Grow Your Own
During these tough economic times and with customers’ increasing concern about the origin of their meals there are challenging times ahead.
But with scandal rocking the industry, the tide is turning in the direction of provenance. Official statistics from DEFRA show that the number of people consuming their own fruit and vegetables has increased in recent years, with around five per cent of the food eaten by consumers now coming from ‘free’ sources, mainly kitchen gardens and allotments. There are currently a staggering 300,000 allotment holders throughout the UK with 150,000 on the waiting list. This trend is also starting to impact on the restaurant industry with Total Foodservice customer Northcote in Lancashire and Oxfordshire’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons leading the way.
With all this in mind, Take Stock reporter and photographer Kat Weatherill visited the award-winning Edible Garden Show. Kat says:
If you want to participate in this exciting ‘Grow Your Own’ boom and have space for a small herb bed or enough land for a full-size kitchen garden, the annual award-winning Edible Garden Show is a perfect place to start.
Now in its third year, held at the beginning of the growing season in March, it is bursting with inspiration. The event has gone from strength to strength as the ‘Grow Your Own’ (GYO) trend takes a firm grip on the nation.
The show consists of exhibitors displaying and demonstrating innovative products and ideas, including alternate ways to harvest your own crops of fresh, healthy produce. If you have limited space or skills, you can begin with growing various micro leaves e.g. red-stemmed radish with a spicy peppery taste, dark purple basil and celery leaf with lemony undertones, all from seed on a kitchen windowsill with no soil required. They are all ready to harvest in seven to fourteen days, year round. If you have outdoor space, you could just nurture a simple planter filled full of ready-to-use herbs – it’s that simple. If you are a little more adventurous or have access to a greenhouse, then you can now buy amazing edibles as seeds or plants from James Wongs’ range for Suttons Seeds, allowing you to establish your own flavour trail. These include Eletteria Cardamomum (Cardamon) with its beautiful edible gingery leaves, Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) with its delicious sweet spicy flavored root and Acmella Oleracea (Electric Daisies) delicate, pretty, yellow ball-shaped flowers that have a citrus taste but zing like popping candy in your mouth to add an unexpected tingling twist to a dessert!
In addition, if you want to take your garden to table ideals of self-sufficiency to another level, there is also a small holders marquee with breeders of pigs, goats, sheep and chickens at hand to advise.
The garden theatre and the ‘ask the experts’ stand allows you to learn from experienced horticulturalists and find guidance, if this is your first foray into GYO. This year the experts included TV botanist James Wong, former Gardeners’ World presenter Alys Fowler and Gardeners’ Question Time panelist Bob Flowerdew. In the cookery theatre, there were interactive demonstrations and talks from TV chef Rachel Green and nutritionist Wendi Jarrett.
As a busy chef or restaurateur you may not feel you have the time or space to grow all or any of your own produce, but a visit to the show may inspire you seek out local growers and farmers, find British Beekeepers Association members to supply you with local honey, or possibly commission allomenteers to grow for you?
With more and more customers investigating their plates, you can position yourself as an expert and join the food revolution that is taking the nation by storm.
The show will be moving next year from Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, to Alexandra Palace, London, from 28-30 March, 2014.
…now it’s your turn
We scoured the land of Twitter for GYO tips and came up smelling of roses.
Janey Stewart of At The Garden Gate gave us her five top tips for easy growing in a small space. Janey, who is married to a chef, has been growing vegetables to order for a number of years.
Here is what she has to say…
Use hanging baskets for growing strawberries. They will look fantastic once they start to flower, and as long as you keep them well fed and watered during flowering time, those juicy fruits will be abundant from May to July, depending on the variety. Even the small and delicately flavoured woodland and alpine strawberries will happily grow in this way.
Choose fast growing varieties like parsley, chervil and chives. Once cut, they quickly come again and only need water not feed. And as they don’t need a large area to grow, they will happily sit on windowsills in old olive oil cans.
Old wine boxes are great for growing carrots in. If you want a shorter, neater variety then choose something like Chantenay. These carrots are very sweet, and can be harvested in a matter of weeks as micro vegetables. Better still, you could grow a quick crop of radishes in the rows between the carrots; Black Spanish Round is a great variety, as is the classic French Breakfast.
Have loads of blue mushroom boxes left spare? As long as they are kept moist when they are growing, salad leaves can be easily grown in them. They will grow anywhere, as long as it’s not too hot. If they are grown in the shade then that’s even better. Old varieties and classics are great for the plate, such as Marvel of Four Seasons.
Grow micro leaves in ice cream boxes. All you have to do is line the empty boxes with cotton wool pleat, wet it, and grow leaf beets on it. As they are going to be harvested in around a week or so, all you have to do is keep them watered and then when your crop is finished, empty out the cotton wool and start anew. There are loads of seeds that can be used for micro leaves these days, and the magenta stems of the beets and kales look fantastic.