Eat your greens... after you've grown them
What could be better than eating fruit and vegetables grown in your own back garden? It's easy to recreate The Good Life at home, and you'll be joining a growing trend
Sunday 06 July 2008
Anyone who's anyone is growing their own fruit and veg these days. Two summers ago the press printed shots of Kate Moss driving back from the garden centre with Pete Doherty clutching an ornamental rose. It's a matter of time before Heat does this year's pictures of her, with Jamie Hince holding onto starter trays of baby leek plants and a couple of bags of onion sets.
Aside from wanting to keep up with trends, there are plenty of good reasons to grow your own. For some, it's about the cost-benefit analysis. Here's my mate Becky: "I worked out I was spending about £8 a week on bags of salad, lots of which went mushy in the bottom of the fridge – we never used a whole bag, and then if we ran out, someone had to drive to buy another. Now we grow salad in tubs outside the back door, and we don't cut it until we need it. You don't have to be a good gardener to do it – just sow and water. And, it tastes like the kind of fresh leaves you get at a French market, rather than from inside a plastic bag. Best of all, we are now only spending £1 a month. That's a saving of £350 a year."
For others, it's an excellent way of getting their kids to eat something green, like mum Katherine: "My daughter Esme wouldn't touch vegetables, and I just kept feeling like I was doing something wrong – especially as you're always hearing about how we ought to eat five helpings a day. Letting her look after the plants made a huge difference: now she really joins in on the eating as well as the growing."
So what are the secrets of growing your own? For Becky, the biggest hurdle was getting round to having a go. "I had to go and buy the tubs and compost, although you can order them to arrive by post too. And you need to check your plants and water them at least every couple of days. But it's one of those things – as soon as you try it, you feel really shocked that anyone's doing it any other way – because it's really easy and completely satisfying."
Beginner growers often worry that they aren't doing things quite right, so there's nothing more comforting than having an expert grower on hand to advise you. Find a willing grandma or uncle to help, or buy yourself the hard-earned wisdom of one of vegetable growing's honorary aunties: Joy Larkcom and her book Grow Your Own Vegetables is a national treasure (Frances Lincoln, £9.99). Or if you prefer your veg slightly more laid-back and hippyish, treat yourself to Carol Klein's Grow Your Own Veg from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) at £16.99. Supplement all this with the 24-hour presence of fellow growers on the internet, where the best sites include the RHS and Gardeners' Worldas well as Grow your own magazine at http://www.growfruitandveg.co.uk/
The biggest problem you encounter will probably be molluscan: slugs and snails can wreak havoc in a single night. I'm assuming that one of the reasons you're growing your own is to avoid chemicals on your food, so let's rule out slug pellets. Growing in tubs, you can wind copper Slug Stoppa® Tape around their necks, which will completely prevent slimy enemies from getting in. You can also use this around the wooden edge of a raised bed, fixing with carpet tacks for extra longevity. Once you've established your cordon sanitaire, you could also consider treating the soil with nematodes, a biological control. But running out and stepping on the monsters will be the quickest way to control numbers.
Finally, be realistic about what you are capable of. If you are a constant gardener, you can feel confident about trying most things. But if you are a stop-and-start type, begin with a simple crop like potatoes, which requires a bit of fuss at planting and then can be left alone except for watering. My friend Alex has trouble getting himself to the allotment, but looks out of his garden office onto a beautiful old apple tree. Cider making has become a mainstay autumn activity in his house, with the kids running up the branches to pick and a beautiful old cider press in use. He offers me a glass to try: it's extraordinarily light, simple and fresh tasting. Maybe we really could get Kate Moss on this bandwagon.
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