With Charles Dowd­ing

How do you judge if you are get­ting good value by grow­ing your own veg? Charles of­fers some thoughts

Country Smallholding - - Front Page -

Iimagine you have asked your­self how worth­while is the time we spend grow­ing veg­eta­bles? They need a fair amount of time, and in mone­tary terms it some­times looks a poor re­sult.

How­ever, us­ing some fig­ures from my gar­den, I sug­gest ways to in­crease the value of out­put, as well as look­ing at dif­fer­ent ways to as­sign value. This is im­por­tant be­cause re­tail prices for sta­ples such as potato and onion are not high com­pared to other goods and ser­vices we have to buy, such as in­sur­ance and rent.

Here I look at one year’s har­vests from a bed mea­sur­ing 5x16 feet (1.5 x 5m), as­sess their value, and set that against the time taken to grow and har­vest. The bed grew 105kg veg­eta­bles, which I har­vested be­tween April and De­cem­ber, dur­ing a year (2014) of favourable weather.

Tim­ing and type of har­vests

For leafy veg­eta­bles, best value comes from har­vest­ing lit­tle and of­ten. Hence I rec­om­mend pick­ing the outer leaves of let­tuce on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, a highly pro­duc­tive method which re­duces the need to re­sow. Here the 10.3kg was an av­er­age of 1kg per week though May, June and early July, off 24 plants that were sown un­der­cover in Fe­bru­ary. This one sow­ing gave a good value of food and over a long pe­riod.

Most salad plants, spaced at 6-9in (1522cm), can be picked in the same way and live for longer than when they are cut across the top. It does not take more time to pick than to cut, es­pe­cially when you in­clude the mas­sively re­duced time needed for clear­ing, re­sow­ing etc.

Pre­ci­sion and dis­ci­pline

To get the most from what you grow, you need both of th­ese qual­i­ties in de­cid­ing when to sow and when to har­vest. Of course it is nice to say ‘I feel like eat­ing some beans’ and then see what is ready, but beans and many other veg­eta­bles need pick­ing reg­u­larly, even if you have enough to eat, be­fore they grow too large, tough or go yel­low. De­velop har­vest­ing habits, even when you don’t need pro­duce to eat, so that your plants keep pro­duc­ing nice out­put, then be cre­ative in the kitchen with un­ex­pected gluts, or give pro­duce away.

There is an im­por­tant say­ing that re­lates to this: “In or­der to have enough veg­eta­bles, you must have too many.” This is be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble to grow pre­cisely the right amount, thanks to vari­ables of weather and pests.

Most worth­while veg­eta­bles

The ta­ble shows how, if you like eat­ing salad leaves on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, they are the most valu­able veg­eta­bles at cur­rent prices. Let­tuce is the most pro­duc­tive and crops for the longest from one sow­ing, fol­lowed by en­dive (sown in sum­mer), spinach, ori­en­tal leaves, rocket and many herbs.

For the rest, it’s as much about what you like as about prices, be­cause prices re­flect the time and costs in­volved with­out con­sid­er­ing per­sonal pref­er­ence.

Fresh­ness and flavour

This is what makes home-grown dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially for veg­eta­bles such as car­rots,

beans, peas, cab­bage, sal­ads and new pota­toes. Its worth grow­ing th­ese veg­eta­bles in par­tic­u­lar, to en­joy those flavours that are hard to buy any­where.

On the other hand it’s less worth­while fi­nan­cially to grow onions, beet­root and leeks, which are not ex­pen­sive to buy. But they are fairly easy to grow and again it de­pends what you most value for its home-grown qual­ity. For ex­am­ple, there is some­thing deeply sat­is­fy­ing about plaits of gar­lic and ropes of onions hang­ing on the wall, and win­ter squashes adorn­ing a shelf.

Sec­ond crop­ping

To il­lus­trate what veg­eta­bles work well in each half of a sea­son, the first and sec­ond plant­ings on this bed were as fol­lows, with some of the many other pos­si­bil­i­ties in brack­ets. Radish was in­ter-sown be­tween the broad beans, a ‘ free crop’ Spinach gave reg­u­lar pick­ings, was fol­lowed by leek (car­rot, salad onion) Cab­bage Greyhound gave five hearts in June and was fol­lowed by French bean (sal­ads, cu­cum­ber)- beans are fid­dly to har­vest but de­li­cious Let­tuce gave har­vests over 12 weeks, fol­lowed by leek ( beet­root, car­rot, kale, broc­coli) Potato Swift was quick, early and easy, fol­lowed by cu­cum­ber ( leek, sal­ads, kale) Beet­root from mod­ule-raised plants was fol­lowed by en­dive for leaves (other sal­ads, Florence fennel) Broad beans were pro­duc­tive but needed more space than other veg and were fol­lowed by swede ( leek, radic­chio, beet­root) Gar­lic, shal­lot, onion were fol­lowed by beet­root ( kale, sal­ads)

For all this to work well, sow and plant by early April, and cover all plants with fleece for a month to has­ten early growth. Then sow the sec­ond veg­etable a month be­fore the first one fin­ishes, which in­creases the grow­ing sea­son by a worth­while amount.

Onion har­vest July

Sow­ing broad beans in early De­cem­ber, to be dibbed

Plant­ing and sow­ing in March be­fore cov­er­ing with fleece

Early July plant­ing of French beans

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