Alys Fowler attempts to avoid shop-bought fruit and vegetables and live off home-grown produce. She shows how salad crops are some of the easiest things to grow.
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I'm Alys Fowler, I'm a gardener and a writer.
I grew up in the countryside but now my husband and I live in the city.
I get pleasure from simple things.
and looking after my chickens.
I'm completely in love with my chickens. They are perfect.
This is my garden, a small Victorian terrace back yard, 20ft by 60ft.
This year, I'm experimenting,
I'm trying to avoid shop bought fruit and veg
and live off my own, home-grown produce.
But this won't be easy because I want my garden
to be both beautiful and productive.
Heaven is a home-grown cucumber.
Each week, I'll focus on different foods.
from salads to peas, courgettes to tomatoes, even edible flowers
and show how anyone can grow, cook and eat from their own garden,
even if you live in a city.
The difference in taste between
home-grown food and shop bought is so huge.
The minutes you put love into growing something you taste it.
And nothing tastes better than a just picked salad, lettuce, tomatoes
and cucumbers which have gone from garden to plate in minutes.
I'm realistic enough to know that I can't be totally self-sufficient.
I'm still going to have to buy things like meat, cheese and pasta.
But if I can grow enough fruit and veg to feed us both
for most of the year, I'll be happy.
So back in April I started planning what to grow.
Coming up through here is potato, garlic.
Then there is going to be a salad bit here, I think.
Lettuce, lettuce, lettuce.
Peas around here growing up through the rows.
More lettuce. Lots of lettuce, you can't have too much lettuce.
I'm going to keep some lettuce in these boxes up here.
Because it is really nice just when you are feeling super tired
to be able to come out in your bare feet and just pick your lettuce.
All of the potatoes will remain in the pots up here.
If there is any space left, I will put some flowers in it.
So lettuces are crucial in my beautiful edible garden.
I'm starting to sow them in wine boxes, salvaged from an off licence,
and filled with compost from the garden centre.
For my patio I've chosen to sow 'cut and come again' salad leaves.
You don't pull them up, roots and all, like big lettuces.
You simply trim off the leaves which then re grow for
another couple of servings. You never want to sow out of the
packet because you have very little control if you do it that way.
You will sow the best part of the packet in one go.
Take out a small amount.
I am just scattering it across the top of the wine box.
You just need to slightly tease the seed into the soil.
Then firm it down just so the seed is in contact with the soil.
And the trick to watering tiny seeds is to give them a long but gentle
soaking because anything heavier than a sprinkle will wash them away.
I've also been growing lettuce seedlings in trays of compost
on my window ledges since February.
With the arrival of milder weather those seedlings moved
to the patio for a week or so to adjust to an outdoor life.
And mid-April means they're now big enough to handle
and so fine for planting into the borders.
This soil is just so soft from all the spring rain and as it heats up,
come summer, this will be as hard as a piece of china.
Bur right now it is so soft and crumbly and ready to give life.
I have got two very beautiful lettuce
they are both the oak leaf type of lettuce.
This one is called emerald green.
It is a very big, beautiful, really vivid green.
The centre is kind of acid green.
The other one is flashy butter oak,
which is a very pretty, marbled, burgundy lettuce.
They are good enough in their own right just to be there.
You then get to put them on your plate, it is genius really.
I'll keep sowing and planting out continually over the next six months
to guarantee I have home-grown salad right into the winter.
Three weeks after sowing there are baby leaves sprouting.
However, they're growing too close together
threatening to strangle each other.
You have to start thinning. You are aiming to have
in this "cut and come again" system, lettuce roughly a centimetre apart.
You do not want to waste any of these.
You could chop off the roots and have them for tea.
Or allow these to become bigger, maturer lettuce
to grow somewhere else.
There is no need to ever waste your thinnings.
I am just putting my finger underneath the plant
and then easing it up.
Now and again they don't want to come.
Another must for my salads are tomatoes.
For me they completely capture the taste of summer.
But because they're so cheap to buy I'm not bothering to sow any.
Instead, my friend Dave and I are heading to a car-boot sale
where they sell young plants.
Although it's mainly tomatoes I'm after, I've also spotted
sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts and chillies.
I don't have any chillies and the roots are coming out the bottom,
a really good sign that the plant is taking up the whole pot
and it is ready to pot on so although it looks small,
with a bit of love it will probably grow quite quickly.
And 50p is a bit of a bargain.
Whatever you're buying, check that the leaves are healthy
and take the plant out of the pot to make sure the roots are
well developed but not pot-bound.
Do you know what tomatoes these are?
The mother-in-law grew them, she gave them to us yesterday.
-Does she grow good tomatoes?
-She does, actually, yes.
Do you know if she grows them in a greenhouse or outside?
In a greenhouse.
OK. I am going to take a gamble. How much are they?
If you don't want to gamble it's best to buy plants which have been
labelled so you know exactly which variety of tomato you are getting.
This 20p plant and this 50p plant have quite a lot of differences
and I am beginning to slightly regret buying this one because
this is a named variety, so I know where I am going,
and it's clearly a much healthier plant. I am going to put this
down as a bit of a loss and buy one of these as well.
But tomatoes have one big enemy - blight,
an airborne fungus that can destroy plants - leaves, fruit and all.
And those growing outdoors are most at risk because the fungal spores
spread through air and thrive in our warm wet summer weather.
So I want to hedge my bets and keep one plant growing indoors as security.
I don't have room for a full-size greenhouse
so I'm going to custom build my own with my handy friend, Sid.
Greenhouses serve two main purposes. They protect your plants from
the cold, and help to keep out pests and diseases.
I want my greenhouse to be beautiful as well as effective, so
I'm making it out of some salvaged 1930's windows, joined together by
timber supports and angle brackets.
All up, it's cost me £160.
OK, so it is a little eccentric, but I love it.
Out the way!
-Mind your fingers, go underneath.
We will see if they fit.
-They do, don't they?
There is a really eery light inside.
Yes. Open it out...
Yeah. It's going to be perfect.
I broke my heart last year over tomatoes.
I grew so many different varieties and I watched them all go down to blight.
This year, I said no tomatoes, I am not going to grow a single tomato -
it was my big protest to the summer, and yet here I am in May, with a tomato.
It was thanks to the car boot sale because,
at 50p, if it doesn't work, if we have an appalling summer,
if the blight comes back, well, I lost 50p.
If it does work, I have got lots of lovely, tiny tomatoes.
Gardener's Delight is one of the best, easiest tomatoes to start off with.
Tomato plants are hungry plants,
so you need to feed them with a kind of vitamin tonic.
There are bottles of seaweed feed that you can buy, but I prefer to
make my own for free. With nettles.
I literally throw nettles into a bucket,
add water and leave them to rot.
They make an amazingly nutrient-rich soup.
Be warned though - it smells revolting.
The point is, it's good for the tomato.
If you want lovely tomatoes, you have to suffer a bit!
I've got one well-established tomato that a friend generously gave me a few weeks ago.
That's the one I've chosen to cosset in my new mini greenhouse.
It's been out on the patio until now, so I'm moving it indoors and hoping for the best.
One salad crop you can grow outside is cool, crisp cucumbers.
I bought some a few weeks ago from my local flower show.
You'll need to look for outdoor varieties.
Cucumbers are really quite fickle and they do not like cold nights.
Make sure it is truly warm before you plant them out into the ground.
Many people think cucumbers don't do very well outdoors in our climate.
It is far from the truth, really.
As long as you choose the right types, there's quite a lot of modern cultivars
which are bred for cooler climates.
When it is a wet summer, you get hundreds.
When it is a hot summer, you get very sweet ones.
You need to give them something they can climb up.
Which is why I made this rather odd structure.
You don't want the cucumbers to sit on the soil.
You can imagine - a cucumber is just 100% water,
so if it sits on the soil it just rots away.
You have to get them up and off the ground.
Cucumbers need very moisture-retentive soil.
Lots of good compost or something else dug in.
There is a tendency for the stem to rot off.
So I like to plant my cucumber on a slight mound.
So this is lots of lovely rich soil.
Then the water just sort of draws off rather than sitting in a slump.
And those cucumbers will be ready to harvest by late July,
but early in the growing season, and there's not an awful lot to eat
in the garden, so it's time to visit the wild larder.
I'm talking foraging.
My friend Ingrid lives around the corner from me.
She's just got into gardening in a big way with her own veg patch.
But she's never foraged before.
Time to show her how to identify some edible wild foods.
I was kind of hoping we might find some mint.
It is the sort of place it would grow.
'It's May and so, as well as mint, I should be able to find wild garlic,
'garlic mustard and some common garden weeds that are surprisingly good to eat.'
This is garlic mustard, try that.
That is fantastic. That could be brilliant in a salad.
You can feel it!
-Not a first date salad.
However, there are other things... like cleavers,
or goosegrass or sticky willy, which you can wilt like spinach.
Oh! It's very wet.
'We're also picking lime leaves, which are a great substitute
'for lettuce as long as you go for the young, tender leaves.'
-It is actually quite nutty.
-A nutty taste.
-Nutty and a bit oily I think.
-It's amazing to think we're going to get a whole salad from foraging around.
-Here you go.
Lots of lovely wild garlic.
It kind of becomes a complete garlic substitute for spring.
'There are plenty of nettles here too, which we're collecting
'for my home made tomato tonic and for Ingrid's husband, Jeremy, who wants to make nettle beer.'
Did Jeremy give any indication how many nettles we need to pick?
-About a bin bag full.
-How much beer is he intending to make?
I have never made nettle beer.
It sounds, quite frankly, revolting.
'Last but not least, we're looking for dandelions to make fritters.
'It's the flower heads we're after, which, when they're cooked,
'have a delicious flavour like honey.'
Back at Ingrid's, it's time to make a brew.
It smells very potent already.
'We need to strain the potion into a brewing bucket.'
In it goes.
'Then goes in some sugar and cream of tartar.'
-Just a teaspoon of that.
-'Oh, and the juice and rind from a load of lemons.'
Have you ever actually had nettle beer before?
-'Now it's time to ferment our ale.
'In goes the brewer's yeast, and then we have to be patient for a couple of months.'
But while we wait, we can concentrate on a simple supper from our foraged ingredients.
While I prepare the dandelion fritters,
Ingrid is dressing our lime leaf salad with garlic flowers.
I'm wilting our leafy bounty into some butter, treating it just like spinach really.
And the dandelion flowers are dipped into a traditional pancake batter, and fried in butter.
Our wilted greens, lime leaf salad with garlic flowers and dandelions make a perfect supper.
Jeremy and his son Toby are keen to taste the results.
That is amazing.
If you're thinking of going foraging, you may be able to join a local walk.
A good guide with pictures is the next best thing to help identify what you can and can't eat.
If you don't recognise it, don't eat it.
-Do you like it?
-Yes, it's really nice. It's like a fresh pancake.
-They are sweet.
They were pretty making them as well.
I would definitely use this.
-Do you want more?
It's June and the garden's looking really healthy.
This new way of growing my flowers and vegetables mixed in together seems to be working.
When you're taught how to grow vegetables in the traditional sense,
you give them everything in a straight line and you give equi-distance between spacing
and that gives enough light and moisture...
And you mustn't crowd out your neighbours! And that's all true.
But then you go and get things like this. This lettuce has been
essentially living under a poppy,
but it's considerably bigger than its neighbour.
That's probably because the poppy has been offering it, by shading it
out, there's a little bit more moisture and it is actually growing.
Another thing that's obviously happy are my cucumbers, which are
scrambling up the supports I gave them and making fruits already.
It's just over a month since I planted my first crop of lettuces.
I particularly love the one called flashy butter oak,
because it has these beautiful marbled leaves.
It really tastes good.
I'm picking a good-sized salad for two pretty much every day now.
A good part of my salad supply is from "cut and come again"
leaves which are romping away.
I'll get at least another two harvests from them.
The trick at this point is to keep it going.
But right now,
I am in a very happy salad place.
As a salad junkie, I could get through up to five supermarket salad bags a week.
'In five months, that would cost me around £150.
'Instead, £3 worth of seed will give me a salad a day over the same period.
'And I get that wonderful just-picked taste.'
It's July and the young plants need lots of water,
but my garden is in full swing.
My beans are in flower, the honeysuckle is out,
and my chickens are producing two eggs every day.
Because every bit of soil in my garden has to be productive,
wherever there's a gap I've sowed a quick-growing crop like radishes.
They're up and ready to harvest within four to six weeks.
And at this time of year, the new potatoes are wonderfully tasty,
and they go perfectly with my fresh salad leaves.
And that's not all.
Here is my first cucumber...
of the season. Now, it's not particularly big,
but I don't think there is any point growing your
cucumbers to supermarket length - you really just can't eat them all.
So although this one is big down here,
you'll see there's two, three, four, five...
Once cucumbers get going, they just don't stop producing cucumbers.
So it's much better to harvest them as little cucumbers,
chubby things, perfect for one meal.
Heaven! Heaven is a home-grown cucumber.
My "cut and come again" leaves won't give me all the summer salad I need,
so I'm also sowing more seeds straight into the soil,
which is now warm enough to guarantee a good germination rate.
I'll do this every few weeks to ensure I've always got little clumps
of fast-growing leaves in between other crops.
You'll get perfect little dots of baby salad leaves
that you can just come and harvest once or twice when they're about 10 centimetres high.
Salad leaves are the single easiest thing you can grow in your edible garden.
An almost failsafe crop which keeps on coming and lasts for months.
But it's not all good news.
As the days get warmer, the inevitable happens.
Tomato blight arrives in the neighbourhood,
killing all my outdoor tomatoes.
As I garden organically, I don't want to use chemicals to fight it off.
This structure is the only thing that's keeping me and the tomato
in hope that we'll still get ripening fruit.
If even a single spore gets in there, the whole thing is over.
So far, things are looking good,
so if I only go in to water when necessary,
I should get ripe fruit by the end of the month.
It seems I spoke too soon.
A couple of weeks later and blight has reached into my greenhouse,
shrivelling my plants and making the fruits totally inedible.
That's another year lost.
I am resigned these days to the fact I cannot really grow tomatoes, even
when I try and build funny greenhouses for them.
We've had lots of wet, humid, hot days and this dear beautiful, large, lovely plant
is now riddled with blight.
black leaves and eventually black fruit.
This is truly heartbreaking.
So that's it, I don't think I'm ever going to bother with tomatoes until somebody
brings me an honest-to-God blight-resistant tomato and says,
"you can grow it outside and it won't get it."
But blight doesn't strike everywhere.
So I don't want to put anyone off from trying.
Because there's nothing quite like the taste of a home-grown tomato.
My friend George, for instance, has had better luck.
His tomatoes were sown straight into his allotment polytunnel,
so they haven't been exposed to any blight.
There's hundreds of them, and you did get a bit of blight, right?
Yes, but not a lot really.
-Beautiful, aren't they?
-Really beautiful, that's massive.
Look at how lovely they are.
I love the smell of tomatoes, don't you think?
It's one of my favourite smells.
They are proper organic stuff, aren't they?
Thank you, George. I thought I was not going to get to eat...
-What about that big one?
-Can I have the big one?
-Have the big one.
-That's very generous.
-Wring its neck.
Thanks to George and his bountiful crop,
I no longer have to face a summer without home-grown tomatoes.
Although I'm harvesting most vegetables to eat,
the garden is now so productive
that I can afford to leave some in the ground.
I want these to continue the cycle of flowering and
producing seed because sometimes that brings unexpected bounties.
That's a very woody radish, which is completely inedible now.
It's all stem inside, basically.
But, if you let them go completely to seed, you get these, which are radish seed pods.
And they are edible. They're good, spicy and they are perfect with beer.
So I left these guys,
because I knew I was going to have a party where they would make the best snack.
And the bees and the hover flies
love the flowers, so you bring all sorts of other goodies
into the garden. Tons of them.
Now I've got lots of beer snacks, all I need is some beer.
'And after two months of fermenting, Jeremy's nettle beer is ready to uncork.'
Here we go, the moment of truth.
-It looks good.
-It looks like beer.
It smells of... What does it smell of? Country smell.
Has everybody got one?
It is the perfect summer drink.
'Well, I can't say much for that beer, but then, not everything always goes to plan.
'That's what I've learnt over the years about growing your own - it's swings and roundabouts.
'On a positive note, I haven't bought a single
'lettuce or cucumber since May, but sadly my tomatoes have died a death.
'However, just like George, we don't all share the same failures,
'and so you'll always find someone happy to swap
'the produce you do have for those that you don't.'
Next time in my pursuit of a beautiful but edible garden,
I turn my attention to leafy greens and root crops
like kale and beetroot.
They add structure and colour but as they're slow growers, there can be a bit of a hungry gap.
It's George to the rescue again with his rhubarb.
-My plants are tiny.
-Look at that, beautiful.
But even George can't save me from the weather, as a spring storm
threatens my tender infant crops.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Alys Fowler attempts to avoid shop-bought fruit and vegetables and live off her own, home-grown produce, all from her tiny terraced back garden. It is no easy task because Alys doesn't want to turn her garden into an allotment, so she is growing her fruit and vegetables among her flowers.
Alys will focus on different foods and show how anyone can grow, cook and eat from their own garden - even if they live in a city.
Alys weaves salad crops through the flower borders of her small urban back garden. Salad crops are some of the easiest things to grow and the tastiest to eat. Lettuces, tomatoes and cucumbers can go from garden to plate in minutes. But while her garden takes root, she needs to fill the hungry gap by foraging in 'the wild larder', to make lime-leaf salad, dandelion fritters and 'home brewed' nettle beer.