Halema Begum – Full interview

My Story

My name is Halema Begum and I live in Selby Street. I’ve lived in this country more than 25 years. I came from Bangladesh. I’m the mother of 3 children, I have two daughters and one boy, and I love to do gardening!

Why do you grow your own food?
It’s like joy! It’s your own products that you are eating, and you know there are no chemicals, you just grow organically. Organic food at the supermarket is really expensive. So even if I grow a little bit in my garden, at least have some from my own produce here.

Why do you save your own seeds?
People can buy seeds from shops but I like to save and grow from my own seeds. I want to see then how they grow again. And then more vegetables come and I save again. Because this is the way my mother and grandmother did it. They always saved their own seeds. They never bought from shops or anywhere. I think it’s a good idea, because you know your own seeds, how to grow them, what kind of soil they need, and from experience, you know the best way to do it.

How do you feel when you’re working in the garden?
I feel so happy and so relaxed. It’s like I’m in my own world. I’m digging and looking. And sometimes other people, our neighbours, they just come and give me advice or they just talk to me about themselves, their problems, and I’m just listening and doing my own work. It’s really nice.

Is there a connection between growing food and your heritage?In Bangladesh I was born and brought up in a village. I used to see the other people do farming. My grandfather, he loved to do farming. So I saw how he grew rice and beans. My mum and my grandma were always growing in the house. We had a big yard so they grow their kodu and beans. I didn’t join in when I was little but I saw the way they were growing vegetables. That’s why I love to do it.

Halema on Potol

Where did the seeds come from?
I first saw the plant at Spitalfields farm and I didn’t know what it is. I just liked the leaf. So I bought it and put it in my garden. Then I saw the vegetable, and I didn’t know what it was. Once day when I was working in my garden, there were two ladies talking with each other, saying “That is potol” and talking about how nice it tastes. I asked them what it is. They said, “It’s a Chinese vegetable. It tastes really yummy.” They told me how to cook it. That’s is how I learned about potol.

How do you grow it?
It likes a sunny spot. It’s quite easy to grow. Water it every 2-3 days in dry weather. It takes up a lot of space.

How do you prepare it?
I make prawn curry with potol. I put some in my fish curry too. The taste is really amazing. It tastes like baby courgette.

How do you save potol seed?
I left some of the potol on the plant for a long time. When it turned dark and wrinkled I picked it, took out the seeds and left them to dry in the open air. This is my first year growing and saving potol seed, so next year I will find out how good the seed is. I don’t know yet.

Halema on Coriander

Where the seeds came from
My coriander seed originally from Katherine from the farm 3 or 4 years ago, and since then every year I have saved my seed.

How to grow
I just dig to prepare the soil and then put the coriander seed in and cover with another layer of soil. If you sow your seeds in July or August you can eat the leaves until December. They like hot, summery conditions. But they grow well in winter too. They are more scented in summer time.

Tips and challenges
Slugs and snails are the main problem. I put egg shell around my plant to stop them from going near. I also pick them up with my hands and throw them away. Same with the caterpillars.

How to save seeds
If you want to save seeds, don’t pick the flowers. You can continue picking the leaves, but leave the flower untouched. Leave the seeds to dry on the plant. When they are dry, cut the stem and hang it upside down. Or pick the seeds and dry them for 2 or 3 days in the open air, and then store them in a paper bag.

We use the fresh leaves in our curries and chutneys. And we use coriander powder in our curries. You can make powder from the coriander seed, and then use it like a curry paste.