Food Prices Are Soaring, There’s a War In Europe & Many People Are In Fuel Poverty. There’s a Gardening Crisis Looming & There’s Never Been A Better Time To Dig For Victory. In This Article I Explain How.
Before this year many people didn’t know where the Ukraine was. They didn’t know that they supplied us with huge quantities of wheat as well as vegetable oil, fertilisers and other raw ingredients. These items are now in high demand but the war has limited their export. So how do we Grow Low Cost Food ourselves?
Couple the above with the highest UK inflation in 40 years and we have a problem. It’s made worse by the fact that many farmers are having problems sourcing fertilisers, so can’t increase production. Those fertilisers they can get are more expensive now than at any time in history. Fuel prices to run tractors, harvesters and ancillary equipment has risen beyond all expectation in recent months as well.
Where farmers have crops to harvest many are not being harvested due to a seasonal labour shortage. In the past several hundred thousand seasonal workers would come to the UK each summer to harvest crops. Many were students and worked to fund their education. But, with the pound falling against the Euro, the UK is no longer attractive. Plus the students say they don’t feel welcome in the UK. To make it even worse getting a visa to work here is now taking much longer than it traditionally did.
When I first sold my market garden and entered agricultural/horticultural education I worked with farms that employed 1000+ seasonal workers. Today many of this farms have fewer than 200 seasonal workers .. despite having work for 1000+. They can’t get staff and food rots.
The Economic Impact on Gardeners
All of the above affects every single person in the UK. It certainly affects gardeners and allotment holders as the price of seeds, fertilisers and much else is rising. Seed is becoming more expensive, greenhouse and tunnel prices are surging and every item we use to garden is going up in price or getting harder to buy.
So we need to Dig for Victory like never before.
How Can We Grow More Food? AKA Grow Low Cost Food
As many readers know, I’m a No Dig convert. It makes sense to me and even more so now that I can make my own compost and cut out the cost of fertiliser. But even if you garden traditionally, you can make savings and make your plot more productive. Here are some of the ways.
Seed companies love to sell gardeners expensive F1 seed. They say the varieties are more productive, disease resistant and claim a host of other benefits. And each of those things is at least partially true…. but not totally true. The problem is that most gardeners don’t have the wherewithal to gain the advantages promised. Commercial growers might find that F1 seeds give more yield (though often the flavour suffers), but without the computerised greenhouses and/or growing crops on a field scale, gardeners can’t easily reap those yield benefits.
However, heritage varieties often out perform F1 varieties when grown in gardens. The seed is cheaper, yields good, there is often a good degree of disease resistance and the flavour is often superb. The only reason that heritage varieties exist is because they perform consistently. And some have been doing this for over a century!
On the other hand, F1 varieties are the spin off of commercial production. They sell due to marketing rather than being good for gardens.
If amateurs can’t make use of F1 seeds the situation is even worse where grafted plants are used. Grafted plants are more expensive and rarely deliver the promised benefits to gardeners.
My recommendations for both F1 varieties and grafted plants is to save your money and go for proven heritage varieties.
Many gardeners tell me they get good yields with grafted plants and F1 varieties. Others say they do so with heritage varities. But in most cases when I look at the crops grown the plants aren’t performing that well. Many plants can produce much more than the average gardener expects. And comparing ourselves with the gardener next door, who also gets modest yields, isn’t the best way to judge what a good yield is.
Clearly gardeners are rarely going to match the yields that professional veg growers are capable of. But they could, if only they better understood how to grow crops so that yield, flavour, nutrition etc are all optimised.
Growing systems such as No Dig have the ability to grow a succession of high yielding nutritious crops in a smaller space than many gardeners try to manage. Feeding the soil rather than the plant, planting module grown plants, intercropping, implementing crop succession and reducing slug damage are just some of the ways in which yields can be greatly increased.
It’s easy to convert to No Dig as the linked article demonstrates.
Whole Year Growing Systems For Grow Low Cost Food
So often I see gardeners that grow one crop a year, starting in spring, and never attempt a succession of crops or any winter cropping. They fear planting in spring before the last frost and “sheet down” their plots over winter.
The reality is that many crops are frost hardy and very resilient. When I had my market garden I would normally plant around 100,000 outdoor lettuce in March. Our last frost date was around the first week of May but every thing survived and by early May we would be harvesting lettuce for supermarkets that demanded perfect lettuce. We spread harvest dates by growing different varieties.
Ditto celery. In spring I also planted 20,000 celery outdoors (in March) each year and by June we would be starting to cut them for the commission markets and supermarkets. That despite the fact that the frost and wind would sometimes strip every leaf off the plant in March and the celery had to regrow from the root! Celery are very hardy and grow into huge plants.
In my garden the most productive time in my greenhouse is winter. Sure we get good crops of tomatoes in summer …. having grown then commercially for years I’m sure you’d expect me to …. but we also grow over 20 winter highly productive salads over winter and harvest them every week.
Outdoors we have leeks and other winter crops and I also overwinter broad beans, peas and other crops.
If you want to maximise cropping don’t sheet land down for the winter. It doesn’t stop nutrients being washed away by winter rain and it kills soil biodiversity. The best way to maintain soil fertility is to crop the land with an edible crop or a green manure.
Making Use Of Every Inch of Space
You don’t need a large garden to grow crops. In fact you don’t need a garden. Look at my article on Micro greens, sprouted seeds and baby veg to learn more about this. These crops can be grown on a windowsill or under a grow lamp if you have no garden.
And if you don’t have a garden you could use containers in a yard, or balconies or even in window boxes. It’s even possible to grow crops vertically; with containers hung on walls, drain pipes and rooves.
There’s more on vertical gardening and containers on the following link.
Other Ways To Increase Veg and Fruit Yields
Rather than make this article too long I suggest you check out other articles on this site. I’ve added links in places within this article. You might also try using the search function. There is a search bar on the top right hand column.
You can also Join my Facebook groups. I post advice most days and its free to join my Facebook groups. This site is also free.
Over the next months I’ll be posting a lot more advice on how to grow more at less cost. If you follow my advice you should see an increase in veg and fruit grown and it wil cost you less as well.
Cutting The Cost Of Gardening
I’ve written a more in depth article on this topic and it can be found by following the link. below.
Ten Tips On Saving Money In the Garden & How To Grow Low Cost Food
- Buy seed, fertiliser and other necessities in bulk. Share with a neighbour if need be.
- Don’t overspend on expensive equipment unless strictly necessary. For example, unless you have medical reasons or are growing on solid rock or concrete, do you really need expensive beds that need filling with compost? Growing at ground level can save hundreds of pounds.
- Grow heritage varieties where you can. The yield, flavour, disease and pest resistance are often very good. And they are much cheaper.
4. Obtain second hand equipment where you can. My recent greenhouse was free. I found it on Freecycle. All I had to do was dismantle it and take it away.
5. Save seeds where you can. It’s much easier than many people think. There are a few rules but they are easy to understand.
6. Make your own compost. There’s no money needed to build a free standing compost heap. You don’t need expensive compost bins. And compost will feed your soil and the soil will feed your plants.
7. Grow perennials where possible. Rhubarb for example. I grew mine from a 99 pence pack of seed and had hundreds of seeds. Admittedly they take a while to get to a harvestable size, but if you can get a crown from someone you can be harvesting the same year.
8. Grow fast growing veg. Peas are a great example. Sow them and you can harvest pea shoots in a few weeks. Radish are the same. They are ready to eat in 3-4 weeks in spring and summer. I’m writing a new article on fast growing veg .. look out for it.
9. Go No Dig. I know not everyone wants to. But its the best way I know to maximise yield and get 3-4 crops out of each bed every year. And it’s very low cost. You can start small with just one small area and increase it if it works for you.
10. Use a greenhouse or tunnel to extend your season. Used correctly a greenhouse can be cropped every week of the year. Heres some advice on growing winter salads. And if you don’t have room for a greenhouse consider a cold frame or using fleece. Each of these methods extends the growing season.
That’s it on how to Grow Low Cost Food for now. There will be more later and please lave comments and advice below.
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