A SLICE OF THE GOOD LIFE
By Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall of Tysall’s Photography
If you like gardening and you like good home grown food, then what could be better than combining these two activities in one show. The Edible Garden Show & Good Life Live – the ultimate UK’s grow your own event, returned to its roots at the National Agricultural and Exhibition Centre at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire on 11th-13th March after two successful years in London.
Home grown food has never been more fashionable. Almost two-thirds of people nationwide have grown their own produce in the last five years. One very good reason is to save money, but also health and taste are vital ingredients too. And the show certainly had everything to interest gardeners and anyone who enjoys good food.
The show provided experts in everything from beekeeping to wine tasting and from keeping an allotment to making delicious dishes from home grown products. Whether you wanted specific advice on what seeds to plant or to pick up top tips from the experts, there was plenty going on.
Headlining the show was popular botanist and television presenter James Wong. He said, “Growing your own has never been so popular. It can be so much more cutting-edge than people think. By using a range of simple scientific tips and tricks you can easily supercharge the flavour and nutrient content of your crops to make them far tastier than the supermarket alternatives.”
He added that you don’t have to have acres of land to grow your own. “Tasty and incredible edible crops can be nurtured from the smallest of spaces on patios, balconies, window boxes and even front doorsteps.”
However, James suggests that most grow your own enthusiasts are only scratching at the surface by sticking to growing traditional fruit and veg. “Brits are missing out on countless weird and wonderful flavours and should be more adventurous. Up to 3,000 edible crops can be grown easily in the UK climate. Not only does it add variety to the ingredients you cook with and help you enjoy a healthier lifestyle, it also saves you. It is much cheaper to grow saffron for instance than to buy it in the shops.”
There was so much to see and do at the three day show, for example the National Allotment Society were holding Q & A sessions and discussions with a panel of experts; The Rare Breeds Survival Trust were there, bringing with them some rare breeds of sheep and goats; the Pig Association provided information on small scale pig keeping and pig handling; there were representatives from the National Trust and the Walled Garden at Croome; advice too from The Smallholder Range Chicken Coup.
There were lots of talks and demonstrations going on. We chatted to Conor McQuire of Poultry Talk about the many different types of pure breed hens which come from all over the world. “We inspire and educate people about keeping poultry,” said Conor, who is something of an expert on the history of hens as well as a big hen enthusiast. “These birds are cost effective, they pay for themselves. They are great for the garden and they become very tame. Hens are also very therapeutic. Just to stand and watch them pecking about in the garden is relaxing. They give a lovely ambience as they potter about the garden.”
It seems that chickens are now the UK’s 6th most popular pet. And working hard to find homes for chickens who are ex commercial laying hens is the British Hen Welfare Trust. This small charity began in 2005 and recently homed its 500,000th hen.
Fund Raising and Homing Assistant, Fiona Lockwood explained what the charity does. “We have 32 locations around the country which are all run by volunteers, and a central base in Devon. We fund raise and take re-homing calls. We have an advice line, and we have a waiting list of people wanting to re-home a hen.
“Commercially, hens are deemed to be at the end of their laying life when they reach 18 months, they aren’t considered commercially viable after that. So, we collect the hens on the day they are due to be slaughtered. People from our waiting list come along with their boxes and we ask for a donation. We make sure that all the hens have a home to go to – and if they don’t, we keep them.”
From chickens to bees, and The British Beekeepers Association were also on hand talking and demonstrating everything to do with bees, whether you were interested in keeping bees, or you just liked honey! Talking about the plight of the honeybee, Julian Routh said that pollinators generally are in decline. “There are 250 species of bees in the UK, so anything you can do for any one of them will help.”
Emphasising the importance of bees, Julian pointed to a vegetable cart filled with all kinds of produce and said, “Everything on there has required bees for production. Parsnips, onions, courgettes etc. We depend on honey bees and pollinators. We would have a very boring diet if not for pollinators!”
Asked what advice he could give regarding planting to encourage bees, Julian pointed out the need to put in late flowering plants to extend the season. On the RHS website, you’ll find a list of bee-friendly plants. He added, “You’ll help the bees by not using insecticides in the garden, because they kill bees as well – they kill all insects. You can use ordinary soapy water to get rid of aphids, and remove weeds by hoeing and picking them out – that’s just as quick, and it’s much better to just get your hands dirty.”
During the summer months the BBKA have a honeybee swarm line – taking calls from people all around the country who have spotted a swarm of bees. We talked to Val Dillon who was demonstrating the old fashion art of making skeps – the baskets used to catch swarm in. Val said, “We can get up to 400 calls a day. We match the calls up to swarm collectors. We have swarm collecting volunteers so we contact the volunteer nearest to where the swam has been sighted. They are able to collect the swarm of honeybees and take them to where you want them to live.”
There was so much to see and do, that you could have spent the entire three days there and not experienced everything. The Edible Garden Show Event Director, Geraldine Reeve had this to say: “Families growing together is at the very heart of the show as it’s something the whole family can enjoy. It’s really important to enthuse youngsters and give them an understanding of where their food comes from which is why there’s something for everyone. We have a huge crop of exciting exhibitors as well as a fertile mix of interactive advice sessions, hands-on demonstrations and livestock. So whether you’re a novice, an expert of just seeking a slice of the good life, you can’t help but walk away inspired.”
Further information: www.theediblegardenshow.co.uk