Choose your crops

vegetable harvestGetting the most from your plot

It makes sense to grow what you like to eat on your plot, but this has to be tempered both by what is possible and by what lifestyle choices you want to make with respect to your allotment.

All-year-round harvest?

Where a degree of self-sufficiency is the aim, you might decide to go with the heaviest yielding crops. Brassicas and root vegetables are very productive, but peas, broad beans and French beans less so. Leafy salads and greens will yield far more useful material than an equivalent area of plants that need to ‘head’ before you can cut them, like lettuces or cauliflower. Crops that only have a brief, late-summer season, such as peppers and cucumbers, may be tasty, but can be
the least productive of all.

When trying to achieve all-year-round supplies, there is a tricky period from early to mid-spring when few crops are available. There is a good case for buying imported or greenhouse-grown food at this difficult time. A diet of only spring cabbages, spring onions, turnip greens, spinach, and spinach beet (and in mild regions, cauliflowers) can be monotonous until the early-summer salads, peas, broad beans, and new potatoes arrive.

Grow something special

Some crops that are commercially grown and harvested, such as carrots, onions or potatoes, are reasonably cheap to buy. You may prefer to get these from the supermarket.

But if you hanker after black potatoes, purple or white carrots, or torpedo-shaped Italian onions (all delicious, by the way), you might have to search far and wide to buy them. There is also produce that requires hand labour: asparagus, leeks, spring onions, leafy salads, ‘Little Gem’ lettuce and soft fruits. These are costly to buy, but very easy to grow yourself.

If your plot is some way from home, storable produce such as squash, pumpkins, root vegetables, and storing cabbages are valuable.  On the other hand, herbs that are needed as fresh as possible and in small quantities might be best grown at home.

The table below may help you decide what to grow: the right-hand column contains vegetables that have a short season and may not be worth growing.

Cheap and easy to grow, expensive to buy Cheap to buy but take up a lot of space
Beetroot Cabbage
Broad beans Carrots
Brussels sprouts Celery
Calabrese Garlic
Celeriac Onions
Courgettes Outdoor tomatoes
French beans Melons
Herbs Parsnips
Leeks Peas
Lettuce Potatoes, except early types
Mangetout peas Pumpkins
Mixed salad leaves Squash
Purple/white sprouting broccoli Cauliflowers
Radishes Swedes
Runner beans Sweet potatoes
Salad onions  
Soft fruit, all kinds  

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