Pick a pawpaw


The busy season in the vegetable garden is getting under way now, but my favourite moment is when everything is done and I can take a second to take in the quiet greenness of everything.

Look for the bare neccessities right?  

I think Baloo was on to something.  It’s not a bad song to live by.



The BBC are running the Dig In campaign this year to encourage people to grow their own vegetables, and they are giving away free seeds.

Send away for your tomato, beetroot, lettuce, squash and carrot seeds by filling in your name and address on their website.  Click here for the link.










They’ll be showing you what to do with the seeds on the Gardeners’ World programme in a couple of weeks’ time.  Meanwhile, this week’s programme had a lot of tips and ideas about veggie-growing.  Catch it here on the BBC’s iPlayer.

Yes we can


The New York Times reports that the Obamas are going to be enjoying some home-grown veg on the White House dinner table soon.  Read about it here.  

When Lord Woolton launched the Dig for Victory! campaign during the Second World War, it was to encourage the British public to grow their own vegetables, obviously driven by the need to supplement rations.  

The country couldn’t rely on food imports any longer and there was no choice but to become more self-sufficient.  Football pitches, lawns and parks were all turned into allotments, and by 1945, an estimated 1.4 million people had allotments.

Across the pond – at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington – Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the grounds of the White House, and where the first lady led, 20 million people followed.

















Yesterday, Michelle Obama started work on a vegetable garden at her new address. The move to grow food for the White House kitchen seems to signal the revival of a mainstream effort in growing your own food.  Whilst there has always been a core group of people who care about where their food comes from and who grow their own because they enjoy the taste of fruits and vegetables in season, the increasing interest seems to have grown out of the recent surge in awareness of all things environmental and green.

Let’s hope this is the start of another grow-your-own revolution!

Fee fi fo fum


Beware the ides of March.  So said the soothsayer to Julius Caesar.  But did he listen? No.  And look what happened to him 2,053 years ago today.

I was planning to sow my broad beans today before I realised it was the 15th of March.  Would Shakespeare’s soothsayer caution against it?  What could possibly happen?  The only danger I can think of is if the beanstalks sprout overnight, get out of hand and start to scratch the clouds.  Even then, I’m only in trouble if I climb up there and decide to rob a giant.  Jack was an idiot.

No, I think I should be fine.  Broad beans are one of the easiest crops to grow.  They do well in the cold.  They do well in the heavy Glaswegian soil.  They do well.

You could almost get away with throwing them out your window and watch them do their thing, but then fairytales are maybe not the best guide on how to grow vegetables.  

Broad beans aren’t fussy about the soil.  Although a bit of compost mixed into the ground would be a good idea to give them a bit of an incentive. Make a hole about half the depth of your finger and space them a generous hand span’s width apart (or the width of one and a half hand span if you have small hands, but this is no science).


By the end of June, I should be picking lots of the plump pods for the kitchen.  Broad beans are good-natured in the garden, but I think they are maybe even more so in the kitchen.  They seem to get on particularly well with pork, either in a pasta dish with pancetta, or a sausage risotto or a broad bean puree to go with pork chops.  Or on their own; lightly coated with some olive oil, tossed with a crushed clove of garlic and served with freshly grounded pepper and flakes of sea salt.



I was on Fred MacAuley’s radio show this morning, with Lucy Hall (Deputy Editor of Gardeners’ World), for a brief item on the grow-your-own movement.  You can catch it on the BBC iPlayer for the next two weeks or so.  Listen here.  It starts at about 24 minutes into the show.  Blink and you’ll miss it!  (well done to you though, if you can blink your ears…)

Anybody interested in garden-sharing can either leave a reply or send me an e-mail at cityfoodgardens@googlemail.com.  Alternatively, there is a forum, which you can access through the link on the right.  You can sign up as a member and let people know if you have a garden, or if you would like to grow vegetables.  The forum isn’t being used yet, but it is fully functional, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t join and start posting.

PS – can anybody recommend a variety of strawberry to grow?

Coiled spring


I’ve been impatient.  Spring continues to sulk, and refuses to stay for more than fleeting appearances, so I decided to get started without it.  

There are pots of chilli seedlings growing in the kitchen and they will be joined by sweet peppers and tomatoes soon.  The chillies have just pushed out their first leaves and that’s enough of a success to encourage me that things will grow for me.  I killed the last two houseplants I had so I hope I have better luck with the vegetables living under house arrest.













Based on my new-found expertise (courtesy of Google), chillies seem to be quite happy growing indoors as long as they get plenty of light.  If you plan to grow them from seed then be prepared to wait.  Mine took nearly a month to germinate, but there was no great skill to it.  All you need to do is leave them somewhere warm and keep an eye on the compost to make sure it doesn’t get too dry.  I lined up all my pots on top of the radiator.  The heat is only needed to get them to germinate, so they can be moved once the leaves emerge.  

By early summer, I should be using my fresh chillies to make this recipe from the River Cafe cookbook:

Penne all’arrabbiata

Serves 4

350g penne
4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
4 dried red chillies [I’ll substitute 2 of my home-grown Serranos]
3 tbs basil leaves
750g plum tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
extra-virgin olive oil
Heat 3 tbs of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan.

Add the garlic and fry gently. After 1 minute, add the whole chillies, then continue to fry until the garlic is lightly brown. Remove it with the chillies and save. Add the basil to the hot oil for a few moments to add flavour, then remove and save. Finally, add the tomatoes to the flavoured oil with 1 tsp of sea salt and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, add to the tomato sauce, toss to coat and stir in the garlic, chillies and basil. Serve with olive oil drizzled over.

Green shoots


As I write, I am being distracted by online seed catalogues.  They promise a long, bountiful summer of broad beans, tomatoes and courgettes, and I would only be too happy to give in to the temptation and buy them all with greedy abandon.  For now though, I have a meeting to organise.

We have already had two meetings, and I left each one feeling greatly encouraged and motivated by everybody’s enthusiasm.  There are some gardens that have been paired up already and I am sure, many more awaiting its gardener.

I know some people haven’t been able to come along to the last two meetings because of work and other commitments at the weekend, which is why the next one will be on Monday.

This Monday, 16 February at 6.30pm, at the Tinderbox on Ingram Street again.

Click here to see a map.














In the meantime, you can join me in a spot of armchair gardening.  I’m going to order my seeds after the meeting on Monday.  These are a few of the sites I’ve been looking at – seedsofitaly.comchilternseeds.co.uk and simpsonsseeds.co.uk.