You are hereJanuary 2012
I wish you a happy and productive year of exciting, healthy growth in your plots and gardens.
Another winter is underway, so far extremely different to last year: springlike in fact. So should we be sowing and planting?
Apart from garlic and shallots, and broad beans in pots undercover, the emphatic answer is to be patient and keep your seed dry until February at the earliest. Winter still has something to offer, probably in February this year, and low light levels at this time of year are not conducive to raising strong plants.
My first experience of sowing seeds was in January, in my parents' garden. The packet of carrot seeds said "sow from January to July". I believed the seed company, and sure enough I never had any carrots to eat from that sowing! Dates are often too generous and it is worth erring on the side of caution.
December's high rainfall has left soil pretty wet and that looks like continuing until, perhaps, the new moon of late January. Wet soil at this time of year, with no sun to dry it at all, invites us to do other things like hedging, cleaning the greenhouse, ordering seed, pruning soft and top fruit, oiling the wooden handles of tools and any other outstanding jobs which one is too busy for in summer. Do some reading too....
I have been reading an extraordinary book, about food rather than gardening, and it is highly relevant to vegetable and fruit growing because its author, Dr Colin Campbell, America's top nutritional scientist, presents clear evidence that the healthiest diet we can eat is also extremely simple. Namely a wholefoods, plant based diet.
Just eat plants! Great if you have a food garden!!
I have often wondered about eating vegan and have baulked at the idea of giving up so many foods. Yet Dr Campbell has convinced me it is worth attempting, just as he and his family have done since his reasearch revealed such strong evidence of massively reduced chances of succumbing to cancer, heart disease, MS, arthritis and so on. Even that these diseases can be checked or partly healed with a diet of unrefined food that is based on fruits, vegetables and nuts mainly. Also that one has more energy!!
The caveat often mentioned about veganism is vitamin B12. Dr Campbell explains that in fact it is obtained from morsels of soil, which remain on home washed roots and leaves, whereas city dwellers may not have any of that. Another reason to grow your own (in the city too), I love it.
Where is the protein? Campbell debunks the protein myths which support a perceived need for factory farming* and food such as genetically modified soya, to feed all those animals. In fact, many vegetables have reasonable amounts of protein which is also more digestible, and Campbell's book, The China Study, is based on two decades of studying diet in rural China among thousands of people who consumed no animal protein, ate more calories than average Americans, and were more healthy. The book's mass of data tells a convincing story and Dr Campbell converts science to plain language, motivated by his desire to help people.
*note for vegetarians: modern dairy farming is heading to be a new kind of factory farming. I grew up on a dairy farm and felt bad as a vegetarian in the 1980s that I was, arguably, supporting as much or more animal suffering to produce milk, as was involved in producing meat. Things have not improved since then.
UPDATE 17th January
A gardener from Manchester just sent me information about another book along these lines, called "Your Life in Your Hands" by Professor Jane Plant. Following the link below leads to many amazing reviews of the book by cancer sufferers who became completely healthy and are so immensely grateful.
I feel grateful to be growing and harvesting delicious, attractive vegetables which as well as giving pleasure when eaten, are giving health when digested. There is also a sense of empowerment. For many diseases, we do not need government to sort out our health, or business, we can do it ourselves, and with less side effects than using drugs.
Also, I have long felt that there is such a thing as HEALTH, not the same as 'absence of disease' (NHS is really NDS), and this search for zest and wholeness underpins my approach to gardening. For instance, no dig for healthier soil and plants, leaves that are glossy and just look vibrant. I think that is why some customers of my salad bags (who don't eat all the leaves in one meal!) tell of their amazement at the leaves' longevity and good flavour: they (leaves and customers!) stay alive for longer after being picked.
In February's post I shall return to my more usual theme of gardening advice. This month is more about motivation to grow more!
PS No need for illness: another gardener has just recommended his favourite and seminal encyclopedia of food and health: