Home-grown produce often tastes better, is fresher – straight from garden to plate – and can cost less too. People grow their own fruit and vegetables for many reasons, but one of the most common is to save money. Here are our top tips for getting the best value from your garden…
Grow High Value Crops
Growing high value crops is the best way to make the most of your growing space. It’s about minimising the things you put in, such as your time, space and money whilst at the same time maximising the results – increased yield, taste and value compared to shop-bought. Crops which meet one or more of the following criteria are high value:
Crops that are expensive to buy in stores, compared to growing your own.
For example, herbs like rosemary, sage and mint are easy to grow and take up little space. Compare this with standard white onions which are a low value crop, since they are generally cheap to buy in stores and need space, care and attention in your garden for a relatively long time.
Crops that produce a high yield for the space they use.
Tomatoes are a good example – you can harvest several pounds of fruit from one plant, and their vertical growing habit means they have a low footprint.
Crops which have a superior taste when homegrown or harvested fresh.
This applies to many soft fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries which are often kept in an unripened state in supermarkets to prevent them from spoiling before they reach the supermarket shelves. By prolonging their shelf life flavour is compromised, and for many of these crops you just can’t beat the taste of home grown varieties.
High Value Crops to Grow at Home
Most herbs used in the kitchen are easy to grow, and many are perennial so they continue to produce year after year with only a little care. Yet buy them fresh in the supermarket and you’ll generally receive a small bag of herbs, packaged in a protective atmosphere, that last only a week or so in the fridge. Grow herbs such as sage, rosemary, mint and thyme and you’ll be able to harvest them fresh for up to 9 months of the year in most areas. And by drying or freezing some extra you’ll have enough to keep you going through the colder months.
Tender herbs, such as basil and oregano can be grown outdoors for around 6 months and, if you have a sunny enough windowsill, will do reasonably well indoors for the rest of the year.
Most herbs can be easily and cheaply started from a small packet of seeds, or you can buy living herb pots from supermarkets and transplant them as long as you gradually introduce them to outside temperatures over several days.
Salad, including lettuces, rocket and Oriental salad leaves are also easy to grow, through many months of the year. A recent survey by one large supermarket chain found that 68% of bagged salad is wasted – and 35% of that was wasted in the home. Growing your own means zero waste, as you only need to harvest exactly what you’ll eat, and you can guarantee it’ll be fresh. You can also include perpetual spinach and Swiss chard in this category – neither are readily available in supermarkets yet they grow prolifically almost all year round with no care, other than weeding and a little watering when the weather is dry.
To get the most from home-grown salads, sow a small amount of seed every two weeks for a continual harvest of tasty leaves. It’s worth choosing cut-and-come again types, often called loose-leaf lettuce, rather than dense-headed varieties like Iceberg which can be more prone to pests and disease, and take longer to mature.
Tomatoes are a higher maintenance crop, with high watering and feeding requirements. But they make the list because they are so high-yielding and tasty. Growing your own allows you to try a wide range of varieties which just aren’t available commercially - everything from small, golden cherry tomatoes, to large chocolatey-black ones, all depending on what you’ll be using them for. If you are new to gardening, choose a reliable variety of small cherry tomato – these are the easiest to grow and make a tasty addition to salads.
Rhubarb often generates a mixed reaction from people, but it’s a high value crop because it’s so easy to take care of, comes back year after year, and is a distinctive fruit that’s often quite expensive to buy. When stalks are ready you can either harvest for immediate use, or store chopped and frozen for later. The only real care they need is adding some well-rotted manure at the start and end of the growing season, taking care not to cover the crowns which could easily rot.
Fruit trees and bushes can yield an abundant crop for the space they occupy, but they do take a year or two to establish. If you’re short on space, you can train many as fans, espaliers or cordons against a sunny fence or wall. Cane fruit such as raspberries are also a great choice – they just need some pruning and feeding at the right time of the year, and they’ll provide a tasty abundant crop.
Zucchini plants are high yielding, producing between 3 and 9 pounds (1.3-4kg) of fruit from each plant in a growing season. There is a wide range of different colors, sizes and tastes of fruit available if you are prepared to grow them from seed. If you’re growing on a balcony or small plot, climbing or tumbling varieties will make maximum use of your space.
There are plenty of other high-value crops too, and if you’re using our Garden Planner you can use the Filter button to the left of the selection bar to select crops that are easy to grow and that will mature in the right month. The coloured halo around the plant shows if they need a lot of space to grow, and the information box will give you lots of tips about how to get the best harvest.
What a high-value crop is for you will depend on where you live and what you and your family like to eat, but the principles are the same. Look for what’s expensive to buy from the supermarket and what you can successfully grow in large quantities in the space you have (especially your favorite tasty varieties) to save money and enjoy a bounty of delicious home-grown food.