Growing Vegetables at Home – Growing for Value

With the increasing cost of food, many people are writing about “growing your own food”. In some instances, they describe situations which aren’t representative of the average family with an average garden. Two Acre walled Gardens, the ability to keep livestock (usually chickens), etc. or they are growing things that aren’t practical or useful (Asparagus, Micro Greens, etc.).

Now, I will probably fall into the same sort of category, you’ll look at what I have to say and go -“So where do I get that from?” or something like that, so I will describe what we grow and what we find justifiable with what we’ve got.

Growing in our Greenhouses

As I’ve said before, we have two 6ft x 8ft, unheated greenhouses, one of which is also our potting shed. In one we grow indeterminate tomatoes of various sorts (cherry, beefsteak and standard) and of various colours (red, green, black and yellow). This year there are 20 plants, all different varieties, mainly open pollinated with seeds we have collected over the years. They will provide us with tomatoes from mid-July through until late October (depending on the weather).

The other (which is our potting shed and so has less space) has a mix of things:

  • Three cucumber plants (which will keep us supplied with cucumbers from the start of July through to the end of October;
  • Three determinate tomato plants (mainly to compare with the outdoor ones but again providing us tomatoes through the season);
  • Eight Sweet Pepper plants with which we have varying success depending upon the season but which look like they will provide us some peppers this year (we have grown chile peppers in the past and whilst they are successful, its difficult to know what to do with them as they are of variable heat and cooking with them thus becomes a bit of a lottery.;
  • Three Physalis (cape gooseberry) plants. These are slightly unusual but I like them and have them with my cereal in the morning

The tomatoes are obviously what I think are the “best value”, even if you only compare them to tinned tomatoes but they are probably also the most expensive because of the amount of compost you need to grow them in. However, the cucumbers mean that we don’t need to buy any throughout July and August (the height of the salad season) so they are well up there.

The Covered Tunnel

Our covered tunnel (which used to be the polytunnel until the plastic gave up the ghost) is:

  • about half full of Strawberry plants (protected from the squirrels). These were planted out last year and are harvesting a handful every other day. Are they worth it? I think so, they obviously are more expensive than shop-bought strawberries but they don’t take a lot of effort, its just a matter of watering them and cutting off the runners. The main problem is slugs and woodlice. Most of the fruit produced have some damage and they don’t really taste better than shop-bought. If I could think of another fruitcrop that would grow in the same space, I would possibly try them;
  • About 1/4 full of dwarf french beans (these are worthwhile and produce a handful of beans every other day from mid/late July until late September. French beans are well worth growing;
  • About 1/4 full of random things (spring cabbage followed by cut & come again lettuce this year);
  • Finally, behind the strawberries, I have planted 14 climbing French Beans. These are really worth it, they climb up the poles quickly (and across the tunnel) and produce a handful every other day complementing the dwarf french beans. Between them, we get enough beans to feed ourselves through the summer and to make enough jars of bean chutney to see us through the seasons;
  • There’s also a couple of cucumber plants tucked into the corners. These are left-overs from the sowing and may (or may not) produce cucumbers. If they do, its a bonus.

So, from a value point of view, I would say thet the French Beans are the best thing in the tunnel, keeping us supplied with green vegetables through the summer and giving us something to create the chutney.

In the Garden

Outside the Tunnel we have:

  • A 20ft x 10ft bed which is rotated and at the moment growing lettuce and courgettes. Earlier in the year it had Broad Beans which we harvested in mid June and are always a good start to the year. With the lettuce we try to grow enough to mean that we don’t need to buy any during the season from mid June to the end of August when we eat one or two a week. However, we never succeed in succession sowing successfully so I reckon we probably average one a week over that time. Fresh lettuce always tastes nicer than bought so its something I wold recommend but, they need a fair amount of water to stop them bolting and protection from slugs.
  • At the back of the beds this year I’m growing 14 Runner Beans which, hopefully, will harvest at the end of the French Bean season and extend the lifetime of our green vegetables.
  • Finally in this area, where the Broad Beans were growing, I’ve got six Swiss Chard plants. They will give us a few salad leaves through the summer but are mainly to provide green leafy vegetables early in the year (April & May).

Corgettes, lettuce and beans are well worth the effort.

Finally, there are the two raised beds and a dustbin. This year one is growing potatoes and the other carrots. The raised beds were bought to grow carrots because the soil is too hard to grow them directly in the ground. They will see us with all the carrots we need between September and January. The potatoes were put in because I couldn’t think what else to grow. Carrots are good (they always taste nicer than bought ones) but potatoes are always debatable. I bought first earlies and I guess we’ll get several kilos of potatoes. I should have bought salad potatoes because whatever I’m growing are very floury.

The dustbin is growing parsnips as an experiment.

Do the veg we grow save us money? No. Tomatoes and Beans have the advantage that you don’t need to buy seed, saving seed is simple and effective. However, in our garden we have to grow the plants in compost until they’re quite large. Carrots are both tasty and good but we had to invest in raised beds and compost to be able to get decent sized carrots. Physalis is good, but one could live without them so comparing the cost of home grown with shop bought is unfair. Courgettes are excellent but judging how many plants to grow one year to the next is a problem, sometimes they do well others not so.

Do the veg we grow taste better? Yes, the fresh beans, carrots, lettuce, courgettes, tomato & cucumber all taste better that those you can buy in the shops, particularly the runner beans which are always picked too large.

Why do I do it? Its a hobby and you always spend money on hobbies.

My advice, grow your own in whatever space you’ve got, grow fruit & vegetables you like to eat but don’t expect them to save you money.