Who would’ve imaged any of us would say – I’m growing my own veg because of the global pandemic! Sounds like a quote from a 1950’s B-movie, but it’s not – it’s it’s here and it illustrates the very serious and strange times we are experiencing right now.
In the first few days of the Covid-19 restrictions we saw supermarket shelves empty, fresh fruit, veg, not to mention pasta and toilet roll unavailable as panicked shoppers hoarded food in vast amounts. Two-weeks later refuse collectors stated that there had been a 30-percent increase in fresh food thrown out due to being out of date or unused -a terrible waste!
While there was bedlam in the fruit and veg isles in the shops, seasoned gardeners relaxed in their allotments or vegetable patches, quite literally enjoying the fruits of their labour.
Some experienced gardeners produce fruit, veg and salad every summer and enjoy the tastier organic produce they nurtured themselves, sharing home-grown food with friends and neighbours.
There was nothing like a knock on the front door and a friendly smiley neighbour held up a bag of tomatoes, sugar snap peas, potatoes or spring cabbage that had just been dug up and shared – talk about fresh! The term, ‘grow your own,’ comes from World War I and World War II when private gardens and public parks became, ‘War Gardens,’ or, ‘Food Gardens for Defence.’ Governments across Europe, in the UK and America encouraged residents to grow their own food to supplement rations and boost morale, a sense of community and reduce pressure on the limited food supply.
And today pandemic gardens can do very much the same.
As the population has worried about the supply of food during this pandemic there has been an upsurge people growing their own fruit and veg for the first time. Of course, growing your own food is the epitome of self-sufficiency and positive environmental action. Ensuring you are not consuming fresh food flown half way across the globe for us to enjoy so reducing carbon emissions and waste, as well as avoiding fertilisers and pesticides – improving your green credentials instantly.
It is also great exercise and fantastic for emotional wellbeing allowing us all the connect with nature by learning about home grown food. And let’s not forget how good it tastes too. As a nation, the UK population suffers a vitamin D deficiency, by spending just an hour or so enjoying the great outdoors, using our gardens as a larder and not only a relaxing sanctuary we benefit on all levels.
You don’t need a vast garden, just a small space in a sunny patch, even a raised bed or two and if you don’t have a garden or a balcony you can grow herbs on your window sill, basil, parsley, chives, coriander, thyme or even a chili plant will grow well and it feel great to pick, chop and cook with home grown herbs in your kitchen.
How many times have we thrown away or composted the end of a leek, celery or spring onion. Instead place these ends into a small bowel in a shallow pool of water and watch them sprout. Once they have taken all you need is a pot and some compost – and hey presto a lovely little crop of veggies! On a balcony, you can easily grow tomatoes, spinach kale, rocket, watercress, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries as they can all be grown in containers. Having a raised bed or a border means you can grow potatoes, courgettes, green beans, beetroot, lettuce, cauliflower, onions, cabbage and chard and quite literally in a few months the world will be your loganberry – we mean lobster! And, of course BTfL would always encourage any of us, to plant a tree or two in your garden, be it apple, pear, quince or damson and not only enjoy picking the fruit, but to enjoy the beautiful spring blossom too as well as the trees providing a habitat for wildlife. Right now, your supermarket will be full of vegetable and salad seed packets and would almost always be considered a necessity to buy.
Growing tips from Guy Barter, the RHS’s chief horticulturalist
A sunny site is ideal, but more shade-tolerant crops include beetroot, chard, peas, runner beans, spinach and salads
Soil is ideal but if your plot doesn’t even support weeds it might be unsuitable. Growbags or containers filled with potting compost will give good crops where soil is not an option
Clear an area of weeds by digging. Ideally add garden compost or rotted manure and fertiliser to improve the soil
Sow seeds of whatever you like to eat. Crops that taste best freshly gathered are many people’s favourites – salads, tomatoes, new potatoes, chard and other leaf beets.
There is no need to buy expensive seeds, bargain ones in supermarkets meet the same legal standards
Seeds need warmth, moisture, light and air most easily provided by sowing in pots, covering very lightly with sieved compost and watering ideally from below by standing pots in a shallow dish of water
Sowing outdoors is best for peas and beans as many plants are needed for a decent serving. Leave a finger width between small seeds, two fingers between peas and a hand’s width between broad beans.
Water heavily every 14 days if drought strikes and keep weeds down.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables isn’t an art, it’s not specialist job, but it will need regular attention and watering, but the benefits will be wonderful when you bite into that home-grown tomato or spring onion in a tasty salad or enjoy that lovely corn on the cob or those crunchy sugar snap peas.
Gardening to grow your own needs a bit of patience, waiting happily to reap the benefits of your hard work. And as you dig, plough, pick and pull you may well find that the fresh produce isles in your supermarket become disowned as you continue to grow your own.
And as we all are frustrated by the anxiety and restrictions of today and hope they pass sooner rather than later, then we have tomorrow to look forward to and as Audrey Hepburn said: ‘to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’ And my, won’t those carrots taste delicious tomorrow!