You can grow anything, anywhere, anytime.. But

The good news is that my back strain is much improved but the bad news is that it isn’t 100% yet. I’m walking near normally now but I really felt the strain carrying a watering can to refill the chickens’ water bowl.

It’s not so bad when the weather outside is awful, although I’ve plenty I could be doing undercover in the greenhouses and polytunnel. When the sun is shining down though, frustration reaches a peak.

commercial greenhouse

Seasonal Food & Growing Undercover

Had an interesting discussion about seasonal food and my polytunnel the other day. It was prompted by an article I wrote about the benefits of home growing and local foods as against importing from sunnier places like Spain a while ago – Hierarchy of Ecological Badness.

The contention was that we shouldn’t use polytunnels, greenhouses, cloches and so forth as they used plastics and energy. We should only grow and eat crops that grow naturally here.

On the surface, that actually seems a valid position. However, in the real world, things aren’t that simple. We have the technology to grow anything, anywhere regardless of season. As I blogged here, you can even grow in outer space!

That doesn’t mean you should. Some home growers actually grow pineapples successfully undercover – but nobody grows them commercially. The economics prevent it, far cheaper to grow in their native land and ship them.

It’s not so clear when we look at salad crops from abroad. The economics are such that we can eat courgettes in January, tomatoes in February shipped in from southern Spain etc. Many foods we can grow here are cheaper to grow abroad and ship to us. But if we imposed a carbon tax to cover the ecological cost of the transport, they wouldn’t be cheap at all.

Unfair Taxation

But if we tax imported foods in a country that cannot feed its population from the available land, the poorest will be hit hardest. They spend a high proportion of their income on food, the rich not so much. Maybe that’s just wrong.

Getting back to growing undercover here.

There are things that just aren’t practical to grow here without providing cover. Tomatoes are a perfect example. You can grow tomatoes outdoors in southern England and most years get a decent crop. Not a hope up in the north. Other crops can do well in the colder areas if you can get them going undercover. Winter squash and pumpkins can do well given a little help to start, here.

Growing undercover enables us to grow more food and a much wider range of foods for a relatively small ecological cost. Just growing crops needs tools and those tools have a carbon footprint. Unless we live like wild animals, we inevitably have an effect.

Unlike animals, we have the ability to offset our carbon footprint and help the ecology. The fact we aren’t doing it too well at the moment isn’t the point, we can do it well given the will. We need to balance things and choose the best – or least worse – course to take.

More Complicated

The more I think about this, the more complicated it gets. So many factors to take into account. Of course there are simple answers. For a start we could kill three quarters of the population. Will volunteers to become compost step forward. Anyone?

What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments below.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
4 comments on “You can grow anything, anywhere, anytime.. But
  1. Jules says:

    I stay in the Highlands of Scotland and have both a polytunnel and a greenhouse.

    Both allow me to extend the short growing season to the point that I grow food in them all year round.

    My neighbour at the allotment did manage to get a crop of outside tomatoes this year so an indoor space isn’t always necessary but both the heat and shelter provided by indoor growing spaces mean (in general) crops need less growing time. This allows me to be more efficient and both the GH and the tunnel allow me to continue growing in the worst of weathers.

    Yes, both resources use precious resources such as plastic.

    I’m a veganic no-dig grower so use the likes of leaves, seaweed and rock dust to feed my plot. I buy in bulk organic compost made from wood chips (again no plastic)

    I don’t wrap any of my produce in plastic (unlike most supermarkets) and tend to shop at a local farm shop taking my own bags

    I try not to buy plants in plastic pots. These pots probably account for the most plastic waste especially in commercial setups. Hopefully this will improve as the compostable pots continue to develop

    I’m by no means plastic free but try and avoid plastic wrapping etc when I can

    • John Harrison says:

      I knew someone from the north would manage outdoor tomatoes! With plastic pots it would be nice if all garden centres allowed you to return them and let anyone who wants help themselves.

  2. Rowland Wells says:

    I sometimes have to pinch myself just to see I’m living in the real world growing in poly tunnels and greenhouses. most of us gardeners grow in our tunnels and greenhouses not only for pleasure but to enjoy the benefits of home grown food “what’s wrong with that?” I ask myself – and I’m certainly not of the vegan persuasion, I like to call myself a traditional eater including meat and veg and all the summer fruits that’s going, but everyone to there own

    And to me on the question of plastic managed properly plastic shouldn’t pose any problems if disposed of by proper waste management and the idea of wrapping food in plastic was to improve food hygiene – let’s not forget that.

    Compost’s well I never use peat free compost’s and never will until they produce something that comes up to the standard of peat based or if they ban peat compost then I will need to come up with a suitable alternative.

    A nice thought John about taking your mt plastic pots back to the garden centres but like the days when you took your beer and pop bottles back to get a couple of pence refund would that work? I think not

    I have to say I have my own thoughts on plastic carbon footprints etc etc but this is neither the time or the place.

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