Alison Swanson of the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society looks at ways of being self-sufficient(ish).

The seeds of an idea
Growing and eating your own allotment food is one of the best things ever. But imagine if growing was a necessity and your supply of food throughout the year depended upon it. What seeds would you sow? For those flirting with ideas of self sufficiency there are plenty of suitable crops and spring is a good time to start.

Dig for Victory land girls in red lipstick were smart. They sowed peas, beans, marrows and turnips for good reasons. These staples are easy to grow, can be sown in succession over a long period, are easy to store, and they provide lots of carbohydrate and protein.

The humble allotment turnip is particularly useful. A first sowing in early spring will provide turnips for eating through summer, a second sowing in late summer provides some to store, and a third sowing in early autumn can be used to produce turnip ‘tops’. The aim here is to grow just enough root to keep the plants alive long enough to eat their leaves in early spring. Sow seed in fine soil at a depth of around a 1.5cm and keep them well watered. Once they are large enough to grasp they should be thinned to around 10cm apart. Not much can go wrong but sowing in mid summer is a bad idea because long days will trigger them to produce seed. If you want to save seed for next year however let some bolt deliberately but avoid anything labelled F1 because these varieties are not suitable. Try “Purple Top”, yellow “Petrowski” or the huge “Giant Limousin” which are all tasty and suitable for seed. Extra turnips should be stored in a wooden box in a cool, dark and ventilated space.

Scottish Gardener:

Measuring it up
Peas, broad beans and french and runner beans provide much needed protein to sustain self sufficient gardeners. Peas and broad beans can be sown in pots from March through till June and planted out with suitable supports when they have four leaves, thus avoiding mouse damage. Adopt the same approach for runner and french beans, but sow these from around May ‘till July. Pleasure seeking gardeners might choose mangetout but stoical survivalists should of course plump only for tall peas, because vertical growth equals more pea pods per square metre of soil.  Naughty allotmenteers of course sow both and sometimes even order plug plants and lie. Good tall pea varieties are “Champion of England” which grows to 10 feet or “Telephone Pea” which has wrinkly peas. This would have pleased a certain 19th Century Monk greatly. With or without wrinkles however peas and beans are ideally suited to drying and storing for eating or sowing next year. 

Considering the arguments
Beetroot is an excellent crop for self sufficient allotmenteers.  This is sown in the same way as turnips but slightly deeper at 2.5cm from April till July. In theory beets can also bolt but this is rarely witnessed because the bolt resistant variety “Boltardy” is pervasive and other heritage varieties like “Touchstone Gold” or “Sanguina” are so delicious they are eaten immediately. “Cylindra” is also quite good but as an F1 variety it isn’t suitable for harvesting seeds. Its extra long deep roots do mean however that absolutely loads of beetroot can be grown in a small space and the excess can be stored in boxes of damp sand in a cool dark place, without plugging anything into the national grid. 

Marrows are another traditional high bulk crop however a truly self sufficient gardener would probably choose winter squash instead for better storage properties. Both can be sown in small pots of compost under cover from around early May and planted out when all risk of frost is gone.

A serious business
Well seasoned allotmenteers will argue allotments can save the world but allotments are mainly about having fun and that can also save the world in a way. There is a certain degree of pleasure though in knowing that if you absolutely had to, it's possible to build a moat, declare your allotment an independent state, live in the hut and lob turnips at all comers, safe in the knowledge you could survive. You would need be vegan though.