It never ceases to amaze me how the cultural norms of gardening are often quite different from the measurable reality of its outcomes. Convinced by the weight of tradition, we do all sorts of things that are unlikely to give us the results we want, simply because they have always been done that way. Breaking out of these cultural assumptions could not only make you a better gardener, but open up all sorts of new experiences. Probably the best example is with growing fruit.
According to a stack of market research, newbie gardeners looking to grow edibles will consistently opt to grow vegetables over fruit. The perception is that annual crops, such as carrots, onions and potatoes, are far easier to grow and provide more of a reward than perennial fruit crops. When it comes to what people describe as “rewards”, they tend to describe better flavour, money-saving and the joy of the experience itself.
Books, catalogues and garden centres, guided by this research, will promote vegetable growing over fruit growing at every opportunity, in order to give customers what they allegedly want. Even if, somewhat paradoxically, going by customers’ own measures of satisfaction, fruit is far superior to veg in pretty much every way. I often think it’s a bit of a vicious cycle that can set many beginners up for failure.
Let’s start by looking at cost savings. The most expensive items in the produce section are not veg, like carrots, potatoes or onions, but fancy fruit such as berries. As the vast majority of supermarkets tend to sell a very narrow selection of varieties, the only way to track down more unusual forms, such as gooseberries or currants, boysenberries or wild strawberries, is to take a trip to a specialist grocers’ food hall, where the prices can be positively eye-watering for these gourmet treats. So growing fruit is not only likely to save you money, but to give you far more weird and wonderful flavours at the same time.
There’s a similar situation when it comes to ease of care. Plant an apple tree correctly, keep it well watered for the first two years, and for the next half-century it will provide you with apples whatever you do (or don’t do). Sure, pruning, thinning and fertilising will boost your yields, but they aren’t absolutely essential to harvests.
Compare this with potatoes where, traditionally at least, you would have to buy the seed tubers, chit them, dig the plot, plant them, earth up and water and feed them every single year, and still be likely to have a crop ravaged by blight before harvest. The work-to-harvest ratio is unassailable. This yearly purchase of seeds and other inputs almost always eclipses the cost of buying the finished product at a supermarket – and in a few short seasons will easily outweigh the cost of a fruit bush or tree.
If you love veg growing, that’s great. I do, too. However, if you are truly looking to get maximum reward for minimum input, I’d say hands down it has to be fruit.