It’s a question I am often asked and considering the time of year it may be advantageous for other posters so here goes. Gardening is gaining in popularity and this is for many reasons and the main ones I hear are: Bought fruit and veg often tastes bland or old and home grown tastes much better. I have an issue with food mileage (the latest fad apparently) which is the distance food is transported along with its environmental impact from using lorries and ships to transport huge quantities of food from many obscure parts of the world. I have issues with the addition of chemicals and things such as producers using GM foods to increase yields for ingredients in everyday foods such as ready meals and we don’t know the impacts on human life yet for GM foods. I have issues with the conditions foods are grown in using cheap third world labour in third world countries where their own people are hungry or starving and foods are sold to the highest bidder rather than be used to fed their own populations. It’s a necessity for me to grow my own food so I can pay other bills as I am on minimum wage with little to no chance of getting a higher paying job. While this is not in any way a conclusive list it is what I regularly hear and there may be any amount of other reasons for people to grow their own fruit and veg; I have grown my own for more years than I will admit too and I am now in the nice position of being self-sufficient in fruit and veg. Gardening connects people back with nature as most gardening is seasonal and you plant and harvest crops at specific times of the year; but with advancing technologies you can now plant many crops earlier and harvest them for longer meaning higher crop yields. Gardening for me is stress relief and it gets me outside and it increases the amount of exercise I get and many people like this connection back to nature and the healthier food combined with exercise growing your own food gives people as it gives you as a grower, full control of what goes into your food. If done correctly it saves you a lot of money and time as even a correctly laid out small plot can yield a huge harvest and you can reduce the amount of hours of food shopping you do and save even more money by not having to run to the supermarket every verse end and burning fuel to do so. Commerce has entered home grown food and everyone from seed suppliers to large pharmaceutical companies have jumped on the band wagon to help extract your money by offering overpriced (and highly profitable) ranges of seeds, feeds, insecticides, and many other products you can make yourself. One example is urine, yes, pee, pi$$, urea, something we all produce for free; another example is to grow comfrey and contain it, pick the leaves and place in a large container and add water and leave for a few days, strain and bottle, or you can even pick young nettles and use the same process. Why would we need to add to the huge pharmaceutical companies profits when we can make these products for free from natural and non-synthesised materials? Gardening gives you the opportunity to try new foods, one I like is kale and this is termed a “pick and regrow crop” as you harvest some leaves as required and the plant regrows these leaves so you get a perpetual crop during their growing season, but you can try any crop you like to suit your tastes. Financially it makes sense not to be lured into the convenience (allegedly) products supplied by these companies as they are mainly synthetic products and introduce many toxic elements into your soil which are sucked up by your plants and enter your body when you eat them. They also cost a lot of money and by buying such products you will find the cost of your home grown food will be higher than shop bought food and negating any savings means you will be no better off and defeating the object if you grow to save money. Food waste is a huge problem as many countries buy food and can throw away large quantities of it, gardeners generally have at least one compost heap and instead of throwing away food, food peelings, or the tops off of food they put it on the compost heap and return it back to nature. Compost heaps provide new rotted vegetation which can be returned back to the garden directly as rotted matter to improve a soil; or you can use the rotted vegetation to make your own compost so another saving by not having to buy compost, and the time and expense of driving to buy it. Then there is the reduced waste, reduced waste means less waste to process, less waste to process means less going into landfill and less work for the pickers in the waste reprocessing plants which saves the council’s money and helps to reduce your council tax bills. What if you don’t have a garden or only have a small back yard and no garden? A little planning can see you container growing which can include any containers such as plant pots, home made boxes or beds, or even hanging baskets for a variety of plants. Many people assume you plant at floor level, why? We have 3D AutoCAD so why not have 3D growing, if you have a wall you can attach anything such as old cast iron guttering, hanging baskets, or even things such as large used coffee cans to grow crops in, and as container growing is increasing in popularity the yields of crops grown from a small space is growing. You can use grow bags, you can make your own bags, and you can fan train many crops, particularly fruit which means a large bush which is trained to virtually flat and still gives high yields. With forward planning you can introduce something called “continual planting” which is basically planning your crops so when one is picked you replace the free space with another crop to utilise a space for many more months of growing and production. What about surplus of crops I would like to save? Again no problem, you can freeze surplus crops, you can bottle or can surplus crops, you can pickle crops if you like pickled onions or red cabbage, or even gherkin or cauliflower you can pickle individual items or make a mixed pickle using them all. Many crops such as onions can be tied into strings and hung in a shed or outbuilding, potatoes can be stored in trays as can apples, just make sure they don’t touch each other and put sheets of newspaper round them Most fruits and many veg can be bottled, most fruit comes in syrup which is simply water and sugar, many veg come in brine which is simply water and salt, or you can get creative as I did many years ago. I got 20 large food bags and as crops were harvested they were frozen and placed into the bags, with different crops being harvested at different times you froze what you produced and added them to your bags and at the end of the season you had 20 stew veg bags. All my other half did was brown some decent meat, put in the pan along with one of the stew packs and some water with gravy granules, cook long and slow and throw in some potatoes and onions and cook a little more before serving, and she does enough for two days as it always tastes nicer on the second day. Surplus food can be bartered or swapped with neighbours, friends, or other gardeners who can’t, or don’t grow a crop which you grow as they have different soils and they swap this for something you don’t grow or won’t grow so you have a greater variety of produce. If you have a lot of fruit you can make various flavours of jam or if you make your own wine you can turn it into wine, or you can just bottle the lot for winter. If you have a lot of green tomatoes at the end of the season you can turn them into chutney, and if you garden you can grow your own herbs in a herb garden. What should you grow? In reality it pays to start with staple crops which you eat regularly and buy most often, from here you can add things you like but don’t buy regularly because of cost, and from here you can try new things and grow things you would like to eat more of, or just something new you would like to try. Who can garden? Anybody really as it’s a pastime which doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care if you’re 8 or 80, it doesn’t care what colour or religion you are, and it doesn’t care if you are able bodied or disabled as gardeners have already overcome most of the problems.