Grow your own to reduce costs and increase profits!
In my last blog, I talked about methods of reducing or managing stress and fatigue after a busy day and week in the kitchen.
It goes without saying, its very important to get ‘off the bus’ and have a few interests or hobbies to remind yourself to be you, recharge, wind down and disengage yourself from day to day drudge.
I mentioned my nick name is Garden Ramsay linked by my love of gardening and past career as a chef.
Gardening is incredibly therapeutic and if you throw a bit of time and a small amount of money at it, it would be very simple to create your own herb, vegetable or fruit garden.
When I was Head Chef at ICI Bracknell, we built a new £5m+ restaurant and conference facility in 1992. From the outset, we incorporated a plot to grow our own herbs. This was fitting given we worked for ICI’s Plant Protection Division, but it also allowed the chefs to participate in an activity outside of their culinary duties. It also presented a reduction in our weekly green grocer costs.
Cooking with fresh herbs isn’t new, but modern-day recipes are using far more fresh herbs these days which over a month can rack up to be quite a big cost, yet Herbs are the easiest thing to grow.
Herbs demand much smaller ground space than a row of Brussel Sprout plants, so the plot of ground needed doesn’t have to be huge.
Start small and evolve it.
Many of you will be familiar with Chef Raymond Blanc’s incredible Heritage kitchen garden at his Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons restaurant. Aside from it been an award-winning garden, at its core, it supplies their very busy kitchen with most of their fresh garden produce every day, allowing chefs to create delicious Michelin rated food. That garden is managed and tended by professional gardeners, and by comparison is akin to a small holder’s garden.
That said, it proves that a modest vegetable garden adds immense value and can reduce costs handsomely, as well as teaching your kitchen team new skills such as the field to fork principle and food provenance, not to mention the difference in taste quality.
To get your herb garden started, begin with hardy variety herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Mint and Thyme. All four of these herbs can cost a lot of money to buy in over the year. They can look after themselves, grow in most soils and establish quickly. Small starter plants can be bought at garden centres or from the internet for pennies and quickly grow into a ready supply of fresh aromatic plants.
Bearing in mind, you are using these as ingredients in dishes prepared for your customers, therefore you must be mindful of hygiene and accountability. Washing/Rinsing everything is paramount, but behind that, you may want to fence off the produce garden to keep wildlife, pests and trespassers out.
Question – What Is Garden Gold and Free!
A commercial kitchen will accrue a lot of organic food waste such as vegetable peelings and scraps. This can become the backbone to a stellar compost heap when combined with lawn trimmings and other organic material. Shredding material accelerates the composting process. Try to avoid meat, fish & fat scraps as these attract vermin. You can even use small proportions of shredded paper or cardboard (napkins?) because it all rots down and introduces oxygen, nitrogen and carbon.
When leaves drop in the Autumn, rake them all up and either use them in compost or store in a separate area to use as a garden mulch in Spring.
All the above significantly improves all soil types and gives your plants a perfect growing base.
Prepare the soil and give your plants breakfast.
A small effort is required to prepare the soil in which your plants are situated. But once this is done, your plants will thrive. A good soil is a mix of structure and nutrients. Conditioners such as mature manure, garden compost or mushroom compost add structure and nutrition in one go. Beyond that, a three-monthly feed of general-purpose water-soluble food is all plants need to flourish.
Think of it like having your breakfast, this sets up the day and gives you the nutrients to see you through until lunch. Adding matter to spoil ahead of planting will give your plants everything they need to establish.
Add manure or compost to the soil and dig it in deep. The ideal time to do this is late Autumn allowing upcoming frosts to assist its incorporation. Come Spring, the soil will have absorbed the compost and manure, all you need to do is turn over, rake and get planting. Within months, you will have fresh new growth packed full of flavour ready for the pot and every year after.
Select your favourites.
Rosemary, Mint*, Thyme, Sage, Bay Leaves, Lavender, Lemon Verbena.
The above are what I class as woody herbs with a bark type stem. Very robust and self-sufficient.
*Mint should be grown in a contained bed or pot as the roots travel underground and can dominate ground space very fast.
The following herbs are the leaf or bulb type that require a little more attention, but still easily grown.
Parsley’s, Marjoram, Oregano, Basil, Coriander, Fennel, Dill, Borage, Chervil, Garlic & Chives.
Group 2 plants can be tender in their growth habit. Mediterranean aromatics such as Basil, Coriander and Oregano, require a warmer climate (or sunny garden spot/greenhouse). One bulb of garlic will have up to 8 cloves, which in turn will become 8 new bulbs next year. The trick to good garlic is to plant the bulbs out in December to allow them to vernalise. Vernalising exposes the bulb and plants to freezing temperatures which makes their flavour and vigour stronger.
- I haven’t bought fresh garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage or fennel for nearly 15 years because I have a pick and pick again crop in the garden.
- I planted 12 Raspberry canes 4 years ago, I now have 42 canes all producing fruit by the ton. It’s now April and I still have at least 4kg’s of raspberries in the freezer which I use for compotes & Bavarois.
- I must save £hundreds each year and I only have a modest domestic plot.
- In December I set aside between 60 to 70 small potatoes from last year’s crop for Chitting in the new year. I haven’t bought seed potatoes for over 11 years. = more money saved.
Don’t forget to promote ‘genuine home grown’ herbs and aromatics on your menus. The kudos is worth its weight in menu gold. It also enhances your provenance and sustainability goals and boosts your position on your local foodie map.
As confidence grows, and your gardening skills evolve, try expanding your garden project to grow fruit trees, soft fruits, Brassica’s and root vegetables. I can assure you, the taste of a freshly pulled carrot is mind-blowingly different to one that was picked a week ago, pressure washed and stored in a plastic bag.
Oh, and for those who haven’t, try using fresh sage in sage and onion stuffing. You will never buy Paxo again!!
And yes, an established vegetable plot will much reduce your food cost and increase your profits.
TIP 1. Instead of growing small crops of many varieties, why not grow a lot of what costs you the most money to buy in fresh?
TIP 2. To give your plot a more formal and organised feel, build some raised beds out of timber planking. Old scaffold planks are ideal. Less bending needed, soil is contained and crop rotation is far easier.
Give it a go and prove it to yourself. Write and let me know what type of garden scheme you have and how it benefits your business.
Gardening is a great stress buster too.
Thanks for reading.
Paul – firstname.lastname@example.org – 01733 286000, Option 1.