It’s the taste

Sweetcorn planted outWhat do you grow vegetables for? Taste, economy or pleasure? Or perhaps a bit of all three?

I ask because of this interesting post about allotment costs. They say growing your own saves money, but of course this is largely bollocks. Add in everything you shell out for (and I mean everything relevant, including share of greenhouse purchase amortised over a few years) and it all adds up.

Take this corn, for instance. To my shame, it’s not an open-pollinated variety… so I had to buy it because I couldn’t save my own seed (which I generally do). Then there’s the peat pots I raised it in, the (bought) compost I filled them with, plus the few bags of manure I bought for the soil (too time-poor to collect all my manure ‘free’ from local stables).

And that’s not all. There’s all the tools I buy and replace when they break or wear out, plus sharpeners and maintenance and the odd drop of petrol/diesel for driving to the plot with a boot-load of crap. Plus netting and fleece for crops that need them. Plus books about gardening (which never feature on anybody’s costs list, but should). If I was into fertiliser and chemicals, they’d cost too.

In short, I grow the most expensive sweetcorn in the world. Even if I cut my costs to the bone, I couldn’t possibly compete with a supermarket cob on price.

So why do it? Well, as they say in the PG Tips advert, “it’s the taste“. Innit.

Oh, and the exercise too – which, perversely, I enjoy. Anyone reckon they actually save money on their plot… if they’re really, really honest?

23 Responses to “It’s the taste”

  1. Simon Says:

    I reckon I spend sixty quid a year on rent, seeds and compost so yes, I think I save money. If I factored in my time – I suppose I could be working instead – then it would be a dead loss but who wants to go to work at the weekends? Not me. As well as taste, freshness and enjoyment there’s also the satisfaction of beating the system and not bloody shopping.

  2. Rampant_Weasel Says:

    i think i spent 20 quid on compost ( the 3 for a tenner peat based one) and 40 quid on seeds.nets and tools i already have from previous years and im lucky enough to have 2 stables near me for free horse manure.
    so i think like alot of outdoor hobbies once u r setup the running costs are quite low.
    i also have a 100 foot garden to grow in so i dont have any rent to pay or theives…

  3. Cazauxs Food Factory Says:

    Behold the most expensive cauliflower in the world. The cars being polished for the victory parade and the kilts being dry cleaned at last.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/CazauxFood/May2009CazauxTime#5337651214081320194

    My ten bobs worth. Hobbies cost money. we can’t count the cost of of our hobby as it brings pleasure and escape from the shit and mundabe jobs 99% of us are stuck in to get by. Golf, motoring, hot air ballooning would set us back a lot more and you cant eat a scorecard or a nine iron so whos got the better pasttime.

    Us me thinks.

  4. Soilman Says:

    Wow. I’m impressed, gents. I’ve always figured I could save more money if I had more time; this working malarkey sure gets in the way of real life.

  5. jopan Says:

    Hell no. My parents buy all my food [although i do pay them board] if i didn’t grow veg i’d not have to spend more than my board. as it is i’ve spent about £500 on greenhouses and compost in the last six months. i suppose if you manage to get all the things you need and buy expensive tools that last years and use all you’re own seed and make all you’re own compost etc; then, and only then will you make a marginal saving. But hey, what else would i spend my days off doing?

  6. chzplz Says:

    if I compare prices against run-of-the-mill regular supermarket produce, no way in hell do I save money. But – since my garden is organic, if I compare against the prices of organic produce from the supermarket, it’s close. The taste & pride that comes with growing my own food tip the scales to make it well worth the effort. The exercise is a bonus.

  7. Suzanne Says:

    I reckon we could get all our vegetables delivered by Harrods, by a man on a white charger, every Sunday with an accompanying brass band and it would be cheaper than what the allotment has cost us so far! So no, for this year (and the next 10) we certainly aren’t doing it to save money. It is certainly for taste and definitely for interest but in some cases it is actually also for convenience. We have 7 guinea pigs and carting home bags of shop bought veg for them every night on the train was a pain in the butt. Ordering it weekly was no good because they eat so damn much and it would go or run out before the week was up anyway. So these days, even before the main crops are ready, I can pick them salad leaves, carrot, parsnip and beetroot thinnings every day. It’s also great for the nipper as it is teaching her patience, care, responsibilty and work in a world where children require little of any of the above and most things are instant gratification, no commitment required….off my soap box and relax….

  8. Jo Says:

    I have only had my allotment since March, but can already see that it will cost more to grow veg than what it costs to buy in the supermarket.
    One of the reasons I am growing my own is for a hobby, so based on this alone, I actually think that it’s quite cheap. There are lots of other hobbies which cost alot more than growing your own does, and you don’t get anything other than enjoyment out of them. At least we can say that we get some excercise, eat healthier, get to grips with nature, socialise, and my kids also know where there food comes from. There are so many kids these days who think that beans come out of a tin (ok they do, but they don’t know how they got there!).
    Quite cheap really for a hobby which gives you all this.

  9. Soilman Says:

    Jo/Suzanne: I don’t have kids but I’m sure you’re absolutely right about gardening’s educational bonus. When they grow it themselves, they’re more likely to value and eat it. Plus the miracle of seed germination amazes children, who are always aghast that a tiny seed they’ve sown can grow into a huge plant. Know how they feel; the sense of wonder shows no sign of fading for me, and I’m 41!

  10. Manor Stables Veg Plot Says:

    The area that I save money on is lettuce – we eat bloomin loads of it over the summer, and if you think it £2.00 a bag? 3 bags a week, cos once you’ve opened it, it goes like a …limp lettuce….and take for 6 months of the year = £156.00 – for the pack of seeds @ £1.90 and the soil for the cells. for me, just the saving on lettuce is worth it. And it TASTES better! No chemicals/chlorine etc!

  11. altadenahiker Says:

    Here’s the thing: If I didn’t grow them, I wouldn’t eat them. I don’t particularly like vegetables. But after all this time and effort, of course I won’t let them wilt on the vine. So, it’s all a way to get me to eat my veggies.

  12. Doug Says:

    For some stuff, it’s impossible to compare! e.g. Is my mizuna more expensive than a supermarket one, well no, because I can’t buy it, are my Arran Victory spuds more expensive, well no, because I can’t buy them in the supermarket and so on and so forth, if all I was doing was growing bog standard, generic, supermarket food, then yes it’s expensive, but I’m not, if you are lucky, you might get the stuff I grow in Waitrose on a good day, for quite a lot of money, so like for like, I think even factoring in costs like books I’m up.

  13. Soilman Says:

    That’s an excellent point, Doug. It’s true that the great pleasure of growing your own is being able to grow things you couldn’t possibly buy. Unusual varities are, indeed, priceless.

  14. Carol Says:

    I don’t assume that we’ll always be able to buy cheap food at the supermarket. Over the years, I’ve seen fuel price rises and shortages, and expect them to happen again in the future. Some people say our current industrial agriculture system basically turns oil into food.

    I’m in my fifties, and I’m trying to learn and re-learn enough horticultural skills to grow more of our own food. Beyond the pleasures described in other peoples’ comments, I look at it as an insurance policy.

  15. Soilman Says:

    Another excellent point, Carol. If you know nothing about this, have a look here. There’s nothing theoretical or hypothetical about the end of oil. Unless humanity finds a way to make fusion power work, we really are looking at a very, very reduced world population and a return to some pretty basic agricultural techniques.

  16. Clare Says:

    Save money? No way. But as I grow vegetables for the pleasure of it (I know, hard to believe when there’s so much heartache) I see it as no different from spending money down the pub or going to the cinema or any other pastime. The bonus is that I get something tangible in return. I’m also in the same camp as Doug as I like to grow varieties that I can’t buy in the shops, and that’s a pretty priceless outcome if you ask me!

  17. Christina Says:

    Ah, but sweetcorn, so worth the extra money. There is nothing like corn just off the plant and into the pot. Very worth it.

  18. allotment blogger Says:

    It’s a really interesting question – because what do you factor in? The cost of comparable vegetables obviously, which for a lot of us is exotic organic produce that costs a fortune in the supermarkets. But what about:

    Healthful exercise that stops your blood pressure going up so you don’t live on statins (which you pay prescription fees for) and develop related illnesses that cause you to take time off work and reduce your quality of life?

    Tasty food that is available with extreme freshness, meaning that you grow more, eat more and enjoy it more, improving your nutrition and supporting your immune system’s ability to keep you healthy?

    Community relationships with others on the allotment site which helps you avoid depression?

    Self-esteem from self-sufficiency, practical experience, pleasent friendships and the ability to give friends and family lovely fresh and attractive food, all of which keeps your brain alert and firing on all cylinders, staving off senile dementia and alzheimer’s both of which seem to strike less active, less social older people more often and harder?

    Add those factors in and it wouldn’t matter if we sprinkled gold dust instead of compost and watered with Evian, we’d still be getting a bargain!

  19. VP Says:

    I reckon I do save money because of my choice of some crops and being able to tease seem of them to crop a little earlier/later when they’d be horrendously expensive in the shops. Soft fruit in particular.

    Re your previous rant. You need to stop being a miserable old bugger Soilman, Chelsea was absolutely wonderful. I seriously covet the tomato tower from the Eden Project garden. And the sight of ex-prisoners and crusties talking eloquently to ‘rather nice people’ was a wonder to behold. I wonder who benefitted most from the experience.

    Yes it’s overblown and excessive, but there’s lots for the ordinary punter like me too. And I’d say most of the people there on the same day were also ordinary punters. Chelsea is what you make of it – I’ve come back absolutely energised!

    I was a Chelsea sceptic, but now…

  20. Amy Says:

    No I doubt I save money but I think that is because of my weakness around a garden centre/website/mail order catalogue but it is still worth it.

    You might only get 10 fresh strawberries but they are going to taste 100 times better than anything you have ever bought. I try to stick to things that are difficult to buy or which will always taste better than the shop versions – sweetcorn, tomatoes raspberries for an example.

  21. Soilman Says:

    Allotment blogger: Those are great points – althought the plot’s not been enough to keep me off the wretched statins.

    VP: I’m REALLY glad you enjoyed it! I’m afraid I’m never going to be a convert, but I certainly wish I could be. Positivity is so much more enjoyable than being a miserable old git.

    Christina/Amy: Sweetcorn is certainly one my top ‘fresh is best’ crops, along with asparagus and peas. You simply can’t buy the taste of these veg when they’re fresh – you have to grow them.

  22. Phil Says:

    Well, for me, growing my own food has always been a salutary lesson in the mismatch between expectation and reality but I comfort myself with the thought that by continuing to do it I must still be an optimist. It certainly doesn’t save me any money but I do like to go out and graze off garden produce from time to time. One sun-warmed home-grown strawberry is better that any number of those tasteless ones from the supermarket. If I was being philosophical (and pompous), I’d also say that it’s nice to reassure yourself that you have the skills to feed yourself – a basic human attribute, if ever there was one. Not that I’d want to rely on my hit-and-miss horticultural skills for survival, mind you…

  23. Simon Says:

    BTW I thought your piece on Chelsea was spot on, so much so I’ve quoted you on my own blog and added you to my links. That’s pretty big of me eh? You’re pretty funny for a southerner. Just don’t expect any more favours.