The green-fingered talent has previously worked with celebrity chefs and now wants to bring city gardening to the masses.
‘This book was planned long before Covid so please don’t judge me about how on the nose it is,’ laughs Claire Ratinon about the launch of her new tome How To Grow Your Own Dinner Without Leaving The House.
The project was greenlit 18 months ago – but it’s delivery to a world now trapped in the middle of a mass pandemic couldn’t be more timely.
Urban food grower Claire, 36, who has worked with super chef Yotam Ottolenghi, had no idea lockdown was going to spark food shortages in supermarkets. Or that it would ignite the nation’s appetite for a reconnection with nature.
‘I guess this time has elicited a moment of reflection for many people,’ says Claire, who started growing edible plants while living in a one-bedroom flat in Hackney.
‘Growing food shouldn’t only be accessible to those who have the privilege of a garden or lots of outside space. I’ve grown plants in East London primary schools, disused car parks and Tube stations.
‘And I believe that if you want to grow your own, it is possible wherever you live to experience the simple and humbling pleasure of nurturing a seed into a plant that ends up on your plate.’
Here Claire gives us some of her top tips for urban growing in small spaces.
1. Make the most of pots
Pots can fit in the smallest of spaces. And the best part of container growing is adaptability.
You can repot plants if they need more soil, find new locations for more sunshine, and place them out of reach of pests such as slugs and snails.
They also need less weeding and are easier to feed. I currently grow in plastic pots as they’re reusable so don’t end up in landfill and are light and water-retentive.
But pretty much anything can be converted into a container – old shoes, bathtubs, reusable shopping bags, colanders or a disused toilet!
As long as the vessel provides enough room for the soil a plant needs and for its root system, has drainage holes and is sturdy enough to support the plant as it gets bigger, you can use anything.
2. Use all of your space
Walls and fences can greatly increase your growing space, especially on a balcony or small patio.
If you have a sunny spot, install a trellis and grow climbing plants such as French beans and courgettes, which will grow up towards the sun.
Hanging baskets are great for tomato plants, lettuces or herbs and a great option if your only outside space is on a porch or by a door.
Make sure that you’re drilling into a solid and stable wall. Creating different levels is a good way of helping plants to grow.
Use old furniture, boxes and wooden crates to raise pots off the ground and into the sunlight to allow you to make the most of areas that are shaded at ground level.
3. Think carefully about what you’re growing
There’s no point putting in all the energy and effort required to raise a courgette plant if you don’t even like them.
So ask yourself what vegetables you will eat or want to try – or is expensive to buy in the shops, like fresh herbs.
The first plants I learned to grow were salad leaves. They’re quite straightforward to grow from seed on the windowsill and you’ll quickly find yourself harvesting.
Once you understand how to grow a lettuce, you’ll be able to try your hand at chard, kale, rocket, sorrel, mustard leaves so they’re a good place to start your edible growing journey.
Remember edible plants do best during their specific growing season. If you’re pressed for time steer away from plants that need lots of watering and feeding, such as tomatoes and peppers.
4. Grow insect-deterring plants near your greens
Growing plants that complement each other side by side can deter pests, enhance flavour and encourage pollinators.
Position chervil or coriander next to plants that are suffering from aphid attack and they will deter the pests.
The onion scent of chives keeps aphids away from tomatoes. Dill that has gone to flower will attract aphid-eating insects such as hoverflies and predatory wasps.
French marigolds grown near tomatoes deter whitefly. Calendula attracts beneficial insects such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies that will also pollinate fruiting crops such as courgettes, peppers and tomatoes.
The strong scent of mint confuses and deters pests. And basil halts pests that bother tomatoes – and also has a flavour that complements them perfectly.
5. Turn to household products for pest control
Slugs and snails are every gardener’s nemesis and love feasting on young plants.
Filling a dish with a solution made from instant yeast or beer, sugar and water will entice these pests into the liquid where they drown – it’s a bit cruel, but it does work.
Sap-sucking Aphids, whitefly or thrips can cause stunted and deformed growth that can lead to the death of a plant.
Make a homemade garlic spray by steeping a few cloves in hot water overnight, straining and diluting with more water. Spray directly onto the infested area of the plant.
6. Get to know your plants’ watering needs
The more diligently you observe your plants, the better you’ll become at understanding their watering needs.
Test the moisture level by sticking your finger into the compost. If the top of the soil is dry but the bottom isn’t, hold off watering.
Water in the morning or evening, when the temperature is lower using tepid water, not cold.
A thorough drenching is better than little and often, because it ensures that all the plant’s roots have access to water.
Make sure your containers drain and aren’t sitting in water. If you have space for a small water butt, collecting rain is a great way to conserve water.
7. Brew some tea and use it as plant food
I prefer organic or homemade fertilizers to feed my hungry plants.
Nettle tea is a nitrogen-rich liquid feed, ideal for leafy plants such as lettuce and chard.
Fill a container (preferably one with a lid) with nettles and weigh the leaves down with a stone, then cover with water. Leave for a couple of weeks, then dilute the stinky brown liquid until it is the colour of weak tea and feed it to your adult plants.
Comfrey tea (made in the same way) is rich in potassium and great for fruiting plants like tomatoes and courgettes.
How To Grow Your Own Dinner Without Leaving The House by Claire Ratinon is out now (Laurence King, £12.99).
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
MORE: UK’s first meat-free drive thru to open this week
MORE: What is toxic squash syndrome and how can you safely grow courgettes?
MORE: Three ingredient cloud bread is back doing the rounds onTikTok
Source: Read Full Article