I was on my way to being a fully paid up product of the eighties before the birth of my first child, when I started to care about the kind of world that was going to be handed over to future generations. Moving from Manchester to Moffat in search of The Good Life, I was surprised to find myself working in local government and community development. Three children and a symbolic, millennial resignation from the world of salaried security later, I now work with my partner, David Major, in our award winning business White Hill Design Studio LLP. I also run the Lets Eat Local food scheme. David and I have a 45 acre smallholding in the beautiful Annan Water Valley, near Moffat, where we have planted over 4,000 trees, developed orchards and a forest garden and cultivated a lifetime’s supply of weeds (or plants for a future as we prefer to call them). I founded the Lets Live Local Community Interest Company in late 2007 and am a director of Nourish Scotland, which is working to change the way food works so it's fair, healthy, affordable and sustainable – for all of Scotland.
Left to steep all afternoon, and served with more cream than our doctor would recommend, it made for a melt-in-the-mouth, life-affirming plate of kind-of healthy(ish) deliciousness.
Obviously, I’ll need to try it again in a few days - once a few more berries have ripened - just to make sure it’s as good as I think.
After I’d scraped the last drops of syrupy berry juice from the bowl and basked in the feeling of wellbeing and general all-is-right-with-the world, I was reminded of how important it is to get a yield.
No, the hot weather isn’t getting to me, it’s just the name of THE must-have plant for your GYO garden and I’ve been ever so slightly obsessed with it for twenty something years now since I watched ‘All Muck and Magic’ on Channel 4.
Let’s be honest, we have so much of the wet stuff in reserve, we don’t even have to do it now the temperatures are scorchio and everyone is fighting for the last ice cream.
I’ve talked about how to water in a previous blog. But water is a limited and extremely valuable natural resource – we take it far too much for granted. As well as Peak Oil and Peak Soil (and lots more in addition to those twin peaks) there’s every reason to expect we’re heading for Peak Water in future too.
Seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I quickly found out, it was fraught with problems.
It’s not just that the slow and dry start to the 2013 gardening year would have resulted in weeks of me suggesting you look longingly at seed lists.
After all, GYO is about more than the utilitarian need to put food on our table. It’s about reconnecting with the luxurious abundance of the natural world and delighting in the gifts of nature; it’s about nourishing body, soul and community every time we sit down and share the best food money can’t buy with people we care about; it’s about wresting control of the food system back from agri-industry and learning how to fend for ourselves a little better.
If I’m honest though, my ‘savings’ on Grow Your Own greenhouse fruits and veggies don’t come close to covering the cost of the thing itself.
Why be stuck inside or waste time staying connected on your iGadgets when you could be relaxing and topping up your Vitamin D?
So this week’s blog is mercifully short and simple. I’m going to look at water… or more specifically watering.
When even your docks droop in the midday sun (despite their long taproots), it’s tempting to head straight for the watering can or sprinkler hose and spritz up your garden. And let’s face it, it’s rare for us to suffer a hosepipe ban in this part of the world, so why not?
From my earliest forays into the world of Growing My Own, I was taught to loathe weeds. To engage in a War on the Axis of Gardening Evil that is my abundant supply of docks, nettles, creeping buttercup and couch grass. To blitz them – first with chemicals and then, after a Damascene conversion to organics, with a lifetime of hand weeding.
Flicking through the pages, I came across his flowerdew salad – a stunning mix of colourful flowers and fresh herbs. It looked amazing – to me at least, though my work colleagues weren’t even slightly tempted by the idea of eating pansies with their cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce.
That was in 1993.
Hardly a day goes by without some new superfood being lauded in the press but few receive more accolades than the berry family. From your common or garden strawberry to its more exotic cousins the acai and goji - berries get top billing every time.
Now I get that may not sound like the most gripping blog theme in the history of Grow Your Own, but stick with it, because Soil Matters – big time.
A Guerrilla Gardener ‘adopts’ land they don’t own or have any legal rights over – typically an urban oasis of dereliction or a bit of lawn outside their block of flats - and uses it to raise food or flowers. Guerrilla gardeners sometimes work secretly at night to regreen their cities. Others do it in full view and use it as a way to involve shedloads of people from their community.
I don’t have much time to spare, but I love ‘growing my own’. And I’m really not even slightly keen on the weeding, digging and mowing.
Sounds like you too? Then there’s gardening technique that is both relatively new and as old as the hills that could be just the ticket – it’s called forest gardening.
If this is your first year of Grow Your Own, then little and often is a good maxim to follow. There’s many a time in my early days of growing that I’d sow a whole packet of seeds and then have 100 beetroot or lettuce all ready at the same time. You can expect some seeds not to germinate or to get nipped off by your resident slug or cutworm, so it pays to sow a little extra – but don’t go overboard.
Before you call the Scottish SPCA to complain, I should make clear that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog and the only battle is one of wits. Which I am losing. Miserably.
Whether you’re an avid or just an aspiring Grow Your Owner, if you have a medium to biggish bit of garden there’s something you really should be doing right about now. As the weather turns a tiny bit warmer it’s time to get your heap started!
At least his April had something happening, even if it was only ‘stirring dull roots with spring rain’. There’s not a lot of stirring going on in our plot, and not a lot of rain either. The ground is still as hard as stone and I can’t remember the last rain shower we had.
Yesterday, I was looking round the smallholding, searching for signs from nature that spring was coming. Apart from a few leaf buds and a peely wally attempt from the grass at growing under my feet, we may as well have been in February.
But there’s a Groundhog Day thing going on with winter this year. Heavy snow and high winds just keep on coming and there’s little point risking planting anything in the ground just yet.
You need to grow what you love to eat and in the right quantity. Yes, of course you could grow enough courgettes to feed the rest of Scotland, but, as I know from bitter experience, once you’ve done five weeks of courgettes with everything and your friends start to run and hide when they see you coming with the odd 5 kilo or so, their attraction tends to pall.
This morning sunshine means that once I get my ‘weekend catch-up’ chores out of the way (no breakfast in bed at our house!) I’ll be rushing outside to plant a few seeds and kick-start my growing season.
While trying to persuade a mature honeysuckle into a new pot, I managed to impale my foot on an old and surprisingly sharp stalk from last year’s tansy. Ouch! - or words to that effect.
Still, it’s a timely reminder to wear the right gear for gardening. This definitely does not include M&S leather slip-on bow pumps – even if, like me, you’re only planning a quick five minutes of working outside. You never know when a bit of old perennial will jump out and get you.