Ever since Mark began posting about Value Space Rating or VSR I have been giving some thought to how it works in my garden. So in the fine tradition (or in the true nerdish style depending on your attitude to spreadsheets) of Laura at the Modern Victory Garden and Robyn at the Gardener of Eden, amongst others, I created a spreadsheet. Of course for my spreadsheet to be of any use at all I had to work out a formula for calculating a plants value. I decided on the following:
Amount of money it would cost to buy vegetables at the shop divided by months in the ground and square metres used to grow crop. I then gave the plants additional points to a maximum of 5 in the following categories:
- Value to garden – Does the plant make the garden prettier? Does it improve the soil? Does it bring beneficial insects into the garden and so on. Broad Beans would get top marks here for the nitrogen fixing properties, rainbow chard might get top marks for attractiveness.
- Taste Differential – Does the plant taste much better when home grown as compared with shop bought? Slicing tomatoes are an obvious 5/5.
- Hard to find – Can you buy the product locally? Easily? I would give horseradish 5 in this category as its very difficult to find fresh.
- Freshness – Does the freshness of the product make a difference? Herbs – things like parsley in particular have a much better taste and texture when fresh. They also have much better vitamin levels.
- Convenience – Does having some to cut when you need it make a difference? Pick and come again crops like loose leaf lettuces and celery would score highly in this category.
I was quite surprised about how well and how poorly some items scored. The full list is here: VSR Spreadsheet PDF.
However if you’re only interested in the best then the top 5 plants based on harvests over the 3 months of summer were:
1. Herbs – or more specifically, because they are the ones I weigh and so can assign a monetary value to: Parsley, Basil, Mint & Chervil. Herbs came top not so much because of of a combination of money I saved by growing them and because of the difference in taste and freshness as well as the convenience you gain by growing your own. Prior to growing my own I used to open the fridge only to be greeted by sad looking bunches of herbs looking accusingly at me from the vegetable crisper. Either I would buy them and forget I had them, or buy them and only use half, or worse still that was the condition they arrived home from the market it. Growing them enables me to use as much of them as I want whenever I want and it is absolutely fabulous!
2. Lettuce – Lettuce came second, partially because it is expensive to buy, particularly as mixed leaves, and partially because if I grow them on in small pots before transplanting so they only occupy bed space for a short period before they are at a harvest-able stage. I also scored lettuce highly for freshness and convenience as its so nice to be able to go out into the garden each night to gather lovely crisp leaves for a salad to eat with the evening meal.
3. Cucumber – I was quite surprised by this one – not sure why but I was. Cucumber scored well because it tends to crop well for me in a relatively small space. I grow it vertically and so it only uses about 1/2 a square metre per 3 plants. I also gave cucumber bonus points for both freshness – the crispness of a freshly picked cucumber is so nice, and also convenience. I do find that it’s so convenient to have salad ingredients on hold – it means I always have something for lunch, or to serve with dinner.
4. Tomatoes for slicing and sauce – I separated larger tomatoes for slicing and sauce from the cherry tomatoes because I think there are different merits in each type. Surprisingly, because they are a lot cheaper to buy, the slicing/sauce varieties came out with a better VSR than the cherries. They did well on volume per square metre, taste differential ( I do find that you can find decent tasting cherry tomatoes at the green grocers but very rarely do I find decent tasting larger varieties), and by virtue of being hard to find. By hard to find I mean a range of varieties rather than slicing tomatoes per se.
5. Potatoes – I was so pleased that potatoes made the top 5 as I’ve fallen in love with potatoes all over again by growing them this year. Potatoes made the Top 5 by scoring pretty well across the board (although I didn’t really save that much money by growing my own). I think they are so much nicer when fresh, all too often I’ve brought home limp potatoes from the supermarket and been so disappointed with them as a result. Home grown potatoes do taste better, you can get a wider range of varieties (although this is changing) and they are good for the garden being good for readying a bed for future crops. The other benefit, and I have included this in my benefit to the garden score, is that they are fun to grow and more specifically dig – especially for the kids.
And they were the Top 5 plants I grew this summer based on my VSR calculations. I do think my calculations could do with a little refining, for instance shallots did badly due to length of time in the ground but much of that time was in winter and I think it may be appropriate to weight time in the ground differently in winter and summer. There are also plants listed here, chard for instance, that were not at a harvest-able stage for the whole period whilst they will be harvest-able from now on. Presumably they will feature higher in the list when I redo it at the end of Autumn.
A few weeks back The New Goodlife also did a Top 5 on the best performing plants in her garden, over summer – you can find it here. For those of you with a literary bent her Top 5 this week is books that she’d love to read one day.