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  • A Fork In The Road

    William Sitwell


    William Sitwell, the Daily Telegraph’s restaurant reviewer and MasterChef critic, discovers there’s more than worms and weeds as he attempts to dig for victory.

    The cyclical beauty of the natural world - the way in which Mother Nature’s seasons bestow upon us humans the fruits of the land - is never better demonstrated than during spring. For it is now, as the sun warms the chilled earth, embracing the land with a fertile hug, that little seedlings appear. Nurtured by heat and water the earth begins to bear fruit. From dull, dead-looking potatoes come almost miraculous buds, grass blades right themselves, stretch up high and start to grow. The little purple heads of asparagus, morphing from straggly underground roots, pop through the soil.




    For yes, longer days are on the horizon, summer - the actual taste of joy - is upon us. Or so countless food writers, editors, TV producers and other recipe hounds would have you believe. Look at them now, blurting out their relentless clichés. And see? I can almost do it myself. Of course, most of us actually buy food from supermarkets, the growing and rearing of which is somewhat less romantic than you might think.

    But must we really all be slaves to the retail beasts? Spring is springing as we speak so let us honour nature, just a little bit, and start growing. It’s a little impractical to keep a pig but what about some seeds? Think of those fresh leaves, cut from the garden. How they shall decorate the table and please our palates! And how cheap is a pack of seeds? We are talking pennies!

    If you’re a novice, here’s how to do it.

    First you’ll need some gloves (£15 will get you a nice pair from Prince Charles’ Highgrove shop) and then get yourself a tiny bit of land. Two hundred square foot in Gloucestershire, about 0.5% of an acre, might cost you £100, at £10,000 an acre, so once you’ve acquired that, dig in some manure. A big stinking pile from a neighbouring farmer might be around £25. Use with a quality, heavy fork (try Sneeboer’s for £150), then rotavate the land (hire one or use a Camon V8, which costs around £2,545) before hoeing (a nice antique from ebay, around £100) it smooth. Then get out all the seeds you have purchased (for under £10 you can get packs of veg and salad from Suttons). Look at the back of each pack to see their individual sowing and harvesting schedules. Then make a plan for weekly, fortnightly and monthly sowing. Plant the seeds as directed, having drawn neat lines with a dibber (£4 on ebay) following string that you have stretched across the patch between two sticks (Burgun & Ball gardening planting line - £10). Label each line with a marker (re-useable with mini boards from Marshalls Seeds, from £7.90) Water with a good can (antique ones on ebay are around £25) then ensure you hoe (Waitrose & Partner Garden stock these for just under £20) each day between the lines. Cover the seeds with netting or thin lines of cotton to prevent birds from eating the seeds. Water and hoe, water and hoe and water and hoe. Continue once they start to shoot up, harvest and do not go on holiday, or they’ll go to seed. You could of course hire a gardener to plant and maintain the crop (£15 per hour), but that would defeat the object of this passion project. So really you need to quit your job, cancel all foreign holidays and switch the heating off in winter.

    Alternatively purchase any required salad and veg from your nearest supermarket.