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Beat the fresh food crisis

The fresh fruit and vegetable shelves have never been so bare, but don’t despair. Our gardens can provide all sorts of fresh ingredients even now. Plus, with a little preplanning now, we can grow many many things to eat, from fruit, vegetables, herbs and even some edible flowers.

red and green pepper on plant

Maybe we’ve become complacent about buying produce out of season. After all we never used to be able to buy strawberries and tomatoes in the winter. Modern technology, air freight and open borders have all allowed us to benefit from pretty much any fruit or vegetable all year round. But this does not reflect local seasonality or the cycle of nature.

When gardeners grow their own food every morsel has a value, based on the effort that goes into growing it. But don’t think it’s a case of blood, sweat and tears, there is much satisfaction in growing ingredients to eat and many things are easier to grow than you think.

What can’t you buy?

Right now, there is a shortage of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and salad crops in the supermarket. Even if you start growing those things right now the only things you can harvest quickly are the leafy greens and herbs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan and plant the others. Growing from seed is usually the most cost-effective way to grow your own good. But when it comes to growing tender plants, i.e., those that are affected by frost and cold, the cost of growing them needs to factor in the warmth needed to get them started. So, realistically if you want to grow some tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers for the very first time, I would recommend that you buy ready grown plants instead. These will be available in mid-May when hopefully the risk of frost will have passed.

For the best results you need a greenhouse though you can grow all of them outdoors as the summer progresses. If you don’t have space or don’t have a greenhouse look and see whether there is a local community garden you can join or sign up for an allotment.

Tomatoes can be high maintenance but there are plenty of ways to cheat when growing tomatoes.

tomatoes and peppers growing in pots
Tomatoes and peppers can be grown outdoors as the summer progresses. Image: Adobe Stock

Salads galore

You’ve probably got some salad ingredients growing in your garden right now and I don’t mean lettuce. If you’ve got some pots of herbs you can start to build a salad bowl from a few leaves. Many will be sprouting into growth right now. Look out for marjoram, mint, chives and even lovage starting to grow in spring. Lovage once established can be an excellent source of salad material. Young leaves of kale, beetroot leaves and pea and broadbean leaves all add to the collection and your bowl full of leaves is looking not just colourful but tasty too. 

Learn how to forage, some plants growing wild are edible. You need to be absolutely sure what you are picking but some things are quite easy to identify, partly from their appearance and often by their smell. A great example is wild garlic. The large leaves are great fresh in salads and can be used to make pesto too. It’s also very prolific. Another great wild plant is the nettle, not so good raw in salads but you can cook the tops as spring greens.

What to sow and grow now

When the cold snap is over sow some broadbean seeds and also some peas. Not for their sweet pods, but for their tasty leaves. Both are easy to grow and produce lovely flavoursome foliage. Plus, they are hardy so won’t be affected by the cold if temperatures drop. 

Sow some mixed salad leaves too. Don’t sow the whole packet of seed, instead fill a flower pot with seed compost and sprinkle the seed on the surface, water gently with tepid TAP water. You will soon be able to pick a few outer leaves to add to your salad bowl.

Don’t forget the herbs, especially if you use a lot in the kitchen. It’s still a bit cold to be trying to grow basil but you can sow coriander in March and unlike basil it doesn’t mind a little cold. In fact, if you sow it early it is less likely to bolt (go to seed). Other herbs can be bought as living plants from the supermarket and this is a great way to get them started. You can harvest one or two pickings and then pot up the rest of the plants into quality compost. This works especially well with basil.

How to save money

Have a look in the store cupboard and see what is there that you could grow. You might have some sprouting garlic cloves, or maybe a packet of dried peas these can be planted and sprouted for future ingredients.

When it comes to buying seed, try and share with a friend or a neighbour, fresh seed is best. Buy open pollinated varieties (not F1 hybrids) they will have more seeds in the packet and are less expensive to produce and so cheaper for you to buy. Visit a seed swap locally. Share cuttings and seeds and even seed potatoes within your gardening buddies so that you get to grow different things, share the experience, deal with any queries and reap the benefits together. Why not start a little gardening group with like minded friends and share your journey on social media. Take lots of photos and let us know how you are getting on.


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