How much food can you grow in pots?

How much food can you grow on concrete?

To show that it’s possible to grow lots of food – even if you don’t have a garden – I’ve been measuring the weight and value of the food grown in containers in our small concrete back yard in Newcastle, UK, from 1 May to 31 October this year. This continues the experiments I did on my London balcony – in slightly more space but in a cooler climate and a rented home.

So, how much can you grow in pots in six months? Short drum roll…..

53.6 kg (118 lbs) with an approximate shop value of £548 ($879).

The harvest included over 50 different crops including (in supermarket equivalents):

  • 110 bags of salad
  • 82 punnets tomatoes
  • 70 packs of herbs
  • 36 bags of fresh beans and peas
  • 32 punnets of fruit

You can see a more detailed summary of the harvest below – and a day by day breakdown of each and every harvest here.

The money you can save by growing food.

More than money

Of course it’s about much more than the weight or value of produce. The value to us as a family is far higher.

Shop bought veg taste thin and watery in comparison to the singing flavours of our homegrown.

It’s good for our health, too. Very fresh food is higher in valuable nutrients – and with salad growing quite literally on our doorstep, we eat it within minutes of picking. You can’t get fresher than that!

We also get the satisfaction of massively reducing our food waste. This is particularly comforting in light of recent news reported by the BBC that an incredible 68% salad leaves are wasted in UK supermarkets. We only pick the salad leaves we eat.

And all our other waste food – coffee grounds, banana skins etc – is recycled in a wormery (perfect for small spaces) to make a rich compost and great fertiliser for the crops.

But, above all, as a family we get so much pleasure and satisfaction from growing the food, watching the plants grow, and harvesting it for our meals.

We also have the bonus of enjoying all the birds, bees and butterflies that now visit our previously lifeless concrete space.

 

How much food can you grow on concrete?

Left: the lifeless concrete backyard at the start of the year is transformed into a space full of plants and buzzing with life in the summer!

Could you grow even more than this?

The answer is a definite yes!

This was the first year I’d grown here. It takes several seasons (at least) to learn how to grow most productively in a new space. Sadly I won’t have the opportunity to explore what is possible here as we move again in the New Year.

How was the value calculated?

To calculate the value of the food, I used the online prices for the UK supermarket, Waitrose. I chose Waitrose, a quality supermarket, to reflect the quality of home grown food. Although you can buy fresh vegetables at lower cost, pricing our harvests at the cheapest supermarket prices would undervalue them, I feel. Indeed, most of what we grow is fresher, better quality and tastier than you can buy in any shop!

Also, because there is less waste (no wilting bags of salad in the back of the fridge!), the real value of the harvest is potentially higher than the sum calculated (if that makes sense?).

How much food was grown in containers – and the the supermarket equivalent

harvest final

 

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15 comments… add one

  • Hi Mark,
    Thanks a lot for your website – it’s awesome, and extremely informative!
    I’ve just planted some peas yesterday using your step by step instructions.
    I live in London and have just moved to a place with a back patio – would love to use it for growing my own food, though it’s also a bit late in the year now. Would love recommendations on what I can grow now? I’ve planted some mustard seeds, coriander, pea shoots, and fenugreek already. Also some tomatoes, but not sure they will germinate. Would love your recommendations.

    Reply
    • Hi Sonal

      Check out my month by month tips on this website. At this time of year it is mainly sowing leaves for winter – good ones to start now include the faster growing leaves like rocket, pak choi and mustards. Very best of luck! And by growing now you’ll gain valuable experience for next year. Mark

      Reply
      • Thanks Mark! I’ll check out your month by month tips. Meanwhile, my pea shoots are just showing up, and my mustard and fenugreek greens are an inch or two long already. My tomatoes have also germinated – not sure how long they will last. I’d sown coriander seeds (kitchen seeds) the same time, and no signs of germination yet. Do you usually use kitchen seeds as well?

        I’ve also germinated some lemon seeds – do you grow them, and if so, any advice for the winter?

        Lastly, where did you buy the step stand for your plants? Would love any recommendations.

        Thanks ever so much!
        Sonal

        Reply
        • Hi Sonal

          Yes, kitchen coriander works – but you will often get better germination from coriander seed sold for growing. I get large bags of it from CN Seeds. I’ve not grown a lemon before, too cold here in Newcastle unfortunately. I made the step stand myself – if you google plant theatre or allotment ladder you may find some for sale. If you’re not in a position to make your own you could contact your local wood recycling project if you have one – they’ll sometimes make things like this to the size you want using reclaimed wood at a reasonable price. Very good luck! Mark

          Reply
      • And yes, I’m getting very valuable experience indeed! I’d seen my parents do their gardening when I was growing up (and found it really boring then), but I t’s the first time I’ve planted stuff myself, and I’m learning so much!

        Reply
  • What is a punned?

    Reply
    • Sorry….punnet

      Reply
      • ha, ha, it is a small container, often used to sell soft fruit like strawberries and raspberries. When I was a child they were often weaved from soft wood, but these days they are usually plastic with holes in the bottom and sides.

        Reply
  • Here in the Bay Area, California, we grow a lot of perennial collards, which might also suit your cool climate. It is very handsome, very tasty, and very easy. I did not eat collards until we gambled on growing it, but the first time we cooked some leaves – the edible part – the smell was astonishingly delicious. You can start new plants from an eight inch, half inch thick, piece of stem, too.

    Reply
    • Yes, I must try this! Thanks very much for sharing your experiences, sounds great.

      Reply
  • If you have proper backyard space at you home then you have to use it properly by growing various kind of vegetable plants. I like this way which is the best to eat healthy and fresh vegetables.

    Reply
  • Quite an achievement in such a short space of time and what a transformation of your back yard. This gives me hope as I now only have the back garden to play with as I am now minus the allotment. I shall follow your progress with interest.

    Reply
  • You can also grow quite a bit after you have eaten the tops of things: onions, garlic, carrots (you just get flowers not roots second-go, but that’s ok), celery, lettuces, radishes, sometimes beets, and probably more.

    Reply
  • Very impressive, Mark! But shouldn’t you be subtracting the money spent on inputs — e.g., pots, soils, etc.? — to get a truly accurate total?

    Reply
    • Thanks Gil!

      That’s a great question.

      I haven’t calculated the costs this year for a few reasons. In part because its tricky! For example, I haven’t had to buy any pots this year (although I’ve made some new ones out of pallets and free plastic buckets) but I do have some pots containers that I’ve bought in the past. Do I include them in my calculation and how much? And this year I spent money on a variety of fruit bushes that yielded very little this year but will become productive next year and hopefully will remain so for many years. Do I add these into the costs for this year or not? I did, however, make an attempt at estimating the cost when I grew in London and you can see that here: http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/vertical-allotments-whats-the-cost/

      My main purpose for calculating the value of food I’ve grown is as short hand to show how much its possible to grow in a small space – saying I grew 50kg of food wouldn’t mean much to most people where as saying £500 hopefully illustrates what’s possible better.

      How much you actually need to spend to create a container garden like this is as long as a bit of string. You can spend a small fortune or do it at very low cost (almost nothing, even). I am planning to write some more blog posts in the coming months to share ideas on how to container garden for free – or very nearly free. For example like this post on how to to a DIY wormery or this one on a DIY raised bed.

      I realise this is rather a long answer, I hope it helps answer your question. Mark

      Reply

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