Wednesday 3 November 2010


Have you discovered VSR (Value for Space Rating) yet?

VSR is a concept that I learned from Joy Larkcom, a person whose gardening style and approach has had a big influence on me. One of the best books on gardening I have ever come across is Joy's "Vegetables for Small Gardens" [Published by Hamlyn, ISBN 0-600-58510-7]. In this book Joy describes her ideas for rating the value of vegetable plants in a way that takes into account not only the yield of a plant (on a helpings per square metre basis), but also the length of time the plant occupies the ground. The rating is further influenced by three additional factors:

1. The availability of the vegetable in Winter, or other times of scarcity. (Do we still have the "Hungry Gap" in late Winter / early Spring?)
2. Whether or not the homegrown item provides significantly better quality than a similar one bought in a shop.
3.Whether the vegetable is difficult and/or expensive to buy.

I follow this overall approach in my own garden. As you know, it is not very big, so I have to think pretty carefully about what to grow. Whilst I love home-grown potatoes, I can't justify devoting even one of my six raised beds to growing them - certainly not maincrop ones - (I usually grow a few earlies in pots though!). Similarly, I don't consider it good use of space to grow Swede turnips (Rutabaga), which occupy the ground for ages, and can be bought for pennies in the supermarket. Right now, you can buy a 5kg bag of onions at Tesco for just £1 ! So who would grow onions in their garden if space were at all short???

My own ideas on VSR are particularly influenced by "Additional Factors #2 and #3" above - for instance in relation to Sprouting Broccoli. Yes, you can buy it in the shops, but No, it's never any good. It is always limp even before you get it home. Broccoli is best cooked as soon as possible after harvesting. And what about Endives? When did anyone (in the UK at least) last buy a whole Endive? These days you seldom see a whole one -- they are usually grown for chopping up into tiny bits which get incorporated into those grossly over-priced bags of mixed salad you see in the supermarkets. [Note to any readers in France - I know things are different where you live - and I'm very jealous!].

I think my picture above demonstrates that you can get a lot of produce from a little space if you try hard enough. Most people will be able to find the room for a few pots like this on their patio or balcony, and thus be able to sample the pleasures of Growing Your Own in some degree. This particular pot has four different lettuces in it. They are ones that were spare when I was planting out a batch of seedlings in one of the raised beds, and I really only kept them as an "insurance policy" in case the slugs ate the main crop. They developed slowly, presumably because they were vying with each other for the available nutrients. Of course I could have aided their growth by feeding them, but I didn't think this was justifiable in the circumstances.

I think Chillis are pretty good in terms of VSR -- as long as you LIKE chillis, that is. One plant can provide enough fruits to meet the requirements of most families.

Chillis are rated highly on VSR -- certainly very space-efficient

Actually, I think that perhaps the best examples of VSR are in the herb department. Herbs don't take up much space, and they are usually expensive to buy (and never available when you want to).


So what examples can you give me of good VSR in your garden???


  1. Let me see. Blackcurrants, strawberries, purple sprouting broccoli.

    Negative rating - maincrop potatoes. Definitely on the way out with me.

    Sorry to hear about your wet Sunday. I daresay we'll have our turn soon.

  2. Interesting blog; would be good to think about this several times during the year. I have alot of garden space so potatoes for me are high value; I get enough to do me in summer and winter and they're usally a high-ish priced in the shops (much higher than growing). Leeks go a long way for me. I saved a fortune growing my own salad over the summer.

    I haven't tried growing broccoli or chillis before so good to know others' views.

  3. Ok, so here we have two completely opposite views of the VSR of maincrop potatoes! I suspect that Kelli is right in saying that it really depends on how much space you have available. Spuds are not actually that cheap when you consider how many of them most of us use.

  4. I like this VSR idea. My plot is tiny so I pick crop varieties that have high yields, long cropping periods, and are reliable.
    For me, crops with high VSR are climbing beans, garlic, tomatoes, and raspberries.

  5. I like your VSR candidates Sarah -- though I have only once tried growing garlic and it was not brilliant. We use so much of it in cooking that I would probably need to devote about 25% of my garden to growing it if we we to have enough for all year! Raspberries have good VSR because they don't travel well -- also they have high yields for the space they occupy.

  6. Good Post Mark! While I am fortunate to have access to a rather larger plot, I would consider chilies, eggplant, tomotoes, beets (if only because it is a double crop of beet and greens) as good VSR.

  7. Mark, I have been thinking about some of the crops I've grown and how they fit into the VSP view of gardening. Last season I grew sweet corn in almost half of one of my plots, only to have a nor'easter (bad weather wind) lay it down just like the previous two years. As a result, I only was able to pick 88 small ears of corn from that crop. In retrospect, that was a failure to me. So, corn is one crop that I will NOT be planting this year. Pickling cucumbers is another crop I won't be planting this coming year. They went wild and I had more than I could possibly use and no one wanted the extra, so they yellowed on the vines. Beets will not be planted either. I have tried for three years to grow beets, as they are reputed to be so easy to grow, and I do like them. I will invest no further effort for trying to have a beet harvest. What I now have
    growing in the 1/2 barrels will be it for me. Onions will not be grown either. Too non-productive for the time and space invested.Also, no more experimental crops such as salsify (oyster plant) that was extremely difficult to germinate in the ground. Oddly enough, when planted in the 1/2 barrels, they germinated much faster than the package said they would.

    I will absolutely be planting Fortex green beans in the spring. Actually, I may double the planting area of them as they taste wonderful and are absolutely stringless. That was a big factor for me planting them in the first place. I will also be planting a hybrid roma type tomato. I am heavily into canning, and would have canned more had I had the produce needed. While the tomato sauces I canned are very good, they are very liquid. As a result, I am going to try to find tomatoes that are especially good for making sauces. With that said, romas come to mind first. Maybe there is another type that is suited for sauce as well or even better, but I don't know of it at this point in time.

    I shall continue to ponder my plantings to see what I will end up with for the spring planting.

  8. Hi Veggie PAK; A very interesting response. It just demonstrates that what works for one person in one place will not necessarily work for someone else in a different place. Re tomatoes: do you know the website It might assist your research. This one is also worth visiting:

  9. Thanks! I'll check them both out.

  10. High VSR rating vegetables for me are sweet potatoes (they always produce prolifically, are easy to grow and are lovely fresh from the garden); okra (this year fresh okra is $2.99/lb non organic at the local fruit stand -- usually cheaper than grocery store, and again prolific and easy to grow in the garden). Herbs always are high VSR for me, especially since I have been learning to use them medicinally, because I save LOTS of money using them medicinally. Peaches are high VSR here. I always plant beans. I don't know if they are high VSR, but can't imagine my garden without them.

    Corn is low VSR. It never works for me. And potatoes are low VSR, too, for the same reason. I got 36 potatoes this year. Sigh.


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