At the start of this year I set out to write a series of Outside the Back Door articles focused on different aspects of climate change and how we can all do our bit to improve the environment. Against this month I noted down, “Grow your own”. At that moment I could not possibly have foreseen that the global lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic was about to cause the most enormous surge in interest in people growing their own food. As tinned tomatoes vanished from the supermarket shelves, so did packets of vegetable seed from every garden centre and then, as the garden centres closed, from every online supplier in the country. I just checked some of the well-known seed companies and discovered that two are still trying to fulfil orders placed three weeks ago whilst another has deployed an online queuing system before you can even enter their website!
One thing I have learnt from this current crisis, I’m not someone who jumps onto bandwagons! At no time in the past few weeks have my kitchen cupboards been overloaded with pasta or flour and my bathroom is not stuffed full of loo-roll! However, as I patiently wait to see whether last year’s packet of parsley seed will still germinate, I slightly regret this attitude and what is turning out to be the mistaken belief that these huge surges in demand would soon flatten out and we’d be able to buy things as normal, well at least online. As a result, I find myself advocating growing your own veg at a time when my own veg plot is looking a little less full than normal.
That said, wouldn’t it be marvellous if this crisis produced a whole new generation of gardeners? Or at least brought about a greater recognition of what it takes to grow food for our tables?
Interestingly, the ‘grow your own’ trend was already booming in the UK, fuelled by a combination of growing concern for the environment; concerns about the use of pesticides; and the growth of Veganism. If you are growing good yourself, you know precisely what has gone into it.
When I started experimenting with growing my own vegetables on our small plot in the garden, I really wasn’t sure whether I would keep it going but my interest has definitely increased, enough to consider whether we might even venture as far as an allotment one day.
Before digging up a sizeable bit of lawn, I read around a great deal to help me decide what to grow and one of the most useful pieces of advice which sticks in my mind was stating the obvious really – grow what you like to eat! This is so true! I like courgettes but my husband doesn’t. Even one courgette plant can produce a considerable amount of fruit, not to mention that they are monsters that take over every inch of available space and, if you’re really lucky, become unsightly as their leaves are prone to mildew! He doesn’t like tomatoes either but they are more versatile and store more easily plus you tend to be quite popular with friends in either sharing out spare plants or spare fruit later in the season!
It’s interesting to discover how loyal you become to certain varieties of vegetables over the years. For me, Sungold tomatoes are by far the best. When it comes to peas and beans, Hurst Green Shaft and Cobra respectively seem to do well in my garden so I stick with them. Perhaps if I had more space or more mouths to feed, I might be tempted to experiment a bit more.
Growing your own produce is only satisfying if you eventually get to eat it. I quickly abandoned lettuce in my veg plot as it simply fed the local slug and snail population. Instead, I sow seed into large trays and I can create my own pick and mix selection of chard, rocket and red oak leaf lettuce, all of which seem to grow well this way.
Returning to the main impetus behind this article, the climate crisis, why is growing our own food good for the environment? There are many answers to this so I will simply pick out the things that stand out for me. Vegetables, and I include salads and herbs within that, are great for enhancing the biodiversity in your local plot. You need insects to pollinate your crops, the insects need you to grow them to get the food they need to survive too. It’s the perfect working relationship. Home grown produce doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic in order to transport it or extend its shelf-life. The fact it doesn’t need to be transported wins on the pollution front too. As the grower, you are also in control in terms of reducing pollution from pesticides. Finally, with careful management, you can also reduce your food waste as you pick what you need. That said, sometimes there’s no avoiding gluts but there is always the freezer or a grateful neighbour!
I would love to end this article by extolling you to go out and buy a packet of seed and grow something edible for yourself but I fear that sourcing that seed may be a step to far just at present. But if you can’t grow something edible this year, there is always next!