Growing through the coronavirus

Urban farming is expanding fast and is incorporating both new and old technologies. A factory in Japan uses LED lights and robots to grow 30,000 lettuces a day in giant vertical racks with no soil. Here in London, some farming’s gone underground, with food grown in disused tunnels, from mushrooms to salad shoots.

There are several community food schemes in the capital, like Organiclea in east London, a community food growing and delivery enterprise. Sales of plant seeds have ballooned in the last few weeks. Growing food or flowers from home can be done even if you don’t have a garden. Salad crops can be grown on windowsills inside. Outdoors you can use balconies, pots, bags, raised beds and planters or an area of your garden or community space. It’s educational too.


Corbett St Estate Stockwell c Tim Webb

There are some 700 farms within Greater London and thriving food businesses. Some offering training and opportunities like Bees and Refugees in Hammersmith and Fulham, which aims to have some 20 active bee colonies producing urban honey. And of course, London has numerous breweries and distilleries making beers, spirits and more recently, hand sanitiser.

Allotments are keenly sought yet the amount of land used for urban allotments has dropped by 65% across the UK in half a century, and the decline has been eight times worse in poorer areas.

Academics at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield say the peak of land dedicated to allotments was in the 1940s to 1960s. By 2016, just over a quarter of all the area historically recorded as allotments was still allotment land, and almost half (47.9%) being built on. They estimate the lost land could have grown an average of 2,500 tonnes of food per year in each city.

Lead author Miriam Dobson said: “Growing our own fruit and veg has huge benefits for people’s health and well-being and can contribute to local food security while simultaneously improving our environment. Our findings strengthen the case for preserving existing plots and boosting growing space, particularly in deprived areas, to share those benefits more fairly across our cities.”

Growing chart


Julian, our London National Park City allotment keeper, offers this advice:

  1. Copy. Look to see what neighbouring plot holders have done and what is successful in terms of location, soil, solar aspect. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 
  2. Slow and steady. Don’t rush, it will take a few years to work our what’s best for you and your plot. 
  3. Plan before planting. Think seasonal variety. 
  4. Dig or No Dig? Raised beds? There are lots of opinions online and in books so take your pick and see what works.
  5. Low maintenance or high maintenance. Garlic has been brilliant for me and we are now self-sufficient on an annual basis. 
  6. I’m aiming to have half my plot as recurring produce/ flowers and half as annuals planted each year. 
  7. Don’t plant too much of the same thing at the same time or you just get a glut. If sowing from seed, sow some one week and more the following week to get succession planting. Some produce can be frozen but not all. 
  8. If fellow plot holders offer you spare plants/seedlings, brilliant but remember to swap or exchange favours.
  9. Consider small (dwarf) fruit trees. 
  10. Netting on fruit cages – some against due to trapped birds.
  11. Sheds/Greenhouses. Check to see if you can have one. Think carefully about what you need it for and where to place it in your plot. Mine is a Potting Shed so does both storage and growing.


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