Fresh at home
2023/09/28 | By Lynette Croxford | Photo by Markus Spiske
Growing your own food has always been seen as a beneficial activity, which is why the ‘allotment garden’ has a long and rich history in the Netherlands and around Europe. Since the seventeenth century, townspeople in small cities have grown vegetables for their own use on small patches of land allocated to them by local municipalities. Next to that, many have also included cheese making in their portfolio. Let’s find out more.
An increasing number of scientific studies have found that gardening is an effective stress reliever and has health benefits beyond the physical. However, the most exciting thing about growing your own food is getting to eat well in every season. To start off, you can use a small area of your back garden or begin even smaller by getting a few pots from a garden centre. There is usually a bunch of choices per season that are pre-potted and ready to go. To do gardening right, you just need a plan.
Your monthly guide to growing
At the start of the European year, it is too cold to plant much outside apart from the hardy Jerusalem artichoke that needs little care and can survive in most soil types. By mid-February, you can start sowing lettuce, broad beans, summer cabbage and spinach and put them on a sunny windowsill or in an indoor mini greenhouse. In March, the first crops can go straight into the ground. The temperature will be high enough for plants to survive. Should the soil still be a little too cold, you can pre-heat the soil by partially covering it with transparent plastic for about ten days.
April and May are both prime sowing months. All the sensitive plants you have kept indoors can now go into the ground and start to flourish. Keep an eye on the weather for possible cold nights or frost, however, and in that case, it is always good to cover the ground or the leaves with plastic.
Mid-year is plant heaven. The warm, moist earth and rising temperatures make growing ideal. This is also the last chance to get new plants into the garden. Late summer is not ideal. Crops that start growing quickly when they experience short or chilly days, e.g., chicory, endive, and Chinese cabbage, can be sown in June.
By autumn, start to sow for next year. Swiss chard, spring onions and cabbages lend themselves well to this. Lettuce, spinach, and radishes can still be sown for the current season. As an extra tip, you can sow mustard in empty boxes which will help improve the fertility of your vegetable garden. September is the last time you can sow radishes, cress, lettuce, and rocket. In addition, spinach and head lettuce can also be sown. Garlic cloves and the first onions can be put in the ground for next year. Make sure you get the right variety since not all are suitable.
Mid-October is the time for planting fruit trees. This period continues until the ground freezes. Vegetables such as white and Savoy cabbage and head lettuce will still grow fine in a greenhouse. If you have a sheltered warm garden, you can sow broad beans for overwintering in November, otherwise better wait until spring.
Other homemade goodies
Apart from veggies, you can also venture into making cheese at home with your own cheese-making kit (kaasmaak pakket). It is not as complicated as you might think, and there are quite a few cheeses that are easy and quick to produce at home. Lactic cheese consists of milk, salt and added vinegar to separate the curds. After straining the cheese to a desired dryness, it is ready to eat. This can take as little as an hour. Goat cheese is made from a similar process and great to mix with herbs and spices. Citric acid is used in recipes for fresh Italian cheeses like mozzarella and mascarpone. Cheeses made like this – rather than through fermentation – are “quick-set.” With this wonderful shortcut, the time it takes to acidify and coagulate the milk is much reduced. A variety of kits are available to get you started on your home cheese making journey.
Why not use the energy of the new season to get plants or go in search of the perfect cheese making kit to get you started. With minimal time and input, you could create a seasonal menu to get more variety into your diet and benefit from the health benefits at the same time. There are many resources online and a number of gardening clubs across the country from which to get advice and inspiration. There is no time like the present!
About the author
Lynette Croxford was born in South Africa and moved to South Holland over 10 years ago. She has two daughters and enjoys photography, running and exploring cities on foot.
Did you know?
- Growing vegetables at home also means you will be doing your bit for the environment by helping to cut down on CO2 emissions.
- Allotments (volkstuinen) can be found across the country. More info at the Dutch national organisation for allotments (Algemene Vereniging van Volkstuinen Nederland).
- Cheese making kits can easily be found online, and in some specialist (physical) stores. Vegan cheese making kits (Vegan kaaskit) are also available.
- If you want to read more about food production and consumption innovations in the Netherlands click here.