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Grow your own: let the preparations begin

With winter well and truly here,  it may not seem like the perfect time to begin work on your gardens and windowboxes but as Nourish Scotland president Jane Gray explains, starting early will improve your chances of growing fantastic fruit and vegetables in 2013.

Starting your growing preparations now will give you the best chance of producing fantastic fruit and vegetbles in 2013
Starting your growing preparations now will give you the best chance of producing fantastic fruit and vegetbles in 2013

When I was a child, my Grandad let me go with him to his allotment every Sunday. This was a very big deal. Few people were trusted on his plot.

But the timing always clashed with Batman on the telly and I remember with shame my not-even-half-planted rows of onions or leeks or potatoes, abandoned as I dashed back home for a quick fix of American Superhero kitsch.

It was years until I discovered my food-growing mojo. Then, with a family and first home of our own, we planted a single sprouting Safeway potato in our new garden, little suspecting that one act of 'waste not, want not' would end with us owning a Scottish smallholding.

That first experience of growing was okay, but the tasting – WOW!!

Until you've tasted something you've grown and just harvested yourself, you haven't discovered the meaning of life. Looking at the limp, pale, overpackaged – and mostly tasteless – fruits and veggies that adorn our supermarket shelves, we've come so far from what real food tastes like, it's time to let our senses lead us into a new food revolution. Time for us to grow more of what we eat and eat more of what we grow!

That last bit is important – I've never had an 'I'll have some of what she's having' moment from a ready meal, and I bet you haven't either. But some of the meals we've made with fresh, seasonal and – yes, I admit – organic veg, have blown me away. Food is, after all, the new sex. Or was that last year? 

I say this, of course, as I survey the devastation that is the 2012 growing season – the worst for 60 years. If you have space to grow maybe, like us, your principal crop of 2012 has been the Common or Garden Slug. It's not easy being green-fingered.

The forgiving thing about growing is that it is cyclic, what goes around comes around and you always have a second ... or third or fourth or however many chances you need to get it right.

So even at this time of year, and even if your 2012 harvest so far has been a wash out, and even if you've never grown your own before but would like to try, there's lots you can do.

This weekend, we'll be taking an overgrown bit of our plot (and there are many) and covering it in a thick layer of cardboard and organic mulch (old straw or 4 to 5 inches of wood chips). Then we'll just let nature and brandling worms and a host of helpful mini beasts do their stuff and create a clean patch of land for  plantings (with the added benefit of very little weeding – at least until the middle of 2013). Even with our existing veggie patches, we'll do the same to get the soil in good heart over the winter without us needing to sharpen a spade or see an osteopath after a day's digging.

If I get chance, I'll be capturing the rustle of all those lovely drying leaves to make leafmould. We have an open 'box' made with chicken wire and a few posts – I'm a great believer in going at nature's pace – but if you're in a hurry and can't wait until 2014 for probably the best soil conditioner in the world, you could collect leaves into a big black plastic bag with some lawn clippings to help it decompose more quickly.

But this weekend I plan to be mostly planting broad bean seeds – about 800 of them! There's plenty you could plant too to get a head start  – winter lettuce or summer cauliflowers, onion sets, shallots and garlic – garlic needs a cold snap over winter to help it split into cloves.

If all you have is a windowsill there's no need to go green with allotment envy. Children (and grown-ups too) can clean empty egg shells, fill them with moistened cotton wool and a generous sprinkle of mustard and cress seeds (drawing on a funny face is optional) and watch it sprout green 'hair' within days. Being a bit more grown up and planting up any shallow container would work even better of course, but it's great to get children involved in growing. Mustard and cress really packs a punch in your sandwiches and salads and you can grow them throughout the year. Why pay £1 or more for a sad and tiny plastic tray of cress when you can pay pennies and grow and eat your own freshly harvested crop?

The food revolution we need starts in our own kitchens!

Jane will launch her new HeraldScotland  Grow your own fruit and veg guide in mid January.

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