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Don't give away the goods! - February 2014

This idea is going to be controversial, but this year, I'm suggesting that you don't give away the fruits of your hard work in the vegetable garden. It's good to be generous and to share an abundance, but why the compulsion to give away home grown food? You wouldn't go to the supermarket, then give what you have bought away to the neighbours when you come home, and you wouldn't expect a farmer to give away her crops, yet the home grower seems to be expected to give away a good part of their produce, as if it cost them nothing to produce.

I am fairly serious in trying to grow a very large proportion of our fruit and vegetable needs, and I expend a good deal of money, time, effort and expertise doing it. It's part of our household ecosystem. To give the resulting produce away undermines the value of that produce and trivialises the activity - it's 'just' a hobby, apparently. You wouldn't give away the proceeds of a proper job after all, would you?

With some crops, such as cucumbers, there isn't much choice, as they can't be preserved, or at least I haven't found a way to do so yet. But don't give away tomatoes. They are so easy to bottle, dry or freeze, and contribute enormously to brightening up the otherwise limited brassica-and-leek winter diet. Courgettes can be frozen or made into chutney. With lettuces, the best approach is not to grow a glut. Abandon old-fashioned advice about successional sowing, which leads to a glut in early summer and shortage in late summer. Sow strategically at the right time and pick single leaves, as described by Charles Dowding. This method means that a few plants go on for weeks and you rarely get a glut. With care and the right varieties you can have salad leaves year-round. Press and preserve apples, dry them, store them, cook and freeze them. Bottle plums. Runner beans can be frozen or salted, or you could grow fewer, and grow some Borlotti beans to dry instead. There are hundreds of ways of preserving crops that are available with a little research.

As an overall strategy, do develop your techniques for storing your produce as your first approach, and plan your quantities well - in the space where you are producing surplus crops you could be producing an additional crop that might give extra variety on your plate, or a new crop to preserve for the winter. Develop the techniques of staging harvests and avoiding gluts. Only then, give away the surplus, and then only to people you love, who appreciate the value of what they are given, and don't act like they are doing you a favour by taking it. Home-grown food is a valuable gift not to be given lightly.

You will probably still end up giving away cucumbers though ...