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Monday, 26 May 2008

All Things Edible

For me, one of the most appealing things about having a garden is the possibility of growing my own vegetables and becoming self sufficient – well not exactly self sufficient, I’m a meat eater after all but you get my drift. Well now I have it… to date I have two thriving pots of lettuce, 7 tomotato plants, 3 pots of beetroot, 2 pepper plants and my most recent addition, 10 little pots of red onion seed.

Perhaps my pride in my little vegetable patch is a little premature given that the only thing that’s ready to eat is the lettuce, and my partner and I aren’t able to eat it quickly enough so it’s starting to wither. But, still, I wasn’t expecting my friend’s slightly dismissive comment during an evening on the roof terrace, ‘oh growing vegetables, it’s great isn’t it, it’s so trendy now too, everyone’s doing it.’ Now I don’t take offence easily, but I was offended. ‘YOU DON’T GET IT’ I wanted to shout. The romance of growing vegetables lies in the premise that it’s not just part of a trend. Exactly the opposite in fact, it’s an attempt to remove yourself from a consumer driven society. To only produce what you need (there’ll only be one pot of lettuce next year), to learn to care for and understand what you are producing, and to work hard to produce it. And as a new-comer to this gardening malarky, it is damn hard work.

Suddenly there are so many things to consider. When I buy my fruit and veg at a supermarket, I merrily ignore the chemicals that have been used to grow and and protect the plants I’m eating. When I grow them on my roof terrace I’m suddenly filled with paranoia. Will the dye from the wool I’ve used to tie my tomato plants contaminate the fruit? What kind of fertiliser is safe to use? Is this whole exercise going to be fruitless anyway given the levels of pollution in London?

The tomatoes started off so well, lovely, little shoots grown from seed that grew and grew. Then, we went on holiday and came back to what can only be described as natural selection in action. Half of the shoots were dead and disintegrating, and the other half, for reasons unbeknownst to me had tripled in size and were literally bursting out of their containers. The survivors were swiftly transferred outside into appropriately sized pots. The next day London was hit by a frost, seven survived. They’re now doing well with no fruit yet but full of clusters of beautiful yellow flowers.

The BBC Website tells me that I should be aiming to have single stemmed tomato plants and to achieve that I have to snap the other branches off. What?? This seems to be a familiar theme throughout the gardening world, lovingly nuture your plants from seed, and then when they’ve grown to a reasonable size, ruthlessly destroy the weak to save the strong. Logically I realise my garden is not the site of an epic battle of morality and that at some point the deed will have to be done, but until I’m ready to pluck up the courage to do it, my toms will remain multi stemmed.

The beetroot are my greatest source of pride.
The Guardian newspaper gave away a guide to gardening that advised soaking the beetroot seed in water for 24 hours before planting. Now I have no control sample to compare them to but the beets have done amazingly, their healthy green leaves stained with the unmistakeable red of beetroot make me smile every time I see them. However, I have no idea how I’ll know when they’re ready. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) say that there are three harvests, starting in June ending in October. To my mind that’s four months of wondering and waiting and a massive window of opportunity to get it wrong. I’ll keep you posted…

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