Eat what you grow, or grow what you eat?

Feb 13 2012 0 Comments Tags: garden, real food

Most conventional 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 veges will sit out there in the garden untouched and your efforts will be wasted.  I tried this the first year in my new garden, I planted big tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, corn, broccoli and celery, which were all things we liked to eat.  The tomatoes were attacked by fruit fly and grubs, 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, the celery never grew either - 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 veges that we didn't normally buy, and many of those were very successful, 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 veges.  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 work 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 veges 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 silver beet, 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 silver beet 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 vege garden means that you can grow veges that you wouldn't normally buy, either because they are expensive or because they don't keep well.  For me this includes:

  • silver beet
  • lettuce
  • radishes
  • beet root
  • rocket and salad greens
  • spring onions
  • herbs
  • eggplant
  • chillies
  • pickling cucumbers
Yes, we had a pretty limited range of veges that we used to buy!  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 under-ground onions, but spring onions are fine.
Button squash do better than zucchinis and taste pretty much the same.
Of the veges 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 corn, carrots, sometimes a cabbage, but the garden has certainly reduced the amount we spend on veges, 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 veges 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 veges that do well without much attention, because they are the ones we could live off if we had to and they produce a nice continuous supply of veges, 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 instead 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 :)

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