First let me add a rider to a previous blog – Are you into the Resolution game this New Year? – I admit it. Yes I too had a New Year’s resolution, and with the 1st of February looming, I can in all honesty say this one is sticking. Actually it is not a real difficult one to keep as it is not a chore but pleasure to engage in, and it could be an important component for any non-obsessive’s lifestyle too. As its summer down here at the bottom of the world, my resolution was to start a veggie garden.
My kids believe it is a sign of my increasing dotage, but I tend to disagree. To me it is a further sign of my increasing awareness of the value of real food – and a way I can control access to an alternative to the lesser version offered by the super markets.
So how do the “fruits of the earth” that I have been growing differ from the ones I could pick up from the local grocery’s produce? First off they are ugly. The carrots are wonky and of differing sizes, the cauliflower is a miniature, closer to the size of a broccoli, and the cabbages have nearly as many holes in the leaves as there are leaves!
Secondly, the saving of money is a bit of a myth. It takes money to set up the plot, set up the watering system, buy the seeds and so on. You also have to contribute time to plant, weed and gather.
But the taste! There is no comparison. I tried some home grown mescaline lettuce alongside store bought and it blew it out of the water! I could actually feel the goodness. There is now a whole generation who do not actually know the real taste of food or what real food actually looks like. As Specialty Food Magazine reports, the size, shape, taste and colour are mandated by Big Food to ensure the farmers produce straight carrots, broccoli and cauliflower a particular size, and that their harvest plans fit in with retailers’ plans for the year.
The nature of the modern day food system is that the food we eat is often grown hundreds of miles away, in other countries, meaning it can be many days between harvest and your table. Today it also means adding to our personal carbon foot print. My produce, on the other hand can be collected within 10 footsteps of the kitchen sink!
Food waste is also a modern day affliction. In the UK (2018) around 10 million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away every year, seven million of which could be avoided. This means that each person in the UK disposes of around 150kg of food each year. Because I grow with an organic philosophy – no sprays, pesticides or excessive use of fertilisers, I also have a worm bin. This means that food leftovers, weeds and thinning are all recycled naturally by the worms back into worm poo and tea, which is a valuable fertilizer that the veggies love.
Today the range of available vegetable varieties is narrowing too, as producers now only grow “standard” varieties that are recognised to appeal to the public. This creates a downward spiral effect for choice as the public only buy what they know.
Take carrots for example. Did you know they used to be purple, not orange? Before the 17th century, there were purple, white and yellow varieties but to improve their appeal Dutch growers started to do some research and testing. They took mutant strains and after numerous generations, they got to the sweet variety we see today. Rumour has it that the Netherlands official colour of orange helped promote this variety too. However the purple variety is loaded with phytochemicals and vitamins, but f you have your own little plot you can grow the purple variety today – they are called Heritage Carrots!
Another side benefit is the numbers of “birds and critters” I have noticed around the yard of late. The flowering plants attract the bees while the growing plants attract the snails, cabbage butterflies and other nuisance bugs. These bugs are attracting the birds, prey insects, a hedgehog and spiders that eat the nuisance bugs, and in turn leave poop to further fertilize the plants – the circle of life and giving a very positive vibe to the whole place!
Health. Consuming your own produce you will know that they have been grown chemical free. When you pick vegetables right from your garden, the vitamin content will also be at its highest with no carbon footprint.
Exercise. Gardening is a physical activity and pulling weeds, planting, and digging can burn up to 400 calories per hour. Gardening is also a good mental exercise and can be quite therapeutic.
Natural stress relief. Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine can improve mood and make you feel rejuvenated and overall happy. Growing your own produce also gives you a great sense of accomplishment.
Connecting with nature. There is nothing better than getting in touch with nature by crumbling manure by hand, watching the butterfly’s frolic, listening to the bird song and watching hedgehogs snuffle in the long grass.
Life’s lessons. Whichever garden tool you want is always at the back of the shed. The only way to ensure rain, is to give the garden a good soaking. Weeds grow at precisely the rate you pull them out. Nothing ever looks like it does on the seed packet!