In March 2013 I became involved in the BBC's Grow Your Own campaign. It's a very exciting project aimed at showing everyone that, with a small patch of soil or even a window box, it is possible to grow your own vegetables. It's a great way of encouraging the children to get gardening, as well as learning more about seasonality and where food comes from.
As part of the campaign I am growing a Tudor vegetable garden. All households in the sixteenth century, big or small, would have grown their own produce and the kitchen garden was a major part of the food supply for most people.
Crops in the sixteenth century were very different to what we see as commonplace now. Tomatoes and potatoes, for example, were introduced from the New World in the late sixteenth century and were not widely eaten - they will therefore not be featuring in my garden. Even familiar vegetables looked and tasted very different - we have Deer's Tongue instead of Rocket for our salad leaves and purple carrots instead of the more familiar orange. Root plants, such as turnips made up a large part of the diet, as did radishes which grow relatively quickly and can be resown during the Spring and Summer.
Another great advantage of using heritage seeds is that, unlike the packets of seeds available in garden centres, the plants are not hybrids. It's therefore possible to save seeds and re-sow them the following year, just as Tudor householders would have done.
The first produce was harvested in late June - see my Blog (www.elizabethnortonhistorian.blogspot.co.uk) for regular updates. There will also be updates on BBC London News and on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London Radio on Saturday mornings and some week days.
As part of the project, I attended the press day of the Chelsea Flower Show on 20 May 2013. The Robert Elms Show was broadcast live from there. I was interviewed for the show, as well as recording my thoughts on some of the more interesting exhibits.
BBC London have also now filmed a follow up in the garden. I have been very pleasantly surprised by how much has grown and we are currently eating freshly cut salad leaves every day. Unfortunately, the radishes went to seed, so that they produced large plants but no radish bulbs. This may have been due to the unseasonable weather that we have had this year - something which would also have caused problems for Tudor gardeners. In the spirit of the Tudor gardeners, we used the parts of the plant which we could and I made radish leaf pesto and radish leaf soup which were a hit with my family! They were so nice that, actually, I won't really be sorry if the new crop of radishes I have planted also goes to seed...
The follow up show will be broadcast as part of the BBC London news at 6.30pm - the date is not yet confirmed. I gave an update on the project on the Robert Elms Show on16 September 2013 (BBC London Radio, 94.9fm), which is currently available to listen to on the BBC I-Player.
May 2013 - Radishes, beetroot, lettuce, Deer's Tongue lettuce, onions, cabbages
May 2013 - Carrots, radishes, beetroot, lettuce, Deer's Tongue lettuce
July 2013 - Carrots, radishes (second crop), beetroot, lettuce
July 2013 - Cabbages and turnips