There are some myths in horticulture that can seem as pervasive as bindweed. While many of these are pretty harmless, the one I find most problematic, and the most enduring, is the idea that growing your own fruit and vegetables is a cheap and viable solution for those facing food insecurity.
Most of the time, the reality is that growing your own is, at very best, marginally more costly, if not eye-wateringly expensive compared to shopping at supermarkets. This is particularly true for those just starting out, given the hefty fixed costs that are necessary to produce food at the scale that would make even the smallest dent in household expenses. I once calculated, for example, that it would be cheaper for me to have the fanciest organic French DOP spuds from a Knightsbridge department store delivered gift-wrapped than it would to buy a balcony potato-growing kit.
If you plan on growing your own for fun and flavour, the outlook is cheery
But, if you are planning on growing your own for fun, flavour and to find options that are hard to track down in supermarkets, then the outlook is more cheery. There are three groups of crops where the cost-benefit ratio does tip in your favour – herbs, salad leaves and berries.
First, let’s look at fresh herbs. These are, gram for gram, probably the most expensive produce items around. Most of the classic herbs are of Mediterranean origin, which gives them a rugged constitution that is tolerant of drought, poor fertility and exposed sites, and makes them capable of shrugging off most pests and diseases. This means they are a good option for beginners. In fact, because these plants evolved the ability to produce their fragrant aromas as a chemical defence against harsh-growing conditions, stressing them out can measurably intensify their flavour.
I don’t know about you, but fresh herbs are also the most likely of foods to go off in my fridge before I finish the pack. Right up there with salad leaves, which consistently come out top of the crops for food waste. Fortunately, it’s also relatively simple to grow your own salad, especially if you pick the right varieties. Rocket, mustard and cress often escape cultivation to become weeds, making them really straightforward. If you let some of them self-seed, they will pop up year after year, so you won’t even need to sow them again.
Finally, get growing some berries. Yes, the plants can be costly to start with, but they are also extremely easy to propagate, so if you know anyone who grows berries, getting a cutting or two is all you need. Perhaps the most simple is the currant family, in particular blackcurrants. Stem cuttings can root in a matter of weeks. Raspberry plants are also super-vigorous and will grow easily. A single packet of wild strawberry seeds will give you 50 plants or more, not bad for a crop that is often only available at high-end restaurant suppliers.
Growing your own is a wonder for so many reasons, but if it’s bang for your buck you want, start with these three easy-to-grow crops.
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