I was introduced to the wonderful world of nurturing, picking and eating homegrown produce when I was a child. I don't remember giving a second thought to growing food during my late teens; then I got my first home with a garden. It will come as no surprise to veggie growers to learn that I swiftly replaced the overgrown low maintenance planting with higher maintenance, but hugely rewarding edibles. An allotment soon followed. It was a neglected plot. Bringing it back into full production was extremely hard work, but every particle of soil reclaimed from the tenacious grip of couch grass meant more space for growing glorious food.
Over the years my love for growing and eating homegrown produce has not diminished, but the assortment of crops I grow has changed. When I became a parent to three children under three years old, I stopped growing anything requiring too much attention in the kitchen. Podding peas became a thing of the past, while strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and peppers were grown in great numbers. I also embraced potatoes in pots, not because I was short of space, but because rooting around for spuds in a container is far quicker (and safer) than finding a fork and digging up potatoes with three hungry children trailing in your wake. The potatoes also came out cleaner than they did when lifted from the soil, which sped up the whole process of food preparation considerably.
As our children grew older I added their favourite foods to the mix. Shiny aubergines, asparagus, purple beans and sweetcorn were welcomed into the greenhouse and onto the plot. Our strawberry patch expanded and raspberries were given a free rein to walk wherever they pleased, so long as they fruited. At harvest time the children would run excitedly to the kitchen garden with their friends and delight in picking great bowlfuls of juicy tomatoes and succulent strawberries warm from the sun. Harvesting crops was a novelty for some of their friends. I hope that they will remember those sunny days of childhood and try growing food for themselves one day.
Now our children are teenagers with busy lives. For most of the year they barely have the time to notice that their food may have travelled only a matter of metres from the patch to their plate, but then in summer, when school’s out, I see them helping themselves to fruit from the kitchen garden or picking a salad for lunch.
For the past two years one of our children has grown chillies on her bedroom windowsill. She also has an ever-extending collection of cacti. May this be the start of a lifelong love of gardening for her. Our youngest teen likes to see flowers in the house. I am hoping that our new cutting garden will inspire her. As for me, I will be found in the vegetable garden, trying out new crops and looking forward to that point in summer when the school closes its doors and our children remember where their food comes from.