As much as taking on an allotment was great fun and incredibly rewarding, with hindsight I sometimes wish I’d had some focus when I first started out. I guess that arrives with experience, but at the beginning, I never spent any time considering what I wanted from my plot.
Back in 2007 (pictured, fresh-faced outside my old shed), I jumped in two-footed, having only really applied for a plot because someone lent me the first series of River Cottage and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen on tele. As time goes by, and I embark on a new growing adventure, I think it’s useful to sit back and ask myself why I’m growing veg.
There are many reasons why people grow fruit and veg, and I feel that asking a few questions at the start helps heaps in any quest for GYO success, especially when it comes to planning how we might go about things.
Am I growing for taste?
I’d argue that every homegrown fruit and vegetable tastes better than the alternatives bought in the shops, but some take it to a whole new level. If I was purely growing for taste, then I’d start with lots of different tomato varieties, plus plenty of soft fruit – especially strawberries and raspberries.
I’d be choosier with my seed purchases too. Some of the heritage varieties I’ve tried this season have really distinctive flavours and are interesting to grow for that reason alone.
Am I growing to save money?
From what I found last year, growing veg to save money puts a really interesting spin on things. For example: as tasty as they are, it’s hardly worth using the big lump of space peas require, when you can buy 1kg frozen packs for £1. The same could be said for potatoes, which are as cheap as chips, particularly when bought by the sackload.
For me, expensive tomatoes, soft fruit, and squashes would be my weapons of choice, together with cut and come again veg like chard and reliable, space-efficient croppers such as beetroot.
Am I growing to be self-sufficient?
I’m very keen on this idea, but I’m not sure I’m meticulous or organised enough! I love a spreadsheet, but to ensure a steady flow of food all year round I’d need planting plans and successional sowings coming out of my ears.
I’d need an eye on the whole year too, so sowings of underrated winter greens like kale and chard, and spring dependables such as purple sprouting broccoli and spring greens will be getting as much focus as the much-celebrated summer treats.
A steady crop of good storers, like squashes, and freezers, like French beans will be important to me as well.
Are you growing for fun?
The shackles are off and I’ll just go for it, buying and sowing anything I fancy. I won’t worry about plans; just getting out there and growing. If plants die, well, there is always next year.
If I’m growing for fun, then the easy and attractive plants will probably be the ones I choose. Failure isn’t fun, after all. Summer fruits, bright pink radishes, multicoloured salad leaves, bold beetroot, and French beans are all really entertaining and reliable fruit and veg to grow.
Potatoes are great fun to harvest, digging around like a treasure hunt. Courgettes are easy, but best of all can sometimes grow noticeably between morning and night. Mangetout and peas can be eaten raw straight from the plant too, and I love the idea of harvesting these fruit and veg as a way of getting a little ‘uninvolved in the plot.
I don’t want to overcomplicate my Patch from Scratch growing, but I do want to make the most of my space. I’ll probably want to incorporate parts of all of the above elements into my growing ideas and plans, so pondering the questions before I start is certainly helping me focus the mind, and hopefully give me better harvests come next year.