Q – I wondered if growing and eating my own organic food such as salads, root vegetables and of course fruit would be good for my overall health?

A- This is rather a long answer but one, we hope, that will inspire you to grow as much organic food as possible. There is no doubt that growing and eating a wide selection of organic fruit and vegetables is a very good way of ensuring that you can take positive action to improve your health; not just for now but very much in the long term.

It has been proved many times over that a wholesome diet consisting of at least fifty per cent raw food will help you stay fit and most certainly look younger. An even higher raw diet of about seventy per cent is certainly life extending and also has been shown to help cure illness. This diet is capable on occasions of arresting supposedly fatal and incurable degenerative diseases. The enzymes found in uncooked fruit, vegetables and salads are crucial to good health, mainly because they encourage the healing process.

They do infact support the body’s own enzyme system and as well as being essential for normal cell replacement. Indeed one of the requirements for a vibrant, well ordered body, is a healthy clean colon. The high fibre content in vegetable matter ensures just that, as it encourages the colon to eliminate regularly and easily. This means that the walls of the colon do not become encrusted with mucous, harmful bacteria and destructive yeasts leading to an unhealthy state known as Dysbiosis, often a prelude to cancer of the colon.

Vegetable plants that are grown in a balanced, unpolluted environment are a rich source of such essentials as iron, potassium and selenium. They are in fact nature’s “green magic” and we would be very foolish to underestimate the value of fresh organic raw foods.

Having established that a diet high in uncooked plant foods is imperative to maintain a blooming system, it is disappointing to realise that there are surprisingly few sources of organic produce available to anyone wishing to follow an enlightened lifestyle. A good way around this problem is to grow your own vegetables and fruit.

Even a couple of hours a week put aside for a “growing” regime would give you time to sow a row of lettuce or plant an apple tree. An added bonus in the equation would of course be the benefit you will derive from regular gentle exercise and fresh air from working in the garden.

Space is often a problem for the serious food grower – there is usually not enough. The committed gardener who loves to produce everything he eats is constantly trying to extend the edges of his plot to plant more and try out new varieties. There are certainly ways to increase your production space if you are prepared to think laterally.

If you only have a tiny garden you could you grow patio type vegetables and bean sprouts or alfalfa on your windowsill. This form of cultivation can in fact be applied to almost any seed that will sprout, and provides one of the most nutritious natural foods known to mankind. The sprouted seeds available in about four to five days from sowing, ensure a constant cheap source of amino acids, vitamin C, fatty acids and minerals.  All you need are a few seeds, a jam jar and water.

If you are not lucky enough to own a large garden this need not be a problem since you could advertise for an un-kept garden to take over either for rent or a share of the produce in return for ground; many elderly people who no longer want to mange a large property of their own would probably welcome this opportunity.

 Always view your growing area as being fruitful at more than just ground level. Walls or fences for instance, will produce one crop or another on every aspect.  You might train outdoor tomatoes up a south wall, varieties such as ‘Gardeners Delight’ have delicious bit sized cherry tomatoes, which can also make delicious soup.

On a north wall, try the cooking cherry ‘Morello’ it is quite content to grow in deep shade.  (This incidentally is a superb variety for bottling in honey and eating later in the year with fresh yoghurt.)

Window boxes and hanging baskets can be planted with strawberries, herbs, French beans or the hanging tomato ‘Tumbler’. In larger gardens it might be a good idea to suspend a row of the latter high over your vegetable area (fruit might be too tall) on an old washing line and, so long as they are kept moist and well fed with liquid seaweed, the larger baskets should yield a respectable additional harvest. This can also be done in a greenhouse to improve growing capacity.

Various pots, tubs and barrels placed closely together in the patio garden, back yard or even on a flat roof, could provide you with a reasonable amount of fresh produce, but in such a limited space, stick to highly nutritious vegetables and salads.

It is usually good practice anyway to grow the well known steadfast varieties, as they are often less complicated and more tolerant of imperfect conditions; they will also cope better with close planting, another way to increase limited space.

When you are choosing your seeds look for the ones with the longest growing season or ‘cut and come again’ types, like the ‘salad bowl’ lettuce or the mixed salad leaves, that will feed you all summer from only one sowing if constantly cut and kept well fed and watered.

Fruit trees can be a problem in tiny areas and are often rejected out of hand, but the thrill of picking your own juicy pears or crisp apples takes some beating. There are now available a selection of ‘family’ trees produced on dwarf rootstock. This will give you a choice of several varieties, all of which are geared to cross-pollinate with each other.

These small trees could be grown easily in tubs. Figs and lemons can be grown successfully in half barrels in a greenhouse, you could expect to pick about fifty figs and a dozen or so lemons each year from healthy disease-free trees

If you are lucky enough to own a house with a cellar, and you are not a wine buff, then with the application of heat, soil filled containers and fake daylight in the form of special lamps (or even low hung fluorescent shop light), you can eat salad crops throughout the winter. In the summer, you could the turn off the lights and grow mushrooms in the same space.

Extending daylight by artificial lighting is one of the many ways a greenhouse or small conservatory can provide you with unsprayed food in the bleakest part of the year when your body (also deprived of sprays sunshine) is crying out for high class sustenance. Even seed potatoes planted early enough pots of special compost can yield mouth-watering new potatoes out of season!

Soil condition is of paramount importance when growing anything organically. NO artificial fertilizers must be used or you will destroy the delicate balance.  All plant nutrients are obtained from compost or animal manures. If your plants need a boost use liquid manure, either home made or a liquid form of concentrated seaweed. Incidentally, if you live near the coast never be afraid to bring home sacks of seaweed from the shore. There is a reasonable concern for toxic substances and metals in this material depending on the source and region of the country, but its mineral and nutrient content is very high and it composts very well.

The deep bed method of growing vegetables, where you grow well-manured crops in raised beds with wooden sides, is a fairly foolproof way of improving the quality of even the poorest soil, and does ensure that, when doing close planting or intercropping, plants have the best possible chance of survival and resistance to pests.

A rich deep soil also cuts down the need for excessive watering, a point well worth considering especially in drought conditions. The secret of success with this method is to never turn up the poor quality subsoil just keep on adding loads of muck to the top!

When pests take hold, as they can after a mild winter, spraying becomes a regrettable but necessary evil – in these circumstances make sure you only use ORGANIC sprays. Check labels on organic pesticides carefully, otherwise all your hard work could be for nothing is you find you have inadvertently eaten self-inflicted poisons.

Crop rotation is essential to avoid disease build up and soil in the greenhouse border should be changed annually, as tomatoes in particular do not thrive on the same ground year after year.
Many organic gardeners expound the virtues of companion planting, it can certainly help in some situations, but this is largely a matter of experience through trial and error.

There is no doubt that certain plants can protect their bedfellows from unwanted pests, garlic being a good example. But then garlic, (strictly speaking a herb), like comfrey, seems to be a cure for most ills.

Herbs, it should be noted, are often the mainstay of good health. Sensibly applied in the correct situations, they are without doubt a power for good and it goes without saying, an ambrosial addition to most salads or main courses at the meal table. They are easy to grown and most types spread quickly, if given reasonable conditions, although most herbs prefer well-drained ground and a very sunny position.

Basil and flat leaved parsley are two of the undeniable favourite “herbs de cuisine”. Their richly flavoured leaves add an unusual piquancy to almost any savoury dish. Here again the importance of unpolluted growth cannot be ignored. Any healing properties found in the herbs would quickly be nullified if the body was at the same time ingesting chemical.

Harvesting your crops is always a big moment, there is an overwhelming sense of achievement as the first lettuce appears on your plate or you fill great baskets of beans or courgettes. Surpluses should never be a problem – store and freeze the unblemished, (onions and root crops need a cool frost free place) and make soups and preserves from the rest. Try to make a point of harvesting everything at its peak, this way you will derive the maximum possible nutritional advantage from all your home grown food. Remember a tired, overblown plant will retain less vitamins and minerals than its younger, crisper counterpart. Like all medicines, plants too, have their expiration date; remember “green medicine” is no exception to this rule.