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Digging for victory: How to grow your own food

Exeter vendor Richard has long grown his own delicious food. And because of the current situation, he reckons it’s a very good time to get green-fingered

potatoes

Richard Todd explains how you can grow your own potatoes. Image credit: holzijue / Pixabay

Big Issue vendors have a wide variety of skills and experience, so we bring you the best of their knowledge each week. This week, Exeter vendor Richard Todd, who has worked as a landscape gardener and organic farmer, explains how you can start growing your own food.

With the pandemic and Brexit, food is becoming more expensive and I anticipate shortages. So I think for anyone who has access to land, they need to use every bit.

I grow other plants, but I do get a bit obsessed with potatoes and onions. The potato is a good staple, so from the point of view of people who don’t have a lot of money there’s an economic benefit, definitely. Also, if I’m going into new ground the potato’s quite a good thing to grow. A ridge and furrow is less labour-intensive and serves the purpose of helping to drain the soil and letting it warm up quicker in the cold months.

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I’ve avoided blight but if you grow main crops you’re going to have to spray them to prevent it. I’ve tended to grow a bigger new potato crop. They will store, but they don’t stay yummy like new potatoes. There’s the added benefit though that they come out of the ground a lot sooner than the main crop – so you’re going to harvest that crop earlier in the year and make that ground available to grow a follow-on crop. Over a 12-month period I’ve had three crops following on from that technique.

It’s always good to get certified, reliable seed. When I haven’t had much money I’ve chopped seed potatoes in half to get two plants. And when I’ve harvested I keep the small ones for replanting. We had a local market so we ended up selling the best, eating the mis-shapen ones ourselves and then with the small ones just save them for replanting.

If you’re starting off with some of the brassicas you can be starting some of the seedlings now. The recommendation is to do small batches because you might still get a hard frost and lose it. But at least try to get an early start while we’re waiting for the soil to warm up and for more sunlight availability.

It’s a really nice time of year for garden planning. You can look through your seed catalogues and plan what you’re going to do. And there are other things that can be done now, for example it’s still dormant season for bare-rooted trees, fruit trees and things like that. Deciduous trees need to be replanted between November and March so if you’re a bit behind with some of that you’ve still got several weeks to do it.

Pruning apple trees, currants and gooseberries can still be done. There are two times of year to prune, if you do it during the winter – the dormant season – you’re promoting wood growth. Summer pruning promotes fruit growth. At this time of year I’m really talking from a maintenance point of view, if there’s any disease you can cut it out while the trees are dormant.

Richard Todd sells The Big Issue in Exeter. He has worked as a landscape gardener and organic farmer.

Richard was speaking to Sarah Reid.

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