COLUMNIST: NEIL M WHITE
Good crops for self provisioning should have three characteristics:
There’s a full list of my favourite crops in my book ‘The Self Provisioner’ which is all about growing your own food and living more sustainably.
Although these are often thought of as Irish, they actually originate from South America, and were brought to Europe by English explorers. Potatoes are super as a self provisioning crop. They are versatile, easy to grow, easy to store, and the flavour of your own home grown ones vs shop bought is truly mind blowing.
If you have the space, grow an ‘early’ variety (good for boiling and potato salads), and a main crop (for roasting and mashing). Avoid the temptation to plant them too close together which is an easy mistake to make. Potato plants are hungry beasts and will quickly fill above and below ground space. Main crop potatoes should be spaced at least 60cm (2 ft) between rows and 45cm (1½ft) between plants.
The great thing about tatties is that you don’t need much space - just a balcony or patio, and you can grow them in a container or planting bag.
In Scotland, we call these turnips or ‘neeps’. English people tell us we’re wrong, and that turnips are a different vegetable altogether (but then Australians call them rutabagas - enough said).
A root crop that is part of the cabbage family, they need early protection from pigeons, and ongoing protection from caterpillars and slugs. I’ve found that a combination of fleece to protect from birds and caterpillars, and beer traps for slugs do the trick.
Once established, they grow quickly and will store over winter in the ground. A touch of frost will improve flavour as the starches in the bulbous roots turn to sugars so they are perfect for growing in Scotland.
I like to roast swedes with carrots but you could also make a Scotch broth, here’s my recipe:
Boil together for two to three hours and blend. If you leave overnight in the fridge, the flavours will improve drastically. Stupendous!
A courgette is just an immature marrow. I say ‘just’, but it’s infinitely better and tastier than its adult form. Let’s be real - a marrow is just a big mass of watery tastelessness. “Hey, that was a delicious marrow I ate last night,” said no one ever.
A few years ago, I didn’t really like courgette because I’d only ever eaten the hydroponically grown fakery from the supermarket. The first time I ate my own courgette, fresh from the garden, my mind was blown. Now I can never eat supermarket bought ever again.
The best way to grow courgettes is in ‘melon pits’. Dig a deep pit - as deep as you can - and half fill with fresh manure, kitchen scraps, wood ash, and urine, or a combination of all. Then put the soil back in the hole. This will create a raised mound. Plant the seeds (or young plants) into this mound. The roots of the plant will grow deep down into the lovely, nutrient rich goodness and give you stonking, big fruit.
A good rule of thumb is to pick them when they are about the length of an adult’s hand. Once they get to salami size, they’re far too mooshy.
Another good rule is one plant per adult in the home, otherwise you’ll have so many courgettes you’ll be eating them all summer. I made this mistake once and ended up giving carrier bags of courgettes away to friends and family. Courgettes dry and store well, and are great added to stews or soups for winter colour.
Part of the brassica (think cabbage) family, kale is a winner on several levels. Firstly it's one of the most nutritious green vegetables out there. Secondly it’s easy to grow - just keep it well protected when it’s young. Thirdly, it will continue to grow and give you greens right through a cold winter. I’ve gone out to the garden, dug down into the snow, and harvested wonderful, sweet kale.
The best varieties are the black Tuscan ‘Cavolo Nero’ types. I’ve grown a F1 hybrid variety called ‘Black Magic’ which has performed well every time. To encourage constant cropping, grow 6 - 8 plants and cut 2-3 leaves off each plant per harvest.
You can freeze kale by blanching, packing into bundles or cubes, and freezing. Kale is a good Scottish crop and can be added to the Scotch broth mix (as above), made into colcannon, or kale crisps which are yum!
In the next issue, I’ll be talking about watering, why I’m lazy, and how I leave the hosepipe coiled up in the garage (mostly).
Neil M. White lives in Perthshire with his wife and three children. He has worked in horticulture as a landscape gardener and in a tree nursery. Passionate about growing fruit and veg, Neil's latest book on gardening ‘The Self Provisioner’, was published in April 2020.
Follow what Neil gets up to on his Twitter and Instagram pages.