Using edible flowers to add colour, texture and flavour to dishes can be traced back to the Roman era, then saw a resurgence during Victoria's reign thanks to the popularity of floriography. Today I thought I'd run through a few recipe ideas for the edible flower varieties we sell here at Seedology. I love encouraging people to try new things and finding new uses for plants they may already grow. Cooking with edible flowers adds a touch of elegance and beauty to everyday living and helps build a deeper connection between us and the food on our plates.
When growing edible flowers, take care not to plant them near busy roads or industrial areas. Do not eat flowers that have been in contact with herbicides/pesticides and take time to carefully identify each plant before harvesting. Like with most foods, some people can be allergic to specific flower groups, and those with health complaints should research each plant before consumption.
These bold and vibrant flowers brighten up any summer salad, while the leaves provide a spicy kick. Nasturtium seeds can also be harvested and used like capers, perhaps in tapenade or on a pizza.
Lavender has a variety of uses in the home, its soothing aroma can be added to baths, candles or scent sachets while also working wonders sprinkled into baking or roasts. A warm, buttery lavender shortbread with a nice cup of tea? Lovely!
Those familiar with shop-bought chives may be surprised by the beauty of the purple pom-pom blooms given by this member of the allium family. Chives are mild enough to eat uncooked, so can be rinsed and chopped up straight from the garden or windowsill.
Cornflowers have become endangered in recent years due to the over-use of herbicides as a result of increasingly intensive farming. Cornflower petals look lovely and add delicate flavour when mixed into butter and served over a fresh, warm baguette.
Borage is perfect for attracting more bees to your garden and eagerly self-seeds. Harvest the borage young for a crunchy salad leaf similar to the taste of cucumber. Borage also works wonders in soups and can even be used to garnish Pimm's, ideal for summer garden parties.
I hope you enjoy experimenting with edible flowers this summer, please share your recipe ideas and tag @seedology.uk on Instagram so that we can see your lovely creations.
For our full range of edible flower, herb and vegetable seeds, visit:
SeedologyUK on Etsy
This year, things have not gone according to plan in my garden, and that's putting it lightly!
At the start of the Spring, I was starting with a clean slate in the garden. I laid a thick layer of compost over the whole garden, paying particular attention to the areas I knew to be poor performing. Starting Seedology meant that I had an abundance of seeds, tips and techniques to trial, and this was extremely exciting, as for the past two years I had been living in a house limited to windowsill gardening.
Things got off to a solid start. The seedlings I started early grew rapidly despite the prolonged winter, and I was delighted to see that the multi-sowing method was giving a great yield.
All of the major issues began when I tried to plant out my seedlings. The seeds I had started early were more than ready to go out by the time the weather relented and allowed the sun to break through, so I needed to act quickly. In one day I managed to plant out all of my edible flowers, my salad leaves, even some early maincrop varieties and went to bed feeling very happy with myself...
... until I was woken at 2 am by an enormous hailstorm.
Needless to say, my precious seedlings were battered by the storm. For those few that survived, an army of slugs awaited them in the morning.
The erratic weather patterns following that night also damaged the areas of exposed soil. The local soil can be difficult for growing at the best of times, but after being scorched by the endless sun, and then flash flooding, it was struggling.
So none of the detailed garden plans I spent hours on in January came to fruition, but that doesn't mean the garden is empty. The yellow poppy seeds carelessly scattered last autumn have come up and are dotted around everywhere, much to the enjoyment of the neighbour's bee colony. Several types of pink and purple wildflowers have sprung up among the allium, which created a lovely colour-coordinated border to hide the compost pile. The carefully pruned wisteria back in February is now an explosion of vines and fronds, which I have found make the perfect habitat for weird and colourful snails, and provide shady spots for the cat.
My garden certainly would not grace the cover of a magazine, nor will it ever be the kitchen garden of my dreams. However, I can still see glimpses of amazing beauty out there. Watching a fat bumblebee hopping from flower to flower, or coming across the cat curled up under the ferns are moments that bring me so much joy*. I've always struggled to see plants as weeds just because I didn't plant them.
*I should mention that I will not be eating any homegrown tomatoes this year after said cat decided to take a nap on top of them, but she can still be very cute.
My garden this year serves as a good metaphor for life. Nothing has gone to plan, and yet nature has provided an abundance of loveliness regardless. This is not an easy lesson to learn, and when faced with doubt or disaster can certainly be easy to forget. I hope that my garden will continue to throw up unexpected plants, it has taught me a lot and I am looking forward to watching it thrive.
Everyone has seen litter, discarded plastic packaging tossed into hedgerows or left on beaches. Distressing reports from the Pacific Henderson Island show beaches covered in 38 million pieces of plastic, despite the island being uninhabited by humans. We have removed our personal responsibility for waste disposal, instead opting to ship much of it to countries such as China, Malaysia and Indonesia (over 610'000 tonnes in 2018 alone!), who then recycle or simply dump the rubbish. This has allowed for a gradual shift in mindset, to out of sight, out of mind. Of course, the largest absorber of discarded plastic is the ocean (over 8 million tonnes of plastic a year). British skipper, Emily Penn, recently sailed through the world's largest rubbish patch, which covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres, and I would highly recommend checking out her fascinating project, eXXpedition.
While we simply have not lived long enough to see the long-term effects of plastic, the immediate danger of these 'macro' plastics is easily understood. However, another, possibly darker threat is also at play. Microplastics are the tiny (<5mm) pieces of plastic that have usually broken away from a larger item, although some are created intentionally small, like those used in sandblasting. Where is the danger? Well, every time synthetic materials go through the washing machine, minute fibres are washed away to rivers and oceans. These fibres collect bacteria and pollutants before being consumed by fish and other underwater life, resulting in "gastrointestinal infections and blockages, reproductive problems, and starvation". As if this issue isn't serious enough, humans are also at risk, either through microplastics in the water system or by consuming aquatic creatures. Microplastics have even been found in places previously believed to be pristine, like Antarctica. Perhaps the scariest aspect of the microplastics issue is that we have too little experience of such a problem to truly understand the health risks to humans.
How you can help:
For free - avoid buying clothing made from synthetic materials, and beauty products containing microbeads. Make sure that your personal waste is disposed of as properly as you can, and double-check your local area's rules regarding plastic recycling.
For a fee - GUPPYFRIEND Sell a bag that captures microplastic particles from the washing machine (shipping is free, although comes from Germany so takes a little longer). Many local services have appeared in the wake of the pandemic who offer organic and plastic-free produce directly from UK farms. To fellow residents of Yorkshire, I can recommend The Organic Pantry for their fantastic range of plastic-free, organic fruit and veg, not to mention the delicious fresh baked goods!
Up for a challenge? Participate in this year's 'Plastic Free July', an informal annual challenge held internationally to try and bring awareness to the amount of plastic in our everyday lives. The idea is to find plastic-free alternatives to our regular groceries and other purchases, which can be much more difficult than expected. I like to think about how different this challenge would have been only a few decades ago, even if my diet and monthly activities looked the same. Online shops such as The Plastic Free Shop thankfully provide alternatives to many items, which also highlights how rare and modern companies who make plastic-free products seem nowadays, ironically.
Obviously, in medical fields, for example, plastic has allowed for huge advancements in hygiene and safety, and this is in no way directed at those uses, but nobody will ever convince me that a cucumber should be shrink-wrapped.
Combatting plastics is simple enough in theory. We must understand that we are paying for the packaging as well as the product and take responsibility for everything we bring into our homes. Producers must be pressured to change their packaging, the technologies to create biodegradable, or at least recyclable alternatives to every plastic grade are developing so quickly right now, and most have long been in existence.
The life cycle of plastic causes such havoc to the environment at every stage. From extraction methods that release methane into the air, contaminate water supplies and displace vital underground minerals, to minute particles infiltrating the food chain, and finally, incineration which releases toxic dioxins.
One of the most dramatic effects of plastic production is 'Phthalate syndrome'. Dr Shanna Swan's acclaimed 2017 research has suggested that men may be entirely infertile by as soon as 2045 due to the phthalate chemical found in more transparent, flexible plastics (such as those in children's toys and food packaging).
Inevitably, the largest barrier in the fight against plastic is human greed, our modern levels of unprecedented consumption, and our unwillingness to actively care for issues we don't perceive to be under our nose. Together our efforts do make a difference, and (some) companies are really trying to help the situation. For those of us privileged with the choice, taking a moment to weigh up the worth of a plastic purchase, or spending a moment to google an alternative is such a painless and inexpensive step to take when the cost of the alternative is really so high.
In nature, plants don't automatically grow spaced out in neat rows, so to thrive, different plants must learn to cooperate. We can use this principle to increase the yield of our own growing spaces. Besides increasing the garden's overall production, companion planting avoids monoculture spaces, which leaves plants vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Plant pairing may be based on making the best use of the space or their ability to deter pests or even to aid each other's growth. Companion plants need to have different growth habits, so they don't compete for space, light or nutrients. Certain plants are well suited to companion planting. Peas and beans grow well alongside many other vegetables because they add nitrogen to the soil for use by other plants. These tall plants also provide perfect shady spots for leafy plants like coriander and lettuce.
Herbs with a strong scent can be planted in between vegetables to repel insects. However, some herbs (such as mint) can quickly take over and smother surrounding plants.
Some slow-growing winter crops can be interplanted with fast-growing salad leaves so that the space is not left empty over the summer.
Growing a border of flowers around your veg plot distracts unwanted insects from more precious crops while attracting valuable pollinators. Aphids are partial to nasturtiums, so they can be used as a sacrifice to protect veggies while producing beautiful and delicious flowers.
Have fun experimenting with different plant combinations and make the most out of the space you have.
Some combinations to avoid:
Moss is the humble hero of our gardens and may have an important role to play in the regeneration of our planet, but what makes this plant so unique?
Moss does not require any fertiliser or pesticide to grow and can be used in many ways around the garden. If a moss roof is too extreme, why not try and introduce moss to your lawn. Moss lawns have a beautiful, ethereal look and do not need mowing. Protect the moss patches already in your space, and try to avoid damage where possible.
It may only be March, but after some growing disasters in 2020, I was determined to get things growing early in 2021. This year, I started multi-sowing for the first time, and I couldn't be happier with the results so far.
Multi-sowing has gained traction recently thanks to Charles Dowding's popular YouTube channel. By breaking with tradition, Charles has shown how sowing multiple seeds together, rather than spacing them out, can produce much more food using less space.
So how does it work? Take onions as an example (as I have done in my own garden). Instead of sowing a 1-metre row of onion seeds, all 20cm apart, throw 4-6 seeds in a seed tray module together and let them mature as a group. As they grow, the individual onions will push away from each other without any need for pricking out or thinning. When using the multi-sow method, our 1-metre row has gone from producing 5 onions to growing 30. If we scaled this up to an entire field, you could start to see this system's real potential, particularly given the current demands on our food production.
Multi-sowing is a super simple way to save time in the garden while increasing your annual harvest, not to mention saving money in the long run. Many vegetables can be grown in this method, and this year I will be experimenting with spinach, kale, onions, carrots, peas and various herbs.
My onion seedlings are still young, but they are growing steadily and look very healthy. I'm looking forward to seeing their development when I move them outside and enjoying many yummy meals.
For more details on multi-sowing, as well as a list of plants that can be multi-sown, click here - Multisowing.
I will post updates on my multi-sown veggies as they grow on Seedology UK Instagram, as well as in future blog posts. If you decide to try multi-sowing, please share your results and tag us on Instagram.
The 20th-century population boom put an enormous strain on the global food supply, and farmers needed quick fixes to meet demand. But why, decades on, are we still using these outdated and devastating techniques when people are still going hungry? Even worse, if soil degradation continues at its current rate, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations revealed in 2014, we may only have 60 years of food-growing left.
Imagine a forest. Looking up, a canopy of trees absorb carbon to store below ground and feed to the microorganism in the soil. Dappled sunlight allows smaller shrubs and groundcover plants to grow, providing homes for wildlife and fungi. In the Autumn, the fallen leaves decompose to feed the soil ready for the following spring's blossoms and fruits. The earth is rich in a variety of nutrients, capable of supporting a wide variety of life. Every 3cm of 'topsoil', the earth layer with the highest concentration of nutrients, takes 1000 years to produce, and when ecosystems are balanced, it grows year on year.
Somehow, we decided that we knew better than nature. We agreed that the ideal growing system revolves around mono-culture fields that drain the earth of nutrients so voraciously, the degraded soil retaliates by sending up 'weeds' to draw nutrients back to the ground. A lack of biodiversity allows pests and disease to thrive by ridding them of their natural predators. So how do we combat these issues? We create chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. In the 1920s, arsenic was spread liberally across US fruit fields as a pesticide, encouraged by the government! And while this choice was quickly stopped (perhaps a lack of repeat customers), the chemicals we use today are equally toxic. We have seen the pictures of farmers spraying their fields while wearing hazmat suits, yet trust the food produced to be safe to consume. We need only look at India's chemical agriculture of the past 50 years to see its devastating effects.
But there is hope. In ancient times, the Loess plains in China were renowned for their fertility. Over centuries, the land became an arid desert through over-farming and deforestation, which led to mass poverty (it is home to 50 million people), and the loss of large scale ecosystems. In 1994, the Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project launched to regenerate the land and reverse the destruction by teaching local people to rejuvenate the soil. Today, a large section of the plains has transformed back to ecological stability, and 2.5 million people have been lifted out of poverty as a result. In less than 30 years, a land most would think of as beyond repair has been saved from hundreds of years of poor practices and disregard.
Currently, we lose 30 football fields of topsoil every minute. We are yet to see the full extent of damage from the chemicals we have added to the ground; we simply haven't lived long enough to see them but do not lose hope. The Loess Plateau should prove that the land can be saved, not through good wishes or government interference, but as a community of thinkers and doers learning together. It is more important than ever before to take food sovereignty back from 'big Agra'; they destroy the earth's ability to create life without any thought for the devastation in their wake. Nature has the solution. Before now, many millions of species worked together to create an abundance of life without the need for pesticide or destruction.
Some fascinating thinkers and doers:
Masanobu Fukuoka - I would highly recommend Fukuoka's 'One Straw Revolution'. He spent years observing nature and perfecting gentle farming techniques through trial and error.
Bill Mollison and David Holmgreen - Together, they established an ideology of permaculture.
Charles Dowding - An excellent example of success without digging; check out his youtube channel for instant vegetable growing inspiration delivered in a friendly format.
Liz Zorab - Another British YouTuber, Liz began a thriving food forest in her back garden.
The Permaculture Magazine - An excellent resource all-round.