Free Food (543)

by Max Akroyd

Growing food is the name of the game. However, getting from seed (vegetable or animal) to something suitable for your plate can be an expensive process. As with any endeavour there are plenty of product available to waste time and money on in the garden, all the more so if the seed isn’t germinated and grown on in a healthy environment.

Or to put it the other way, if you can work out what your plants or animals’ precise needs are you can fend off a lot of the expensive fuffles*. Which isn’t in the interests of people with stuff to sell and, accordingly, this knowledge has become a bit arcane. Makes you wonder how we ever survived as a species without cash to eat… Fortunately, the impoverished smallholder is very well placed to rediscover how to make silk out of a pig’s ear.

In the constant drive to keep unnecessary costs down I’m always on the look out for free ‘inputs’ for our animals. So far this year the kids and I have collected acorns, chestnuts and apples for the pigs to enjoy. With winter approaching this foraging for animal feed becomes a little harder. My seasonal secret weapon against over-reliance on imported grain and corn is this:

Mystery brassica

No I’m not sure what it is either!  But any uncovered area of soil in our garden soon clothes itself with this brassica. My best guess is that it’s a wild cabbage: I remember reading somewhere that any cultivated brassica will revert to its original wild form within two generations. Maybe my field was once used for growing cauliflowers? I really have no idea. But, if I had to have a rampant annual weed this would be it. It acts like a green manure by shielding the soil from the weather’s autumnal excesses, it pulls easily and the animals adore it – especially the guinea fowl. To have such an abundant source of greens at this time of year is great. You feel healthier on the animal’s behalf just looking at it.

Today’s workload was very like yesterday’s. And the days before that… feed animals, dig trench, strim new area, affix plastic mulch to said area. But such mundane repetition is what makes progress. And, despite the large neon signs pointing to Christmas, gardening roads are presently leading to early summer: anything mulched today will only come into commission around late June.

*There’s an explanation of this useful word here.