Tuesday 31 August 2010

Neighbourhood food growing - grow leeks not sward

I moved from London to a very rural part of Suffolk during the cold winter of 1979. Heavy snow was forecast and the removal men beat a hasty retreat for the safety of the city, leaving us to face the elements. The next morning the lane had completely filled with snow and the nearest food was 3 miles away! Fortunately I had learnt enough about vegetables to recognize that the leaves sticking out of the snow at the end of the garden were leeks. We lived on them for the next few days. I have always grown leeks since and regard them as one of the most resilient of plants - no pests, able to withstand the harshest winter and they can be harvested on demand from September to March.

I now live in a village on the outskirts of Norwich which has been transformed within living memory from a place where most of the inhabitants worked on the land to one where most people work in offices. Fifty years ago nearly everyone would have had a traditional cottage garden where vegetables had pride of place, some people would have kept pigs, sheep and goats to graze the verges. There would have been fruit orchards and apples would have been stored for eating over winter. Now, vast amounts of space, time and energy is given over to the cultivation of grass. People even put precious fertilizer on the grass so that it grows more and has to be cut more often!

I can easily produce enough potatoes, leeks, parsnips, carrots, beetroot from an area about half the size of an allotment to make us self sufficient in these for most of the year. I use compost and manure from local animals to fertilize the ground. It makes me realize just how much food could be produced within most villages. There are signs that things are beginning to change, the village has increased the area of allotments under cultivation and there is now a waiting list. Followers of the Archers will be aware that Nigel Pargiter is planning to make some of his estate available as allotments; it may be a coincidence but a neighbour who has a vast area of grass, recently told me that he is also thinking of making some of his land available as allotments. At least it will cut his lawnmower fuel bill!


  1. I don't believe you at all about the carrots- in fact I no longer believe that carrots grow at all. I think they are made in laboratories. Certainly mine didn't grow. I sowed 3 separate lots in 3 separate places and NONE of them grew.

  2. Sorry to hear about the lack of carrots Elena - I will give you some next time I see you! I always sow Early Nantes (generously) and whilst germination can be a bit patchy, I have always had a decent crop. If you do get them to grow then I recomend EnvironMesh for keeping the dreaded carrot fly at bay. The mesh also acts a bit like a greenhouse and creates better growing conditions.