‘Growing food was the first activity that gave us enough prosperity to stay in one place, form complex social groups, tell our stories, and build our cities.’ – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.
Alarmed at rising food prices? Concerned by additives? Irritated by excessive packaging? Passion for growing our own food, where we make the rules, is so widespread, it’s a movement. But not all of us have a garden…so what’s the solution?
Borrow someone else's
Waiting lists on allotments are ridiculously long. It’s not all whiskery old men in baggy trousers escaping their families any more. It’s the whole ruddy-faced family plucking carrots, cabbage and cauliflower from the earth like magicians. If you can’t get hold of an allotment, there may be someone out there willing to share some surplus land. It’s a great swap: the landowner gets a patch of ground worked over, new friendships and maybe even some veggies in return. It is the medieval concept of common land, reinvented for a New Age by campaigners like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. You could even raise some chickens – the only limit is your imagination.
Think small, but tasty
If you have a window ledge – sunny is essential – you can grow herbs. They grow quickly and they are hard to get wrong. Choose mint for summer Pimm’s or parsley for a great fish sauce. You can even plant salad crops like lettuce and tomatoes. No need for fancy pots….as long as they have drainage. Sprouting seeds like alfalfa are fantastically nutritious or you could go for that simple primary school staple, cress.
If you have room for hanging baskets outside – try strawberries, carrots or nasturtiums – the latter for a peppery addition to salads.
Who needs soil? The only way is up
A New York state of mind is one where space is a huge premium and in the future our water may be an endangered commodity, drought a reality. So where better does a craze begin for clever indoor gardening using vertically planted towers, than in a state famed for apartment living and tall buildings. Hydroponics – the science: Nutrient-rich water comes up from the base of the hydroponic system and trickles from bottle to bottle. The roots get wet and any unused water is recycled for further use.
Even Manhattan restaurant Bell Book and Candle use a hydroponic system to grow an impressive array of food. Strawberries you might expect but watermelons?
Chef John Mooney grows more than 70 varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruits on their rooftop. They even have a pulley system instead of a lift. It’s a system that is astonishing in its futuristic scope but plans for more hydroponic sky gardens are very much in evidence.
What all this goes to show is that when it comes to growing food, even without you're own patch of land, where there's a will, there's a way. So what are you waiting for. Get gardening!