Jo McCarroll shares reader feedback about the best cash crops
Awhile ago I asked in my editorial whether you thought growing your own fruit and vegetables saved you money. I thought it probably saved me something, I mused, but I didn’t keep sufficiently detailed records of what I spent and what I grew to know.
Well, it turns out a lot of readers do keep such records. Dozens of people got in touch to tell me what they ate from the garden each week, and how much money it saved them. And it wasn’t just rough guesses. There were spreadsheets. So, so many spreadsheets. And reader, I was shocked.
Not by the fact people kept spreadsheets, I hasten to add. I am happy to admit spreadsheets have some charm that has hitherto escaped me. Let each of us step to the music which we hear, as Henry David Thoreau puts it. What shocked me was the saving which those spreadsheets revealed.
In Tauranga, Mel Atkins saves more than $2000 a year. In Northland, Anita Burke saves an astonishing $5640. In Christchurch, Brenda Crocker worked out the crops she (and the succession of WWOOFers who help this septuagenarian out) eat from the garden would cost roughly $100 a week at the supermarket – although she did point out that growing her own allowed her to indulge in luxuries like homemade kombucha, relishes and pickles, and even an occasional glass of homegrown wine (making the point growing your own doesn’t just mean you eat cheaper, it can mean you eat better). Read more about these three women on page 14.
They are all relatively experienced gardeners of course. They did not start a vege garden and immediately start seeing such a difference in their grocery bill. And I was curious to know what crops a beginner gardener should start with, if their aim was to save cash. So I decided to harness the power of the hive mind (via NZ Gardener’s facebook page) and ask you, the readers. And it turns out there was a remarkable consensus. • Fresh herbs: Herbs, many readers agreed, are both expensive to buy and usually easy to grow. Plus, Jan Abernethy in Wellington pointed out, growing your own gave you a wider choice than what was for sale. • Anything cut-and-come-again: Crops you could harvest from repeatedly, rather than all at once were a popular suggestion. Green beans, Asian greens, lettuces, spinach, silverbeet and spring onions were all good choices. It helps avoid waste too, points out Anna Dunwoodie in Auckland. “With spring onions, you don’t often use a full bunch.” • Root crops: Kumara and potatoes were also firm favourites, being easy to grow, universally popular with the family and, at times, very expensive to buy. Vivienne Walker in Auckland had a self-sprouting kumara in the pantry. “I cut off the slips and planted around 15 of them. I have kilos of kumara,” she says. “I have seen it for $10 a kilo.” • What you can store: To feed your family all year round, many readers focused on what they bottle or freeze. Tomatoes were (unsurprisingly) extremely popular. Linda Hammond, in the Rangitikei District, said she made relish, chutney, sauce and soup. “They save me so much money.” In Auckland Evelyn Cockburn’s 12 blueberry plants produced enough to fill the freezer, as well as supply family and friends. • Anything self-sown: Crops from a plant which popped up with no effort on that gardener’s part tasted especially sweet. In Beth Risdon’s garden in Canterbury, tomatoes self-seed every year; while in Kirsty McMillan’s Waikato garden a plant popped up at the base of the compost heap. “We harvested 32 pumpkins off that one plant,” she says. You can’t get much cheaper than that!
Have a great June in the garden everyone.