There’s no doubt that growing some of our own fruit and vegetables is as good for the soul as it is the body. Gentle exercise, the subtle smells and sounds of nature, the patient expectation of watching our crops grow and thrive – these are all qualities of kitchen gardening that are truly priceless.
Yet with much of the world still recoiling from the financial shocks of the past five years, it’s no surprise that more of us are growing food simply to save a few pennies. A steady global increase of mouths to feed, richer diets and ever-growing pressure on available land means it’s inevitable food prices have ticked relentlessly upwards over time.
Headlines surrounding spiralling prices and food shortages are depressing but the joyous news is that home growing can have a dramatic impact on our weekly food bills – as well as allowing us to grow more unusual and tasty varieties of produce not usually available in the supermarket. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you this seasoned reader!
The amount of money to be saved from even a modest garden plot is really rather staggering. People have cottoned onto this and the result is veg gardens of all kinds popping up all over the place, particularly in cities where fresh air and exercise are as prized as the harvests taken.
Looking at growing fruit and veg from a purely wallet-preserving perspective it is worth noting that not every crop is born equal. If your primary objective is to save money and the space you have to do this is limited, start your wish list with the most productive and useful crops and work down it according to the area of ground/number of containers you can spare.
High up the list are those plants that fruit or pod prolifically. If you can preserve some of this glut then nothing need go to waste and you’ll be able to extend the financial windfall well into winter! Tomatoes, zucchini, climbing beans and pumpkins and squashes are just a few examples. Tomatoes can produce up to around 5kg (10lbs) of fruit in a favourable season and zucchini will swell anywhere between 10 and 20 of their abundant beauties over their cropping period.
Everybody should definitely grow a few plants of winter squash or pumpkin. The biggest haul will be had if these plants are left to sprawl over the ground, the stems rooting as they creep to give the plant more energy for production of more and bigger fruits. If you are tight for space then train the stems up trelliswork or sturdy poles, pergolas or wigwams. The plants will happily grow with minimal attention over summer but the best bit is that squashes and pumpkins store like a dream over winter – no special conditions needed to enjoy a ready-to-tap source of warming sustenance. You will get a lot of harvest weight for your initial seed!
Another way of breaking down the savings to be had is to consider the time taken to reach harvest point from sowing. So while a single flush of radishes may not yield great riches, the fact that they take just three to four weeks to maturity means that the diligent re-sower will enjoy considerable savings over the course of the growing season. Beetroot takes maybe twice as long to grow but is still relatively quick and exceptionally versatile in the kitchen. Try baking chunks of beetroot with herbs and olive oil, adding the roots to lend a blood-red flush to risottos, or how about slicing wafer-thin rounds of eye-popping varieties such as red and white striped ‘Chioggia’ into salads? A rather mean bundle of beetroot costs £1.65 ($2.50) in my local supermarket (yes, really!), so I reckon my couple of rows over the course of a summer easily yield close to £100-worth!
But for me my number one quick-growing cash crop is any of the rapid-fire salad leaf mixes. These cut-and-come-again collectives have become incredibly popular over the last few years thanks to their ease of growing, delicious variety of textures, leaf shapes and colours – and no doubt because bags of salads leaves are such a rip off! I sow mine into an old butler/Belfast sink, which is just the right size to provide a regular cut of dinnertime leaves.
A touch of luxury
Then there are those vegetables that really are luxury items in the shopping basket: asparagus, sprouting broccoli, mangetout peas and globe artichokes to name a few. A couple of plants of any of the above would produce plenty of spears, heads and pods to keep the bank account healthy. Asparagus is the most luxurious and perhaps easiest to grow considering how little effort it takes; plant a few asparagus crowns and you’ll be able to enjoy the spears from late spring to early summer for many years to come – a delicious prospect indeed!
Everybody knows that herbs transform dishes into something special. A permanent herb bed or planter takes up minimal space and will save a small fortune on the measly sprigs offered in food stores. Barbara Pleasant outlines some high-value must-grows here.
Needless to say, it’s important not to lose sight of the numerous other benefits to growing our own. But when we’re all tightening the fiscal belt it’s good to know that our much-loved pastime just happens to save the wallet too.
By Benedict Vanheems.