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What to grow in Brexit Britain

This is just a ponder on whether to take Brexit into account when growing your own in the year ahead.

The weather is absolutely freezing at the moment and it means that not a lot can be done outside… And this has got me thinking about the future.

The time that the latest lockdown brings and rumblings of things changing in the shops due to Brexit, has led me to ask myself – what should I be growing now that the UK is out of the EU.

It’s no secret that gaps are starting to appear on shelves down the fresh fruit isles, due not only to new Brexit importing rules, but also the strain covid-19 has put on staff shortages at food producers.

So let’s try and answer the question – What should I be growing in Brexit Britain.

Let’s start with some cold hard facts to help decide:

  • Approximately 30% of food in the UK arrives from the EU, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)
  • Around 50% of fresh fruit and veg in the UK, comes from the EU and most of that consists of fruit
  • Generally speaking, imports and exports of produce can fluctuate dramatically, based on season. For instance, during the summer months, the UK produces 95% of its own salad leaves. In the winter months, the UK can only rely on 10% – the rest has to be imported in
  • Since 2016, imports of fresh fruit and veg from the EU has been in decline overall – but the produce that the UK makes itself is at around 60%

So, of the produce seen on our supermarket shelves, how much of it approximately is imported in from the EU, produced in the UK and imported in from outside of the EU…

Produce most commonly
found on our
supermarket shelves
Imported in
from the EU
(%)
Produced in
the UK
(%)
Imported in
from outside of the EU
(%)
Spinach99%0%1%
Artichokes 98%0%2%
Aubergines 93%0%7%
Chillies and peppers84%11%6%
Tomatoes 21%70%9%
Cucumbers 71%28%1%
Lettuce58%42%0%
Mushrooms52%48%0%
Squash and pumpkins77%0%23%
Lemons and limes62%0%38%
Tangerines and satsumas0%55%45%
Cauliflower and broccoli 43%56%1%
Cabbages13%87%0%
Onions17%82%1%
Apples28%53%19%
Potatoes2%97%1%
Potatoes (non-frozen)0%99%1%
Sweet potatoes21%0%79%
Carrots and turnips4%95%1%
Peas3%90%6%
Leeks19%79%1%
Strawberries28%69%3%
Melons43%0%57%
Grapes33%0%67%
Green beans15%28%57%
Asparagas 10%29%61%
Plums49%19%32%
Oranges45%0%55%
Bananas10%0%90%
Blueberries92%0%8%
Pears74%15%11%
Cherries58%21%21%
Compiled from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2019/aug/13/how-a-no-deal-brexit-threatens-your-weekly-food-shop – Aug 2019

The above statistics are obviously subject to change as things unfold – but I think it’s a good start in knowing where our food is coming from predominantly.

What to grow in Brexit Britain

If rising prices and/or low availability due to how the UK imports goods from the EU is a concern, you’d do right to grow the items that are imported the most (70% or higher), from the get go.

  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Aubergines
  • Chillies and peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Squashes
  • Pears
  • Blueberries

The winter months, for the UK is the time where prices and availability are more likely to be affected, so ideally (and if possible) in the winter it would be good to grow your own salad items, mainly tomatoes and lettuce. Perfect if you’ve got a polytunnel.

Soft fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries..etc) are imported during the winter months. With that in mind, it would be a good idea to freeze and store these as they’re ripening in the summer months. Spinach, squash and pumpkins also have the potential to be frozen or stored.

Root veg and brassicas seem to grow well in the UK – so I’m not sure if I should worry too much about those. This is with the exception of frozen potatoes (chips, waffles, frozen roast potatoes…etc) of which 0% is created in the UK

As mentioned previously, times at when items are imported can change with the seasons, and the BBC made this helpful infographic below to show what is imported and when.

Carrying out research for this post and trying to find out when the UK conducts its imports, has led me to some very interesting materials online.

I’ve also identified numerous variables to take into account in all of this, which may or may not come to pass as time goes on.

The UK will no doubt be looking toward other places to trade with and import produce from – although this can take time to materialise.

I suspect (and would like to think) that the UK will also adapt, with UK suppliers looking to grow out of season produce domestically. Growing your own and gardening has also seen an uptick in interest in the past 12 months or so.

Lastly, Brexit is still relatively fresh and so the way in which things are actually conducted at various borders are still being worked out. Hopefully, as efficiency improves, so will the cost and availability of produce.

Having researched this topic, it makes me ponder – should I grow the usual fare? Should I be growing things that I like? Should I be growing things that provide good yields and can be stored, regardless of world events? Should I be growing things that will either be hard to come by or may become too expensive?

Or – should I just not give this all a second thought? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

13 replies on “What to grow in Brexit Britain”

That’s really interesting – I have had a quick look and will study it carefully.

One of the things I’ve noticed on things like the Allotment Facebook page etc is that people are so delighted with their crops they dig the lot up and send in great photos. In my mind one of the things our forebears were good at was ‘eking out’ the produce they had grown over the lean months – storing carefully etc and ensuring that things that would stand out in the cold were only used as needed. This makes a tremendous difference to the amount of fruit and veg one has to buy. We have apples from September to about April, soft fruits especially blackberries in the freezer, and leeks, greens, celeriac, parsnips to harvest as needed for months and months. But I know it makes for a rather straggling end-of-season look to the veg plot……

I enjoy the challenge of avoiding supermarket fruit and veg as much as possible – two major gaps are squash and sweet potatoes, but we enjoy them so and they aren’t something I can grow well up here in East Yorkshire.

Thank you for the regular Carrot Tops updates, I do enjoy them!

Susan Connolly Kirk Ella East Yorkshire

>

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It all depends. Do you want to be self-sufficient? Then you need to plan to meet all of your needs, different ways of storing, cropping through winter etc. If you grow to top up your veg then it probably doesn’t matter. Is there such a thing as a scarcity mindset/abundance mindset? Retrenching into a scarcity mindset means hoarding (loo rolls!), grabbing things for yourself in case you need them and not sharing. An abundant mindset means growing and sharing what you have as it encourages others to do the same and together we will get through it.
If we grew by these lists we probably wouldn’t grow any potatoes, we can’t grow tomatoes at this time of year and storing enough takes a lot of freezer/canning space and effort. There are so many variables that would impact on what we could do that the answer is different for each person.
My idea is to grow as much as I can as well as I can. Keep up the good work and interesting posts.

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Being self-sufficient is definitely a dream, but I’ve come to terms that it’s incredibly hard to do. I wonder if I should have a patch dedicated just to storing… just for topping up purposes. Basically whatever comes out of that patch would go into jars or freezers… Thank you reading and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog 🙂

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If you like it (which we do) I’d definitely be growing spinach…so very easy and can tolerate really cold temps. I plant five 6′ rows in mid September and let them grow as much as possible without harvesting. Then 4 rows are covered with a low poly-tunnel and I can harvest those at intervals all winter. The uncovered row gets harvested first. All 5 rows put on vigorous growth again when spring arrives, providing abundance until the newly sown crops are ready. Easy peasy! But do pick leaves that are savoyed, not the smooth ones for this because they tolerate freeze much better.

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I think it is a balance against eating seasonally, learning what you can and cannot grow in the UK especially in the winter months and learning good storage techniques. For example with a poly you can grow salad varieties meant to be grown in the UK over winter like lambs lettuce and winter density. You cannot however grow tomatoes or cucumbers without heating and LED grow lights. Better instead to grow more than you need in summer and pickle, salt, dry, freeze. Apples and pears you can choose varieties which crop and store over long periods. Soft fruit cannot be grown in winter here but can be frozen or bottled or turned in to Jam.

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I agree – and I wonder if we would be more or less healthy by eating more seasonally – based on climate. I guess that’s a whole new load of research to do I guess. I’m under the impression that things that grow in lower temperatures are higher in fibre and iron – but I’m not sure if that’s actually true or not.

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Probably the biggest impact you would see if eating closer to home is vitamin c as that degrades over time. Food that you grow yourself probably has a better nutrition profile and more fibre per gram as you won’t be pumping it full of water and transporting it across the globe. I don’t think there is much diff on average between tropical veg and temperate, it’s more about making sure you get a range of colours and types. What could be interesting is looking at for example how a European would digest corn versus someone from South America and whether genetics and gut microbes affects how you get nutrients from food. The one thing people always notice about growing their own though, the taste. You can grow varieties that are bred for flavour not shelf life and it is astonishing for some.

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Very interesting post and a lot of research, thanks for sharing your findings which I will read in more detail. I try to put as much of what I grow on the dinner table as possible, also store/freeze as much as I can, but I do still rely on shop bought produce and try to source what I need from local farm shops which I’m lucky to be surrounded by. Being a pumpkin and squash fan and looking at the table of figures above, I’m proud of my growing efforts! I can pretty much say I am self sufficient with these for around 7 months of a year at a push if you count summer squashes and winter stores, which I can just about stretch out to March.

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I think there’ll definitely be more of an emphasis on growing to store, when there hasn’t been before. For me personally storing seems to happen when I have a glutton of something. I’m glad you found it interesting 🙂

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