Getting your hands dirty can help you understand the story of your food from the ground up. Chef Jamie Oliver shares his earliest gardening experiences, and celebrates the rewards of growing your own food.
What’s the joy of growing your own food?
Jamie Oliver: Growing food, like many things in life, is an art. If you want to be good at anything, you’ve got to work hard. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be the best gardener to enjoy gardening. My first year, I just got a bunch of lettuce seeds, kicked up the mud, sprinkled the seeds on the ground, and kicked some more mud over the top. It took 30 seconds.
Three weeks later, I had all my own lettuces. Then I started planting other things. The English are very good at gardening, with their straight lines and bits of string, but that’s not me. I don’t do straight lines. I’m scruffy, and I use my hands. I just started plugging things in the ground. I had failures, but 80 percent of what I grew, I ate. For the first year, that’s not bad.
If you have a go at something easy like lettuce, then grow some squash or pumpkins next time. Then, once you’ve grown one or two things, the next time you go to the shop, buy a few more seeds and have another go.
What is the experience of planting and growing a fruit tree?
Jamie Oliver: Here, we’ve got a beautiful crunchy apple, and here we’ve got apple seeds. The apple is an everyday thing you can buy for cheap. But the apple seeds are an investment. If I’m growing an apple tree, it will take a year or two to get one or two apples, and it will take another 20 or 30 years to get a lot of apples.
There’s enough food in that seed to keep it alive. If I put a seed in cotton wool in a bit of water, it would start sprouting and growing for about eight days. Then it runs out of fuel, and it has to start drawing from the soil.
You plant one apple seed in the ground, and it turns into a sapling. Then, when it’s a little bigger you plant it in some half-decent soil, in a little spot in the garden. Imagine that it’s going to get big. You don’t have to water it that much, and it just grows. The next thing you know, three years later, you’ve got 10 apples. The next year, you’ll have 18. The year after that, you’ll have 25. Before you know it, you’ll be 10 years older, and you’ll have 100 of these babies, but you’ve never really given it much care. Anything that grows on a tree is pretty low-maintenance.
This is really clever stuff going on here. There’s something about putting seeds in the ground, letting them grow, and then picking them and eating them—it’s brilliant.More: Edible Education, Farm to Fork, Fruits and Vegetables, Growing Food, Jamie Oliver, Schools, Teaching and Learning, Youth