product (I still want to have options, there is just no way I could stick with only one body oil for the rest of the month).

As my skin is both reactive and temperamental, to minimise the risk, I didn't introduce anything that my face wasn't already familiar with, still I took a bit of a chance as it wasn't a combination of products that I have tried out together. 

Throughout the organic beauty week I will be going into detail of each step of my current beauty routine, and at the end of the month I will let you know if I cheated on any aspect of it, what worked and what didn't.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Growing plants with Elijah Choo | Part 2

In part 1 you discovered how Elijah wasn't born with a green thumb, and how he went from killing cacti to successfully growing his own fruit and veg. In part 2, we go into a deeper discussion about what soil works for different plants, and what you can grow with limited space or no garden.

What have been some of the weirdest and most exotic plants you have ever grown?

When you first start you always want to look for the weird and exotic things. Asparagus peas was on of them for me, they really aren't all that nice. They are like sweet peas, the flowers are beautiful, they climb all over the place, and the pods they produce look a bit like normal pea pods but with wings. I wouldn't recommend growing them, they really don't taste that nice.

Also cucamelons, described as cucumbers with a squeeze of lime (that is not how I would describe them). I would say they are like stale cucumbers. They do have a slightly sour taste to them, but for me, it is missing that zestiness of a lemon or lime, I find them to be more vinegary. I can understand them being used in a cocktail, but not by themselves.

In the beginning was growing things like kohlrabi and romanesco. I grew loquats from seeds, I went through the so-called "exotic" phase. Now the "exotic" plants I go for have more to do with variety than the actual species. I will seek out heirloom tomatoes, I also have a climbing courgette which is quite rare. Even the fruit varieties that we have in the orchard are rather rare. My perspective on what I consider exotic has changed.


How about growing things with little space, and can we talk more about what soil to use?

To grow things organically you do need to have more space, it does become a bit tricky without a garden. If you don't have one, but someone in your family does, you can pinch soil or compost from them (provided they don't use a lot of chemicals that would leach into the soil). You can buy compost, but you need to read the labels to check that they don't have certain additives (most compost is ok and relatively neutral).

Some plants like free-draining soil, for example, all the herbs in my garden are in a raised bed, and the soil is designed to be very free-draining, with lots of stones at the bottom, so the water flows easily. The soil itself we took from our own plot of land and mixed it with a lot of sand, again for water to go through it very easily. The reason is that most herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram, mint they love this type of soil. We also have a fig tree in the same bed.

If you are growing plants at home with not too much space, for example, if you have a patio and space for some potted plants and nothing else. Tomatoes are great, there are different types, and bush type tomatoes would be perfect. Alternatively, I have grown sun golds before as bush type, so instead of pinching it at the side shoots to grow tall (as you are normally told to do), you just pop it in a pot and let it grow as a bush.

To deal with the slugs: get a pot and put it upside down, get a tray (like the tray some plants come with), fill it with water and make sure it is always filled with water, put your potted tomato into the tray and the slugs won't get past this. Alternatively, put a copper strip on the outside of the pot (you can get it from a garden centre), slugs and snails don't like that, but you can't prevent the birds! That is part of growing, you are feeding yourself, but you are also feeding nature a little bit.

The best thing to deal with pests is to ensure your plants are healthy, you don't need to spray them, don't bother with pesticides (you might as well go and buy fruit and veg from the shops if you do)! You don't need pesticides, and you don't need fungicides. You only need to do two things: keep the plant healthy and is seaweed solution to improve the health. Just like with humans, if you are healthy you don't need medication. Seaweed solution is multipurpose (you can buy it from a garden shop or make your own if you live near the coast), it is dark brown and looks like soy sauce. You mix it with water, and you can water the soil with the mixture to give it nutrients, or you can spray the leaves as a form of natural pest control. It has nitrogen and lots of nutrients that boost the plant. If you can get your hands on it, horse manure is amazing to boost the soil, otherwise chicken pallets are also great (these you can get from a garden centre). It is basically dry chicken poo. Don't use fresh horse manure or chicken poo, it needs to be 'well rotted', in other words aged, and by then it doesn't have the smell.  While you need to feed the plant, like with everything, too much is also not good. With my tomatoes for example, I feed them with seaweed solution once a week, and with manure or chicken palettes about once a month.

You could also grow cucumbers, you will just need to be able to lean the bamboo polls against something for the plant to climb up. Go for the mini cucumber varieties, but even then it could take up a bit of space, so you would need to be careful with it.

Herbs like thyme and rosemary would be the easiest to grow in a confined space. If you are worried about green-fly you need to drench the plant in seaweed solution and it will prevent it.

When you first bring your plants home, it might be a good idea to change the soil as there are only so many nutrients available to it in the pot (you don't want to keep changing the soil all the time, though, after that it is about feeding it). You don't necessarily need to do it with all the plants. The easiest way to check is by touching the soil if it's all dried up and shriveled, it no longer has nutrition in it. Good soil has a certain colour, and a rich earthy smell, if you don't think it is right, and it is not holding water then change it. With my tomatoes, for example, I have only re-potted them twice, and they are now in their final position. Of course, I have been feeding the plants, watering regularly and generally looking after them.

So with a patio, you can grow herbs, tomatoes, mini cucumbers (provided you have something to lean them against), strawberries, and there are patio fruit trees.

You can find apple, pear and plum trees that have root-stock that restricts their growth, so they are tiny. The best thing is to go to the garden centre and ask. The coolest ones don't even spread out, they just grow to maybe the height of your chest or your shoulder. The tree looks like a green column! You will not get tons of fruit, but you will still have 5-10 apples on a tree, and they will be your apples.

Blueberries are also great, the plant itself isn't cheap but they aren't difficult to grow. You do need to get familiar with soil when you grow things, they have different structures: there are clay soils, sandy soils, loamy and so on. There is also PH level in soil: it can be acidic or alkaline. Some plants do better in acidic soil, others prefer alkaline. Hydrangeas are weird, depending on the PH of the soil the colours of the flowers change from pink to blue (pink for alkaline, blue for acidic). Blueberries love acidic soil, so in UK they are actually better to be grown in a pot then in the ground.


What about if we move on to the upper floor, with no patio and just a window?

In that case, stick to the plants that you can grow in tiny pots or troughs. You can have a trough filled with strawberries. You can find troughs that are half a meter long, that will sit along the entire windowsill, and you can put about 4-5 strawberry plants in there (there are shorter troughs too).

You can have a mixture of little tumbling bush type tomatoes, like tumbling tom for example, on both ends of the trough, and in the middle fill it with herbs like oregano, thyme or sage. So you can have a little tomato and herb garden on your windowsill.

If you don't to go down the root of fruit, vegies and herbs, you can always grow flowers. There are edible flowers like nasturtium. In fact, nasturtium leaves are also edible, they are a bit peppery and taste like rocket, but the shape is round. So if you are making vegan burgers, they fit really well in a burger! The flowers are beautiful as a summer salad decoration, they taste sweet and peppery. You can pick the petals off and scatter them on top of your salad, just make sure keep them on top and don't stir them in as the flowers are so fragile. Nasturtiums are very easy to grow, you can buy them in a pack of seeds, you will not fail growing them. They don't need a very rich soil, in fact if you over feed them, you will only get the leaves and no flowers. The only downside is that they are very prone to greenfly and black fly, so again turn to seaweed solution. If there is any green or black fly, it always happens under the leaves, pick that leaf off and throw it away. It tends not to spread too quickly, you just need to check regularly. The key with plants is that you really can't expect it to do everything and anything for you if you are not looking after it. They don't need checking every hour, but you still need to take care of them.

When it comes to watering, it will depend on the weather (or central heating if you growing plants indoors). Water them when the soil starts drying out, it won't necessarily be every day but as you grow more you will develop a sence for it.  Wonderful thing about nasturtiums is that they are really pretty and come in different colours.


What has been the most surprising thing that you have learned after you have started growing plants?

Nature is very adaptable, just when you think it isn't going to work, it works out. It finds its own balance, instead of forcing it, all you ned to do is give it a bit of a helping hand. Growing your own plants, your own fruit, your own vegetables, it nourishes your soul. It does change the way you think: you get respect for what you eat, you learn to have respect for nature, you understand more. You become responsible for the plants, they are like pets (although they do not require the attention that pets do, unless you are growing bonsai, you need to spend every single second with those). Also when you grow things, the final result, be it fruit or veg, it will never be 100% perfect, but that is the beauty of it.


There is one more thing that I would like to add. There are many things that you can grow without buying any plants or seeds. Avocado is one example, it might not give you fruit, but you will have great fun growing it. If you have celery, you can actually grow fresh celery from it. Make sure you buy your celery with the base. Once you've eaten all your celery and are left with the base, instead of throwing it out put it in the dish of water and just wait for it to grow and you will have fresh celery. In time, it will have roots, and then you can plant it. Other things include pineapple, ginger, lemongrass, and onions. A tip with ginger is to keep it outside of the fridge, just like tomatoes and onions it will have better flavour that way, and if left sitting long enough, you will notice it sprouting. You can plant it by half burying it in the soil!

If you juice, chances are there is something you can grow from the things you are juicing.

Follow Elijah Choo on Twitter and Bodhi & Birch

*Photos courtesy of Elijah Choo.




Saturday 10 September 2016

Growing plants with Elijah Choo | Part 1

When you ponder the organic life style, it is almost inevitable that the idea of growing your own veg crosses your mind. Personally I am terrible with plants, live in a tiny London apartment, and completely convinced that there is no hope of me growing anything, let alone something edible. After spending some time talking to Elijah Choo, founder of Bodhi & Birch, I feel that there is hope for me yet. In part 1 we discuss how Elijah came to love gardening, some of the challenges he had to overcome, as well as tips on growing tomatoes and strawberries.

Have you always grown plants?

Nope, my first plant, if I remember correctly, was an Ivy from Ikea (I would have been in my teens), it died. That was because I wasn't looking after it properly, I put it in my bathroom as I wanted to add a bit of greenery. The second plant had been a cactus. Simply because I thought to myself no one can kill a cactus, and where do I put it? In my bathroom... the most humid place in the house! And of course, I killed it.

After that I gave up on gardening for a long time, until I moved to the UK when I was 27. I was working in the design industry and didn't have much in the way of friendships at the time. This sounds quite pathetic, but I missed my family and my friends, so I decided to grow plants that reminded me of home. I started to grow orchids, and amassed a huge collection. The trick is whatever the plant you have, find out where it is from (as in where it is originally from), and try to mimic its habitat. That is it. So a cactus should not be in the bathroom! You need to mimic the climate, how much water does it want, how much sunshine, should the air be humid or dry, should the light be direct or diffused. Once you get that right the plant will thrive. Nature always finds a way of surviving, even if the conditions aren't 100% right, it will do its best.

I started growing my own fruit and veg, when we moved to Bittell farm. I still grow flowers along the border.

What made you want to go from orchids to fruit and veg?

I think its simply because I realised: if I can grow orchids, which everyone says are a nightmare to grow, then I can grow anything. In truth orchids are not that hard to grow, there are lots of different types from all over the world, you just need to know where it comes from and mimic the growing conditions for that particular orchid. The same applies to fruit and veg, it is the case of finding the one you like to eat and emulating the environment that they like to grow.

I started growing tomatoes, kohlrabi, kai lan, bok choy, peas, runner beans, purple sprouting broccoli, salad leaves. I failed with potatoes because of the wrong soil. I tried to go with things that I knew, and some of the vegetables that are a bit exotic, those you couldn't easily find in shops. As I progressed, I started to choose the types of fruit and veg I was growing based on several factors: the ones that taste better when you grow them yourself (homegrown strawberries for example always taste so much better), and the things that would be quite expensive to buy (for example sungold tomatoes are super pricey, so I always grow them).

At the very beginning I used to use quite a lot of pest control, because of slugs, green-fly and so on. I didn't want to continue doing that, and wanted to see what else I could do. I started learning about natural forms of pest control, about companion planting (plants that you grow next to tomatoes for example like calendula, it enhances their flavour and at the same time prevents green-fly). Certain plants are avoided by insects, so if you plant them next to a plant that the insect loves, it prevents it from being eaten. Over time you learn all these tips and tricks, it is no different from learning all the different tips and tricks about skincare and beauty. Of course it doesn't happen straight off the bat, you pick it up a long the way. The growing season is an annual cycle, so it does take longer to learn.


Was it a conscious choice to move to Bittell farm? Were you looking for a place that would have space to grow fruit and veg?

I've always wanted to have that space. Weirdly enough, even though I wasn't the best gardener to begin with, growing up I have always visited my uncle's plantation in Malaysia. They grow everything and anything, all those fruits considered exotic in UK: rambutan, durian, mangosteen. One time I had to go and help harvest peanuts.

Growing up in Singapore, a metropolis, the plantatiom was a form as escapism, those summer holidays were heaven. I always wanted to grow up and find a place that was similar to that. So Bittell farm was inevitable. Both Martin and I wanted to live out of the city but not too far from it. So the desire to have that space has alway been there, and as the years went by, I realised that I want to garden.

The beauty of the farm is that it already had its own orchard, with heritage varieties of apples and plums. It also has space for us to plan a vegetable patch, it's like a little slice of my own heaven.

Things are still under construction, what I'm using now as a green house is meant to be a potting shed. It is a small space, 2m wide and 3m long, the plants that I grow in here are in pots. At the moment I have: 8 tomato plants, which are about 3m tall (trick with tomatoes is water, in the summer I will water them twice a day and not just a sprinkling but a good soak); an occasional tray of salad leaves, theseI tend to pick quite young; blueberry is in here because birds were picking at it; 2 avocados that I grew from seed (it's not going to bear fruit but it looks great); succulents, these need to be kept really dry (but there are others that like water);  goji (this was a gift) and apparently the leaves are edible; 3 hibiscus plants that I have grown from seeds (not the Hawaiian flower, but rosella, the one that you use in tea, they are two different plants); a pot of thyme, lemon tree, kumquat, orchids, paper flower, and chilli.

Which plants are great for the beginners to grow?

Growing avocado is really fun and easy, next time you eat it, save the seed. You need to stick three or four sharp toothpicks into it, in such a way that the toothpicks balance on the edges of the cup with the avocado seed being in the middle suspended in the air, place on top of the cup filled with water to the point that the bottom half of the seed is submerged in the liquid. In about a week the root starts growing, once there are established roots and the plant is looking healthy, you need to transfer it to the soil, which needs to be rich for it to grow well (here is a video that shows how to do this).

If you want to grow tomatoes and are new to it, sungolds are really easy to grow, and in fact people who don't normally like tomatoes love sungolds, because they don't taste like your normal tomatoes.

Since you grow all the tomatoes in the pots, what happens at the end of the season when all the fruit is gone?

When it comes to pots, some plants do better in plastic pots, and others do better in terracotta pots. Some people may question the use of plastic, I have no problem with using plastic if you reuse it, reuse it, and keep reusing it, making it last as long as possible. Majority of these plastic pots are recycled and recyclable. The reason why my tomato plants are not in terracotta pots, is that terracotta breathes. They are great for plants that need the soil to dry out faster, if you want to retain moisture you can not use terracotta. To retain moisture pots need to be plastic or possibly glazed (but again the centre would still likely to be terracotta, and that still would dry out the roots).

At the end of the season (around October/November), if there are still tomatoes on the vines, I will cut off the leaves and that gives the plant a bit of a shock making it think "oh I need to make sure that I get seeds to carry on the species", so it will put all the energy into ripening the fruit. Once there is no more fruit I will cut everything off and it will go onto my compost heap (including the root).

Tomatoes are originally from South America, in their own country the root will stay in, but in UK that will not work. In a European country you need to start afresh every year. This doesn't apply to all the plants, it is the case for chilli and tomatoes, but blueberry and the citrus plants, and everything else I have here will grow year to year.


Have you tried growing tomatoes from seeds?

Yes, and here is where it gets a little controversial. Some people like to grow plants from seeds, especially tomatoes. There is a bit of gardening snobbery going on "oh you didn't grow yours from seeds?". I used to grow them from seeds, but unless you are a farmer, or have all the time in the world, or are retired, it takes up so much of your time and it costs money to look after the plants with the feed (so the idea that you will save money growing things from seeds isn't necessarily true). You would have to start really early in the season to grow tomatoes from seed, and some people would start turning the green house heater on, I don't think that's very 'green'. You will also most likely end up with way too many tomato plants, and then you have to decide which are your best plants and kill the rest (I always find that quite vicious). Out of the best plants people then choose which they want to keep, and then get rid of the others. Normally that means giving them away (whenever some offers to give you a plant, in truth it will never be their best plant, of course it doesn't make it a bad plant but it is their excess).

It really depends how much time you want to spend gardening, I love it, and I do spend a lot of time doing it, but still there is never enough time. When it comes to tomatoes, I would rather buy a healthy plant, that I can carry on growing to have the fruit. I am not growing them just for the sake of it, I am doing it so I can eat it. I also don't want a whole row of the same type of tomato. All the plants I have are different kinds of tomatoes. Last year when I grew them from seeds, I had so many plants that I was trying to give away and nobody wanted them.

On the other hand, things like salad you want to grow from seeds so you can get a lot, but other things like peppers, just take too long and won't ripen in time in the UK climate. Don't be swayed by others when it comes to what to grow from seeds, it depends on how much time you have, and what you want to get out of gardening.


Let's talk about strawberries.

Well I haven't had great luck with strawberries this year. I was growing them inside the green house, and then put them out to be sweetened by the sun, and the birds had them. So I have been very kind to the birds this year.

Strawberries are very easy to grow. You can get the plants very easily, all you need to do is make sure that you have rich soil and water them well (not too much, you want the soil nice and moist, not too dry, not too wet, right in the middle), and you will get strawberries. A good plant would be wild strawberry, if you grow those outside in the ground, it will come back year after year (in fact strawberries will come back year after year). Wild strawberries are tiny, and they don't have the texture of the strawberries that we normally get in the shops, but they have tons of flavour.

Strawberries are happy to grow outside in UK, and you can carry on growing them from runners. It is considered that you need to have a new strawberry plant (from runners or elsewhere) every 3 years, because the fruit isn't as good anymore, but I have a plant outside in the troth that is 5 years old, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

If you grow them in a pot, you can protect the plant from slugs and birds easier, as you can move it wherever you want, and of course it is much easier to pick those berries when they are higher up rather than on the ground. It does need a fair amount of sun, so make sure to have it in a sunny place in the green house or windowsill, you could have three strawberry plants in one pot.

Part 2 will be available on Sunday, with more tips on growing and what to do when you don't have a garden.

*Photos courtesy of Elijah Choo

Thursday 1 September 2016

Organic September | Day 1

I actually can't believe how quickly Organic September has come around. Last year I did the whole 'post for every day of September' thing, and it felt like a blogging marathon. I will not be doing it this time around purely because of the fact that I am also writing on The Peridot and I just don't think I would be able to cope with it all.

I feel like I am in a little bit of a different place from what I was last year, and while my views on the importance of Organic standards haven't changed I am reassessing of what organic lifestyle looks like to me. I am not going to tell you that my fridge and cupboards are completely filled with only organic produce, all my beauty products are certified organic and that all my clothes are made with organic cotton, that would not be true. Of course I aim for it, but the reality is that while organic items are more and more available even in my local stores, there are some things like spices that last for some time (and tend to be given as presents) that I will not be getting rid of because they don't have a certification. 

When it comes to the food that I personally buy, I go to the farmers market that has several organic stalls and I also subscribe to a Riverford Organic box. However if I see some papaya in a local green grocers and I really want it I will get it! Do I wish that it was organic? Of course! However, what I think is most important is for the food that I eat all/most of the time to be organic, not an occasional exotic offering. It really is about the things that make the most impact. I am not going to obsess about my cupcake that I had at a cafe not being organic, this is something I have just a few times a year! My potatoes, rice, veggies and greens that I have every week on the other hand, those I make sure are organic. So if you are starting to introduce some changes this month look at what would make the most impact? Are you partial to tomatoes, peppers or spinach? Those are the things to concentrate on.

I find myself shopping mostly outside of supermarkets. It suits me better, there is more choice of what I am looking for and I don't get bombarded with aisles and aisles of processed food. With lots of online retailers it is pretty easy to stock up on cupboard essentials really cheaply too. Organic food really doesn't need to be very expensive if you know where to look and how to make the best use of google.

When it comes to fashion, production of textiles is extremely polluting unless they have been created specifically to an eco standard. There is a lot of clothes already out there, floating around in the world, I don't feel the need to always buy 'new' clothes when so many unworn items are hanging on the rails in charity shops and are sold on e-bay. Of course if I really fancy something that isn't second hand or vintage, yes I will look for it to be eco or organic.

Skincare and beauty is really tough. To create a small bottle of face oil, a lot of plant matter is used. I don't really see any distinction between growing natural skincare ingredients and food production, so if I want my food to be organic it only makes sense that I want my skincare to be organic too. I will go into more detail on this subject during Organic Beauty Week.

Throughout the month I will be sharing some of my favourite products, recipes and just more about my personal approach to organic lifestyle. I will be keeping the content quite fluid, so if there is a particular subject matter that you would like me to cover more, let me know in the comments, I am very happy to oblige!

*Image courtesy of Soil Association