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.

Peas and Beans

Short version:

As legumes they are a good crop to plant before brassicas in crop rotation. They can be sown generally March to July in successional sowings to provide a long and bountiful harvest. Depending on the variety they do well in part shade to full sun but with support can grow to around 6ft in order to reach extra sunlight. This height makes them an efficient use of space in small gardens.  

Legume family

Most of the legumes are pod producing plants that harbour nitrogen fixing bacteria in nodes in their roots. These bacteria convert nitrogen into nitrates, which is the form necessary for assimilation of nitrogen into plants. Nitrogen is a necessary component of protein molecules which, I assume, is why peas and beans are a good source of vegetable protein. It has been said that legumes are good for crop rotation due to these high levels of nitrates. However, most of the nitrogen will be in the plant structure so in order to benefit from this, after the plants have finished producing, they should be chopped down and buried back within the soil to decompose.

I am often enthusiastically recommending growing peas and beans to any poor soul who stumbles across my path. There are several reasons:

They’re productive and tasty

You need to pick varieties that you like, though the catch 22 is, how would you know if you like them until you’ve grown them and eaten them?

Please excuse the round courgette plonked on top. This is one day’s harvest from about 15 plants. At this peak time we were collecting this amount every other day.

Out of the beans I would recommend ones with edible pods, like runner beans and French beans. The long pods, especially runner beans, means that each pod provides a larger amount of food in the growing space and for your effort. I’ve grown a few varieties of runner beans and they generally taste the same so I would just say find a string less one and if unsure if a pod is ready, pick the pods early as opposed to late. Picked early they’re sweet and tender but you may not be getting as much food out of it as you potentially could have. Picked too late the pods are fibrous and the beans are floury, and therefore, worthless. I think there’s more of a variety in taste in French beans and I would recommend ‘Blue Lake.’ If anyone has any varieties (for any legumes) they’d recommend, feel free to drop them in the comments. Reviews are always appreciated.

As much as I like shelled peas, if you’re looking to get as much food, as easily as possible then sugar snap peas are the way forward. Mangetout are not bad for more food per pod, but they go very quickly from too small to too chubby with tasteless peas and fibrous shells. Sugar snaps still have tasty peas when the pods are ready to burst. The case may be a bit tough, but then they become no different to shelled peas.

If you want extra food out of your peas, the young shoots and leaves (the much paler green ones) are tasty in salads and stir fries.

They’re good for vertical gardening

You will get a decently long harvest from both beans and peas if you keep picking the pods. Once a plant has some fully developed seeds it’s happy to give up the ghost. They can also be planted in succession to provide food for longer, but I think this is something for people with a large garden or those that are well organised.

These sugar snap peas are not quite ready yet. You can see runner bean leaves all around as they were planted about a month after so that they could take over as the sugar snaps were dying. In reality the sugar snaps became over run by the runners very early on and were probably less productive because of it.

In a small garden you can grow vertical plants on all sides. This can cover unsightly fences or provide a privacy screen and means that you grow more food in a smaller space. I love that they have a small footprint and so take up little space. With their height, even if they start in part shade, they can always grow higher rapidly to make the best of their circumstances. So they also utilise garden space better. Runner beans can still do very well in part shade. Peas need full sun.

Runner beans and French beans will wind around a cane with little coaxing. Peas, however, have tightly curling tendrils and don’t do well with thick supports like trellises.

Pea and bean netting is very cheap and you can wrap this around some bamboo canes, giving you a much larger area of support and very thin strands for the tendrils to curl around.

They’re easy

They have nice big seeds that are easy to handle. You can sow them indoors in early spring. I suggest one or two seeds in individual pots or in loo roll tubes. You can sow them in situ in warmer weather. I still recommend in the pots though if you want to avoid the mice getting your seeds or slugs and snails devouring seedlings. They grow so fast and you don’t have to wait a long season for a harvest.

They have a very long sowing period. Check the back of your particular pack for instructions but most will fall somewhere between April and July. Generally peas need an earlier sowing than beans but if you’re a bit late with sowing you can always aim for pea shoots if you think the pods won’t mature before the cold weather hits.

They’re cheap

A large pack of seeds is very cheap, and they are so easy to grow that it is rarely worth buying plug plants. Each seed will provide a large plant that provides many pods. In addition, it is easy to harvest seeds from current plants for the following year. Peas and beans tend to self-pollinate and so tend to remain true to the parent plant. Of course, there can be variation within a variety. Here follows my anecdotal warning. Back in the early days of flat renting I had a small outdoor space. I grew mangetout and they were prolific and tasty. In the first year, there were a couple of shorter, less appetising looking pods that I figured wouldn’t make good eating and were best left to grow seeds. Those seeds were taken and grown the following year. Again, I only saved the most unworthy pods for seeds. Four years of growing the same mangetout from its seeds I wondered why on earth I was growing this mangetout. All the pods were short and stubby. Some of the pods only housed one pea! The plants didn’t last very long. They were pathetic. It was only after I’d thrown away all the plants and vowed never to bother with mangetout again that I realised that it could be because I had bred them that way. Maybe I had encouraged this trait of very small pods. I also didn’t know back then that you needed to keep picking in order to keep the plant producing. So, whilst it is possible to collect seeds you do need to question whether it’s worth the effort.   

Runner beans can be perennial in milder areas. I have left runner bean plants in the soil when I was too lazy busy to pull them out. I was surprised when the dead looking stems sprouted shoots and leaves the next spring. This gives an early harvest the following year for free!

These runner beans started sprouting leaves and flowers from old stems early April. In the bottom left you can see the old brown stems with little growth.

If you haven’t grown them before I hope this has inspired you to give it a go. You don’t need much space. The picture above was from an old place which was a front paved ‘yard’ with this north facing fence. Despite that you can see them encroaching on the bike shed on the right. I would also swear that freshly picked peas and beans taste so much better than the ones bought in shops…. and of course… there’s no packaging or food miles!