If you found out I was the daughter of a former grain sampler, the granddaughter of an agricultural journalist, and the great-granddaughter of a farmer, you could be forgiven for assuming I’d be very green-fingered. If you found out I blog about sustainable living in my free time, you could be forgiven for assuming I grow all my own veg using a salvaged wheelbarrow in my garden. The truth is, I limped home from Hilary with a bedraggled succulent called Pyotr, and not even our kitchen’s so-called ‘magic windowsill’ could revive him. I’m a helicopter plant mum. I overwater. There, I’ve said it.
But I wasn’t just heading home to a six-week break full of failed plant care and revision. Hilary ended with a growing sense of unease, and scenes prophesying toilet paper shortages until next century flooding all news channels. My sister (who owns a bonsai tree called Keon who, you’ll be glad to know, is thriving) and I were filled with fear of stockpilers stripping the shelves bare like locusts, so we weeded and dug the garden, and bought some seeds.
As with many things we do, we were, and remain, thoroughly incompetent. We struggled to understand the instructions for planting our seed potatoes and dug them in upside down. We planted broccoli, thinking it was tomatoes. We fought off our beloved cat Solomon as he decided the aforementioned broccoli, now replanted, made an appealing litter tray.
Despite that, yesterday we harvested our first Charlottes and Maris Pipers. Since we’ve had basically no success with any other type of homegrown vegetable, we’re considering ourselves potato specialists, a position for which we’re so drastically unqualified that the grain sampler, agricultural journalist, and farmer would be shaking their heads in disappointment at what we’ve come to. That said, I think potatoes must be some of the easiest to grow, if the two of us can do it. So, here are some pro* tips on getting green in quarantine.
(*I’m not a professional – so far from being a professional. Please take everything I say with a pinch of salt – and feel free to season your harvest the same way).
Seed potatoes are a great way to start on growing your own, and they need relatively little care. Once planted, you just have to water them and pack compost around them until they’re ready to harvest. This is where my helicopter plant mum overwatering actually comes in handy; they need a lot more water than you think – especially if you live in an area with dry or sandy soil like me.
Although we didn’t have much success with tomatoes– if you’re less lazy than us you have a much better chance, especially if you can get your hands on a growbag and a warm room. They need a lot of light, and benefit from a breeze, or at least some air circulation, as well as some pruning of the lower leaves as they grow taller.
Herbs are ridiculously easy to grow, because they literally grow like weeds. Whether you’re sowing seeds or buying plants from the garden centre, they are totally voracious, and will prove to save you money if you’re a big herb fan– supermarket herb plants are designed to die! Imagine fresh mint tea straight from your own plant pot…
If you don’t have much or any garden space, or want to start small, you can still try your hand at growing your own veg at home! Re-growing from scraps is super sustainable and very effective– and a whole range of vegetables can be grown from scraps, including potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, turnips, lettuce, and various herbs; normally with equipment no more complicated than a glass of water.
Carrots, turnips and other root vegetables are some of the easiest to regrow, by placing the tops in a bowl of water, and within days, you should start to see new greens growing. The process is much the same for lettuce, which you can repeatedly harvest as new leaves grow, just by placing them in a bowl with a little water in it and waiting roughly a week, then transferring them to a flowerpot.
I hope this has inspired you to have a go at growing your own, no matter what the scale! Growing your own veg, even if it’s in a jam jar in your bedroom, is very rewarding, and a super wholesome activity during both quarantine and vac.