Thursday, 20 May 2010

Why do people grow their own food?

Mr G and I have been discussing quite a lot lately, why people grow their own food. After all, there are two perfectly good supermarkets just over 5 miles away from our house. I'm sure that many of our neighbours (who do grow their own veg, and even early potatoes) think we're odd for wanting to grow our own maincrop potatoes for storage when we could buy a 25-kilogram sack of local spuds for £3-£6.

But there are so many reasons why one would want to. I like that I can eat the skins of my potatoes and know that I'm eating vitamins and nutrients, not pesticides. And we love the fact that, aside from the cost of transport of the seed potatoes to our house, our potatoes have effectively been grown entirely without oil input. They're fertilised with compost and horse manure from the horses in the field beside the allotment, and they're harvested and taken home by bicycle.

And that's the answer we've come to. I've been moving towards self-sufficiency, with varying levels of rapidity and sucess, for well over a decade, because it's in my makeup. It started from being a chef and wanting to know the provenance of my food, to growing my own food to ensure I had the best and freshest ingredients, to learning more about permaculture, having an efficient food system and wanting to take responsibility for my own consumption. It became compulsive: I feel a need to provide for my family. And there you have it: once you start, it's very compulsive to be able to provide.

I've always been amazed that as a culture, we've put the entire security of one of our most essential needs for life into the hands of the multinational companies. In direct opposition to the "just in time" method of food providing that most people rely on now (using the supermarket as their food store), this way of thinking about your food supply is part of the "siege mentality". Not only do I know where my food has come from, being reliant on yourself for your food supply means that you will never go hungry. I've always struggled to understand panic buyers, who strip a supermarket of bread at the first sign of a snowfall. When I run out of bread, I pull the (locally grown, stone-ground in a local watermill) flour out of the pantry and bake more.

And it's really rewarding to enjoy a huge potato tortilla for brunch, knowing that all of the ingredients have been produced by your efforts.

So what does this have to do with all the posts I've been making lately about the progress of the garden and eating our own food? Everything. Mostly though, this is so compulsive that I chose to take two days off work at the start of this week, to catch up on all the spring tasks that I felt were getting away from me. Which mostly involved finishing all of the digging in the allotment. Although it might seem late in the year to still be digging and building garden beds, it's been a long, cold spring here, with the weather only just starting to warm up enough for decent spring/early summer planting.

I enjoy digging, I find it quite peaceful, but I don't subscribe to digging a garden on the whole. I have always been a no-dig gardenener, preferring to let the worms do the digging for me, and this garden bed has proven the effectiveness of that. In this case I'm making an exception, so that I can form the beds and loosen the hard clay soil of the allotment to give the roots of my veg a chance to penetrate. This bed is to be the tomato, courgette and squash bed; all the hungry feeders. I dumped barrow load after barrow load of well-rotted horse manure on this bed back in January and let time, worms and weather do their thing. You can see in the photo above that although heavy weeds such as dock had set in, the manure had done a good job of rotting down. The quality of the soil was really obvious in this bed, compared to untreated parts of the garden, which in this dry weather are concrete-like hard-pan clay.

This photo shows clearly just how many worm holes there were in the soil. Every one of those gaps is a worm hole. It was full of worms, especially compared to other parts of the garden. And they were huge:

Big worm compared to a normal-sized worm

This all makes me very happy. I feel I won't need to dig after this year, except for planting and collecting potatoes. Mulching will do the rest for fertility for me.

After a couple of half days, I had the allotment looking less like a patch of bare dirt and more like this:

All the digging done!

This is the allotment in its final form now. The closest three beds, in the right of the photo, are the potato patch. The next to the right are the combined carrot, onion and radish bed in the front, and vast quantities of garlic behind. The next, with the cloche frames over, will be the cooking greens (pak choi, stir fry greens etc) bed. The cloche frame is to protect the greens from the deer. Behind that will be the courgettes, melons and squashes. I hope to plant those out this coming weekend, now that it seems the frost risk has passed. The next bed on from there will be the bean beds, and soon there will be teepees running all the way down them.

Next time, I'll post more of an update on how the veg themselves are doing. But for now, I think it was a really worthwhile use of two days of leave time.


Leigh said...

"...because it's in my makeup"

That sums it up perfectly. It's not a matter of simply liking to do it. It's a matter of being incapable of not doing it.

Alison said...

Yes. It's a part of me, too. And the thing that has stuck with me most in this post - the thing that means I've left it marked as 'unread' for ages in my feed reader, just so I remember to reply - is this bit:

"I feel a need to provide for my family. And there you have it: once you start, it's very compulsive to be able to provide"

And, you know, I think that neatly encapsulates why some things appeal to me as hobbies (weaving, knitting, sewing, gardening, brewing), and others don't (felting, cardmaking, bead weaving etc.). The ones that appeal are about provision, succour, comfort. Not all necessary, and not all efficient, but more 'core' to a healthy comfortable life than the others.

Geodyne said...

You've both managed to say in a sentence or two what I was trying inarticulately to express.

"provision, succour, comfort"...yes. That's what it's all about. And also for taking responsibility for your consumption, rather than relying on someone else's skills and knowledge. And being incapable of doing anything else!

Speaking of I'm wearing my first-ever, handspun and hand-knit sweater.