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18 November 2008
Getting by: grow your own vegetables


As the price of food in the UK sky rockets, more and more people are now growing some of the food that they eat. This being so, let's take a trip down memory lane to see how people of my parents' generation got by during the 1940s. One thing is certain, if you read what follows it will turn out to be a damned site cheaper than following the advice that is being given in this video. £25.00 for things that you probably have never heard of strikes me as a ludicrous amount to pay, even if the vegetable garden on offer really is "instant".

Let's start from the beginning: what do British people live on, vegetable wise? My mother asked that question of herself during the war and came up with the answer that potatoes and carrots formed the basis of her vegetable diet. I doubt if things have changed all that much, so why not start with the those easy to grow root crops?

My mother lived in a terrace house that had a back yard, but no garden. So she collected a few zinc buckets that had begun to rust through at the bottom and filled these with soil that she collected from the bomb sites and railway sidings.

She took a fair sized King Edward potato and left it until it started to sprout; this she then cut into two or three sprouting sections. Once that had been done she emptied most of the soil out of her buckets, leaving just two inches in the bottom. Each bucket got a bit of sprouting spud, and enough soil was then added to half fill the container.

Once the tops of the plants had fully pushed through the soil she filled the buckets to the brim with the rest of her soil and watered the plants once a week. So long as she remembered never to over water the plants, then in the fullness of time she would harvest about 3lbs of potatoes from each bucket.

If you want to copy her example, then the only thing that you need to remember is that the growing tubers need to be completely sealed off from any light, otherwise they will not be fit to eat: so don't use a clear plastic bucket. Other than that, and providing you don't over water the growing plants, then growing your family's basic vegetable is actually the easiest thing in the world.

Carrots are even easier to grow. Just buy yourself a packet of seeds from the local garden centre and follow the instructions on the packet. Basically you can grow them in a bucket if all you have is a back yard, and once the seeds are in and shooting, all you need to do is remember to water the plants.

If you have a garden, then things should be easier, as this old fellow proves. However, he lives in north London where the soil is rich. If your house was built on an old dairy farm the chances are that the soil is going to be heavy clay. You can still plant in that soil, but you might find that your crop is eaten up by the slugs who thrive in conditions like that.

Sure, you can spend an eternity getting rid of them, but this is all about getting by in a recession, isn't it? Do you really want to take on board all that hard work?

Why not do as a friend of mine in east Manchester has been doing for over 20 years and grow fruit? If you want to know more about that, then check back next Tuesday and read the second part of this series.

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