Fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, and growing your own can be a fun and satisfying way to help you and your family get 5 A Day.
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of many vitamins and minerals, yet most of us don't eat enough of them.
People who eat lots of fruit and veg are less likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. That's why it's important to remember to have your 5 A Day, and include a variety of different fruit and vegetables when you do your weekly shop.
But there is another way to get more fruit and vegetables into your kitchen. Growing your own ensures you get the freshest pick of the crop, and could save you money.
Gardening is a good way to be more physically active. It may also help relieve stress and improve your mental wellbeing. Getting children involved can be a good way to encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables and try different varieties.
It's easier than you think, and you can do it even if you don't have a garden or plot of land.
Seasonal fruit and veg
Lee Kirk, 70, has been growing her own fruit and vegetables in her garden for nearly 50 years, and has no intention of slowing down.
"I now grow more fruit than I did when I had all the children at home," she says. Her crops vary with the seasons and include rhubarb, ginger ("very warming"), redcurrants and plums. "The redcurrants make an excellent jelly, which the grandchildren love."
Lee's vegetable crops include beans, courgettes, cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes and lettuce. "Beans are easy to grow and delicious. Unfortunately, slugs eat more of the lettuce than we do!" says Lee.
Lee's tips for first-time growers of fruit and vegetables
- Buy seeds from the supermarket or your local garden centre.
- Try to grow something easy, like courgettes and tomatoes, to start with.
- It's worth consulting a gardener to see what produce is best suited to your ground. "For example, our garden gets too much sunlight for growing good root vegetables," says Lee.
- Lose the pests. "To get rid of slugs and snails, I encourage frogs in the garden and also mix a product in my watering can, which effectively kills them while I'm watering the plants," says Lee. If you're going down this route, make sure you are using a pesticide that is indicated as being suitable for edible plants.
- Consider the variety of plant you grow. "I find tomato blight (a fungal disease that attacks just as the tomatoes are ready to eat) very annoying, and I now grow more of the Tom Thumb variety, which are a kind of cherry tomato - smaller and less prone to blight," says Lee.
- Get your friends involved. "Our friends come over to pick our redcurrants and in exchange give us redcurrant gin, chutney, free range eggs and their company," says Lee.
Storing and eating homegrown vegetables
Rob Finch, 36, has been growing his own vegetables for the last five years, and has some handy hints on making the most of his crops.
"Homegrown veg isn't like the stuff you buy from the supermarket - I've found it has even more flavour than the stuff you buy from the greengrocer. Very tasty," he says.
"But while supermarkets have ways of preserving fresh fruit and veg, it's important for the home-grower to remember that you can't store your produce without pickling, freezing or making it into something.
"I found that when I stored my carrots in the fridge for more than a few days, they went soft. They were still perfectly edible, but almost impossible to peel. I recommend eating them the day you pull them up, or making them into something like a soup.
"The great thing about carrots is that you can leave them in the ground until the first frost."
Remember to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before you eat or prepare them. Read our advice on how to correctly store, wash and prepare fruit and vegetables to prevent food poisoning.
Start growing your own fruit and veg
There are many ways to grow your own fruit and vegetables.
If you have a garden, that's a great place to start. But if you don't, there are other options:
- Grow in a container that stands in a paved yard or on a balcony.
- Investigate community garden schemes in your area or rent an allotment from your local council.
- Contact your local council to apply for an allotment near you. They will either allocate you a plot or, in many cases, add your name to a waiting list.
"There's something very special about growing and eating your own veg," says Lee. "Eventually it becomes a way of life."
Article provided by NHS Choices