Grow Your Own Food

It may seem strange to talk about food security when we belong to the 15 per cent of the world's population that enjoys plenty and abundance. But maybe it's because of this abundance that people seem to have lost interest in growing food.

Credit: Carolyn Herriot

Organic extraordinaire Carolyn Herriot provides tips and techniques on growing your own food

It may seem strange to talk about food security when we belong to the 15 per cent of the world’s population that enjoys plenty and abundance. But maybe it’s because of this abundance that people seem to have lost interest in growing food. According to a recent government report, British Columbians produce only half of the food they eat (and to maintain this level of food production as the population grows will require an increase of 30 per cent by 2025). Only five per cent of B.C. is arable, and farming is concentrated mostly around urban centres on land with access to irrigation – the same land currently being removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) under huge pressure from urban development. Since 1974, when the reserve was first implemented, one-sixth of the registered ALR land has been removed. Considering the unpredictable consequences of climate change on agriculture, we should be doing exactly the opposite: safeguarding farmland and putting food security high on our list of concerns.

Let’s Get Growing! It only took five years to make The Garden Path self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables year-round, and we started from clay fill! Now in our eighth year, we enjoy over 50 different winter vegetables, an arbour covered in kiwis and grapes, a “berry walk” of small fruits, a fruit-tree orchard with all our favourite fruits, and the freshest organic vegetables possible all summer and fall. What we have in abundance we put by for the winter: in cool storage, dried, baked, bottled, frozen, “souped” or “sauced.” Our favourite is eating bottled cherries in front of a winter fire, but roasted winter squash comes a close second. GrapesGrapes It’s incredibly satisfying to grow your own food and there’s certainly nothing better for you. Tonight we will enjoy a corn tortilla stack, made with leeks and cilantro from the garden, using frozen corn and tomato sauce from last year’s garden. It will be accompanied by a salad of baby mustard greens, baby beet greens, Italian chicories, radicchio, arugula and dandelion greens, seasoned with finely chopped fresh chives, sweet marjoram and parsley. Enjoy this same abundance by joining the “grow your own” movement and planting edibles in your own garden and throughout your community.

As gardeners, we could take the load off the planet by simply growing more food – and not just in our own gardens. We can help develop public food gardens and put school gardens back on the curriculum; install edible landscaping in parks and on traffic islands; and encourage our neighbours to grow food in unused laneways. When we sacrifice regional food production for cheaper, mass-produced food flown in from all corners of the world, there are consequences far beyond detriment to our physical health. Traditions and celebrations around homegrown fruits and vegetables also nourish the social well-being of families, communities and local cultures. Local food markets, food festivals and celebrations strengthen community and provide food security at the same time. Re-invigorate regional food production and put culture back into agriculture. My Top-10 Edible Ornamentals Crimson Flowered Broad Bean (1778) (Vicia faba) Broad beans (favas) were all crimson flowered in the beginning, but plant breeders got to work and now they are all black and white. This old strain produces the showiest flowers and lots of the melt-in-your-mouth beans. Dainty Sweet Pepper (Solanaceae, Capsicum anuum) Grow one plant in a two-gallon pot and enjoy the most colourful display of multicoloured peppers as they ripen from yellow to orange to purple to red. Sweet enough that kids love munching on them. TIP: When roots fill the pot, water weekly with liquid seaweed to keep those peppers coming. Five Colour Silverbeet (Beta vulgaris) Fleshy stalks and veined leaves in pink, yellow, orange and red provide splashes of bright colour in borders or planters. Two vegetables in one! Stir-fry the succulent stalks, or steam them like celery, and enjoy sweet steamed greens year round. Self-seeds too.

Garlic ChivesGarlic Chives

Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum, perennial to zone 3) Oniony leaves with a hint of garlic frame the prettiest, white starburst flowers in late summer/fall. Perfect for the front of the border, providing interest in the garden at a time when you need it. Green Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus, perennial to zone 6) Each year, (like asparagus) these plants produce greater volumes of artichokes. It’s quite the spectacle to see multiple stalks of fleshy artichokes swaying in the garden all summer. If you forget to harvest you’ll be rewarded by huge purple-flowered thistles that are beautiful and attract lots of bees. North Country Blueberry (Vaccinium ‘Northcountry’, perennial to zone 4) Ornamental interest 12 months of the year. Bright-red dormant stems in winter are followed by soft-apricot flowers in early spring, juicy metallic-blue berries in summer and a flush of bright-red foliage in fall. This dwarf variety only grows to 90 cm (3 ft.) and is perfect for container growing.

Palla Rossa RadicchioPalla Rossa Radicchio

Palla Rossa Radicchio (Cichorium intybus) An easy-to-grow salad green with spectacular foliage interest. The most colourful red bitter greens for any time of the year. This radicchio self-seeded and sailed through this past winter, while many other food plants struggled. Purple Leaf Grape (Vitis purpurea, perennial to zone 5) Grows up a trellis from a pot in my greenhouse, as well as over an outdoor arbour. This vigorous purple-leaved vine is highly ornamental when dripping with bunches of juicy purple grapes.

Vitis purpureaVitis purpurea

Redbor Kale (Brassica oleracea) Huge red-purple tasty kale leaves provide an amazing accent for any border. Redbor kale provides lashings of nutritious greens in all four seasons. Red Malabar Climbing Spinach (Basella rubra) A tender tropical vine that loves heat and climbs up to 6 m (20 ft.) in my greenhouse. Succulent red-veined leaves for fresh or lightly steamed greens, with the prettiest pink flowers, followed by showy jet-black berries (containing the seeds).

Red Malabar Climbing SpinachRed Malabar Climbing Spinach

Seakale (Crambe maritima, perennial to zone 6) Wavy silvery-green leaves with huge sprays of pure-white flowers, followed by clusters of large light-brown seedpods. This brassica naturalizes on the northwest coast of the U.K. and thrives in maritime conditions. Food Festivals The community that grows together gathers together. Throughout B.C. this summer, look for harvest celebrations – from the Similkameen Sizzle (, an annual bash honouring the picking of peppers, to Vancouver Island’s Hills Garlic Festival (, FoodRoots Sustainable Feasts ( and Organic Islands Festival (www.organicis, to Vancouver and Victoria’s Feast of Fields ( Support these delectable events or create your own food festivity. Carolyn Herriot owns The Garden Path Centre for Organic Gardening in Victoria ( and Seeds of Victoria. She is author of A Year On The Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide (ISBN 0-9738058-0-3).