I’ve been growing food and gardening for flowers for as long as I can remember. I keep the seeds and I keep plants living their whole life for the animal biodiversity so there’s insects coming in and the birds eat the seeds. So there’s enough there for everyone.
I’m very keen about growing vegetables, their nutritional value, and just the fact that you can walk out your kitchen door and pick your dinner. Particularly in a world that’s got far too many pesticides and chemicals in it. So I value that. And also just the benefit to one’s health. I do it for my mental health more than anything else. London’s quite stressful, I couldn’t really be here without a garden.
I save seeds because of cost, and providence. Seeds that grow in your own location become stronger about growing in that space. Buying in seeds might have come from, say 150 miles away, and that’s a different kind of climate. So growing several generations of your own seed in its location means that’s strong and viable seed.
The portfolio of my seed box keeps growing. The seed box is really, really key. Ok I might move to a different area and they’re not actually from that area, but then you start again. The seed box is really important. And it’s cheap, well it’s free. The cost of seed is quite extraordinary actually. Six pumpkins seeds, you know, a couple of quid. And then it gives you something to share with your friends and encourage other people to grow. People come for dinner, share your food and you say “I grew this in the garden”. They are like, “Wow this is amazing!” I’m like, “Got some seed if you want to take some with you”. Send them in with a Christmas card maybe. So yeah, trying to spread the excitement to people who don’t have experience of gardening to get them involved. Because it is so simple.
I was raised on a farm. We grew all our own food in the vegetable patch and then we had animals and crops. So I’ve always been in that relationship, it’s in-built in me, it’s not something I’ve consciously gone out and learnt. Well I have a bit, I’ve gone and studied horticulture and have expanded what I know by working for other people. But in essence yeah it’s in me to grow things.
My mum, always, every year bought new seeds. I always thought it was a bit bonkers frankly but that’s what she’d do. It was an interesting time. Modern agriculture came in and slightly devastated all traditional farming methods. So the concept of saving seed went out the window.
Whereas I save seeds and I do my best not to buy seeds and in fact I do my best not to spend anything on the garden, the garden has to pay for itself. Twenty quid a year I probably spend on my garden. And I’ve gone back to more organic production and traditional farming and gardening methods, which is the kind of the difference between me and my parents’ generation. In the 70’s and on they were like “Get out the old, don’t need it any more.” And now I’m putting it all back.
Oh it’s a total de-stress. It’s meditative and it has a kind of compulsiveness, but that’s not a bad thing you know. Also, because you’re concentrating on something that’s a menial task, weeding, you can zone out. It’s a meditative thing. I wouldn’t be able to sit in a room and meditate. It’s having a task that’s quite simple that becomes a routine, or it becomes a natural thing to do for half an hour a day. If I’m working I’ll come back and garden for half an hour before I can relax. That is my relaxing time.
I grow it because it’s robust and it goes through the winter. It’s a hardy British arable crop. We grow it to feed cattle. It’s a new superfood for humans, but it really is quite an easy thing to grow. It’s not like other cabbage plants where you’re trying to get hearts and cabbages and you’ve got issues of white butterflies and caterpillars eating your crop. It’s the joy of cutting and coming again. You just keep hacking it back and it just keeps growing. I’m really keen on crops like that, particularly in a small space, so you’ve constantly got fresh greens without having to worry.
I was working in an organic garden last year and there were a couple of seedlings that were going in the bin that I rescued. I quite like rescuing plants. So I was eating the kale last year, left some to go to seed, which have now come to seed this year, ready to grow again next year.
I probably sowed them late April into a simple seed tray with compost. They don’t need to be propagated indoors, they’re quite a tough hardy plant. So just defending them from the slugs and snails, who love seedlings of any sort. Once they’re decent sized plants, three to four inches high, transfer them into the garden in rows. I actually did sow some direct. It’s just protecting them from the little critters. They’re quite quick to come up, maybe in a couple of weeks. And we’ve been picking it all summer. And that’ll be going through all winter.
I’ll leave one of them for next year, and that will be the next seeds. I’ll start again in spring from fresh crops. So it’s keeping it going and keeping a lifecycle whole for seeds.
I strip the leaves off the stem, wash them, chop them up and steam them. It’s really nice to walk out the door, grab whatever green thing is out there, chop it up, stick it in the pan, fry it off for a little bit, add a little chilli and an egg and that’s generally my breakfast every day.
Keep one plant, let it flower, and when its seed pods are full, and it’s starting to dry, cut it and hang it up. Winnow it over paper on the table. Basically scrunch up the seeds, they will all fall down and you get rid of the waste, that goes back in the compost, and then fold up the paper, pour it into a jam jar, and envelope, and that’s your seeds. Make sure they dry. It’s good to keep in envelopes because there is some kind of exchange if there’s any moisture left.
This is a large variety of winter squash, with delicious yellow flesh. I started growing it about four years ago. I bought the seeds originally from Tamar Organics. I started out with a pack of six because when you buy squash seeds you don’t get many. Since then I’ve been keeping my seeds and getting more and more and more, and been sharing them with friends.
I wanted a vegetable that could sit through the winter, that you’re like, “Shoot we’ve got to eat tonnes of this at the moment.” These can keep, as long as you keep them in the cool, for months. This one’s four and a half kilos. We’re still eating the soup that I made on Monday, so it’s given us many meals of that.
I make my own paper pots, fill them with compost and put a seed in, a couple of inches deep. Add water. Squash seeds like heat to propagate, so you need to keep them indoors around twenty degrees. Anything less than that they don’t really like it. I make my own propagator out of a clear plastic box, upside down so the base is the lid. Then you keep them watered and warm. In a week they’ll pop up. When they’re sturdy little plants, three to six inches, I’ll transplant them to the garden. And then they basically run riot around the garden. It’s quite incredible how fast they grow. Keep them watered and wait.
I sowed them on the 15th of May and the first squash seeds poked up on the 22nd. We picked this one in September. There’s a couple of smaller ones still out there. I’ll bring them in before the frosts start happening because then they’ll start to rot.
The key thing about squashes is you mustn’t plant them too close. They mustn’t be less than a meter and a half apart because they’ll suffer from mildew. They need a bit of space and aeration.
They like a high nutritious soil. I cut my nettles and I steep them in water for a couple of weeks. It smells revolting but it’s actually a very good fertiliser. So most things have a drink of that every now and again.
I generally make soup out of it and gnocchi. To make the soup I chop it up into wedges and roast it with some oil, some sage leaves squished on top, and some garlic bashed and thrown in. Then I’ll roast them for about forty minutes. Then I add some apples like coxes or desert apples, with a bit of a tang but not as heavy as a bramley. Core those and chop them up roughly, throw them in. When everything is caramelised, take them out, skin the pumpkin. Take out the sage leaves and keep them separate. Blend the lot with some stock.
Sprinkle with the sage leaves, and then chilli oil on top. It’s delicious.
Cut the pumpkin open, dig the seeds out, separate them from the pithy stuff, dry them, stick them in an envelope and keep them somewhere cool.