If you’ve just decided to grow your own vegetables to save money, then where do you start? A visit to the garden centre, or a quick flick through the seed catalogue, can be daunting – especially if you don’t have a lot of space for your vegetable patch. What’s going to give you the most bang for your buck?
Salad leaves are one of the easiest crops to grow, don’t take up much space and can provide a big return on your initial investment. For the price of one of those bags of packed salad in the supermarket, you can buy a packet of lettuce seeds that will keep you in lettuce all summer – or even longer. And if you want a more exciting salad you can buy salad seed mixes. The best varieties to go for are the ones described as ‘cut and come again’, which means that you can harvest leaves as and when you need them over several weeks, rather than having to pull up a whole lettuce at once. Salad leaves do well in containers, too, as long as you water them regularly.
Another leafy crop that’s easy to grow and does well in small spaces is leaves for stir-fries. Again, you could grow a single crop like spinach or pak choi, or a ready-made mix. If you can sow a few seeds every couple of weeks then you’ll have fresh supplies throughout the summer and right into the autumn.
If summer wouldn’t be summer without juicy, ripe tomatoes, then trying growing your own. Cherry tomatoes are sweet and tasty and very easy to grow. The plants are bushy, ideal for containers and crop earlier and for longer than plants with larger fruits. They’re also bushy, which means you don’t have to worry about supporting them or pinching out the side shoots to keep them under control. A packet of seeds will last you for several years, or you could buy one or two plants – it’s a bit more expensive, but you’ll be quids in when they crop.
Strawberries are another summer favourite. If you buy a plant this year, it may grow a few fruits, but in late summer it will start growing runners – long stems that have baby plants growing on the end. Peg those down or pot them up and you’ll have more strawberry plants next year without spending any more money. Strawberry plants are generally most fruitful in their second and third years. Growing two or more different varieties of strawberries extends the growing season – some fruit earlier, and some later.
A small packet of fresh herbs from the supermarket costs a couple of pounds and, at most, is enough for one or two meals. A herb plant costs about the same and will keep you in fresh herbs all year. And many herbs are perennial – which means that one plant will provide herbs for several years. Most are perfectly happy in containers, and the sun-loving herbs like rosemary and thyme don’t even need much watering.
The key points to remember are to choose things that you’re going to enjoy eating – otherwise you’re spending money rather than saving it! And don’t go too mad to start with. Try growing a few plants, or starting a small vegetable patch, and expand once you’ve got the hang of it. And don’t’ forget to start a compost heap, so that you can turn all of your kitchen and garden waste into free compost for next year’s garden.