The Good Life – being entirely self-sufficient – has been a dream for decades. But whether you’re pursuing Tom and Barbara’s 70s hippy vision or something altogether more millennial where do you start when it comes to growing your own and turning green fingers into a great life?
Back garden or allotment?
If you’re lucky enough to have a fairly sizeable back garden then you’re off to a great start. If you don’t then there’s always an allotment. The idea of an allotment is that you’re allocated a patch of land that you can use to grow. Applications for allotments are made through the local council (search your local council website for details) and availability varies wildly from city to city. Most plots usually come in at between 100 and 300 square metres and will be located with other allotments managed by other local residents. The cost of renting an allotment is low – around £10 per year outside of London. The only complication with allotments is that, in areas where they are very popular, you could be on a waiting list for years.
The best crops to grow
What you choose to grow really depends on the reasons you’re growing it. If you’re purely looking to feed yourself and your family then opt for the fruit and/or vegetables that everyone likes to eat. If home growing is a money-saving exercise then start with the vegetables and fruit that you eat the most, which are the most expensive to buy.
Courgettes – one plant can produce about 20 courgettes in a season and you’ll pay £2-3 for a couple in a store.
Strawberries – at £3-4 per box strawberries are a very expensive fruit but are considered relatively easy to grow at home, even for beginners.
Asparagus – asparagus takes a little setting up and you’ll have to wait three years from seed before you can harvest. However, after that you’ll get 15 good years of asparagus, saving yourself £3 a bunch.
Beetroot – beets have become incredibly popular since being labelled a superfood and are really pricey to buy in a bunch (as opposed to sliced in a jar). Grow your own crop to save £2 per 3 beets and have a nutritious raw ingredient for cakes, salads and soups on hand at home.
Rhubarb – ideal for British gardens, rhubarb grows in even the coldest conditions. Buy it from the supermarket and you’re looking at £3.50 for just three stalks.
Beans – runner beans and green beans cost around £2 for a small pack in a supermarket but are easily grown in the garden or allotment. The great advantage of beans is that they grow vertically so take up very little space.
Radishes – you’ll pay around 60p – £1 for a small bag of radishes in a store and they are simple to grow at home. Radishes grow to maturity in just six weeks leaving you ground for other crops afterwards.
Selling home grown crops
If you find you’ve got a surplus of what you’re growing then selling it on can bring in some useful extra cash. Farmers markets, local markets, businesses such as cafes and restaurants, festivals, fetes and even car boot sales provide plenty of opportunities to turn a profit from your veg. There are also online resources to help you sell, including BigBarn, which connects customers with independent food retailers and producers. It’s worth remembering that if you’re making income from what you’re growing and selling there could be a requirement to pay tax on it. If you’re an occasional seller then you don’t need a food hygiene certificate but what you’re selling must be safe.
Keeping hens is the ultimate smallholder dream and has many benefits, from daily fresh eggs to the odd roast chicken. There are no laws that stop you from keeping chickens at home but make sure you check your property deeds or speak to the landlord as there may be a rule against ‘livestock.’ If you’re keeping chickens for the first time it’s also worth bearing in mind that their coop will need weekly cleaning/mucking out, they have a tendency to run really fast (away) and if they’re bored they will peck each other.
Upping your productivity
If what appeals to you about the Good Life is just good old fashion hard work with your hands and the soil then you already have everything you need. However, there are also some handy gadgets out there that will boost what you’re able to grow – here are four particularly useful options.
Plant halos – ideal for horizontal plants like tomatoes and beans, plant halos have a deep inner circle for healthy root growth and an outer ‘moat’ designed to deliver feed and water at a rate the roots can better take to produce more bountiful plants.
A fruit cage – if you’re growing fruit at home then it needs protection. Fruit cages keep pests out while allowing the sun in and optimising every crop.
Plant monitors – you can now buy an electronic plant monitor that you stick in the pot, which will communicate the nutritional needs of that plant directly to your smartphone.
Robot mower – if mowing the lawn just isn’t your thing then let a robot do it for you.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley