Perusing the Telegraph the other day I came across this gallery by Toby Buckland of his suggestions for fruit and veg that newbie gardeners might consider cultivating in 2013 and it got me thinking.
There must be any number of beer gardens, paddocks, flat roofs, patio areas and other exterior areas that pubs could exploit to grow a few things that would a) improve your sustainability credentials b) improve your "provenance" in your menus c) give you a little pleasure and fresh air and d) most importantly increase your profit.
Having consulted my gardening guru I have come to realise just how many delicious vegetables you can fit into a small growing area or raised bed. Tomatoes, courgettes and potatoes can all be squeezed into tight spaces. The key to success is ensuring you make the best use of the space you have with clever planting techniques and the right crops.
My guru tells me that seed companies frequently produce new varieties of vegetables to be grown as dwarf plants, in small areas and even in pots or just grow bags. For instance squash plants come in varieties that can be grown up a trellis (saving much-needed soil space), and you can grow a decent crop of aubergines from just a couple of dwarf plants.
Choosing which vegetables to grow
Before planting, think carefully about what you want to grow. Nearly all vegetables can be cultivated in smaller areas, but there is no point dedicating space to a crop you won't be able to incorporate into your pub menu; and (unless you are prepared to give up a significant part of your beer garden or plough up that little used bowling greeen) you might want to avoid veg that take up a large amounts of space. These include:
- brussels sprouts
- squashes (unless climbing)
- maincrop potatoes
With food price inflation expected to exceed 5% this year you might consider cropping the more expensive veg on your menu. Not only will they taste better when fresh, but there are "quick to grow" varieties such as legumes (peas and beans). Because they have a high sugar content, legumes taste best when eaten within an hour of being picked, after this, the sugar turns to starch, which can leave them tasteless and bland. What better USP for a pub menu than freshly picked pub produced peas? (Sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration there.) Even with the best of wholesalers "fresh peas" may well have been lying on their shelves for some days before you purchase them, reducing their taste. Legumes that grow well in small spaces include:
- runner beans
- broad beans
- french beans
Dwarf varieties grow well in containers whereas climbing ones make excellent use of vertical space (such as walls and fences) whilst also looking attractive.
Many salad leaves, such as rocket, are expensive and taste of very little after they have been packed and delivered. The leaves are easy to grow and take up very little space. They can even be grown amongst other plants, to maximise soil space.
Using your space
If you only have a small space in which to grow vegetables, you should grow crops that will be out of the ground within a few weeks rather than months. If you are growing potatoes, grow new potato varieties that will be ready to eat in July rather than maincrop varieties which may not be ready until September. Have seedlings of other vegetables on standby, ready to go straight into the soil as soon as your first crop has come out – brassicas such as winter cabbage or broccoli seedlings can be planted after you have harvested all your peas or beans. Further, if you leave the stumps of the peas and beans in the ground after you have removed the rest of the plant, their roots will continue to provide nitrogen to feed your hungry cabbages. When using this method you should avoid crops that take a long time to grow. These include:
- pumpkins and squashes
- maincrop potatoes
You could try growing fast- and slow-growing crops together, or ‘intercropping’, to maximise space. Many crops that eventually take up a large amount of space (such as tomatoes and potatoes) do not actually use this space until they have reached their full size. Take advantage of this by planting a few fast-growing radishes, salad leaves or beetroot in the soil in between rows of the larger plants. By the time the space is needed by the larger plants your fast-growing crops will be long gone. It is also worth training late climbing bean plants up sweetcorn, sowing lettuce seeds among your tomato plants, and spinach in between broad beans.
Square Foot Gardening
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to getting the maximum harvest of vegetables from raised beds then take a look at this article on the Square Foot Gardening method.
You're having a laff if you think I've got time for all this ...
If this all seems like a flight of fancy and you really cannot squeeze any more into your busy work schedule then speak to your customers ... chances there are any number of experienced amateur horticulturists who will be willing to help ... or how about creating a new (albeit part-time) job for someone?
If all else fails then contact your local allotment committee. Although it's illegal for individual allotment holders to sell their produce, it is legal for the allotment as a whole to sell surplus produce to help fund improvements etc to the allotment. As long as you can satisfy yourself that the food is produced safely then this could be a way of injecting some fresh locally grown fruit and veg into your menu.
At the very least you might think about growing some fresh herbs for your bar and garden ... here's 5 that you could have a go at ... click here