How much food can you grow in pots?

by Mark Ridsdill Smith on

in Blog, Learning, Maximising yields

The money you can save by growing food.

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.

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.


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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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew November 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm

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.


elaine November 15, 2013 at 10:41 pm

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.


Mary Saunders November 15, 2013 at 8:02 pm

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.


Gil Palmer November 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm

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?


Mark Ridsdill Smith November 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm

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:

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


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