With many of us turning to the simple things for enjoyment, gardening, and growing your own food in particular, has become a new favoured past time. We spoke to food writer, gardener and cook, Mark Diacono, on his top tips for growing your own food. Mark’s new book, Grow & Cook: An A-Z of what to grow all through the year at home, is available to buy now.
If you have no garden, a few pots of big-flavoured plants can change every meal you eat; if you have little space, repeat harvest plants like courgettes and peas might be best for you; if you have little time, you’ll need plants like mint and thyme that virtually look after themselves.
Get your list of what to grow right by considering the following:
Grow what you most like to eat
Make a list of your favourite fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices. For me that’s asparagus, apples, peaches, quince, mulberries, pecans, the very earliest of new potatoes, Moroccan mint, sweet cicely, broad beans, and tomatoes. Then grow those that fit your time and space.
Grow just a few pots of herbs and a chilli plant or two and every meal can be transformed for little work, space or expense.
Grow what you spend most money on
Most allotments are dominated by main crop onions, potatoes and carrots, which are cheap to buy in the shops. It’s worth considering growing food that is expensive to buy such asparagus, herbs and tomatoes, and buying the cheaper foods.
Taste the Difference
Food such as peas, sweetcorn and beans lose sweetness and quality within a short time of picking, so you get them at their best if you grow them yourself. Similarly, it takes no more effort to grow a delicious variety of (say) peas than a perfectly ordinary one, so buy from specialist suppliers and pick flavoursome varieties.
Grow Some Unbuyables
Many of my favourite foods are rarely if ever available to buy: courgette flowers, kai lan, medlars, oca and Japanese wineberries are all delicious but if you want them, you have to grow them.
Embrace New flavours
Every year, grow at least two things you have never eaten before. This keeps your mind as well as your kitchen a place of fresh delight. Salsify, Vietnamese coriander, lemon verbena and chervil root are among the great many flavours few have eaten, and yours should you fancy.
Bite off what you can chew
It is better to make a small success – even a few pots – and enjoy it and work up from there if you want to, than take too much on. Anyone who tells you that gardening is too much time and effort has simply chosen the wrong scale for them.
Take photographs – as well as being a pleasure in itself, it helps you remember for subsequent years
Exchange produce/share seeds with neighbours and friends
Support smaller, specialist horticultural businesses through this most difficult of times where possible
Be in your garden when you can
Join online forums, groups and follow experts on social media