Our greenhouse

30 September 2020

Part of our journey in becoming self-sufficient is to be able to grow our own fruit and vegetables. In choosing to live in the Outer Hebrides, however, we haven’t exactly picked the ideal location to do this. The growing season is short and cool, and the high winds have been known to rip lettuce and cabbages right out of the soil.

For this reason, folk up here tend to erect polytunnels or polycrubs, a robust type of greenhouse which allows for the growing of a range of produce. However, these can take up a lot of room and due to space constraints in our garden, we decided instead to build a lean-to structure on the gable end of our house. Not only would this provide us with a place to grow our food, but it would also help with house insulation in the colder months.

Unfortunately our plans for the construction of the greenhouse were somewhat delayed, firstly due to bad weather in the springtime, and then by lockdown restrictions disrupting the supply of building materials to the islands. It wasn’t until June that the greenhouse was finally completed, although we’d improvised in the meantime by creating a seedling nursery in our bathroom. The photos below show the stages of the greenhouse going up and the final result.

Growing your own fruit and veg is not only a fun and extremely rewarding endeavour, there are many other reasons why we should be doing it. Here are a few:

  1. The taste: nothing beats the taste of home-grown fruit and vegetables – tomatoes, beans, carrots, courgettes, strawberries – it’s what fresh food should taste like.
  2. The nutritional value: since the soil in our gardens is unlikely to have been degraded from the overuse of chemicals and pesticides, it has plenty of nutrients which then go into our plants, which then go into our bodies. More about that in this film and this film.
  3. The environment: growing our own vegetables eliminates in one go, firstly, the distance that our fresh food has to travel, secondly, the waste involved in getting fresh food from field to fork , thirdly, unsustainable water consumption, fourthly soil degradation and pesticide pollution, fifthly, plastic packaging (we could go on but we’ll stop there*).
  4. The risk of food shortages: growing our own food may become more crucial in the future. For example, following the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, panic buying emptied our local supermarket shelves and it took weeks until they were fully replenished. Global food supply chains may not be as robust as we’d like to think (or keeping them that way comes at a cost).
  5. The inequality of the food supply chain: while richer countries contribute to environmental degradation and the shocking waste of perfectly edible food while earning billions of dollars of profits, the global food supply system means that millions of people who produce our food are trapped in poverty and face brutal working conditions.
  6. The opportunity for learning: especially for kids but also for town folk like us, growing our own vegetables is a fantastic learning experience. We make mistakes, but hey, that’s all part of the process. Plus, we can baffle people with our veg vocabulary (do you know what to do with kohlrabi, for example?).
  7. The connection with nature: in the garden, you can forget your worries and learn to cherish our planet and other important things in life. Nelson Mandela believed that every world leader should at some point in their lives tend a garden, to understand what it means to appreciate the time, effort and care needed to nurture something and watch it grow.

We’re even fancying our chances with a grapevine and hops, both of which seem to be flourishing so far. This photo shows the grapevine we left behind in Germany, which is what we’re aiming for. We’ll keep you posted once we start production of Rudha Glas speciality wine and beer!

What steps can you take now?

  • If you don’t have much space, start small, e.g. keeping herbs on the windowsill (or growing tomatoes in the bathroom!).
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, start planning now to plant in the spring, and reap the rewards when the time comes.
  • Find out if your community has a garden or allotment you can use. Growing food is as much a social activity as eating it is!

*For a more detailed look at reasons 2-5 in this list, see this a brief overview of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. For the full document (60-min read) see here.

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