There is something very satisfying about growing your own food. It seems that the closer you are to the production of something, the more pleasure can be derived from its consumption. Most vegetables are very simple to grow in your own garden, taste much better than their chemical-filled supermarket equivalents, and, as we all know, being self sufficient with your garden is just another way to bring down The Man and His System. Or something.

Growing your own food, if only a little of it, is a great skill, and good fun, too. If the following convinces just one of you to pick up a spade and try and grow just a single carrot, I'll be happy.

Potatoes

The potato is one of most important staples of the human diet. Every nation in the world eats some kind of potato. With over a hundred varieties, the potato can be planted early or late, and will grow in most soils, and withstand light frosts. White-skinned and red-skinned varieties with white flesh are the most common in home gardens.

When to plant

The exact time in which to plant your potatoes depends entirely on the variety you are trying to grow, but potatoes will be one of the first vegetables in your garden to be planted, in March; or the last, in July. Irish Cobblers and Norlands should be planted early in the year, Red Pontiac and Vikings midseason, Katahdin and Kennebec potatoes should be planted late on.

Spacing, depth and care

Instead of planting a single "seed", potatoes are instead grown from what are known as "seed pieces". These are either entire small potatoes, or potatoes that have been cut into two-ounce pieces. Each seed piece should have at least one "eye". These should be planted ten to twelve inches apart, and about three inches deep. If you are growing multiple rows of potatoes, these should be kept around twenty-four inches apart. A good mulch in your soil is usually helpful, and well-drained soil is a must. Soggy, cold potatoes don't grow.

After the potato plants have emerged, mulch can be applied to conserve moisture, help keep down weeds and cool the soil. When the potatoes emerge, start to build up loose layers of soil on top and around them. Eventually, the actual plant vine bits will die, and then it's time to harvest your potatoes.

Harvesting your potatoes

The actual potatoes will be about six inches under the soil, so you'll need to get down on your hands and knees and dig them up with a small trowel, or better still, your hands. New potatoes can be harvested before the vines die, around July, while larger, late potatoes should be dug up around September time. Potatoes can be stored over winter, as long as they are kept cool and in a dark place to prevent germination.

What on earth shall I do with all these potatoes?!

Garden peas

The pea is a frost hardy, cold weather loving vegetable that is remarkably easy to grow. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but I'm going to deal with perhaps the most common, the garden or English pea. Garden peas are easy to grow, easy to cook, and can be added to pretty much anything. Besides, I love eating chips-and-peas butties.

When to plant

Peas like it cold and moist, so planting early in the year usually means more peas. The soil you use should be moist but no so wet as to be sticky, and certainly not frosty. Although peas can survive a frosty night, it's best to give them a good head start first.

Spacing, depth and care

Peas should be planted about one and a half inches deep, in double rows. Peas like to huddle together for warmth, it seems. There should be a gap of around eight inches between double rows. Mulch added to the soil can help fertilise and keep the soil cool. If the growing vines are getting droopy, you should tie them gently to a cane or fence with some string, although most dwarf or intermediate varieties are self-supporting.

Harvesting your peas

When the pea pods look nice a round, the are ready to be picked. Pick a few every day, and see if they are edible yet - technically a pea is mature after it tastes best, so you need to catch them before their prime. The pods at the bottom of the plant mature earliest, so a full plant should be harvested over three or four days.

What on earth shall I do with all these peas?!

Carrots

The humble carrot is what is known as a cool-season biennial. What this means in English is that it grows best when it's cold - autumn and winter, and that it lives for two years. They come in lots of different varieties, but you grow them all in roughly the same way. Depending on the variety, they will take approximately fifty to eighty days to harvest.

When to plant

You should plant carrots in the spring, just as the soil in your garden is starting to soften after winter. If your soil is very sandy, then you may well be able to plant your crop earlier. You will need at least ten inches or so of soil dug over, more if you are using a long rooted variety like Tendersweet.

Spacing, depth and care

Carrot seeds should be planted about ½" deep, with no more than three seeds per inch. You should aim for your rows of carrots 12 inches apart. It will take around a fortnight for any kind of action to become visible, and chances are your nice, evenly spaced carrots will poke out of the soil all over the place. Once seedlings are visible, you may need to pull some up to give the others room: around one seedling per two inches square.

Harvesting your carrots

Once you think your carrots are about ready, and the appropriate length of time has passed, dig one up. Carrots are ready when the roots reach about two inches in length, and look, well, like a carrot. It may seem like a good idea to let them grow bigger, but big, overgrown carrots just don't taste as good. So dig or pull them up whilst they're fresh, and cut the top inch off. Refrigerated, a carrot will last around four to six months.

What on earth shall I do with all these carrots?!

Some kind of conclusion

Man's great success was his ability to domesticate animals and grow his own food. We have cultivated and bended nature to our own ends, and we have thrived because of it. But now, with the rise of an increasing fast food culture and instant gratification, we are losing the skills to grow our own ingredients and cook them ourselves.

Neither cooking nor growing your own food is hard, and the results are so much better. When you eat a meal that is the result of your own labour, you can taste your own satisfaction and the man hours it took to produce it. Hopefully this writeup has shown how easy it is to grow your own food. Many vegetables are as easy as putting seeds in the ground and collecting the produce a month later.

There is nothing mystical or magical about being able to grow plant or turn raw ingredients into food, but they are skills that are sadly dying out.

Resources and bibliography

  • Watch Your Garden Grow
    http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/veggies/
     
  • My grandmother
    Thanks, gran!
     

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