Beat rising supermaket prices by becoming self-sufficient
Rising food prices mean that more people are considering swapping the supermarket trolley for a trowel and a few packets of seeds. But, while the path towards self-sufficiency will give you the freshest fruit and vegetables and shelter you from food price inflation, it's not without its challenges.
On the plus side, growing your own can save you a significant amount. John Harrison, a 57-year-old web designer and author of several self-sufficiency books including Vegetable Growing Month by Month, estimates that the average family could save as much as £1,200 a year by growing their own fruit and vegetables.
"It's surprising how much you can contribute towards the cost of your shopping by growing your own," he says.
Harrison's been growing his own veg for many years, and has now also got chickens and ducks to produce eggs.
Renting an allotment is one of the simplest ways to start growing your own if you don't have a garden but, with high demand, you can wait several years before you get a chance to pick up a spade.
Luckily, even a small space can generate big savings. Andy Hamilton, 38, has been into self-sufficiency since he was a kid and his parents had a vegetable patch in the garden. While he's had allotments in the past, he's recently moved to Bristol and, although he's yet to plant next year's harvest, he has sorted out his herb garden.
"Fresh herbs make such a difference to your cooking but I also use them for herbal medicine. Fresh mint is great for the digestion; valerian root helps me sleep; and yarrow is perfect for shaving cuts," he says.
While this can be a quick way to benefit from home produce, extending it to growing your own vegetables can still work in a small space. Harrison says one of his friends has successfully converted his three-square metre patio into a vegetable patch. "It's very carefully planned so he doesn't waste an inch, but he manages to grow most of the veg for himself and his wife," he says.
If space is available, it's possible to take a step closer to being self-sufficient. Pat Gardiner, 68, and his wife, also named Pat, 69, did just this, building up a small holding when they moved to a rundown property in Norfolk in 1998. "I'd always wanted to do this," says Pat, who runs go-self-sufficient.com. "I'd retired and the children were off our hands so we had plenty of time to work on it.
"Over a five-year period we put together a small holding with plenty of space to grow produce as well as some livestock such as chickens, sheep and a cow. We grew all our fruit and vegetables, even oranges and lemons in our conservatory, and we had our own eggs, dairy products and meat. My wife even knitted from the sheep's wool. The only things we had to buy from the supermarket were cleaning products."
But while Pat and his wife have realised the dream of becoming virtually self-suffi cient, he says it requires a lot of hard work. "It's a low-cost lifestyle but it takes a lot of time and effort to make it work," he says. "You're not going to be heading off to Spain for a fortnight's holiday every year.
"We still grow most of our own produce but health problems mean we have had to scale back."
Shortcuts are possible when growing your own. For example, a dig-free bed can be achieved by covering it with black plastic, and forest gardening, which makes use of companion planting to replicate a forest environment, can be very low maintenance.
As well as requiring an investment of time and effort, another challenge many people growing their own face is the unpredictability of the harvests. Winter can be a barren season, especially if vegetables such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts aren't your favourites.
The summer months present a different challenge, with crops in abundance. "Unless you really love them, stick to two courgette plants," recommends Harrison. "There are loads of recipes but it's easy to get sick of them."
Rather than cut back on what you grow, many self-sufficient households become experts at storing their produce to enable them to stretch the season. Freezers are a must-have and Harrison says there are simple ways to store vegetables such as putting potatoes in hessian sacks and keeping carrots in damp sand.
"Pickling and making jams and chutneys works well too," he adds. "And these can make fantastic presents."
For Hamilton, author of Booze for Free, fruit and veg gluts can offer an even greater opportunity to save money – turning them into alcoholic drinks. "You can make anything from cider and beer to champagne and spirits," he says. "For just £1 to buy some sugar, you can turn some of your fruit or veg glut into three bottles of wine."
GET FOOD AND DRINK FREE
While growing your own is one side of cutting the supermarket bills, foraging lets you eat for free. Rich Lisney, owner of The Self Sufficiency Shop in Dorset, says it's possible to forage for a wide variety of food. "I've collected mushrooms, wild garlic and berries," he says.
"You need to know what you're doing but there's plenty of food available for free if you know where to look." Another way to manage the excesses and get you through the barren months is with a spot of bartering. Even when he's not growing his own, Hamilton regularly gets plenty of fruit for his wines and cider for free.
"People don't like to see it go to waste so they're more than happy to let me take it in exchange for a couple of," he adds.
More formal arrangements are also in place through local exchange trading systems, known as LETS. These cash-free exchanges allow people to trade excess produce, labour or a skill, for something they want. More information on this can be found on letslinkuk.net.
Lisney has been involved in these schemes. "I've swapped labour for food but I've also seen professionals such as accountants offer their services through a LETS," he says. "There will be things you can't grow yourself and doing this can help you become more self-sufficient."
An increase in the general level of prices that persists over a period of time. The inflation rate is a measure of the average change over a period, usually 12 months. If inflation is up 4%, this means the price of products and services is 4% higher than a year earlier, requiring we spend and extra 4% to buy the same things we bought 12 months ago and that any savings and investments must generate 4% (after any taxes) to keep pace with inflation. Since 2003, the Bank of England has used the consumer prices index (CPI) as its official measure of inflation (see also retail prices index).
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.