FOR families in lockdown, mealtimes take on a heightened significance. They help us to maintain routine and they tear us away from sad news. But, as we have more meals at home, so groceries are harder to come by.
A threat of further shortages has led to a surge of “Dig for Victory”-type messages across social media, and seed companies report record demand for vegetable seed and seed potatoes. Perhaps it is not the time to be too ambitious with growing our own, but a few experimental crops can be fun and rewarding.
I would recommend starting with a few pots. Any waterproof containers will do, provided that they have a capacity of about 12 litres or more. You will need to make drainage holes in their bases if there are none. If you need to buy containers, I would recommend “Root Pouches”, available from Amazon: fabric containers made from containers materials. They fold flat, reducing transport costs, and, visually, they sit well in a traditional or contemporary setting.
Whichever vessels you use, fill them with a peat-free compost and arrange them in a sunny spot. Most easy crops can be direct-sown outside now. Small seed such as salad leaves, baby beetroot, baby carrots, and spring onions can be scattered thinly over the surface of the compost and covered with a thin layer of sieved compost. Larger seed, such as courgettes and dwarf beans, can be planted, three to a 30cm-diameter pot. If all three germinate, sacrifice the weakest.
It is too late to grow tomatoes from seed; so order plug plants — perhaps a hanging-basket variety such as “Romello” or “Tumbling Tom”. It is important to remember that containers (especially fabric ones) dry out quickly, and will need daily watering.
Productive pots can be decorative and rival more traditional summer bedding displays. Chard “Bright Lights” has bright-green leaves and stems of yellow, orange, pink, and red. It can be harvested as baby leaves for a salad or left to mature for use like spinach. Nasturtiums provide leaves and flowers that can add a peppery twist to salads. The seeds are large and easy for children to push into pots of compost.
If younger members of the family show interest in grow-your-own experiments, there are two new books that could extend their explorations. I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, by the ecologist and educator Michael Holland (Flying Eye, £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop £13.49)), celebrates useful plants, and includes fun DIY projects for young gardeners. The Pocket Book of Garden Experiments, by Helen Pilcher, published in association with the Royal Horticultural Society (Bloomsbury, £14.99 (£13.49)), is aimed at slightly older young scientists and gives families ideas for experiments involving plants, wildlife, and household items.