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Dabbling in DIY: Fruit, veggies and herbs

Rhoda-Mary Health
There's something magical about searching for the plumpest, reddest raspberry in your garden, or boiling new potatoes you have dug from the soil and eating them slathered with butter. Yum! Even if you don't have a garden, you can grow fruits, veggies and herbs beside a nice bright window, or on a balcony high above the urban rush. Growing your own organic food is the ultimate in thinking globally and acting locally. Not only do you get to bite into the freshest, tastiest produce you can find, with nutrient loss equating to the time it takes to travel from your plant pot to your plate; you are also helping our ailing planet by replenishing your patch of ground with nutritionally enriched soil. And growing your own is cheaper than paying a premium at the shops for organic produce. Given the variety of things you can grow, there isn't enough room here to offer growing tips. Instead, I can direct you to resources you may find useful. But first, where are you going to sink your trowel? Gardens, allotments and indoor gardening If you have a garden, wonderful. You can get going immediately. If you don't, but would like to garden outdoors, consider applying for an allotment. My friend has been nurturing her allotment for two years (and producing lots of delicious salads!). But she also has lettuce living on her windowsill. Another friend grows tomato plants in pots by her kitchen door. I think indoor gardening is the wave of the future. A few plant pots, recycled containers or hanging baskets and some light, water, seeds, knowledge and imagination can produce lots of food in very little space. Growing fruit, veg and herbs is a true source of twenty-first century wealth. You will save money; improve your health by eating fresher produce; acquire knowledge of how to grow your own food; and create a source of food security in a world where financial and ecological concerns are locked in a downward dive. It is parallel to owning your own solar panel, reducing an interdependence that can become fragile when things go wrong on a global scale. David McWilliams suggests that farming should be part of the 'smart economy'. He notes that farming skills, once lost, are hard to revive. In this vein, I think it would benefit us all to learn some measure of food production skill. But I believe organic growing is the way to go because it is more in tune with our ecosystem and works against the growing ecological crisis. Organic Centres and Courses The following centres offer introductory courses in organic gardening and myriad other resources, such as information on natural pest control and where to find good seeds, soil, plant nutrients and organic compost. Note: Cultivate is in the process of moving from Temple Bar to the old ENFO offices at Greenhouse, 17 St Andrew Street, Dublin 2. The new shop is expected to open in five weeks' time. If you are interested in Demeter, or biodynamic, farming, check out the following: Useful book Years ago, I discovered a gem of a book by Branton Kenton (son of famous health writer Leslie), entitled Quantum Carrot (London, 1987). It marries James Lovelock's Gaia theory with small space organic gardening and is packed with information on how to grow organic produce anywhere, from the lushest garden to the tiniest studio apartment. Sadly, it is out of print. Amazon sellers still have a few copies in stock but, in case they run out, I have decided to give one to The Hopsack (that's the health food store beside the photocopy shop!). The Lovely Girls and Boys will let you peek at it for a few minutes. And Branton, if you're reading this, is there any chance you might reprint it, or bring out an edition for the Noughties? :-) Its time has come! Your very own compost heap... Is there a small green bin lurking under your sink and a big brown bruiser in your garden? If not, you might consider contacting your waste collector and ordering compost bins. Or creating a compost heap down the end of your garden... Composting is a great way to recycle organic matter that might otherwise blot the landscape. Gaia (aka Mother Earth) adores compost but - if you put the wrong things on your heap - so does the local rattage. Be sure to give Mama what she needs and withhold what she doesn't, or the rodents will be donning their shades and telling their friends to meet up round at yours. For an extensive list of what you can and can't compost, Quantum Carrot (pp 109-10) is a good place to start. In essence, you will please Gaia by giving her raw plant waste (kitchen and garden); coffee grounds and tea leaves (cos she's a caffeine addict!); seaweed; eggshells; ash from wood fires (but not soot); animal manure (a compost activator); up to 10% shredded newspaper (but forget Vogue and other glossies); straw (up to 50% of volume);Â ferns (good for potash); and small amounts of sawdust and wood chippings (not too much, as they can rob your heap of nitrogen). But check out the book for a more detailed list. You will invite the Rat Pack by adding the following to your compost heap: cooked food, flesh foods and large bones (which take an age to decompose and provide some nice gnawing material in the meantime). So be warned... For ready-made compost (suitable for outdoor use only), Plant Life on Cork Street in Dublin (tel: (01) 4536201) offers 25 litre bags of organic compost created from recycled Dublin waste matter. The formula even includes a contri-pooh-tion from the elephants at Dublin Zoo. How sweet are they? In sum... Even if you are less than skilled at first, you'll soon be swapping tips with your gardening friends and banishing pests like a pro. Just remember to grow what you love and give us a nibble if you happen to be passing by. Did you know? Eating 75% of your food fresh and raw can increase your energy levels and healing ability exponentially. Check out Leslie Kenton's book The Raw Energy Bible for an excellent introduction to the power of uncooked living food. Available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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