Digging deep – and saving money too

My super mutant ninja parsnips

My super mutant ninja parsnips

Many of the MSE Team have their own areas of special interest when it comes to MoneySaving. MSE Jenny’s our resident eBay guru (see Saviour from eBay zombiedom) and MSE Penny’s the fashion queen (From the catwalk to Primark).

A bunch of us (if you’ll pardon the pun) have enthusiastically embraced ‘grow your own’ as part of our MoneySaving arsenal.

Now the growing season’s starting again, some are more likely to be discussing plant food tablets in Poundland (they have water gel crystals too, usually £5ish in garden centres and DIY stores) than the latest iPad tablet.

MSE Becca’s growing parsley, chives, tomatoes, courgettes and mixed salad in pots using every available space, and strawberry plants grown from runners donated by MSE Wendy last year.

No, Wendy didn’t donate an Olympic athlete, they’re the shoots that grow from your plants. Pop the nobbly bit in the soil to grow roots and, hey presto, you have a new one completely free.

And it was MSE Wendy who inspired me to try to grow garlic for the first time last year after seeing her fantastic home-grown, home-made garlic plait.

After last year’s bumper crop of super mutant ninja parsnips, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, rhubarb, garlic, onions, Swiss chard and a pumpkin, I took advantage of recent nice weather to get some of this year’s veggies growing. Tomatoes, radishes, spring onions and potatoes have been optimistically sown and planted, although they’ll have to be protected from the cold.

You may be thinking you don’t have room… but as that world-renowned celebrity gardener, Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans, recently said (I’m paraphrasing), not using land you own to grow your own is a waste. Just look at his mushrooms.

I’ll be squeezing edible plants into every nook and cranny I can find. Last year’s best tomatoes came from plants we found growing in our front garden and just left there to carry on merrily growing.

They grew bigger and produced more fruit than the ones I carefully tended to in my back garden, so I’m tempted to chuck a couple of seeds on there this year and see what happens.

So, given this is a MoneySaving site, I should discuss how much it saves, at least in some part.

What’s a good value for money crop? The obvious answer is something you’d normally buy a lot of, but which is expensive in the supermarkets. Tomatoes are a no-brainer, especially the speciality types. But carrots and onions tend to take up a lot of room for something that’s relatively cheap to buy if you don’t have much growing space.

For time and MoneySaving I like anything that you just plant once and it grows every year – perennials like rhubarb or asparagus. Although I still haven’t practiced what I preach and planted my asparagus yet.

Of course, we have a fantastic Green-Fingered Forum board here on MSE where gardeners swap tips and ideas on what’s cheaper to grow than buy in the supermarket.

How much can you save? If you’re completely new to it, the initial outlay for compost, equipment, canes, trellis, etc can be large. How much you spend depends on how big a growing area you have. For example, on containers, bags or a veggie patch.

Here, sites such as Freecycle and Freegle are your friends (see the Freecycle guide).

Again, at the risk of sounding like a Poundland advert, it really is a gardener’s paradise in my book. You should find shelves full of vegetable seed multi-packs and onion and garlic sets. (They grow bigger if you plant them in the autumn but it’s still not too late, my new veggie patch produced some mammoth onions last year that I only started off in February.)

Poundstretcher is another good source of gardening bargains. I’ve found trellis less than half the price of DIY stores and garden centres.

Plus don’t forget the cheaper supermarkets. Aldi has a very good range of vegetable seeds starting at 49p, when you’d be looking at around £3 elsewhere. Lidl regularly has ‘gardening events’.

If you’re still unsure how worthwhile it is for you, as well as our Gardening board above, I’d hugely recommend reading Real Men Sow for inspiration.

So once you’ve grown them, what then? Quiches are a great way of using what you have. All sorts of veggies can go in or with them and are pretty straightforward to make. Especially if you cheat and use shop-bought pastry.

I’m a huge fan of the slow cooker, though, which more often than not turns out restaurant-quality food. Spend just 20-30 minutes preparing your ingredients in the morning before the school run, whack it in the slow cooker, leave it 8-12 hours and hey presto – supper’s done. But I digress.

It’s not something widely known by non-slow cooker users, but they’re perfect for making chutneys. So guess where last year’s tomatoes went?

I could waffle on about slow cookers, but that’s for another time…

You can leave your feedback and suggestions in the comments section below or on the MSE forum.