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Beat the Credit Crunch - Grow Your Own Veg!

round courgetteWith the current financial downturn one way of saving pennies is to grow your own veg. Growing vegetables is something I am quite passionate about, and even during comparatively 'rich' times we still grow a large portion of our own veggies, but it is during times like this when everyone feels the need to cut back and tighten their belt, that the financial benefits of growing your own veggies really hits home. The children (unlike some recently seen on Jamie Oliver's TV programme!) know their leeks from their celery and their courgettes from their pumpkins, have plenty of experience preparing fresh veg ready for cooking, and obviously get to enjoy home-grown, healthy, organic produce. An all-round win-win situation!

Vegetables are some of the easiest plants to grow - if you can grow a spider plant in the lounge, or plant a window box with sping bulbs, you can grow your own veg. Many people have got the impression that to grow vegetables a huge plot of land is needed, or years of experience. Neither is the case. A number of simple vegetables can be grown in a small patch in the garden or even containers on the balcony, and with the exception of a few vegetables, most are non-demanding in terms of care, especially salads such as lettuce, rocket, cress and radishes for example.

Another common misconception is that planting and growing vegetables is limited to the spring and summer months, and the veggie patch remains a bare and unprofitable area of mud during the winter. Nothing could be further from the truth. With a little forward planning you can be harvesting fresh greens (eg winter spinach, kale and cabbage) and root vegetables (eg carrots, turnips and parsnips) throughout the winter, and herbs, lettuce and radishes can be grown inside any time of year. The Unwins Seeds website includes a search function which allows you to look for seeds according to the month of sowing or transplanting - a really useful facility which saves hours of slaving over gardening books!

bush beansThere are some drawbacks if you want to grow your own veg. One is the time factor. The traditional vegetable patch does require regular maintenance, especially weeding when the young seedlings emerge. Using raised beds cuts down considerably on weeding - as we have found out since swopping to the raised bed system. An added advantage is that it is easier to improve the soil, so the toil and time used in digging over the patch is completely erradicated and failed crops (a sure way of denting a young child's enthusiasm) are much less likely. Small raised beds are easy to manage even for a child, and can produce a fair amount of produce throughout the year.

Another drawback is the cold weather. Usually one has to wait until after the last frost in the spring before sowing seeds outside, and similarly, an early frost can cut short the growing season in the autumn, especially for vegetables such as courgettes or celery. The solution is to extend the growing season either end by using cloches, growing tunnels, fleece covers and greenhouses and mini greenhouses, which are brilliant for protecting young seedlings and even growing veg which prefer a warmer climate, such as cucumbers and peppers. Nor are they expensive (you can pick up a mini greenhouse for under £20) - especially considering the savings you will make on buying fresh vegetables in the shops!

A few packets of vegetable seeds and a couple of onion or garlic sets will only set you back a few pounds, and with a little TLC and patience, will easily cut down your weekly food bill ... at the same time as helping you and your kids get a bit of fresh air, exercise, life skills and food in your belly which is full of healthy vitamins and minerals.

Grow your own veg this season and I promise you will not look back!

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