I am always happy to make it to ‘the other side of Christmas’. I’m not a great lover of the festivities – although ‘last year’ I did enjoy the enforced, rain-stops-play, indoor time and used it to create a ‘drying pod’ under the stairs, simply by clearing out the space, giving it a lick of paint (not essential) and introducing a dehumidifier. It works a treat, drying all my wet weather kit in just a couple of hours in the evening.
I also built another raised bed in an attempt to beat the rabbits to my leafy crops. Any preparation you can do in the garden at this time of the year will serve you well once the days start lengthening and the ground warms up – although things have hardly stopped growing during the last few months. I am still harvesting ‘unprotected’ rocket and mustard leaves – the rabbits don’t like the ‘hot leaves’ – which liven up a sandwich beautifully.
I also spent the Christmas break reading Ultra Processed People by Chris van Tulleken. It is a staggering read. Discovering just how food is processed – all food, not just the food we consider to be ‘processed’ – has resulted in a radical change in my own diet. I have never eaten ready meals and was pretty confident that my diet was relatively ‘healthy’. In terms of the macronutrients (fats, carbs and protein balance) it was but what I had totally overlooked were the ingredients that are in food as a result of the way it has been processed or made.
I chose wraps over bread for sandwiches in work, convinced they were healthier … it turns out that they are but only just! The supermarket bread rolls I ‘scrutinised’ had 24 ingredients whilst the wraps had 18. 18 ingredients in a wrap, for goodness sake–and half of them unrecognisable.
I will cover this more in my Fitness Column but for gardening purposes, it has meant that I will definitely be growing more of my own veg this year. And that means getting seeds in the ground. A friend grew a staggering amount of produce last year simply by using builders bulk bags of top soil. And sowing the veggie seeds directly in the bags. Each ton bag of soil was ‘halved’ to fill another bag (which can be bought separately) and she said that although it was still obviously a ‘financial investment’ as such, it saved all the time, money and labour involved in creating raised beds or digging over a fallow patch of ground.
I appreciate not everyone has the room, access or inclination to use this method but it will be an option for some. I think we often worry too much about the visuals, and images of wonderfully organised and laid out allotments feed our anxiety, but at the end of the day it’s simply about getting the seeds into soil.
Granddad used to grow really ‘hungry feeders’ like courgettes and squashes, directly into the compost heap to utilise the space and nutrients. My brother grows his potatoes in the chicken run as they will leave the top growth alone and yet are happy to fertilise the crop.
And although Granddad would have hated this option, I am a big fan of growing veg in beds and borders with your herbaceous plants and shrubs. A lot of veg is ‘pretty’ – the frothy carrot tops, runner bean flowers and the multi coloured leaves of rainbow chard will all add interest as well as content to your border.
And as I always conclude – if you cannot grow your own veggies or salad leaves then please remember that local allotments will often have a surplus and of course there are always the Farmer’s Markets and veg box systems to support. Make the most of the still-dark evenings to research, plan and order your seeds – as the saying goes, ‘Anticipation is the soul (or soil?) of enjoyment..'