After such heat this summer, late rains ensure that the baskets are filled to the brim. Margaret and Sandy Roberts show us how to get the very best from tea tree, macadamia nuts, catawba grapes and giant trombone squash…
Words and Pictures: Julia Lloyd
Production and Styling: Sandy Roberts
“This has been one of the most difficult times in the 32 years of this garden’s existence,” says Margaret. “But the challenges are there to make us stronger.” Margaret has always had huge compost heaps under the trees at the bottom of her garden, but these have been doubled in size. “What has emerged with clarity is the importance of composting to improve the vitality of the soil as well as its ability to retain water.”
And the importance of water almost goes without saying. “Rain is our insurance for everything and this past drought has been the most severe call to valuing and saving every drop of water,” adds Margaret. “It’s vital that gardeners plan ahead now and see to it that they have a rainwater tank under every gutter, always remembering to use a good ‘sieve’in each gutter so that you can keep them unblocked.”
As critical, is it for everyone to be able to collect their own seed. “Veggie costs are rising dramatically so we really should all just be growing our own,” says Sandy. “But cost aside, it’s vital to know that both the veggies and the seed that we buy are grown organically. And we can all do that, even in a tiny space. Even windowsill sprout gardens will ensure that you are feeding yourself nothing but the best.”
1. Tromboncino Squash
“This is a surprisingly ancient plant that is a vital addition to the garden. Everything can be eaten, from the flowers and growing tip of the vines to that lush orange flesh of the fruit”
In the Garden
- The vigorous, climbing Cucurbita moschata, or trombone squash as we call it, is something Margaret and Sandy always grow to be seen, as it is fascinating to watch. The Roberts also use the height of the giant vines over a pergola to protect strawberries, salad plants and young seedlings from the heat.
- Plant the seed (save seed from your previous harvest) in a rich, compost-filled soil in full sun, and make a dam around the seedlings, to collect water.
- Mulch the soil to keep it from drying out, and plant garlic chives among them to help against mildew.
- Runner beans are an excellent companion plant.
- Flowers, young leaves and fruit are rich in beta carotene, all B vitamins especially B3, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, copper and manganese.
- We all know the deliciousness of the rich, orange fruit, but the flowers and the growing tips in particular are also rich in chlorophyll and make a delicious ‘spinach’ – steamed or fried in a creamy batter. Bake them, or chop them into soups, stews and stir-fries.
- A hot poultice of the vines, leaves and flesh is used for abcesses, boils and wounds.
- Peel off the outer husk and eat the seed inside, which is rich in zinc. Use in salads or sprout them.
- 2 cups peeled and chopped squash, boiled until tender and puréed
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon added to purée
- 250ml cake flour
- 250ml sugar (these are wicked, use stevia otherwise)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 125ml sunflower oil
- 125ml boiling water
- 3 jumbo eggs, separated
- ½ cup chopped macadamia nuts
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- runny honey for drizzling
- Beat the egg whites until firm. In a second bowl sift all the dry ingredients and add the hot water and oil. Add the yolks, vanilla essence and puréed squash. Lastly fold the egg whites into the mixture.
- Pour it into a well-greased muffin pan and sprinkle macadamia nuts on top of each cupcake. Bake in a 180°C oven until golden brown (about 8-10 minutes).
- Drizzle lightly with honey before serving.
2. Macadamia Nuts
“Finally a food that beats the monkeys. A powerhouse food with a nut that’s impossible for them to crack.”
- The tough, evergreen Macadamia integrifolia is simply stunning. The tree reaches up to 12m in height with these beautiful nuts that develop on the end of the pendulous branches.
- In full sun, in a large square hole (to stop the roots from encircling and strangling themselves) with plenty of compost, plant your seedling. When filling the hole insert a piece of plastic pipe at an angle, that reaches the roots, to allow water to get there directly. Compost twice a year for great rewards.
- Here’s a super-duper-food, with high levels of unsaturated fat and rich in vitamins B1, B3 and E, plus loads of protein and minerals. Pure health in a tiny ball. Eat them and feel the new energy. They also lower cholesterol, have high antioxidant levels, and make what is considered the most superior oil.
- Macadamia oil also contains 4-5 times more vitamin E than olive oil.
- With their hard nut they store for longer than other nuts. Store them (sealed if they’re shelled) in the fridge to keep fresh.
- Mix them with some fresh ginger and salt and roast them for a truly delicious snack.
3. Catawba Grapes
“There’s just no excuse not to have a vine in the garden. Here, again, is a plant that gives you everything from its leaves, its growing tips and its fruit. Even the tendrils are edible”
In the Garden
- Vitis vinifera is the most versatile and valuable plant, and surely one of the most treasured fruits known to man.
- Plant the vines in a deep compost-filled hole in full sun, about 1m apart. Flood with water once a week and mulch to prevent any evaporation. Prune the vines right back each winter and cover the base with compost.
- Catawba grapes are an excellent source of vitamin C, K and B and contain calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.
- All parts of the plant have been used across time to treat a sluggish metabolism and congestion of the body, and there’s quite some truth in the saying ‘a glass of good wine a day keeps the doctor away’.
- Grapes have been found to have anti-cancer properties and antioxidants, and combat varicose veins, hypertension, poor circulation and high cholesterol.
- Grapeseed oil helps retard the aging process. The seed has plenty of polyunsaturated oil, for both cooking and beauty products.
- Use chopped tendrils in salads and young leaves in teas and stir-fries. Place leaves, tendrils and fruit in a liquidiser for one of the finest detoxifying health drinks.
Grape Leaf and Salmon Roulade
(6 small portions)
- 12 young grape leaves, washed and parboiled in salt water for a few minutes until tender but not soft
- 6 roasted red peppers, skinned
- 1 container smooth cream cheese
- 6 thin slices of salmon
- 3 tbs breadcrumbs
- 12 capers
- 1 tbs finely chopped fennel leaves
- freshly ground black pepper
- Place leaves overlapping on a board about 30cm long and 15cm across. Spread with smooth cottage cheese and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Place red peppers and salmon in rows over the cheese. Sprinkle capers and fennel over the salmon. Add black pepper to taste. Roll the leaves into a sausage, placing the end side underneath. Chill until ready to serve and then slice with a sharp knife, 2-3 slices per person.
- Serve with fresh crusty bread.
- 4kg ripe catawba grapes
- honey for sweetening if needed
- 4 leaves lemon grass
- juice of 3 lemons
- Separate the grapes from the stems and wash well.
- Place fruit in a large pot and fill with water just covering the fruit. Add lemon grass. Simmer until the skins come to the surface of the pot, and add lemon juice. Remove from pot and sieve the fruit pulp. Pour juice into sterilised bottles and refrigerate until needed.
- To serve use ¼ cup cordial and top up with water. Serve over ice with mint or slices of lemon.
4. Tea Tree
“Here’s a real waterwise survivor that can withstand all weather. And it’s one of the great natural healers.”
In the Garden
- Plant Melaleuca alternifolia in a well-composted hole in full sun, and wait for that joy of harvesting at the end of summer. Reaching 7m in height, it doesn’t mind a good pruning of those branches of seed and leaves. The white summer flowers are exquisite.
- Tea tree is a true wonderplant. Medicinally, use the crushed leaves to open blocked sinuses. Make a tea of 1 cup leaves to 4 cups water for chronic infections, colds, flu, bronchitis, and a gargle for sore throats.
- The oil fights bacteria, virus and fungus, and is an anti-inflammatory that treats insect bites, rashes, warts, acne, oily skin, blisters.
- Add oil and a lotion of leaves to shampoos, soaps, toothpastes. For the lotion, simmer 1 cup tea tree leaves in 4 cups water for 20 minutes and store.
- Hang bunches of leaves in the house to repel mosquitoes and flies. Use this home-made spray to combat numerous pests in the house and the garden.
Tea Tree Insect Repellant
- Pour 1 bucket of boiling water over ½ bucket tea tree leaves and stalks, roughly chopped, and 1 cup of eco-friendly soap shavings to help the mixture adhere. Stir thoroughly and leave, covered, overnight.
- Stand for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.
Plants for Sale
Organically-grown seed and plants are available from the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre. Seed can be posted to you.
- Contact: 012 504 2121, [email protected],www.margaretroberts.co.za
- Note: Never use plants as medicine before consulting your doctor