I have started getting free food every day now, and it will only increase as we move into summer and autumn. It is such a relief. Having this free food helps me feel in control and stops me stressing about rising prices. I will always be able to make some kind of meal with what I have growing in my garden from now until October, and I don’t have to eat the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket that have had pesticides sprayed on them, or have been kept fresh using chemicals. That reduces my anxiety as I worry about the impact these chemicals have on us, especially on our children and grandchildren.
I don’t have lots of growing room in my garden or anything fancy like raised beds. A lot of it is paved with stone slabs. Most of my produce is grown in tubs and old buckets, or a little strip of land up the side of the fence. Tomatoes and courgettes I grow up the sides of paths and behind the tin shed that keeps them warm, and potatoes and salad leaves grow in the shady area of the garden sheltered by a tree. Beans, peas and cucumbers are in pots on the steps and grow up the lattice on the boundary and hopefully up a new rose arch. There are pots tucked into every space whilst leaving room for my grandson to play and myself to entertain.
It is the beginning of the season but I have had 4 courgettes so far. I have at least 20 plants and each one should produce on average 22 courgettes. Apparently in Sainsburys at the moment they are retailing at 89p each. I will use them in baking, in curries, as a side, in ratatouille, in omelettes for breakfast, and we will probably have them in most meals for the next few months. People grumble about gluts of courgettes but I find them so flexible. Sometimes I let them get bigger and stuff them with meat or spiced lentils, sometimes I spiral them and use them instead of pasta. They freeze ok spiralled as well.
I have about 5 kinds of salad leaves growing at the moment, including mizuna, rocket, red lettuce and giant cress. I will sow some more seeds every 3 or 4 weeks so that I have a constant supply of salad. As it gets warmer, I will move these to a shadier area of the garden. It is such a good feeling to be able to cut my salad, wash it and have it on my plate within 5 minutes. It is still full of nutrients and tastes so different to the bags of salad that you can buy. At the moment I am adding radishes and an odd pod of peas to my salad, grated courgette, herbs and young pak choi leaves.
Pak choi is a crop that I only started growing last year. It grows quickly and I plant some in spring and some in autumn as it bolts when it is hot. I am harvesting mine already. When the leaves are young, they are delicious in salad. I also use it in stir fry to bulk it out, or as an alternative leaf to make cabbage type rolls with rice, spices and meat in. Sometimes I will use it to make a side dish, and it is also nice added to a curry. As it grows so quickly, this is a great plant to fill the hunger gap. I plant mine at the end of February and I am eating them a couple of months later.
My first lot of potatoes are also ready now. I plant them early and shield them from frosts in the greenhouse. One good thing about growing things in containers is that you can protect them and move them around to suit the growing conditions. I plant some potatoes every few weeks and that way I get a steady harvest of potatoes and do not have to try and store them. The last lot that I plant in September are kept in the greenhouse with bubble wrap around them to protect them from the later frosts, I therefore get fresh potatoes for Christmas. They taste so much better.
Rhubarb is some thing else that I am eating almost daily now and it comes back year after year. Some will be frozen for winter crumbles or to put in smoothies later. By eating what is in season now, but also freezing part of the harvest, I can have a lot of variety in my meals all year without any food miles.
Herbs are the thing that have transformed my cooking. I cut them and dry them for winter and eat them fresh during spring and summer. Not only do I add them to my savoury dishes, but I make teas with them, garnish dishes with them and add them to salad. Herbs like rosemary and thyme can be picked from my garden all year. I use my mint to make mint chocolate ice cream and mint sauce, amongst other things.
This may not seem like a lot of food but my homegrown vegetables are providing me with fresh produce and vitamins and save me having to go to the shops. I therefore save money as I find that if I go to the supermarket I end up buying more than I went in for. Growing my own reduces waste as well as I only pick what I need and I meal plan around what needs harvesting.
Waiting in the wings are plenty of other fruit and vegetables growing in the garden which will provide seasonal food for my table. My hedge of blackcurrants that provide me with pies and crumbles during the winter and vitamin C in my smoothies are just starting to form, as are the cherries, the apples, plums and the pears. Some of these trees are grown in tubs. My raspberries were planted in a raised bed made on top of concrete with bricks and some homemade compost inside. I had nearly 8lbs last year and they are just starting to form now. During the winter I have used them in smoothies, in pies, in Eton mess and other desserts, and to flavour alcohol. They freeze really easily, and it is nice to know that I am preserving food to get me through winter.
My beans are starting to climb and my tomatoes and cucumbers are starting to flower. My peppers are needing bigger pots and my beetroot are ready for planting. The strawberries are flowering, the spring onions are getting thicker, and my onions are loving all this recent sunshine, their stalks and bulbs growing by the day. Garlic bulbs that were sprouting in my kitchen and planted 3 weeks ago are thriving, and will be used as wet garlic as there is no frost to divide them in to cloves, and my leeks will be ready in autumn. Last year I grew enough tomatoes to bottle lots of ragu sauce and they freeze really well too. The picture above is some I picked on one day last year when I returned from 5 days away.
I harvested the carrots in March that were sown in September, and the spinach sown at the same time only bolted in these last few weeks, as it got hotter. It provided me with a couple of handfuls of greens all winter and was only grown in a large mushroom box in the greenhouse.
This year I am growing some quinoa. Apparently, it looks quite pretty which is good as I often grow my vegetables amongst my flowers. I am growing a bit in the ground and a bit in tubs and so we shall see how it goes.
I often hear people say that they can not grow food as they live in a flat. When I first became a single parent, I lived in an upstairs flat and did not have a garden. I still grew food. I wanted to make sure that my children had fresh food on the weeks that I had little money. I had tomatoes, peppers and salad leaves growing on the window ledges. I have just grown radish recently on my window ledge at home. They were planted in a supermarket mushroom box and there were enough for 3 salads for 2 of us. I plant some every 3 weeks and slice and freeze some for the winter as they are great in stir fry.
Growing vegetables has always been a hobby for me and a way to subsidise my food budget, but this year it feels different. I am taking control of what I eat and of what I don’t want in my body, and I am not letting supermarkets or global markets dictate the amount of nutrition I can afford. I am growing a lot more to ensure that we have fresh, organic, nutritious food this winter. Have you found that you are wanting to grow more this year with everything that is happening globally, and with rising prices? If you are not growing anything yet this year, it is not too late to try. I am planting radishes, beans and lettuce this week, and lots of garden centres sell vegetables as young plants. This will save you at least a month in growing time, but they are a bit more expensive than growing from seed. Car boot sale and FB groups are often ways to get cheap vegetable plants too.