Are you growing your own fruit or vegetables yet? Have you ever been tempted? We live in an age where we’re increasingly stretched for time, where supermarkets provide us with cheap, instant, clean veg that only needs a quick rinse before being fired into the pan, no chopping required. You might wonder why you need to grow it yourself at all; when there’s so much availability, what’s the point?
Whether it’s a few simple herbs on the windowsill, some salad leaves on the patio or a field of potatoes, there are many reasons why you should learn to grow it yourself.
Growing Your Own Food is Empowering
Food is vital to our existence, it’s a basic life skill yet, like children, we rely on someone else to provide it for us. Unless it’s organic, almost all of our field crops are being sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, being shined with wax or cleaned with bleach. Before they reach the shelves as ‘products’, they’re having additives or preservatives added to them. When you grow it yourself, you know exactly how they’ve been produced, where they’ve come from and whether they are pesticide free.
We Never Know When We Might Need to Know
Ireland only imports around 30% of its fresh vegetables (and, incidentally, 90% of its chicken) yet it took just one week for the shelves to empty in 2009/10 as trucks couldn’t distribute food when the country came to a standstill after heavy snow. As our climate changes we don’t know what’s ahead of us. Locally grown food provides us with some food security.
It Provides You with a Never Ending Sense of Wonder
Adults love it, kids love it. Watching people’s faces when they see food growing in the garden isn’t only magical, it’s an education. There’s a true sense of joy when we see petals falling and pea pods forming, when you take the very first bite of a carrot grown from seed or dig up a basket full of potatoes that unearth themselves like buried treasure when you loosen the soil with a garden fork.
Freshly Picked Fruit & Veg Taste Amazing and are So Good for You
When you pick food fresh from our gardens and cook it immediately, the flavours are better and the food is packed full of nutrients. It’s impossible to describe the taste of some purple sprouting broccoli that’s been picked fresh from the garden and steamed, to that which has been cold stored and transported from the trucks to the supermarket shelf to your fridge.
You Can Save Money
Arguments are tossed back and forth that growing it yourself can save you money. In the end, it will depend upon how you produce your fruit and vegetables, whether they’re grown in raised beds or containers. However, when you see how many kilos of blackcurrants can grow on one bush that cost less than €10, a bush that will keep producing fruit for years to come, and then make the comparison to the quantity, flavour and price of a summer punnet, the savings are immeasurable.
You Get Free Dinners
Once you’ve bought the seeds, sets or tubers, there’s no more outlay. With a bit of TLC, the fruit and vegetables will grow until you need them, or they need to be harvested. When you grow it yourself, you’ve always got a nutritious meal nearby and will never be caught short. It may be in kit form but throw those potatoes, leeks, herbs and garlic together, add some stock to a pan and you’ve instantly got enough soup to feed a family or a heap of unexpected visitors.
It’s Good for Your Health
Apart from helping with fitness as you wield your forks and spades, research has shown that when our hands touch soil our bodies release serotonin that help us to feel better; our “happy hormones” are set free. Horticultural therapy is a recognised form of healing that can help with everything from mental health issues to strokes and disabilities, or it can simply put us in a better mood and help us to cope with day-to-day stresses.
It Reconnects Us with Nature
Almost as soon as you start to grow it yourself, you begin to notice nature and the environment around us. You’ll become aware of the seasons and the weather patterns, the insects, birds and bees in the garden and the importance of good soil. You’ll become appreciative of the work farmers do and the challenges they face feeding us all, as well as how precious water is and the dangers of pollution.
The most useful piece of advice I can give you is to start small. Growing, maintaining and harvesting vegetables can take time. People often start out full of enthusiasm, digging over lots of land and sowing heaps of seeds, only to find it takes up more of their time than they have to spare so they end up giving up all together.
Visit Garden Centres
Garden centres are your best friends when you start to grow it yuorself. You may be able to pick up plants and seeds cheaply in value stores but you don’t get expert advice and help. Garden centres employ qualified horticulturalists who can answer all your queries, make recommendations for plants that will grow in your area and your type of soil and advise you whether they can grow inside or out. Most garden centres are now offering free or low cost workshops to help people learn and improve their growing skills.
Join a Forum or Local Growers Group
There are lots of growing forums on the internet these days and local GIY groups that meet monthly, with people who are more than happy to share their experience and advice. Whether they’re on Facebook or different gardening websites, look around for a group that matches your needs and join it.
Find a Social Community Garden
The Community Garden Network have mapped over 160 community gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland and are constantly finding more. These are ideal places to start growing as there are members in them with all kinds of experience and everyone shares the work and the produce. They usually only ask you to volunteer for a couple of hours each week so they are the ideal start if time is precious. Community gardens often run gardening courses and have guest speakers too so you learn the different techniques in the gardens and can replicate them at home.
Grow Herbs in Containers
Garden centres have been stocking an increasingly lovely and useful range of herbs. Buy small plants of herbs that you use a lot in the kitchen, add them to a container full of compost and leave them in a sunny place so you can pick leaves as you want them.
Sow a Few Seeds
A seed is a living organism that simply wants to grow. Buying ready grown plants is a great way to start but not very cost effective. There’s something very special about planting a seed and watching it germinate, seeing it open its first leaves and grow into something beautiful that will eventually feed you. Clear a bit of soil and sprinkle a few seeds in a row, cover them over and pop a marker in, keep the area free from weeds, then water and watch what happens. In time you’ll need to learn about crop rotation and feeding your soil, the pests to watch out for and other various techniques but, for now, simply sow some seed. You never know where it might lead you.
Dee Sewell is a horticulturalist and award winning blogger who owns Greenside Up, a social enterprise that works with community gardens in Carlow & Kilkenny and teaches people how to grow fruit and vegetables. She’s also one of the founding members and coordinators of the Community Garden Network that supports community gardening in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Apart from working out in the community, this year Dee is running gardening courses from her home, helping people to grow food organically. The Greenside Up website and blog contain pages of gardening help aimed at beginners as well as recipes and stories about her own homelife that might help or inspire.