Seven a Day

So we’ve all been given a rocket again about not eating enough fruit and vegetables. Apparently the University College London researchers concluded that risk of death by any cause was reduced by 42 percent for those eating seven portions or more a day. In early spring we began planting – lettuce, beans, peas, carrots, radishes and beetroot – with an extra zeal, not just because of the government warning but for all sorts of other reasons. I’ve always believed that the many chemicals with which we are helplessly imbued, even in the form of nitrogen or phosphate fertilizer drifting our way, are the cause of cancer. So now that I’ve got it back again after a fourteen year gap, I feel strongly that organic vegetables, preferably our own home grown, are more important than ever as a way of flooding my body with anti oxidants.

Fruit_&_vegs_assortmentThe problem is our vegetable growing skills are wanting. I may have written books and films on gardens and been the head gardener of the family plot for 40 years but still our vegetables are at the bottom of the neighbours’ league table. We have grown paranoid. Do they cheat? Do they buy stuff in from the garden centre and pretend they’ve grown it themselves? Much as we love choosing the seed, preparing the soil and neatly labelling the new rows – from then on things go wrong. Our outdoor cats (who we keep as mice/rat catchers) skitter over the surrounding fence, and use the fine, recently seeded tilth as their lavatory. The muntjaks creep in on the one night of the year that the gate is left ajar, unexplained holes appear in leaves, slugs abound, three different lots of asparagus planted according to expert instructions over a decade have never been seen again and the sweet peas won’t ever cling to the pea sticks.

When we get particularly depressed we turn to our vegetable growing ‘doctor’ Matthew Rice, who lives up the road and lavishes us with his surplus seedlings, superior pea sticks and sound advice. Enviably good at everything (a talented artist , piano player, chicken breeder, book writer and cook who makes everyone laugh), he is also the chief pottery designer at Emma Bridgewater (to whom he’s married). As though that’s not enough he grows an overabundance of perfect and often rare vegetables both at home and on the roof of the Bridgewater factory in Stoke on Trent. The other day he admitted, “In the end I’m happiest of all when I’m digging – It feels such a basic real thing. There’s nothing more lovely than to eat what you grow or rear. I’ve always wanted to belong to the land and growing stuff is part of that.” Matthew has been known to lie spread-eagled like an angel in the soil he has just worked. “It’s total immersion,” he says.

And for me, that’s the point. It’s the grounding feeling you get from having your hands in the earth – the connectivity with your immediate surroundings. Now that spring is carrying me along on a fresh green wave of new growth it is far easier to face mortality. For me, this is the best time of year to be ill because I can be out of doors and feel joined up with the landscape. We all end up as part of it anyway. “It is vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves,” wrote Thoreau. “There is none such. It is the bog in our brain and bowels, the primitive vigour of Nature in us, that inspires that dream.” And of course some of our vegetables are coming up and our sense of pleasure and satisfaction is beginning to burgeon. By summer we hope to be eating our own %100 organic Pink Fir Apple potatoes and sugar snap peas. We might even ask Matthew over for lunch.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons / olearys


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