I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why so many people are getting interested in growing their own food again. When we started GIY in 2008, the economy was bottoming out and growing food was something tangible for people to hold on to as the pillars of society crumbled around us. So it made sense then. But 14 years later, what is the motivation for the estimated 250,000 families that have started to grow in recent years?
Certainly Covid has shaken the very foundations of society once again, leaving us feeling less secure about ourselves and the world around us. So it’s natural that we focus on the most basic tenets of our existence — growing and cooking the food we eat — to feel safer in scary times.
At the same time, many of us are asking more questions about our food and where it comes from. We now know that our addiction to highly processed foods has triggered a pandemic of human health problems and put Ireland on track to be the EU’s most obese country by 2025.
We also categorically know that our food system is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, causing a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
By growing some foods ourselves, we begin to have a more meaningful, sane, and simple relationship with real foods. The more we eat whole foods grown in the living earth, the stranger the processed dirt seems.
And of course, once you start growing, there are countless other benefits. It’s a purposeful, optimistic, mindful activity that gets you out of your head and into your hands.
It gives you access to the very best, seasonal, organic produce with no food miles. Food producers eat with the seasons and as a result they eat foods that are the most nutritious and (hallelujah) the most delicious.
So that’s the price. But do you really have the time, space and knowledge to grow successfully? On the subject of time — yes, it will take time.
But what would you rather do — slouching in front of the TV and doom-scrolling on social media? Or with mindful sowing or weeding out of your head and into your hands?
As with everything in life, we have choices about how we spend our time.
Need room to grow? Well, ideally, but consider these two things. I know a guy who grew $900 worth of vegetables in pots and containers on a 5 square meter apartment balcony. And last year, in our exemplary suburban garden here at GROW HQ, we grew 50kg of vegetables – a quarter of the average family’s annual vegetable needs – from three small raised beds and a small greenhouse.
Ultimately, the more space you have, the more you can grow – but I always recommend starting small to give your knowledge a chance to catch up with your enthusiasm. Yes, there is a lot to learn. I’m entering my 18th year of food growing and still learning. It’s a life skill and like any life skill worth mastering, it takes time.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started. At a basic level, you need seeds and something to grow them in. That means good, peat-free potting soil and something to put the compost in (a sieve, a Belfast sink, etc.) or, for a slightly larger scale, buying or building a wooden raised bed. Check out our seeds, starter kits and online courses giy.ie. We are a social enterprise. So by shopping with us, you are helping us in our goal of teaching the world to grow.
It’s really only necessary when you get past the tub growth stage that you need to buy some basic tools – a trowel, spade, fork and rake. A hoe is a powerful way to keep track of weeding when you have a larger area to manage. Don’t waste money on gloves – get your hands dirty, it’s good for the soul.
Finally no fear. Growing your own food is actually not that scary. Sure, things might not be growing properly, but considering the issues we’re facing as a world, that’s not such a big deal, is it? Seeds want to grow and they know what to do next. Stick them in the ground and you’re good to go.
Five things that need to grow now
1. Potatoes Sow seed potatoes from March. New potatoes produce “new” potatoes that are harvested in June. They can be grown in grow bags, containers, or raised beds.
2. Peas Sow from April and harvest from July to September. Support pea plants with sticks. Grow in window boxes or outside in raised beds.
3. Beets Sow regularly from March. Start indoors in trays before planting out 10cm apart. Can be grown in window boxes or in raised beds.
4. Lettuce leaves Sow a small number of seeds every two weeks from February to August for a steady supply. Lettuce leaves can be started in bowls or pots and planted out as seedlings.
5. Tomatoes For best results, grow indoors or in a greenhouse. Sow in February and plant out in May. Harvest them from July.
The three types of compost
seed compost: For starting seeds in bowls or pots.
potting soil: Enough nutrients to support plants for around one to three months, so ideal for small seedlings.
Compost: Made in a compost heap or trash can by rotting plant matter. Loaded with nutrients.
Michael Kelly is the founder of GIY. For more tips and growing resources, see www.giy.ie
Don’t miss your Spring Gardening brochures, free this weekend in the Irish Independent on Saturday and the Sunday Independent, with expert advice on everything to plant for all types of gardens, how to entertain the outdoors, how to keep the kids can include and much more.
https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/gardens/join-the-grow-it-yourself-revolution-with-5-foods-you-can-grow-right-now-41455929.html Join the Grow It Yourself revolution with 5 foods you can grow right now