crunchy vegetables

How bad will it get? For the first time since the war, (get used to this phrase now), sales of vegetable seeds have overtaken those of flower seeds. Gardeners are not, on the whole, susceptible either to panic, or to Dame Fashion’s fickle foibles. When they change direction, it’s like the Queen Mary. It’s not done on a whim.

It may be that people really do prefer the taste of freshly picked peas (though  newly-dug potatoes, according to Gardener’s World, often taste very strange if you’re not used to them). Or it may be that they’re preparing for the crunch after this one. Remember  peak oil the last panic? (Interesting how many hugely important news stories mysteriously lose their urgency when something else comes along).  Most farming  is heavily dependent on oil. And at the moment, oil is cheap. But we’re using four barrels of the stuff for every one we find, which is not a good trend. And as we all know, it takes ten calories of oil to make one calorie of food.  In a few years, when the oil price rockets, it’ll take food prices with it.

You might have thought they could afford to get a bit higher, if it discouraged people from their current habit of chucking out half of what they buy. But according to the Soil Association it’s headed a lot further than that.

When Cuba lost its oil, a quarter of the population experienced a forced career-switch onto the land. In the absence of a communist dictatorship here, all those gardeners begin to seem like  bellwethers of forward thinking and social responsibility.

And there are numerous collateral benefits of digging for victory : lawns, for instance, are great enemies of nature. Nothing in nature is meant to hurt your eyes that much. To keep them that colour involves massive applications of chemicals. And lawnmowers! The racket, and the emissions! Imagine a car with no catalytic converter, no silencer and a leaky tank, driving in circles for two hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon and being celebrated as a grand old English tradition Warm beer is attractive by comparison.

Still, at least our lawns don’t also require irrigation, unlike, say, the 200 golf courses around Palm Springs in America, which between them use up as much water as an entire African country.

Of course, you have to be careful to design your smallholding to contain the right mix of tall things and  stubby things, things that require bending and stretching, summer harvesting and winter digging. This way you’ll end up using all your muscles about equally and getting exercise throughout the year, rather than spending your declining years with crippling arthritis and a profile like Quasimodo.

If you – like me – don’t have a lawn to dig up, but do have a partner mysteriously resistant to the idea of his Japanese paving giving way to a load of unsightly poles and polybags, why not garden on somebody else’s land?  This is an honourable tradition in England, ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers and Levellers  took the matter of the unfair distribution of Britain’s wealth into their own horny hands.

These days people tend to do guerrilla gardening for less hard-line reasons, and the penalties are correspondingly less. All over the world, ‘horticultural flashmobbers’ are convening on waste land at dead of night, to pull up weeds, plant seeds and step on each other’s rakes in the dark. Conspirators donate unwanted plants – or entire hedges – to this illicit activity. In Brussels, the ‘Sunflower Guerrillas’ have planted seventeen thousand sunflower seeds all over the city, though this may of course just be a lesser known subclause of the European biofuels initiative 

And the results reduce not only stress in the local population, but crime as well. Tended gardens make places look cared for, and are thus less likely to be vandalised or attacked.

Technically, of course, this is still illegal. And apparently wood chippings have, in the past, been confused by overzealous police with fertiliser for car bombs So  before you set off, put on your gardening pinny and kneelers.

There are downsides. Gardening will do you a lot of good, but it will also make you very hungry. It’s not at all clear that the energy equations add up; you have to eat an awful lot of heritage carrots to fill up the hole created by six hours ’   slashing and lopping on a cold day. In my case, it’s more likely to be a large pork pie or a bacon sandwich. Looks like I’ll have to keep a pig as well.

Which would also neatly solve the problem of seasonal gluts. And so long as I don’t take the gluts indoors before transferring them into the pig (at which point they become, technically, household slops and thus illegal), it should all work out just fine.