The knowledge... How to grow a kitchen garden
Advice from the food writer and farmer on how you can grow your own food to enjoy flavour that only comes from home-grown.
Choose plants that pack a punch
There is something very pleasing about growing your own food, and you can enhance every meal you eat with only five or six potted plants by the back door. I call plants that are small in volume and large in flavour 'transformers', for their ability to boost flavour in cooking. Herbs, garlic and chillis are good examples. My favourite transformer plants include Szechuan pepper, which has an amazing, powerful flavour; Carolina allspice, the bark of which can be ground and dusted over pork or porridge; and borage, which has a cucumber flavour that is great in cocktails or Pimm's, but also perks up a salad.
Beat the supermarket
For me, growing foods that taste different from supermarket versions is important. Asparagus, peas, sweetcorn, berries and baby carrots lose their quality quickly from the moment they are harvested. If you grow these yourself, you'll find flavour that comes only from being home-grown - the difference is remarkable. The other beauty of growing your own is that you can seek out varieties that are hard to find in shops. Jerusalem artichokes, Babington's leeks, boysenberries, golden raspberries, International Kidney potatoes and Sungold tomatoes are things I want in my garden, but you seldom find them in shops.
Plant in any place
Even if the only space you have is a balcony or a windowsill, you can still grow your own food. In many cases, a plant will do as well in a pot of compost as it would in swathes of land. The basis of all pots should be good-quality, peat-free compost, in which you should plant a rewarding perennial that can produce many fruits, such as a chilli plant. Or mix some grit into the compost and plant a satisfying Mediterranean herb, such as oregano or marjoram. If you have small space in a sunny spot, buy a dwarf fruit tree - apricot, peach, apple and plum trees are among many possibilities. A dwarf tree will grow to about 120cm (3ft 11in) tall, requires little pruning and can produce dozens of tasty fruits, plus great satisfaction.
Think about your harvest
Choose plants that have a repeated harvest, where the more you pick, the more you get. Lettuce and salad leaves will quickly re-sprout if you cut them off 5cm (about 2in) from the soil. Other easy foods to grow include courgettes - which are famously over-productive, if you have the space - and perennial herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and mint. Legumes, such as peas and beans, may be the most productive of them all. Productive plants often need time and precision invested in them in the early growing stages, but then they will thrive with just minimal intervention.
Make small successes
Start small. Choose a few plants that have a quick return. Radishes, pea shoots, chives and micro-leaves are among the fastest plants to move from seed to plate. Avoid types that take a long time to harvest, such as cabbages, as they will be in the ground for most of the year. The rest is relatively simple: read up, talk to other gardeners, and buy your seeds and plants from independent nurseries rather than DIY stores.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine