One Fool finds out whether growing your own fruit and veg will save you money - or whether it's a recipe for disaster....
Earlier this year, I did a strange thing for a personal finance journalist: I took my own advice.
PF journalists are notorious for telling other people how to manage their money, while all too often failing to follow their own advice. But this time I put my money where my professional mouth was. I grew vegetables.
Earlier this year, a healthy crop of articles sprouted in the money pages suggesting that with food prices spiralling, you could save cash by growing your own fruit and veg.
Home-grown is apparently all the rage, as eco-worriers fret about food miles, trendy city dwellers long to connect to more earthy values, and bored TV viewers discover that planting a King Edward is far more fun than being a couch potato.
Sales of vegetable seeds grew a hearty 7% last year and more than 100,000 Britons are now on the allotments waiting list, according to the National Allotments Trust.
I even penned a few paragraphs on the subject myself, as part of a wider story on how to save cash during the credit crunch, then began to wonder whether it really did make financial sense. There was only one way to find out...
In April, I popped into my local garden centre and returned with a spread of Mr Fothergill's seed packets, dreaming of the day my tiny garden would be bursting with cherry tomatoes, organic courgettes, fresh rocket leaves and baby spinach.
Better still, I would save a potful of cash into the bargain, just like my journalist colleagues promised.
Next day, I injected a little more start-up capital, £75, to buy soil, plant feed, bedding pots, plant containers, a watering can and a garden fork and trowel. Total investment: £90.
At that point I began to harbour my first doubts. I'm not sure I actually eat £90 worth of fruit and vegetables a year. Perhaps I should have tried to grow beer and chocolate instead...
But I wasn't too worried, I was bound to save money. it said so in the papers.
Next day, I carefully sprinkled basil, coriander, rocket, spinach, courgettes and cherry tomato seeds into biodegradable pots, watered them, and set them on a tray in my tiny garden.
I waited, but nothing happened. I checked the seed packets, and discovered I wouldn't see my first seedling for a week or two. This clearly required patience. I went inside and put the telly on.
Two weeks later, the first fragile green shoots appeared. Defying the miserable weather, they grew a little more and I transplanted them into bigger pots. And then I made a big mistake. I went on holiday.
On my return, my baby courgettes had inflated into two obscenely obese marrows, my luxuriant green coriander had wilted and my basil and rocket had gone to seed (something they never warned me about in the finance pages).
I battled on, defying the incessant August rain to produce a serving of rocket leaves and enough basil to produce a teaspoon of home-made pesto. And that was pretty much it.
As I discovered, there is a big difference between writing about something, and actually doing it.
The good life
Investing in fruit and veg proved surprisingly similar to my experience of investing in direct equities. I embarked with hope and excitement, nothing happened for a while, then suddenly I lost everything.
I had hoped to feed myself and my girlfriend for the summer, but there wasn't enough to see us through lunch.
My £90 initial investment produced around £2.50 worth of edible greenery. In percentage terms, I'm sitting on a massive loss.
Others have done better. Last year, Middlesbrough launched a small urban farming project, encouraging over a thousand people to grow produce in window boxes, balconies, roundabouts and even skips.
It eventually went for towards "Meal for Middlesbrough" eaten by 2,500 local residents.
I refuse to give up yet. I may have lost money, but it was fun. I've already invested in the seeds and plants and the trowel, so I might as well try again next year.
I just have to break the news to my girlfriend that we're not going away on holiday next summer. I have to tend to my investments.
And yes, I'll be a lot more wary before suggesting innovative ways of saving money in future.
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