Our ancestors thought nothing of standing at the kitchen sink washing salad leaves, potatoes and carrots of mud, cutting out the brown bits and removing slugs. The modern vegetable grower, however, is less patient. We’ve grown up with supermarket fruit and vegetables, pristine, plastic-wrapped and pre-washed. Bung it in a bowl and open a bottle of Merlot.
And even though you might feel an inward glow of pride at your authentic mud-caked, wonky home-grown veg as you cart them into the house (quick pause to snap them for Instagram on the way), let’s be honest, getting them to a state your children will actually eat can take a while. As you stand carefully washing every single tiny baby salad leaf time seems to stand still too. Your legs are numb, your back twinges and you look at your muddy, misshapen, often disappointingly small vegetables, and feel resentment build.
Having pride in your homegrown harvests is a common emotion, but keen growers will know disappointment too. Your new potatoes might look perfect when you dig them up, but wash off the earth and the full glories of scab reveal themselves, rough patches that need peeling off. Wireworms will probably have had a go too, making little black holes that need digging out with the tip of a peeler. Leaf miner caterpillars doubtless made brown tracks in your chard leaves so add a few minutes to cut these out too, and your carrots could well be housing carrot fly maggots (look for little holes and tunnels inside).
So it all just takes a bit more time. And don’t beat yourself up about it. Professional growers don’t have these problems because they’re experts, growing for the very exacting supermarket buyers. You cannot compete with them. When you’re just a casual enthusiast, you won’t grow perfect vegetables. You just won’t and that’s absolutely fine. They will still be delicious, fresh and healthy and all those other good things. You can obsess over how to avoid scab, carrot fly, aphids and everything else but in my experience, if you accept imperfection, life is so much easier and you will love your vegetable patch more.
So, for what it’s worth here are a few things I’ve learnt about how to speed up prep time for my home-grown fruit and vegetables. They might just save you a few minutes. At the very least your back will thank you. If I’ve missed anything obvious please add it in the comments at the bottom, I would really love to hear your tips!
- Buy a salad spinner. Doesn’t have to be expensive, just a plastic one is fine. After washing spin the leaves to remove the water and you won’t have to dab them with a clean tea towel or wrap them in a tea towel and fling them wildly around the garden (though perhaps this was just me) to avoid a soggy salad.
- Compost in situ. Why bring rhubarb stems, beetroot, parsnips and carrots into the house only to cart the leaves back out again to the compost bin? Save time by removing the leaves and other inedible bits in the veg patch and putting them straight into the compost. No need to be perfect about it, just tear them off.
- Wash outside. If you have an outdoor tap, give muddy potatoes, carrots and other root veg a quick wash right there so the mud can go straight back into the garden rather than down the plug hole. If you wash them from a hose over the veg patch you’ll be watering the remaining crops at the same time.
- Keep your leafy greens and soft fruit separate from your muddy ones. Sounds obvious but I often forget. Put raspberries, salad, spinach, chard and other leaves you will eat in their entirety in a clean container rather than chuck them on top of a load of muddy beetroot – obvious why.
- And this is the most important one: adjust your mindset so you expect the extra preparation time. We have got used to thinking of vegetables as a last-minute addition to the meal – a few minutes in the steamer – but these days I get them washed and prepped first to avoid last-minute stresses. Open a bottle of wine, listen to the radio, make it that dreaded word, mindful.