Tag Archives: plants

September Foraging

I’ve been staying with a friend in a very sandy area of the country, unlike my own heavy clay soil, and it’s been fascinating to see the different gardening crops and routines.

2.7kg of crab apples on the go
2.7kg of crab apples on the go

But most of all, we’ve been foraging: crab apples, rosehips and hawthorn, all of which are nationwide, whatever the soil is. 2.7 kilos of crab apples, 2kg of rosehips and another kilo of haws, all from lovely locations. The rosehips were gathered a mile from any road at all, deep in a local nature reserve full of sand dunes and protected toads (we saw a baby, less than a centimetre long).

Wild rosehips on the Lancashire sand dunes
Wild rosehips on the Lancashire sand dunes

We followed two recipes, both from the Preserves book from Hugh FW’s River Cottage series, the hedgerow jelly and the rosehip syrup. I can’t see it on Amazon at the moment, but this one is similar (and there are second hand copies for pennies via that link:

There were many lessons …

Firstly, get your kitchen organised, and have everything ready to process your haul. My own kitchen is more or less up to speed with this – though not as good as British Red’s setup shown on his blog English Country Life – but my friend is looking after an elderly lady, so while I was there, the kitchen was filled with the paraphenalia for three of us, all with differing nutritional and dietary needs. In a grid-down situation, of course, we’d have to focus more, and concentrate more.

Secondly, using resources as local to you as possible, for freshness, for convenience, for time: the haws were only five minutes walk away, but the rosehips and crab apples were 15 minutes drive away. So more research beforehand is needed to make it work without overwhelming your days.

Thirdly, walking your neighbourhood at different times of year, is helpful in so many ways. It will show you what crops you can experiment with, and you can learn how long a crop is available for. We scouted the rosehips in the second week of September, but didn’t have time to pick them till the following week, and more than half of them were nibbled by wasps or rotten by then.

Next, an outside space to sort what you’ve gathered is pretty important, especially if you’re cooking in your domestic kitchen, not a dedicated space in an outbuilding or shed of some sort. I’m not sure my friend quite agrees with me on this one, but I don’t want to bring extra pests into the home, I want the leaf detritus and rotten berries onto the compost heap as soon as possible. Plus the sheer amount of space needed when you also have to sterilise your jars and bottles and so on, just makes it impractical to do everything from the initial processes right through to the bottling in the same room that’s being used for domestic life. Luckily, my friend has a little courtyard garden where we could sort through things in peace.

Getting the equipment together would be my fifth point, and I’ve said it before during earlier experiments. But you have to be willing to improvise too. In our case, we had a “died in storage” situation with the elastic of the muslin bag my friend used to filter the crab apple jelly. It had completely collapsed, and nearly slid off its tripod, taking the crab apple pulp with it. So the muslin bag was held on with its loops and with wire tied around it, which you can see in the photos. It was great, and it worked.

Crab apples draining through
Crab apples draining through

Lastly, labels. Last, but important. Labels are good – if you were doing this sort of preserving even a couple of times a week, you couldn’t possibly remember what’s what. Labels may look chintzy in some shops, but they’re a real essential. Showing the month and year you made your produce is also a good idea.

Labels aren’t last, sorry. There’s also the crucial taste test! The rose hip syrup wasn’t good, to be honest – much, much too sugary. And as with any wild species, the taste varies from plant to plant. In this case, the taste of the actual rosehips was very mild, and overwhelmed by the sugar. The spicy crab apple jelly, which also has the haws in it, is still maturing.  I’m hopeful.

Spicy crab apple jelly
Spicy crab apple jelly

If there was an ongoing crisis of some sort, there are better things to do with sugar than to make a sugary drink. Still, since we’d made it, I used it on my porridge instead of honey – it was certainly sweet enough, and there are nutrients and micronutrients in rosehips. Waste not, want not.

Processing the harvest, even in February

Yep, you read that right. Harvest from the windowsills, harvest from a culture kindly shared by an online friend, and harvest from the supermarket – sorry about that last one, I’ve got no magic formula for conjuring food from the garden at this time of year, though perennials such as lemon balm, rhubarb, sorrel, garlic and salad burnet are all starting to grow.

This is a bit of a different from my usual post, but it underlies a great deal of preparedness in general. It’s about using what you’ve got, whether that’s cheap fresh food from the supermarket or first aid supplies from plants you’re growing yourself, or swapping cultures online. Thinking a bit outside the box to improvise, to keep alive the old skills, to become more self reliant. That means relying less on big business, saving money and giving yourself a bit of concrete insurance to ensure that you can cope with whatever comes your way in these uncertain times.

First aid supplies and food stocks are the two areas I’m most interested in. So last week, I was repotting my aloe vera plants, and three became five. I hadn’t repotted them for about 3 years, and I meant to just get some fresh soil in there and repot them in the same plantpots, but it wasn’t possible – the “pups”, the new plants, were too big, and some had to be separated out, so that’s what I did. I was really badly organised about it, I hadn’t got enough plantpots ready and my equipment was stretched out over almost the whole of the kitchen and the patio outside, as well as needing to find new sites for the newly potted pups. Not good.

But I ended up with five well-nourished plants, so that’s good, for sure. Aloe vera are incredibly easy to grow as a houseplant in the UK – ordinary potting compost, a windowsill, water once a week, and Bob’s your proverbial uncle. In fact, they’re quite hard to kill. Mine have suffered from not being repotted earlier, it’s true, but they’re still alive, and now they’re flourishing again.

How little soil they had
How little soil the plants had before repotting

They have quite a few uses – not just snipping a bit of leaf for a burn, which seems the only widely known use. Instead, I had a look at WebMD, a pretty orthodox site as these things go, and I was pleasantly surprised at what I found there. It can be used (every so often) for constipation, for many skin conditions (from psoriasis to male genital herpes) and I was shocked to find there are also studies supporting its use for diabetics, in lowering their blood sugar, and possibly in lowering cholesterol too. It is already used in conjunction with radiotherapy and is considered helpful for “radiation induced skin injuries”. That’s quite something.

Three of the new plants
Three of the happy new plants

It has to be processed carefully, however, and it can’t be used constantly, so I’ll be doing another post on the actual useage – I need to let my new plants settle in and expand their root system, in any case.

 

The supermarket harvesting was onions at 60p per kilo, not particularly cheap, but cheap enough, and I wanted to do another experiment with dehydrating. A lot of people who identify as ‘preppers’ already dehydrate, of course, and it became almost mainstream a few years ago, when Alys Fowler of Gardener’s World devoted most of one of her own TV programmes to it. But it’s new to me. I need dehydration as a form of preserving food – I don’t like using sugar for that, and vinegar is bad in any quantity for people with arthritis. I don’t quite trust my freezer any more, it doesn’t seem to store frozen veg too well, so dehydrating it is. Because there’s no magical ingredient to it, its quite hard to take it on board, so I’m doing gradual experiments – grapes and sweet peppers a few weeks ago, and onions today, a kilo of them.

Omigod! Never process that amount of onions without wearing swimming goggles, it qualifies as a chemical attack. Or a sinus treatment, I haven’t quite decided.

Saving seed
Saving the sweet pepper seed for later sprouting
Dehydrating onions
Dehydrated onions
Dried onions and sweet peppers
Dried onions and sweet peppers

One lesson I did take on board from the work on the aloes was to be much better prepared from the outset. So the base of the dehydrator was sitting right by the out-of-the-way electric socket, where it could hum away to itself for the next ten hours. The trays were stacked just behind me, on the way to the pre-positioned base. And I was stationed at my work area – a kilo of onions in front of me, a small chopping area to take the onion skins, a used pot to take the skins ready for the compost bin, and a knife and full-sized chopping board to slice the onions ready for the dehydrator shelves.

The jars I used to store the dried onions are Kilner jars, meant for home canning in the American sense; the bodies were run through the dishwasher and left to cool and dry, and the lids were just washed and dried – in future years, maybe I could make my own antimicrobial fluid by harvesting my aloe vera plants! But there are many experiments to come before I’m ready to do that. Interesting, though.

The final part of all this harvesting was an experiment with the kefir culture another prepper sent me: I’m sure mumsnet users share their kefir and scoby cultures around too, and once I’m comfortable with the process, I’m willing to pay it forward as well – if anyboy would like kefir culture, just get in touch with me via the comments.

I used a very pretty jar I had lying around, and seconded an old peanut butter lid to lay across the top, then put the whole construction in my airing cupboard. The hot water wasn’ t on, so it didn’t overheat.

Kefir jar sitting in the airing cupboard
Kefir jar in the airing cupboard

It’s very, very simple to harvest – after 48 hours, I strained the now-lumpy milk into a jug. The strainings went into a new jar with more milk. The kefir-ed milk was put into the fridge – I’ll use it over the next few days. I don’t want to drink this much milk regularly, even though apparently the fermentation uses up the lactose, so I’m going to be experimenting with water kefir, which comes up prominently on a web search.

Looking after the culture is a little bit more complicated than this – making sure you have clean jars and lids, timing the fermentation to fit in with your own life, and how much product you want – that just takes time to find the right way forward for each person.

Each experiment worked well, and the dehydrating in particular means I’m not reliant on continued electricity to power the freezer, to keep my food stocks good to eat. Dehydrated food stores compactly, too – as anyone who’s soaked beans overnight knows, dried food has much less volume and weight than the original food. The dehydrator can’t work without electricity, of course, but that’s my next personal project, and a solar briefcase is already sitting in my stores, ready for the battery of my choice. A haybox is half made, to cook dehydrated food – an electric slow cooker can be used in the meantime. The aloes and the kefit mean that I’m looking after the health of me and my family.

One project leads on to another, and the net result is more stocks, more skills, and more preparedness all round. I like it.

Ponds – front garden and otherwise!

The more I read about ponds, the more I think that they’re a really good use of otherwise wasted space in the front of the house: done well, they’ll look merely ornamental, but actually be extremely useful. And that’s just for the plants, let alone the possibility of breeding your own fish (to be eaten!). PFAF has a good general article about edible water and bog gardens.

Of the useful cropping plants in ponds, duckweed springs to mind first of all: it’s very common and in large ponds it can be difficult to keep under control, so regular cropping would be excellent news all round. It can be used as a survival food, but it has a lot of uses in the garden as well, as a green manure, a mulch and food for animals and fish.  For a brilliant site about it’s many uses, you can’t do better than go here.  The scientist who runs this site, Tamra Fakhoorian, is also what we’d call a smallholder or part-time farmer maybe, in Kentucky, her breadth of knowledge is inspiring.  As an example of what can be done, here’s a large pond local to me adapted for angling, with a healthy crop of duckweed too:

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Water cress is also a brilliant crop, and is already used for humans, of course.  Water chestnut too.   Source the plants from a reputable nursery, and off you go.

Plants that provide cover and food for small animals are a good idea too – frogs will eat slugs and other garden pests, for instance. Plant pickerelweed and wild rice (the seeds are edible for humans too) as well as hornwort and elodea to help them. Hornwort can be eaten by humans, and elodea is said to be an emetic (causes vomiting) – so do your homework about exactly what plants you want!

If you have any sort of pond at all, you’ll need a sloping edge to at least part of your pond, so that those valuable, pest-reducing little insects and animals can get out of your pond, if they fall in.  This one is ideal, and the ducks think so too:

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There are all sorts of opportunities going begging: the picture below shows a few of them.   The drainage pipe that feeds it has become blocked, the water is stagnant, a tree has grown up inside the pond itself.  The structural elements surrounding it (and this is indeed somebody’s front garden) are obviously well maintained, but the pond element itself has been abandoned.  Very sad.

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One word of warning, especially if you also go foraging for any of these plants – liver flukes are a real danger, being picked up from contaminated water, undercooked fish or raw plant material from infected sites. Care should always be taken on matters of hygiene, of course, but common sense will help you here: the fluke life cycle is complex, needing both snails and fishes before it can infect mammals. E. coli can be found in waterplants too, occasionally.

What about breeding your own fish? Carp are a genuine possibility in the UK, with a firm headquartered in Scotland breeding them in Devon, for aquaponics systems. There are quite a few fish farms breeding carp for fisheries – some local investigation will help you find one nearer.  The British Aquaponics Association is listed below.

The North American preference is tilapia, again for aquaponics systems – not really the sort of pond for the front garden, but certainly something to think about for the back garden, as a less obtrusive option. Whatever you do, if you have livestock of any description, fish included, a lot of research and commitment is necessary, to avoid unnecessary suffering and to safely maximise production.

Childproofing

Water features need childproofing – especially in the front gaden. Exuberant passers-by under the age of criminal responsibility may trespass. They shouldn’t, but they do – and you may have children of your own, or visitors with children.

Basically, RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, recommends best practice of “a rigid mesh or grille” able to support the weight of a child up to age 4 – 5, and remain above the water at all times. That age cut-off is because it’s only then that children are aware of what warnings about danger might mean. If such strong mesh is impossible for your pond for some reason, mesh that’s strong enough to support a two year old toddler is a basic preventative measure.

If you’re growing crops in a water feature that’s only three inches deep or something similar, then that’s probably overkill – but bear in mind that something that shallow is going to freeze during most winters in the UK, and that’s going to be useless for fish, unless …. Tamra at Duckweed Gardening has some great ideas about transplanting crops into indoor containers – her weather issues in Kentucky are pretty different from ours in the UK, of course, but they can be adapted to our needs. Transplanting fish, however, is a tricky situation, and not something that I’d contemplate.

Conclusion

So there we are. I hope I’ve covinced you that front gardens can have their uses. It can be a little tricky, but there are plenty of different ways to use them for prepping, as well as enjoyment.  Here’s one to enjoy, taken at a village pond near to me:

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Further Reading

The British Aquaponic Association – their newsletter, and last year’s conference presentations, can be downloaded.

Permaculture has a deep interest in ponds, of course, and this is some of the advice and research they have available.

PFAF is an encyclopaedic site full of detailed information about all sorts of plants worldwide. In my opinion, it gathers rather than assesses information, but it can’t be bettered as a pointer to what you need to look out for.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. For a prepping blog, why not? They have useful information.

A private American site, already quoted in the post above, with really valuable information on duckweed for many uses and links to much of the scientific literature about it.

Front garden prepping

I was taking a walk the other day around a leafy garden suburb close by where I live, and started thinking about how big the front gardens were, and how they could be used to help support the people who live there.  This is the sort of thing I mean: SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The pavement is the tarmac track on the left – so all these houses have a lot of land to the front that just provides a nice open space to the homeowner and everyone else as well, and not much more.

Front gardens are difficult in relation to prepping: you probably don’t want to be too different from your neighbours and maybe drawing unwanted attention; there may be covenants that are legally binding about fences and so on, there could be problems with theft, and you may not have much space anyway. But, as in the picture I’ve shown, you might have a big enough area that you really want to use it for something, anything, rather than have it just sitting there, needing to be mown every so often.

There are always exceptions, of course, like this one below, which has a water butt, plant supports galore, and a scarecrow, as well as vacuum tubes in the roof to help provide hot water.   Interestingly, it’s right by a community college that has an agricultural bias.  Right in the middle of this little commuter town are cows, pigs and sheep. I wonder if this guy used to teach there? Or he’s a dedicated good-lifer (I’ve seen the person tending this plot, I know its a “he”).

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So, if you do have any sort of space, and you don’t want to stand out like the guy who has this garden, there are some things you can do that can help you a little bit in your prepping – over an average year, that might be very little, perhaps an extra day of fuel, or of food – but that’s still worth having, isn’t it? Especially when these are things you can just set up and leave. If supplies were having to be helicoptered in to your area because of prolonged snowstorms, you’d be glad of an extra day’s supply.

And I like the principle of supplying my own needs from my own land – no food miles, that’s for sure!

There is one important warning, though: ALLERGIES! If you eat something new from your garden that you’ve never eaten before, taste test it thoroughly before eating. In fact, that’s such an important idea, I’ll do a separate post on it soon, because I love the idea of foraging, and thats where taste-testing really comes into it’s own.

Anyway, the first thing about prepping in your front garden is to look at what you’ve got and see how you’re presently using it. Then to look at how you can improve on that. Food, herbal medicine, fuel, security, insect pollination, even a little cash income, these can all be helped along by your front garden prepping. And guess what, you’re still allowed to have plants in there that you love! I love scabious and I’m quite partial to forget-me-not (bees like both of them too, but I liked them before I knew that).

Do you have a good quality garden wall and gate at the front (and sides, if appropriate)? That’s good security. A padlock ready to be used on the gate in times of trouble, and an automatic security light, would both go down well. Do you have a pinhole viewer in the front door? That’s really beyond the scope of this article, but the person will be standing in your front garden by that stage, which just illustrates how open and vulnerable the fronts of our houses usually are.

What ground surfaces do you have? Is it all laid to hardstanding, for the car? Do you have a lawn? A hedge? A little pond? Flowerbeds? If you don’t, do you want to instal any of those things? Any and all of them can be really useful in terms of prepping.

Hard standing and storage

Except maybe hardstanding … you can’t really use the front of the house to store many goods, it’s much too likely to be pinched by a passerby, eventually. Unless you’re way, way out in the countryside, in which case, I doubt you need to read this post for yourself, but I’d appreciate your comments to help the rest of us. The only thing people do store at the front, actually, is tree branches curing to be used as firewood, often right next to the house under the eaves. Or you could rent out the space for parking: moneysavingexpert did a review of this in August 2015, though it’s a tricky enough situation that they put a legal disclaimer on the page, which is very, very unusual for them. So, do it at your own risk, and do your research first.

Money you earn can be ploughed back into your preps, of course! After telling the taxman and all that.

One final note on storage, actually: collecting leafmould each year is a helpful thing to do for the garden – adding organic matter, if not huge amounts of goodness. Whether you put it in black bags with holes poked in them, or in a little enclosure made of chicken wire, it can be stored at the front, in space you’re not using. Preferably on some bare earth, so as many bacteria and insects as possible can get to the leaves, and in a year or so, you’ll have some lovely mulch.

Grassy Areas

With some care, grassy areas can be very useful. They can’t always be turned over to growing vegetables, and you might not want that in the front garden anyway, but there can be so much square footage taken up with a lawn, I think it’s a mistake not to at least think it through.

Saffron is a hugely expensive spice, derived from the Crocus sativus plant, a pretty crocus. Once they’re in, they don’t particularly need nurturing, just like any bulb, and you could use the crop yourself, or help the plants reproduce and grow on enough to be a useful little cash crop once a year, sold at a local fair or to people at work, or as part of a foodie hamper to family for Christmas!

There are many, many plants that nearly always seem to make it into people’s lawns: dandelions, daisies and plantains among them.

Dandelions are great, the buds can be pickled, the flowers can be made into a jam of sorts, the seedheads can be used as tinder, the leaves can be used in salads or as part of a pesto.

With daisies, the leaves and flowers are edible, and in the past were used medicinally; best do a lot more research there. But realistically, they’re so tiny, and take so long to gather, I think it would be hard to do yourself harm with something that’s known to be edible.

Plantain is edible (usually when blanched) and it seems to be worryingly effective medically. There are serious warnings on WebMD about a fall in blood pressure, though it’s apparently useful for stopping blood flow from a wound. Like many of these plants, if you eat it, it seems that it should only be used in conjunction with other greens, so that not too many of any one sort are eaten at once.

There are other plants that take root in a lawn that bees love: clover, rarely classed as edible, is one of these; selfheal, buttercups and birds foot trefoil are others. Many garden centres will have mixes of seeds to be sown into your lawn, for exactly this purpose. How is that prepping? I don’t think the death of the local ecology will help your prepping: and some of your own food plants will need to be fertilised by bees and insects. And let’s face it, bees are beautiful.

Some very low-growing plants that can gradually be introduced into a monoculture lawn to make it more relevant to prepping, such as hairy bittercress, creeping mint or ground ivy. They’re not our first choice of food, but just to have them on the premises is a good backup. And they go well in a pesto or salsa.

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Mushrooms, of course, often grow within a grassy area, especially on damp ground. I’ve seen a lot locally – like the ones above this paragraph, which are more or less in a classic fairy ring. But I have no idea about safety and edibility in mushrooms, none at all, and I’ve never made them a priority to research. But I know they can be edible. If you like them, I urge you to go for it, go on a foraging course – and let me know the results. Any mushroom growers out there who want to write something?

The grass itself can be useful, naturally. If it doesn’t have seeds or roots in, it can be used in the compost heap.  It can be used even more directly, by being laid directly onto the ground as mulch, once it’s dried out a little.

Longer grass can be used to feed your rabbits or hens, or even dried out and used as their bedding, but note that you must cut grass manually, with shears, if you’re going to use it as feed.  If it’s cut with a lawnmower, the cuts cause the grass to begin fermenting. Drunk rabbits, or rabbits with stomach ache, that’s not going to work. And rabbits are sensitive to the mineral oils and fuel left on the grass by mowers: the results can be fatal, in all seriousness. Again, do your research – this is just an overview of possibilities.

There are dozens of websites to go to, but these are some of the most authoritative:

WebMD

Plants for a Future

Botanical

Eat Weeds

Garden Organic

Mother Earth News

Royal Horticultural Society

Herbal Haven

British Beekeepers Association

This is longer than I thought, so I’ll stop there, and take up hedges and ponds and whatnot next week, then taste testing after that.. Hope this is helpful!

 

Overview of Growing Houseplants as a Prepper

Introduction
The first prep that makes sense when you become a prepper is to stock up on food, by buying extra of some of your normal shopping. More baked beans, more salmon, more rice, more vegetable oil, more sugar, more tinned potatoes (I have an addiction to those, I confess). All sorts of things. More of that another day.

Then people realise they need water – water’s cheap, but its heavy, really heavy, so thats often a question of some 5 litre bottles and a few bottles of purification tablets, maybe a water butt. More of that another day too.

The question of growing your own comes up then: for people with a garden, the obvious answer is to get out there, and start digging and planting. Much, much more of that another day, another week, another year, its an endless topic!

But plenty of people don’t have gardens, or aren’t physically able to garden. And people with gardens want even more space. What can we do? This post is an introduction to answering that question. All of the topics I’ve listed below will eventually have their own posts on the blog, sometimes several of them, this is just a preliminary overview.

Making growing space inside the house
I have some ideas about houseplants that might help. They’re not the complete answer, naturally, but neither is the average suburban garden, you couldn’t feed a family on the produce from a garden, nor even a single person. But little bits help, they really do, and if there’s an emergency of some kind during winter, or an Icelandic ash cloud much worse than the last one (so much so that its dangerous to go out because of the size of the jagged ash particles), growing more inside the house is really the only way to get extra produce.

So, this is about a regular prep, as well as for potential medium-term emergencies: a bad winter can see a lot of snowstorms, so that ekeing out your stores becomes something that’s really useful. It can save you money and food miles, as well.

Growing plants indoors, of course, needs work: the temperature can’t vary too wildly for some of the plants I’m describing, though some, frankly, are as tough as old boots!

Perennials
Long lasting herbs are great to grow indoors – mint, rosemary and lemon balm in particular. All are best grown out of doors, to be honest (except maybe in the very north of Scotland?), but they’re reliable producers of greenstuff with lots of micronutrients, so they’re worth having. They can all be used for teas as well as for food.

If you have a conservatory or even a large window or French doors, you could actually use the space nearby to grow ballerina trees, or some form of mini fruit bush. It would be a talking point, which you might not want, and in any case most people need their conservatories for extra living space, but its possible, thats the thing.

One perennial plant thats very easy to grow indoors is aloe vera – its so easy to grow that anyone you know who has one, will actually be eager to give you a plant – it grows like crazy. Its great for the skin, to help blisters, rough patches, healing burns. It also helps clean the air.

Some plants are always going to be house plants because they help purify the air inside a house. There are a few basic ones, pretty unremarkable: Spider plants, mother in law’s tongue and English ivy are the most common. There are plenty of others, such as weeping figs, Warneck dracaena, ferns and peace lilies are all helpful in their own way.

Annuals
Annual plants that are usually grown under cover such as chili or basil can be grown in the house too. A little bit of care is needed, especially to ensure that they get enough light, but its definitely possible.

Plenty of shop-bought vegetables can also be recycled once or twice in the kitchen, to provide extra salad greens. Carrots and spring onions, in particular – once you’ve eaten the bit you want, pack the root into a little flowerpot, or in the case of carrots into a saucer of water, and They Will Come.

Small, fast-growing salad veg can also be usefully grown indoors in ordinary times, especially in early spring when you want some salads but the weather isn’t really cooperating, and the shops are charging for the equivalent weight in gold. Radishes, lettuces, salad burnet, cress, baby greens of almost any food plant, all sorts of things.

Starting off your seedlings indoors can be a real help – even if you’re not trying to get a start on the season, your little seedlings will be safer from pests, and from bad weather like late frosts and hailstones. Nowadays, its recommended to grow them in plugs, or the insides of toilet rolls, or pouches made from newspaper – their little roots won’t be disturbed by onward planting, as they would be if they were being taken from a seed tray.

Sprouting
Sprouting is an incredibly important way of providing fresh greens for you and your family from stored food. I’d never spend money on a sprouting kit, when the home made version will do perfectly well, but I’ve found that the jar needs to be a fair bit bigger than the average jamjar, so a store of bigger jars – that used to contain mayonnaise, or beetroot, for instance – is a good idea.

Locations in the house
What about where the pots go? You want as much light as possible for nearly every plant mentioned above: if you have a secure conservatory, a lot more options open up for you. If you have a porch, many of the same options exist there (although there’ll be a lot more winter traffic in a porch, and any plants still there could well be quite stressed by that environment). Windowsills that are wide enough are helpful to put plants on, or a shelf opposite a good-sized window for a lot of plants, or hung from the ceiling. Big plant containers can go on the floor, of course, and all of these ideas will look good in the present day, in mostly ordinary times.

Intensity
However, if there’s a medium-term problem such as I described above, with ash clouds or a prolonged spell of bad weather, we need more than a pleasant amount of greenery: we need as much as we can get. So you can line your windowsills and your conservatory floor with plants, pots and saucers all touching one another; you can have a row of a dozen or so old jamjars with sprouted seeds in various stages of growth. You could even fit an extra plant shelf halfway up a window, to double the available growing space, as long as it wasn’t too noticeable from outside. Venetian blinds, for instance, hide a good deal, as long as there’s no light on inside the room.

If things need to be even more intense, you could get going with vertical indoor planting – I have quite a few spare pieces of trellis, for instance, and that could be secured to a wall and hung with plantpots that are each secured by a long twist of wire.

There are some even more complex systems to get into, if you have the room, the money and enough available time to study it and get it going – keeping it going is even better: aquaculture, aquaponics, hydroculture and hydroponics are all possibilities. For me, they’re still in the future, and I’ve still not even researched them, but if anyone has any experience of them, I’d love to hear.