‘Did you actually grow these? In our garden? In the ground? Seriously?’ The daughter poked a potato with her fork (less than enthusiastically, it has to be said).
‘Yes, and the lettuce.’ I beamed in bountiful, Earth Mother-ish fashion.
‘Oh,’ said the husband, toying with his salad, equally unenthusiastically. They are both rubbish at eating vegetables at the best of times. The fact that their lunch had been pulled from the soil only that morning was not working in its favour.
This is what I, as the ‘gardener’ in our family, am up against. That, and the garden itself. Things that I plant do not tend to do well. The peas shrivelled, the spring onions were stunted, the spinach bolted and the plum tree is looking very poorly indeed. And things that I haven’t planted do fantastically well. Russian vine, cleavers, bindweed, spurge, thistles . . . and, oddly, tomatoes.
I thought these were weeds too, at first, but decided to leave them, just in case. Now we have a bed full of thrusting tomato plants, which have apparently sprouted from my top-dressing of home-produced compost. It must be potent stuff: they’ve completely dwarfed the carrots, crowded out the broad beans and are starting to challenge the apple tree we planted in the Spring. Isn’t Nature just marvellous?
I only hope the tomato plants produce actual fruits. At least then I can make chutney. Chutney is the one thing – apart from a massive courgette plant that resembled Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors – I managed to make from my time as an allotmenteer. I started to chart my experience in my blog on 1 January 2009. Tellingly, the final entry for ‘Diary of an Allotment Virgin’ is written one week later. I did stick it out longer than that but the couch grass-weeding and mono-diet of courgettes eventually did for me.
Allotments are great if you’ve got the time to devote to them and I’m in total awe of those folk with organised, well-tended plots. However, we found that even with three busy people (me and two mates) sharing one half-plot we couldn’t keep up. The digging was therapeutic but if you left things for more than a week it started to revert to its previous hayfield status. I tried to rally the family to help, but all they ever did was wander down and singe marshmallows on a smouldering bonfire.
Still determined to grow veg, I abdicated from the allotment team and decided to dig up half the back garden instead. My parents have already done this back home and are almost self-sufficient already. They are now experimenting with all manner of exotic crops, though I got a bit confused when Mum started mentioning their ‘rabbi’ (turns out they’re growing kohl rabi, a turnipy kind of thing with weird stalky leaves that looks a bit like an alien spaceship).
If you don’t fancy digging up your back garden – or don’t have one – you can help yourself from Edible York’s first communal bed, inspired by the Incredible Edible movement in Todmorden, Lancashire, which has got the whole town growing. I went along to visit it in Paragon Street, next to the Barbican, and was delighted to hear how keen the council’s Neighbourhood Pride team is on collaborating with the scheme. More sites and opportunities are already being planned.
This is really good news because we are going to need to become more self-sufficient in the future and food growing is one way to create local resilience. Some schools have already got going with raised beds and allotment clubs, which a group of enterprising pupils is hoping to link up through a York Edible Schools co-op. The Yorkshire in Bloom judges were shown around some of the school (and other) projects yesterday. Perhaps these could they be the forerunners of something new? How about a ‘York in Season’ competition next?
There are already loads of initiatives going on locally, from YUMI’s new multicultural garden at the Danesgate Centre to a community orchard in Fulford, and from guerrilla gardening by a sub-station (anyone spotted the rogue gro-bag?) to food-gathering expeditions organised by Abundance York. Keep a look out for the latter distributing the spoils of their urban harvest in York on the Day of Kindness on 13 August.
And if you see a woman handing out tomatoes, it might be me. After all, there is only so much chutney a person can make.