Nuts and seeds can be used in a variety of ways and just five portions a week can have many health benefits. They can be used in many ways, eaten whole, ground, flaked or made into butters and added to sweet or savoury recipes.
Nuts and seeds are very nutritious, providing the body with fibre, essential vitamins, protein and minerals such as potassium and phosphorous. Nuts are, however, high in carbohydrates and oils and should be eaten in moderation.
Growing your own organic nuts and seeds is, therefore, very beneficial for health reasons but can also save you money, as the price of nuts and seeds can be very expensive.
Seeds such as celery, caraway, sunflowers, flax, poppy and sesame can be grown seasonally and pumpkin seeds used rather than discarded.
There are a number of nut trees suitable for the Mediterranean climate that, once established, need very little care.
You should, however, only buy your trees from a recommended seller in your area, as purchasing an inferior fruit tree may not be apparent for two to three years. Before buying trees to plant, research the varieties that are growing locally, what and what is not suitable in your area and their soil requirements.
It is also worth considering the age of trees to buy, although this may depend on how much money you have available. Trees can be purchased as young, older or mature and each has advantages and disadvantages. Young trees have the advantage of allowing you to control their shape but it may be a few years before you start enjoying any nuts. Older trees, two to four years old, will provide nuts much sooner but their shape is less controllable and their cost may be three times that of a young tree. Mature trees, from seven to ten, will have an instant impact in your orchard and will provide nuts the same year but the cost, in comparison to a young tree can be ten times or more.
Growing your nuts and seeds organically, will ensure that you are not ingesting chemical residues that are found in the majority of non-organic nuts and seeds sold. The only way of being totally in control is to grow your own.
The following information provides some general guidelines on trees that can be planted in the Mediterranean area, with details on soil needs, planting, watering, after care, pests and diseases, harvesting and nutritional benefits.
General Information: Before providing guidelines for each tree, and then looking at growing your own seeds, it is worth generally considering how to plant and care for them. The traditional time for planting trees in Cyprus is October which ensures they benefit, during their settling in period, from the rainy season and milder temperatures.
All nut trees have a wide spread of roots to collect the moisture and nutrients needed to grow and to remain healthy. It is therefore recommended that a hole, for young trees, of 100cm square and at least 50cm deep is dug. The under soil should be loosened by forking to assist drainage and well rotted compost or manure added, depending on each trees requirements, before refiling. It is also worth allowing the soil time to settle, for at least 10 days, before planting trees.
The distances between trees recommended is mostly aimed at commercial growers, to maximise size, yields and allow access for tractors, but many trees can be planted a lot closer, as long as their size is controlled by pruning. When growing your own, it is more important to utilise the space available to provide the largest possible variety of fruit, harvests over a longer period and yields that are adequate for your needs. Closer planting will reduce a trees ability to grow large and will make it easier to prune, net against birds and harvest. We would, therefore, recommend a three metre distance where trees are spaced to fit as many trees as possible into the area you have available.
Follow instructions for individual trees on planting, but in all cases; (a) create a watering circle by providing a circular soil ridge around each tree which is wider than the trees spread; (b) before planting insert stakes for young trees to protect from wind damage; (c) water in well and then follow instructions for individual trees regarding water needs but all young trees will need regular watering until well established for about 2-3 years; (d) do not prune young trees until well established and (e) don't add any extra feed, if you have prepared your soil then it will be not be needed.
Almond: Prefers a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Harvested at the mature stage in August but in Cyprus green almonds are enjoyed green and raw in May. The whole almond which is soft, has a fuzzy green skin and the nut, at a very early stage, in the centre are eaten all over the Island. Ground blanched almonds are traditionally used in many Cypriot desserts. The almond, is native to the Mediterranean, and by far the most popular nut tree grown in Cyprus and its beautiful blossom can be seen all over the island in January. You will need to plant at least two almonds for cross-pollination for nut production. Prune only to remove dead or unhealthy branches in the late autumn. Water well until well established then will tolerate drought. A mulch in the autumn of strawy material will help to retain moisture but keep it away from the trunk. Fertilise in the early spring and winter. Once established, prune in December to maintain a desired shape and remove any non-budding side shoots. Prune in July to remove any excessive new vertical growth which will increase the size of the almonds.
Chestnut: Harvested in October and are the only nuts which contain vitamin C but need to be roasted to remove the bitter taste if eaten raw. Trees are self-sterile and two need to be planted for cross pollination. Prefers a pH of 4.5 to 6.5. Fertilise only in March. Keep weed free and this is assisted by a summer mulch which also aids water retention. Once established chestnuts are very drought tolerant. Prune in May, once established, to remove any dead or overcrowded branches.
Hazel: Harvested October to November but tend to produce nuts every other year. Prefers a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Water once or twice a week until the tree is established. Hazelnuts are self-sterile and another tree needs to be within 15 metres for cross pollination. Mulch to a depth of 10cm, but keep away from the trunk, to assist moisture retention and keep down weeds. Cut off suckers as they appear and as low as possible. Prune in January, when young, to maintain a desired shape and size.
Pecan: Harvested September to November and eating a few a day can reduce your cholesterol level. Prefers a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Soak for 15 minutes before planting. Plant at the same depth as pot level. Water weekly for the first year. Can grow very tall, so prune to the desired height. Mulch with strawy material to 15cm depth but keep the mulch away from the trunk.
Pistachio: Harvested September to October but produces heavier crop every other year and takes 7-10 years to provide any significant crop. Tolerates most soils but prefers a pH of between 7.0 and 7.8. Very drought tolerant and prefers a position in full sun. Prune in December, to remove any overcrowded branches and to promote fruiting side shoots.
Walnut: Harvested September to October. Prefers a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Prefers a soil which has had organic matter added and has good drainage. Regular watering is essential until the tree is established and then is drought tolerant but will benefit from a deep watering in very dry periods. Fertilise in the early spring and winter. Once established, prune in December to maintain a desired shape, remove any dead or diseased wood. When still young can be pruned to maintain a desired size and height. Benefits from a deep mulch, but kept away from the trunk, to assist in moisture retention. an antiseptic and disinfectant
Caraway: Prefers a fertile soil rich in humus, full sun and a pH in the range of between 4.8 to 7.8. Sow flax seeds very thinly in March at 6mm deep. Seeds will germinate in about 8 to 12 days and thin or transplant them to 20cm apart in stages. Plants can grow to 45cm to 60cm high. When the plants are established they will only require watering in very dry periods or in periods of very hot weather. Harvest seeds about 4 months after sowing. Caraway seeds shatter easily when dry and can easily self seed. Stored in a jar, the seeds can keep for months. Harvest by cutting the plants from the base and shake inside a bag to remove the seed. The seeds are high in fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins A, E and C, copper, iron, zinc and calcium. Caraway seeds have many health benefits including helping digestion and has diuretic properties. The seeds can be brewed in a tea to help with stomach aches. Seeds are chewed raw to freshen the breath and can be used in bread making, salads and as a condiment.
Celery Seed: Leave one celery plant until the plant develops seed stalks. These will grow up to 1 metre tall and will produce feathery green flowers on top of which the seeds will grow. Wait until the stalks start to turn brown and dry out before removing the stalks and drying thoroughly in a cool but dry place. Once dry, place the flower heads inside a bag and shake to dis-lodge the seeds. After cleaning, to leave the seeds, store in a jar for up to 6 months after which they start to lose their aroma. The seeds contain antioxidants, omega 6 fatty acids and chemical compounds which help thin the blood. The seeds are diuretic and assist the body in ridding excess water. The seeds have a very strong flavour, so a small pinch goes a long way. Can be added to salads, coleslaw, pasta dishes and soups.
Flax: Prefers a fertile soil, full sun and a pH in the range of between 5.0 to 6.5. Sow flax seeds very thinly in September. Seeds will germinate in about 10 days and thin or transplant them to 30cm apart in stages. Plants can grow to 1.2 metres tall and may require some support. When the plants are established they will only require watering in very dry periods or in periods of very hot weather. Harvest seeds about 4 months after sowing The leaves on the lower part of the plant will start turning yellow and falling off. The seed pods will rattle if shaken. Pull the plants out of the ground and hang to dry in a warm, dry and airy location. After a few weeks the plants can be threshed inside a sack to remove the seeds. Sift and clean the threshed plants to extract the flax seeds. You can produce linseed oil when the seeds are cold pressed. The seeds are edible and are rich in magnesium, vitamins, fibre and omega 3 fatty acids. Evidence is mounting that the seeds prevent inflammation; relieve arthritis; retard and prevents tumour growth and boost the immune system.
Mustard Seed: Mustard is a spice with a strong flavour and seeds come in either white, black or brown varieties. Black has the strongest flavour, followed by brown then white. Mustard will grow in most soil types but prefers a well drained and fertile soil. Has a wide range in pH tolerance from 4.2 to 8.3. To get two harvests a year sow seeds thinly about 6mm deep in early March and September, keep moist and weed free, and seeds will germinate in around ten days. Plants mature in about two months and are ready to harvest for seeds when the plants turn yellow. To harvest the seeds cut the plants at their base, tie into sheaths and sun dry for 5 days. The pods can be shaken inside a bag to extract the seeds. Whilst growing the leaves are an excellent addition to salads or cooked. The seeds are used for pickling and used, sometimes ground, to make sauces and dressings. Store harvested seeds in an airtight jar and in a cool and dark place. The seeds are rich in minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Some of the health benefits are: said to relieve migraine, an aid to digestion, have anti-inflammatory properties and due to the high magnesium content assists people with high blood pressure and asthma.
Poppy: The seeds have a nutty flavour and are used widely in baked goods, especially in Southern Europe where they are added to the dough when making bread. Sow seed thinly and directly outside in March or October and poppies will germinate in about 7-10 days. Choose a sunny but well drained site but poppies will grow in most soils. Poppies prefer a pH in the range of 6.6 to 7.5. Water until well established and keep weed free. To harvest the seeds, at the end of their growing season, cut the heads off the stems into a paper bag. Break the heads into a second paper bag and leave to dry thoroughly. Sieve the seeds which will remove any chaff and store in a jar in a cool but dark area. Poppies left to seed will self sow readily and with the wind will ensure poppies pop-up all over your garden. Poppy seeds are not high in vitamin content but contain many essential minerals.
Pumpkin: For information on growing pumpkins go to the Vegetables section. To harvest pumpkin seeds, slice open the pumpkin and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Wash in warm water to remove the pulp and spread out to dry on a tray for twenty-four hours. The seeds are then roasted in the oven in the same way as sunflower seeds, go to Preserving and Storing Produce for details. The seeds are very nutritious and contain large amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and most of the B vitamins. They are also a good source of protein and polyunsaturated fats. Due to their high nutritional content, the seeds are beneficial for healthy bones, bladder and kidney problems, in reducing cholesterol and for prostate health in men. The prepared seeds should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and eaten within 2 months.
Sesame: The tiny seeds are widely used in Cypriot cuisine in baked goods or to make tahini, or sesame seed paste (to make your own go to Cypriot Recipes section). Tahini is also one of the ingredients used to make humous and the confection helvah. The seeds also make a good addition to salads and as a topping to steamed vegetables. Sesame seeds should be sown directly at 6mm deep into a friable soil in early spring. Sow in rows at 60cm apart and keep moist until germination occurs which is usually 8-15 days. The plants should be thinned in stages until 25cm apart. Once established the plants are extremely drought tolerant due to an extensive root system. Sesame prefers a pH in the range of between 5.6 and 6.6. The plants grow, depending on the variety, up to two metres in height. The seed capsules develop at each leaf axil, starting at about 30cm from the ground, and are gradually produced up the stem. The seed pods are usually ready for harvesting from 90 to 150 days after sowing. Watch carefully, and harvest dried pods regularly and pop open into a large container. The seeds are exceptionally rich in calcium with 90mg present in every tablespoon. Once harvested the seeds can be lightly roasted in a frying pan, which has been wiped with olive oil, until they go light brown which should only take one to two minutes. Once cooled, the seeds can be stored in an airtight jar, at room temperature, for up to four years.
Sunflower: Sunflower seeds make a delicious snack. For information on the nutritional value of sunflower seeds, how to harvest the seeds, processing and storing go to the section on Preserving and Storing Produce. Sunflowers are easy to grow and prefer a rich, fertile soil and full sun. Sow seeds directly in early March at 2.5cm deep, in a soil with a pH of between 5.7 to 8.0. The seeds will germinate in about eleven days. Keep watered until well established, after which sunflowers are quite drought tolerant. However, to grow sunflowers to their maximum height regular watering and additional fertiliser is required. Thin to 60cm apart in all directions and provide support against wind damage. Sunflowers will reach maturity in about 85 days and reach a height, depending on the variety, of between 1-2.5 metres.