Eat what you grow, or grow what you eat?

by Liz Beavis

Most conventional vegetable garden planning advice says to "grow what you eat", to look in your fridge for ideas of what to grow in your garden, otherwise your veggies will sit out there in the garden untouched and your efforts will be wasted.

I tried this the first year in my new veggie garden, I planted tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, corn, broccoli and celery, which were all things we liked to eat and would regularly buy from the supermarket. The tomatoes were attacked by fruit fly, the carrots were short and fat with many "legs", the potatoes didn't grow in our heavy clay soil, the broccoli and corn were eaten by grubs, and the celery never grew at all - if I'd stuck to that advice I would have given up after the first year!

This loose leaf lettuce is easy to grow and save seeds from.


Luckily I also planted some other veggies that we didn't normally buy (or eat), and many of those were very successful. These alternative veggies grow better in our climate and have proven to be useful in meals as alternatives to our old favourites.  

This has made me more adventurous and interested in trying different veggies. I think its important to find out what grows well in your area, particularly if you are trying to grow organically, plants that can't cope without chemicals will just be hard work. Then you need to figure out how to eat them, and if you like them, you're onto a winner.  

This is all part of the fun! I believe that you should both eat what you grow and grow what you eat.

I love silver beet from my garden, but I never used to eat it.


When you think about which veggies you buy regularly, many are either cheap (carrots and potato compared to eggplant or herbs), or long lasting (broccoli and corn compared to things like silver beet, spring onions and lettuce, which quickly go limp in the fridge).  

Before we had the garden, I never bought silverbeet, because I knew it wouldn't last long in the fridge, and I never bought eggplant unless if happened to be less that $6/kg, which is pretty much never. Honestly I NEVER ate silverbeet until I grew it myself (even when my mum grew it, sorry mum!). There's something about putting in that effort to produce food that makes me find a way to eat it.

This mini capsicum resists fruit fly better than the full sized ones.


Having a veggie garden means that you can grow veggies that you wouldn't normally buy, either because they are expensive or because they don't keep well. For me this includes:

  • silverbeet
  • lettuce
  • radishes
  • beetroot
  • rocket and salad greens
  • spring onions
  • herbs (parsley, basil, coriander etc)
  • eggplant
  • chillies
  • pickling cucumbers
Yes, we had a pretty limited range of veggies that we used to buy compared to what I grow now! Sad isn't it!
Growing our own also means compromising on things that I used to buy, but find difficult to grow. For example, I find it very difficult to grow large tomatoes, as they are attacked by pests (big and small, from bandicoots to fruit flies!), so I grow cherry tomatoes instead. I had the same trouble with capsicums until I grew the mini ones that seem to survive better. I haven't had any success with brown onions, but spring onions and leeks are easy to grow.
Button squash do better than zucchinis and taste pretty much the same.
Of the veggies that we used to buy, I think the only ones that I've been able to grow are zucchini and green beans, with the occasional broccoli! We still buy potatoes, and carrots, sometimes corn or cabbage when they are in season, but the garden has certainly reduced the amount we spend on veggies overall, without replacing them directly, just changing and adding variety to what we enjoy eating.
The Poor Man's Bean took over my garden fence last year and produced more beans that we could eat!
I still have that list of favourite veggies in the back of my mind though, I really want to master carrots, corn, celery and potatoes, but I also need to focus on the veggies that do well without much attention, because they are the ones that can produce a nice continuous supply of veggies, even if the rest of my experiments don't work out.  
I especially like to find varieties that grow well and produce seeds that I can save for the future, as this creates a truly sustainable garden. I love that tomatoes now sprout from the compost, its like having instant tomato seedlings without any effort! 
How have your eating habits changed since you started gardening?  Do you grow what you eat or eat what you grow?
My tiny broccoli, at least the grubs didn't get them :)

1 comment

  • Nanna Chel

    Hi Liz, we have a problem with possums this year and they wrecked the peas. They even ate through the netting over the peas. My hubby grew heaps of celery in the watersaver garden as an experiment and we now have so much celery to use or give away but I only use celery in soup and now, with the warm weather, I am not making soup anymore. My attempts at growing lettuce have failed for some reason so I want to work at that and one cherry tomato plant has survived the winter so all is not lost. My hubby is now experimenting with growing multiple varieties of potatoes so we will have plenty to use and give away eventually.

    I do try to just grow what we eat but might have to expand my horizons at the rate I am going.

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