Subsistence farming, North Circular-style

By Simon Round, May 9, 2008

A genius thought occurred to me a few months ago (actually it occurred to my wife, but seeing as I am the columnist, we will pretend it occurred to me).

I (unlike my children ) like vegetables. Also I have quite a large garden which is home only to a few daffodils, a tulip or two and quite a large number of squirrels.

If I was to use the garden to grow vegetables then we would be using the space more productively. I would also be contributing in a very small way to the struggle to make our planet a greener place. I would be providing fresh, organic produce for the children to turn their noses up at and I would not be paying through the nose for fruit and veg which has probably been sitting in a cold store for months.

There were, as I saw it, only two problems with the plan. The first was that as a Jew whose ancestors moved from shtetl to ghetto, there is not a huge amount of agricultural experience in the family. During my few months on kibbutz, I did work in the fields growing bananas and picking oranges, but I doubt these are fruit we could successfully produce in the immediate vicinity of the North Circular.

The second was to decide what to grow. My first idea was to go for the kind of upmarket vegetables that you tend to pay a lot for at the supermarket — things like asparagus and mange tout. Then I looked in the vegetable-growing manual and realised that the reason these vegetables are so expensive is that they are rather fiddly to grow, particularly if you are a beginner whose green-fingered exploits are confined to buying little pots of living basil from the supermarket.

It is apparently easy to grow things like carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables, which might explain why Ashkenazi Jews have traditionally eaten them in large quantities. However, how excited can you get about cultivating spuds and beets? I wanted crops with more glamour.

Eventually, a list of feasible vegetables was drawn up. We would grow tomatoes, radishes and rocket and would also try our hand at a little sprouting broccoli just for the buzz.

So far it is going very well. Lots of little tomato plants are flourishing in a plant propagator on the windowsill (yes, it’s all getting quite technical). The radishes also seem to be flourishing in the vegetable plot, as is the rocket. Indeed, the way things are going at the moment I might be able to have at least one completely home-grown salad come August.

OK, so we are not quite in The Good Life territory here, but I am quite warming to my new persona as a horny handed son of the soil. I had half an idea that, given spiralling cereal prices, I might even sow a little wheat in the flower bed, although the quantity of wholemeal flour I would manage to harvest from it would probably only be sufficient to make a roll to go with my salad.

There will also be sunflowers so that I might make my own sunflower oil (anyone know how you get the oil out of a sunflower?), and perhaps a rubber plant so that I can manufacture my own radials. Perhaps in due course I might even raise a few head of cattle at the end of the far meadow by the fence that divides us from number 73.

Anyway, in the meantime, I am looking forward to my salad and revelling in the fact that growing rocket is not after all rocket science.

Last updated: 4:32pm, September 23 2009