Grow things from the pound shop

Short version: When the cost is a pound, it is cheap and easy to try out new edibles or flowers. The seeds are about the same as seeds bought elsewhere. The plants are small and require patience but there is a huge variety available:

  • Raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry, blackcurrant, blackberry bare root plants
  • Vegetable, herb and flower multipack seeds (usually with 3-6 varieties per pack)
  • Asparagus crowns
  • Onion, garlic and shallot sets
  • Flower bulbs
  • Bare root cuttings of flowers like climbing roses, oleanders and buddleia

I occasionally find myself unable to walk past pound shops without popping in to see what they have. This time of year, it is simply irresistible. They often have fun plants and seeds. Due to the price, I expect the plants to die and the seeds to fail, but I have often been pleasantly surprised. If you have plenty of patience and very little budget, then it’s a great way to populate a garden. The small price tag feels like a small risk. Usually whenever I buy a plant for my edible garden, I spend forever checking the variety for taste, disease resistance and growing conditions. I carefully plan what is going to happen. This goes out of the window in the pound shop. I do at least google the variety on my phone to check that they’re a variety worth growing. As long as you steel yourself for some disappointment and are willing to invest some time in exchange to keep the budget small you’ll be happy. These are the gems that I’ve found in the pound shop:

Asparagus

I found asparagus crowns (year old roots) in a pound shop in Balham (which is no longer there) in 2010. I think the variety is/was Gijnlim. Before then I had never grown asparagus. I followed the instructions to plant and leave for a year and in the second year we were rewarded with a couple of stalks of the tastiest asparagus I’d ever eaten. Shop bought asparagus cannot compare to home grown, as the flavour deteriorates quickly after harvesting. I suspect that had I not come across these in the pound shop I still wouldn’t have experienced growing asparagus. You can’t harvest for a couple of years and even then, you won’t get huge harvests for a couple of years more. So, I think I would have been too impatient to consider asparagus if it wasn’t for this impulse buy. I grew them in a very large pot and then it then moved home with us… twice. Now I’ve sworn never to move again those asparagus plants are happily in raised beds. They’ve been joined by a few more carefully chosen plants. The only problem with the crowns from the pound shop is that they turned out to be female plants. I’ve read that female plants are less productive because they waste energy that should go towards growing yummy shoots into reproduction. I guess I could always pick the asparagus berries and try starting new plants.

Peas and Beans

At the same time (in 2010), I also bought a packet of seeds containing 2 varieties of peas and one variety of runner beans. Basically, it cost around 33p per variety. The runner beans turned out to be amazing. I had never come across runner beans in my childhood. No one I knew grew them and I had never eaten them in any situation. I was amazed by the huge purple seeds with black spots. I was surprised how well it did in part shade. This is where my love of vertical growing began. To be able to get such large volume of food over a long period of time in such a small footprint makes this one a winner.

The peas were OK, but we mostly ate them as pea shoots in stir fries. Again, loved the height of these. Now I always plant something climbing behind shorter veggies.

Vegetable seed multipacks

For anyone who is new to edible gardening, multipack seeds like these from the pound shop are a nice budget way to try a few things. I used seeds from a pound shop multipack to try beetroot, oregano, basil, aubergines, lettuce and radishes (which I now grow for the yummy greens).  There have been other things like herb multipacks. One pack I bought and grew in (I think, as it was a long time ago) 2010 was some sort of Italian selection that included aubergines, tomatoes, oregano and basil. The oregano packet I finished off in 2017 when I was filling our current garden. It has happily self-seeded since. Almost all the seeds have grown successfully.

Blackcurrant plant

This was bought in 2011 as a tiny little thing, about 6 inches of wooden stalk that had some new shoots on it. It took a couple of years to take off, but only made it through one house move. Probably because I tried really hard to neglect it to death. It still took about 2 years to kill it. I realised that I didn’t like blackcurrants. I thought they tasted chicken-y – in a really yucky way. The leaves smelt nice though. I have since learnt that you can’t eat blackcurrants straight off the bush. A year too late I discovered soaking blackcurrants in vodka. A jam jar (yay for repurposing) with a cup of blackcurrants, 3 tablespoons of sugar and topped up with vodka and left for 3 months gives an amazingly, syrupy liqueur with tasty blackcurrants that make great dessert toppers (not for the 4 year old though). I bought a replacement plant this week and I hope to be making merry on them again soon.

Raspberry plant

In 2011, with the blackcurrant I bought a raspberry. It didn’t survive. On a whim in 2018 I tried again with a pound shop malling jewel. I looked it up and it’s a sweet variety. Avoid anything that says tart or acidic in the description, unless you’re fond of sour. Often raspberry descriptions that don’t specifically say sweet -will not be sweet. Full of flavour does not equate sweet. It’s a marketing ploy. It was of course a tiddly little stick, like the blackcurrant and didn’t amount to much in the first year. In 2019 though there were maybe 10 raspberries on it. Hopefully 2020 will be its year to flourish.

Blueberry and Gooseberry

This year 2020 I have bought 2 blueberries “Patriot” and gooseberry “Hinnonmäki grön”. This may be foolhardy. I already have 3 very productive, carefully chosen blueberry plants and a gooseberry that I bought last year that hasn’t produced any fruit yet. It’s just so hard to resist a potential fruit bush that costs a pound. I did at least check before I bought them that they were likely to be tasty. I figure they’re so tiny and can be put into a pot and dumped somewhere for the next 3 years before they get really productive (or die) then I can try and find a space to squeeze them into. Alternatively, I can continue reclaiming bits of the lawn over the years until the husband concedes defeat.

Flower seeds

I don’t really grow flowers, unless I can eat them but 6 different varieties for a pound is hard to resist. I bought some last year, 2019, though the flowers weren’t all the same as the one in the photo. This is a pack from this year. I didn’t sow all the flowers in the end as things like foxglove are toxic. My little one is good at recognising the edibles, but I don’t think it is worth the risk. I ended up scattering the non-toxic ones in a pot last year and then forgot to water them. I wasn’t too sad as it was only a pound.  

Flower bulbs

There are a large variety of flower bulbs. However, only the dahlia interested me. I have read that the flowers and tubers are edible. I figured that this was a cheap way to see how difficult it was to grow them and then see if I could figure out if the ones available were tasty. Apparently, they were considered as staples by the Aztecs, but due to the breeding of dahlias for display purposes over the year there is now a wide variety of looks and taste. I will need to do further research and maybe some tentative testing but supposedly all dahlias are edible, but not all taste good.

There are other things available like onion, garlic and shallot sets and bare root flower plants, which I haven’t tried. I guess if I followed my own advice, it wouldn’t be much of a risk to give these a go, but I’d rather have the space in the garden to grow my more perennial or self-seeding edibles. If I had an endless garden, I would probably fill it with pound shop plants…. Well, a girl can dream.

Raspberries

Short version:

Planting bare root canes in the winter is the most cost-effective way to grow raspberries that can be tastier than shop bought. These perennials need full sun, ericaceous soil and preferably rainwater. It is worth researching varieties for taste and hardiness for your area. Summer and autumn fruiting raspberries differ in when they fruit and also whether they fruit on 1 or 2 year old wood. By growing both you can have a supply of raspberries from June to October.

October is a great time to talk about raspberries. If you are growing an autumn variety, you could be harvesting the last few morsels towards the end of this month. Then, at the opposite end of the cycle, late October is a great time to buy bare rooted raspberries.

Growing conditions

Late autumn through to winter is when it’s easy to get hold of bare root plants. These are basically when the plants are dormant and it’s easy to send the bare roots wrapped in plastic through the post. This means cheap delivery costs and cheap plants. The bare roots then have time to establish and get settled in before growth begins in spring.

When choosing a site bear in mind that they are perennial, and you want them to be somewhere they can be happy for years to come. Mine are only 3 years old and year on year they have provided increasing yields as they have settled into their spots. They need full sun and they prefer ericaceous soil – which means acidic. My soil is all alkaline clay. I could amend the soil but honestly, I don’t have the time or patience. So, mine started in pots with shop bought ericaceous compost. If you pick a container suitable variety then growing in pots of ericaceous soil is a nice easy permanent solution. For me, I don’t like the extra watering that comes with pots. I then always feel sorry for the pot plants and end up on the hunt for increasingly large pots for a yearly rehome.

My permanent solution was a raised bed just for the ericaceous plants. I put loads of kitchen green scraps at the bottom, covered it with cardboard and let that decompose for a few months before I put the plants in and added a load of shop bought ericaceous compost. The roots have access to the soil underneath, which is of course my rubbish alkaline clay but at least it means the plant is much less likely to dry out. Also, I put them here because this roof drains water all the way along this side so all the water from this whole roof runs down into here. This is important especially in summer because you don’t want to water these with the hose if you can avoid it. Tap water tends to be alkaline, whereas rainwater is generally neutral or slightly acidic because of its contact in the sky with carbon dioxide. A rain barrel is a good way to get rainwater.

Pollination

Raspberries are generally self-fertile.

Propagation

Raspberries propagate by underground runners. This means that plants are likely to pop up in unlikely places. Because I have packed the raspberries in far too tightly, I have no idea which is the parent plant, so I have no idea what variety these are. These baby plants can just be removed to ensure that existing plants have enough space, or you could let them grow and cut them away from the parent plant when they have their own roots and plant them somewhere else for a new raspberry patch.  

Maintenance

Yes, I know that you should prune and thin in order to ensure better yields and a heathy flow of air and to stop the plant from shading itself. I would just like to be allowed to do it reluctantly. I don’t like killing a potential source of food. It’s also work and I’m lazy.

Raspberries are what I would consider complicated in their pruning. I grow both summer and autumn raspberries so that I have them available for a longer season. The problem is summer and autumn raspberries have different pruning requirements.

Summer fruiting raspberries fruit on what are called floricanes (something that is simple with blackberries). These are canes that grew the previous year – so these raspberries grow on 2 year old wood. This means that when you prune in autumn you should only remove the canes that have already fruited. If you prune the wrong canes then you might not have any, or very few, raspberries the next year.

Autumn fruiting raspberries will fruit on primocanes, or canes that have grown that year – 1 year old wood. This means that after all the raspberries have been harvested you can chop all the canes away. Therefore, for simplicity in pruning autumn fruiting varieties are a good bet.

Just to complicate autumn fruiting a little bit – you can do something called double cropping with autumn raspberries. If you leave some green growth for the next year you can get a small crop of early raspberries on these canes and then a bigger crop in the autumn when the new canes have grown.

As the canes grow you might find you need to provide a support. I just use bamboo canes to stop them falling over and/or getting in the way.

When the berries start to ripen, if you find the birds getting there first then you can cover all your bushes with netting. We have far too many neighbourhood cats for that to be a problem. I’m not convinced that that is a good thing.  

The thing we do get often is little holes in the leaves from caterpillars in the summer. As we tend to have a steady trickle (not quite enough to be called a stream…yet) of raspberries from about early June to end of October it’s easy to have a quick check of leaves as we pick. It’s then easy to remove any pests you might see like caterpillars or the occasional shield bug. We don’t spray as it’s bad for the food chain and the little one can eat straight off the bushes.

Taste and harvest

Firstly home-grown berries taste so much better than they do in the shops. For shipping and storing purposes store bought fruit is picked when it’s less than ripe. When things ripen off the bush they just aren’t as sweet or flavourful. When you grow it, you can literally pick it off the bush when it’s perfectly ripe and just eat it. Because we don’t use pesticides or fertilisers that’s exactly what we do. When my mum comes to visit I can see her cringing as we do it.

Of course, whilst it is true that home grown can taste much better than shop bought, if you buy a rubbish tasting variety then it’s always going to be rubbish tasting. As it is going to be a plant that is with you for a while you might want to research ones that will suit your taste. I’ve discovered that tart or acidic are basically euphemisms for sour. No matter how long we left our Glen Ample raspberries to ripen, they were still too sour to be eaten straight off the bush.

That’s not what I look for in a raspberry. I want something little missy monkey can just help herself to. She’s been good at learning what is ripe. Raspberries are a good one for that. They are sour when unripe but not harmful. They also pull away very easily when ripe so there is a very easy physical indication of when to pick. Glen Ample just confused her completely. After trying those she stopped eating raspberries for a week. Once I figured out the issue, I just ripped out the bush. At least it helped with my overcrowding issue.

When researching varieties for taste, it is worth checking for summer or autumn fruiting and how hardy it is for your area. Summer fruiting ones can fruit from June. Autumn fruiting doesn’t start till late summer and can continue till the end of October.

I can only tell you what I know about my own varieties. All are happy to live outside, in full sun, sheltered from winds in an ericaceous bed:

Unfortunately now we are becoming raspberry snobs. Little one won’t eat the shop bought ones and whilst I try not to let a four year old dictate shopping decisions, I’m afraid I have to agree. They just aren’t as tasty or sweet. Also where’s the fun in picking up a punnet in the supermarket? Garden foraging is much more satisfying.

If anyone has a variety that they would like to recommend or have any growing tips, please feel free to comment… Or if you’re just bored…

Blueberries (Vaccinium)

Short version:

Home grown blueberries can taste so much better than most of the shop bought ones. They are also perennial and easy to grow in a pot with ericaceous compost. They need little maintenance and are very rewarding.

Grow for amazing tasting berries

For shipping and storing purposes, store bought fruit is picked when it’s less than ripe. When things ripen off the bush they just aren’t as sweet or flavourful. When you grow your own blueberries you can literally pick them off the bush when they’re perfectly ripe and just eat them. We don’t really use fertilisers or pesticides in our growing so I’m happy for our 3 year old to help herself as she pleases. At the beginning it was quite a struggle to teach her when they’re ripe, but the instant consequence of an unripe sour blueberry helped. The important thing is that she always checks with me when she sees anything outside of our own garden that she thinks might be edible.  

Varieties

Not absolutely all blueberries that you grow yourself are guaranteed to grow well and/or taste amazing. If you’re going to give up time, effort and space to grow your own blueberries it’s worth picking a good variety.

I scoured the internet to see which ones were recommended for taste, hardiness, vigour, disease resistance, etc and went with:

GOLDTRAUBE

Vigorous and tall. Harvest July-August. Very sweet, juicy berries that are full of flavour. Foliage is attractive in autumn with lots of red.

PINK SAPPHIRE

A pink blueberries that surprises everyone. I find they’re sweeter than Goldtraube but not quite as flavourful. Harvest July-August. This grows as tall as the Goldtraube.

BLUECROP

Vigorous and low growing. I was surprised at how low this grows, especially compared to the others. Sweet and juicy. It’s a mid-late season one. Harvest in August-September. Just begins to ripen as the other two are depleted.

Perennial

Year after year they will provide food. They do seem to follow the adage of first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap. The first couple of years they may be a bit slow, but generally, if happy, by the 3rd year they’ll have picked up the pace and provide punnetfuls. So there’s a bit of work in the planting in the beginning. Patience is then required for a year or so afterwards but then it’s really easy.

Growing conditions

You can buy them in the late spring or summer as a pot plant. Or you can buy them as bare rooted bushes in the winter, which is the cheaper option.

SUNNY

Ours are in one of the sunnier parts of the garden, though not the sunniest and we still get very tasty, sweet berries.

ERICACIOUS SOIL

This means acidic. This is London and the soil here is pretty much alkaline clay. You can amend the soil but honestly, I don’t have the time or patience. They therefore make good container plants. These bushes started in pots with shop bought ericaceous compost.

For lazy old me though, pots dry out too quickly. So, winter just gone, I built a raised bed. I put about 3 months of kitchen scraps (vegetable – no meat, oil or sauces) at the bottom, covered it with cardboard and let that decompose for a few months before I put the plants in. It was topped up with shop bought ericaceous compost. The composted kitchen waste provides plenty of nutrients and also decreases the amount of paid for, shop bought compost.

The roots have access to the soil underneath, which is of course is the alkaline clay but at least it means the plant is much less likely to dry out. Also, I put them here because the roof of this building drains water along this whole edge into this raised bed. This is important especially in summer because you don’t want to water these with tap water if you can avoid it. Tap water tends to be alkaline, where as rain water is generally neutral or slightly acidic because of its contact in the sky with carbon dioxide. A rain barrel is a good way to get rainwater. Rain barrels are also good for conserving water.

SPACING

I’ve read that blueberry bushes should really be about a metre apart but with a small garden I do tend to grow things far too close. In the first couple of years it’s fine anyway. Maybe in a few years I’ll find I have to remove the middle one but for now I’m really pleased with the food that these bushes have been providing.

PRUNING

My ones are only 3 years old so this is what I’ve read: First few years just remove any dead, damaged or diseased parts. After around 4 years the wood doesn’t produce much anymore so they’re best pruned away. You can prune away wood in the spring that has only leaf buds, which are thinner and pointier than the flower buds.  

Pollination

Blueberries are generally self pollinating but they do better with a pollinating partner – basically another blueberry of a different variety that has flowers open at the same time. Without pollination you get no fruit. This is also a good reason to attract pollinators like bees and avoid pesticides. If you live in a city like London there are generally lots of bees about due to the large year round variety of flowers and if you’re lucky a nearby neighbour might also be growing blueberries.

So… you may now have realised that my edible garden evangelism, is in part selfish. It’s all part of my evil plan to convince those around me to grow edibles – then I get pollination partners and people to seed/plant swap with. There is also, of course, the hope that by growing more of our own we damage the environment a little less and … hey… I rather like living on this planet.

As usual…Feel free to subscribe or comment, especially you have a variety that you love.