Alys Fowler tries to avoid shop-bought fruit and veg and live off home-grown produce. Root crops and leafy greens are the mainstays of an edible garden.
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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, home-baked bread,
home-grown vegetables 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 wide by just about 60ft long.
This year I'm experimenting, trying to live off my own produce
without buying any fruit or vegetables and it won't be easy
because I want my little patch to be as beautiful as it is productive.
Right now, I'm in a very happy salad place.
Each week, I'll focus on different foods from salads to peas,
courgettes to leafy greens, even edible flowers
and show how anyone can grow, cook and eat from their own garden,
even if you live in the city.
My garden, in fact most people's gardens, aren't perfect, but I don't think that matters.
The point is my garden is a very average back garden.
It's about 20ft wide, it's roughly 50 ft long, it's nothing special.
It's just your average terrace.
And if you can grow at least a meal a day in your average terrace,
then that's quite an achievement, and that's what I aim to do.
In order to do that, I've had to remove some of my larger, more established plants.
And that's certainly given me cause for reflection.
I am more than a little overwhelmed at this point,
on how I'm going to pull it off, really.
Because I know I can make the vegetable bit look easy and good, and I know I can make...
You know, that bit's the easy bit, it's how it looks beautiful,
and it's how it looks beautiful through the year, you know,
not just when there's lots of fruit and produce.
That bit's a bit more difficult.
I have to put my thinking hat on and start filling it up in a kind of...
I don't know,
in a way that works.
I think I might have to have a cup of tea before I do anything.
One of the mainstays of my beautiful edible garden
is going to be the leafy greens and root crops that will come into their own by mid summer
and then carry on delivering delicious dishes right into winter.
Things like earthy Swiss chard, hearty kales,
potatoes, sprouting broccoli, and sweetly flavoured beetroot.
I want an edible landscape, a space that looks beautiful that
I can also eat, but in a garden this size, that's going to mean cramming.
How you get away with doing that is by having really rich, good soil.
And, unfortunately, this garden has nice soil but it's not very well fed soil.
So at the moment, I'm in this constant juggling of trying to get everything
into their space but keep feeding the soil with more compost and feed.
My first crop is everyone's favourite, potatoes.
And they're very straightforward to grow.
You can buy them from January onwards as small tubers called seed potatoes at the garden centre.
It's a good idea to leave them on a windowsill, somewhere light and airy,
until about late March when the eyes in the tubers start sprouting.
Then, as the soil warms up, you can plant them out.
I'm growing salad potatoes in pots on the patio and in odd spots in my garden.
It's April and, as well as my potatoes, I've been sowing a range of vegetable seeds in trays.
These are beetroot and the great thing about beetroot is there's no part you can't eat.
It's a tough, corky little seed though, so when you've placed it
on the surface of the soil, you need to press it in gently to stop it floating away when you water.
Do that and you'll have tiny shoots within a fortnight.
It germinates at fairly low temperatures. It'll germinate around about eight degrees Celsius.
So at this time of year, it should be super-fast.
It's been a busy time sowing seeds and planting out my first real crops
and things were looking good, until the hailstones arrived.
Well, the hail has pretty much just destroyed all my work.
And it looks like, thanks to the hail,
I'm not going to be eating anything until well into June.
No, it's not. It's not typical weather and it's not fair.
Right, I say we all go in and have a cup of tea.
But the trick to successful vegetable growing is to always have a back up.
I've been growing extra seedlings on my windowsill
and so three weeks after the hail, I have a new batch to plant out.
A way of making my edible garden look as good as it tastes
is to plant my borders in drifts of colour and texture
and that's exactly what I'm going to do with my beetroot.
It's very easy to grow beetroot in modules.
You quite often get clusters of them because the seed is actually a cluster of seeds.
So I'll have to thin those out later on, but for now,
I can just...pop them in.
Yes, the time will come when I will have to be brutal
because a cluster of seedlings huddled together in the soil
will eventually strangle each other.
So I will have to take control, thinning them out by pulling out
and discarding the weaker shoots
to allow the strongest room to survive and thrive.
I'm planting all my young vegetables in generous quantities of compost
because most soils, including mine, lack some nutrients.
It's bit like packing your kids off to school with a lunch box,
a ready made meal giving them energy to grow.
Late May and my potatoes need earthing up,
and that simply means smothering the leafy shoots with a sloping mound
of earth or compost to encourage more potato tubers to develop.
And for the ones in the garden borders,
I'm using a free alternative to bought-in compost,
courtesy of my neighbours.
I actually don't really have an excess of soil
and my soil is so thin and so stony that I'm going to earth them up
with some grass clippings that I stole from one of my neighbours.
Basically, you could earth up with anything, as long as
it's kind of going to exclude light and just protect them.
And these are free. It's a good mulch, it suppresses weed,
it will hold a bit more moisture in...
..and will slowly feed the potato.
Sort of following the no-dig method of gardening, just keep building up the soil layer.
And the rest of it will go in my compost.
Another leaf vegetable I'll be able to rely on from mid summer
right the way through to the colder months is Swiss chard,
which comes in a rainbow of colours.
This is ruby chard, and it's a fantastic vegetable.
It's incredibly pretty, these red stems. Grows to about so height.
And you eat it like you'd eat spinach, I suppose.
You can get pink, orange, white, yellow, so it's a very easy one to start with.
Swiss chard thrives in really rich, moisture retentive soil
and if you get your soil conditions right,
it will reward you right the way up until the first frosts.
It even tolerates some shade.
As the hailstorm proved,
the British weather is nothing if not unpredictable
and so it's always good to choose tough vegetables
that can cope with any conditions.
And that means brassicas, or the cabbage family.
And one type of brassica that's a must for me is sprouting broccoli.
It's not the broccoli you get in supermarkets,
it's much more fragrant, with delicate purple florets
and you can harvest the leaves, stalk and all.
These plants are from my local car boot sale and offer
the promise of meals to come, as long as I'm willing to wait.
Sprouting broccoli has to sit in the ground now, right the way through,
all the way through the autumn, all the way through the winter
and then suddenly, in January, when nothing else seems to be doing anything,
you suddenly get this incredible crop of sprouting broccoli.
I'm planting them close to the runner beans and between the sage, the white valerian and some chives.
And as long as I keep harvesting the sage,
I think it will all be fine.
The sage's actually not that fast growing.
I'm also planting kale, all over my edible garden,
but unlike the sprouting broccoli, I can pick these brassica leaves
from July through to the following spring.
The cabbage family has an Achilles heel, however.
They attract an army of pests, which use the leaves as nesting ground as well as a tasty lunch.
My battle plan is to mix them in with herbs and flowers, to provide camouflage for my edible crops.
That way, pests like the cabbage white butterfly will only see
a wave of green plants, and hopefully get confused.
It's June, and my lunches are exclusively garden-grown -
tender little salad leaves mixed with broad beans and radishes.
A fresh egg would be the perfect accompaniment,
but the chickens are twitchy and have stopped laying.
I suspect a culprit.
What are you doing?
Where's your egg? I can't see it.
Where's your egg, Gertie?
Oh... Are you just making a lot of noise and not laying eggs?
You can't make all that noise and then not actually lay an egg.
You're crackers, the pair of you.
Well, recently, Gertrude was the model hen and laid an egg a day.
But today, she's decided to pretend to lay an egg
and there isn't actually anything.
Alice, however, is the greediest
chicken on the face of this earth, but she's done nothing
in terms of laying an egg.
I mean, she's a nice hen and everything, she just
has not earned her keep in any way yet.
So you'll go to the pot, Alice.
Maybe Gertrude will as well if she's not going to lay eggs.
I resolve to monitor the movements of their suspected tormentor.
Say rhubarb, and most people think fruit.
In fact, it's a misunderstood vegetable,
with the look of a leafy green even though you only eat the stalks.
And just like my sprouting broccoli, patience is the key.
When I decided to turn the best part of this garden over to vegetables,
at the beginning of the year the first thing I did was order this rhubarb.
Four prized crowns of rhubarb,
that I've planted, and all I can do is wait,
because if I was to pick it this year,
I would exhaust the plant before it could put its energy down into the roots.
So this year, I wait, and next year is the year of the rhubarb.
But I love rhubarb, as does my husband, and rhubarb in pie is simply divine.
So this year, whilst mine takes root,
I'm off to visit my friend George,
who grows a lot of it on his allotment.
So I hear that you have rhubarb that you don't much like?
-What do you do with all your rhubarb, then?
Well, I just like to grow things and I like...
-I grow them and I give them away.
-That's what I want to hear.
-Such a healthy plant, fantastic.
-Would you like some of these?
Yes, I would love some.
Gosh, they're so healthy. My plants are tiny.
-Look at that.
You just cut it off like that.
And you just trim it like that.
-They're so expensive in the shop.
-I know, I know.
You hold that, and I can get you a few.
It's easy to grow, this. Very easy.
Very easy. And very essential when there's not much else growing.
So lovely it is, look.
'It's just the stalks I want, because the leaves contain toxins that make them inedible.'
-My husband's American...
-Oh, my God!
-..and I'm going to make him rhubarb pie.
Oh, yeah, man - that's good, you know.
'George's neighbour, Mr Singh, has his own way
'of encouraging his veg to grow -
'and it never fails to raise a smile.'
Mr Singh, do you think this makes your vegetables grow better(?)
'There's a playful rivalry in the world of vegetable growing,
'especially when it comes to onions.
'As always, it comes down to size.'
That's nothing, that is. I'll show you big onions.
I've got bigger ones than this, but I didn't pick them all.
I just pulled them up, you see. And these are lovely, these are.
-I'm surprised you get any work done with a neighbour like that!
-Thank you, simple as that.
Watch his legs.
Come on, Iz...
-I like that dog.
-It's a nice dog.
-Lovely, he is.
Thanks very much. Very nice.
Thank you for such a generous amount. ..In you go.
Squish in. Squish! Squish.
I adore strawberry and rhubarb pie. It's an American tradition.
But with a fresh crop of early raspberries fruiting in my garden, I'm creating a British alternative.
Well, it's not rhubarb and strawberry -
it's rhubarb and raspberry.
But it's good pie.
Really good pie.
July sees the chickens back on track.
They've recovered from their earlier bout of nerves, and the egg-laying hiatus is over.
How are you?
How are you doing this morning?
I have to say, I'm completely in love with the chickens,
cos above and beyond the fact that they're really funny, and have
great personalities, they've been really useful in the garden.
I can feed them all the weeds. My neighbour gives me
the grass clippings, and then I just take all this,
they poop on it, put it on the compost,
and it activates the compost SO much, SO fast.
The whole process is all sped up just by these two small animals.
I can't get over how many times a day I come to visit them,
..just because they're fun to watch, really.
Sadly, I can't stay around for too much chicken chatter,
because early July means it's time to harvest my patio potato crops.
And for me, this is always a moment of excitement.
Almost like unwrapping a mystery Christmas present.
Well, I'm a bit nervous that there aren't going to be any...
So here's the moment of truth.
What's the crop going to be like?
There they go!
These are a bit small.
There's always a moment - could I have left them in longer?
Could they be bigger?
It is a bit like hunting for gold, though.
It's not a bad crop.
You always think, would they have been more bigger,
should I have left it another week?
I'm a bit disappointed, really. If I'm honest!
There's always this first one which you open, and you think,
I was impatient.
Nice-looking potatoes, though.
Luckily, my patch of garden-sewn potatoes beat my patio ones hands down.
My soil is in better condition than I thought, because
I really didn't think I would get a good crop of potatoes.
I thought there wasn't enough food in the soil.
But actually, the potatoes in the ground have been very successful.
I have got...
..at least 60 or 70 potatoes.
From eight plants, say. Which is more than enough for us.
And much worth the effort.
Actually, that's a complete lie. There was no effort on my part whatsoever.
I just put them in the ground, and bunged some grass clippings on top.
The little Swiss chard I planted back in May
is shooting up in the summer sun.
All I need to do now is keep picking the larger leaves
to encourage the new ones to grow.
This Swiss chard is called ruby chard,
and it's a lovely, very old variety.
It has this habit of doing exactly this,
which is bolting. It's going to flower.
The minute it bolts, it starts getting up to about this height.
If you cut out the flower spike,
then you can basically make the plant productive again.
And of course everything you cut, you can eat.
Next to the chard, I've planted three cavolo nero,
a Tuscan black kale.
It's a particularly handsome plant.
Leave the outside leaves and pick the tender inner ones, and this will
keep it producing right the way through into the following spring.
So you just pick a few off every single plant,
and you quickly mass loads.
So it's really good for last-minute suppers.
And my favourite last-minute supper right now is sauteed cavolo nero,
with Alice B and Gertrude's freshly laid eggs.
Late summer is knocking on the door,
and that means a wonderful time of plenty in the garden.
My lunchtime salads are now full of cucumbers and edible flowers, like nasturtiums.
But there's a new vegetable about to take centre stage.
I'm starting to harvest my beetroot in earnest now.
Which means I can make one of my favourite summer dishes,
which is a cold Polish soup called chlodnik.
Now, you need to use baby beets, and all their leaf.
And these are perfect. My little drift has worked out superbly.
All the other ingredients I need are also growing in the garden.
I'm using two herbs - dill, and French tarragon.
You don't like it! Give it back!
Every bit of the beetroot is cooked, including the leaves.
And once it's all softened, it's liquidised to a thick, soupy texture.
The rest of my home-grown ingredients include radishes,
cucumbers, Japanese bunching onions, and some sorrel leaves.
And once it's cool, stir in a carton of yoghurt.
Well, I can't claim to the yoghurt,
but apart from that, this is MY soup.
I grew it, from my garden,
and now I'm going to eat it.
Even the garnish was freshly laid this morning.
Whilst the bread is still warm.
-You're rubbish at that trick.
September's arrived, and my eclectic style of gardening
is working as well as I'd hoped.
It's my own take on polyculture, a way of mixing up your vegetables,
rather than growing them in separate rows.
I think the best way to describe this garden at this point
is a bit of a wild mess.
But, despite its slightly dishevelled look,
it is giving me plenty of food.
Every day there's a lot to pick,
and for that reason I really like polyculture as a method.
Because everything is muddled in together, I haven't had a bad problem with pest damage.
OK, so everything got nibbled a bit,
but so far, this system has managed to confuse even the cabbage whites.
My purple sprouting broccoli is virtually untouched, and thankfully
the pigeons have still not discovered it or the kale.
But, that's because right now
it's all sort of lush and thick and overflowing and wild.
But in the next month, that's going to very much die away.
The brassicas are really going to stand out, and at that point
the pigeon might figure out where the food is.
So, I could go down the traditional route and make a good old-fashioned bird-scarer.
Because I want to make something, actually.
I've enlisted the help of my friends Clare, Emily and Debs.
And the idea is simple.
If we make a series of abstract, robotic birds
to hover above the vegetables,
they should confuse the local pigeon community into thinking
there's a bird of prey guarding my crop.
Oh God, it is so pagan.
It's great, it's what I've always wanted.
I admit I don't have any pre-conceived design for my bird-scarers -
they're going to be organic and develop a life of their own.
The only thing they must do is make a noise.
He does need a beak.
-That one on either side?
-That's kind of groovy.
I could harvest some courgettes while I'm here.
They're really not making any noise.
-You hear it?
-You know, we'll see how it goes.
The cold November days have set in.
My garden may not be quite as pretty as it was, but it's still productive.
I've still got lots of different kales,
and this big, majestic Tuscan kale is doing well.
I have leeks, and beetroots which are still good for picking.
And then there's celery, and Swiss chard, and rocket.
The lovely purple sprouting broccoli will keep me well into next year.
And I've got even more kales here - in fact, I'm very brassica-happy.
And the bird-scarers? Well, they seem to be working really well.
So, despite the cold, and despite its slightly subdued look,
my garden's still a very happy place.
Next time, in my beautiful and productive garden,
I'm concentrating on fruit.
They're nature's edible jewels.
The simplest of food to grow, and yet some of the most delicious.
Even my chickens approve.
Oi! Nicely - that's my finger.
And I'm returning to my mother's tried and tested recipes,
to show just how versatile fruit can be.
It's not as sweet as you think it'll be.
It's perfect, actually.
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's no easy task because Alys doesn't want to turn her garden into an allotment, so she's growing her fruit and vegetables among her flowers.
Alys focuses on different foods and shows how anyone can grow, cook and eat from their own garden, even if they live in a city.
In the challenge of turning a small urban backyard into a beautiful and edible garden, root crops and leafy greens are the mainstays. Planted amidst the majestic kales are the red stems of earthy Swiss chard and the deep purple foliage of beetroot, all delivering delicious dishes from mid-summer right through the winter.
Alys doesn't go short of tasty options: beetroot and yoghurt soup, rhubarb and raspberry pie and a good supply of eggs from her two chickens.