At last it's official - home-grown fruit and vegetables really are healthier. As an allotment holder, I have claimed for ages now that my vegetables easily beat those from supermarket shelves both for taste and health. Now scientists have proved home-grown produce is better for you. Let's face it, it only takes me 30 minutes to get my courgettes from the plant on my allotment to my plate and that's only part of the story.

A study carried out by experts at Kew Gardens and reported in the UK press yesterday, found that tomatoes are sweeter and richer in health-improving nutrients than those that are mass-produced. When my daughter was only five years old she would raid my greenhouse and pick and eat the sweet cherry tomatoes straight off the plant - she knew 30 years ago how true this is!

The concentration of natural sugars, anti-oxidants and nutrient rich compounds called phenois peaked in the home-grown tomatoes, the study revealed. Professor Monique Simmonds, the deputy director of science at Kew, claimed mass-market tomatoes are often bred for their appearance rather than quality, that herbicides are used and that they are harvested early and artificially ripened to improve shelf life. She said all these things can damage the flavour and the nutrient level in the fruit. ''Supermarkets are often looking for tomatoes that are a particular size because that's how the public want it'' she says. ''Some of these tomatoes are smaller and they don't grow in a uniform size, which makes them difficult for supermarkets to sell. It's about educating the public. People don't mind if something grown in your garden is not beautifully round but would they buy it from a supermarket?''

Ironically for me and my daughter, Emily, one example from the Kew research is the Gardener's Delight cherry tomato, that I have grown for over 30 years. It was found to contain three times as much sugar as the shop-bought variety, giving it a far more sweeter taste.

While this experiment was with tomatoes, Simmonds said results would be similar in other fruits and vegetables. She said of home-grown produce, ''They are not going to be a cure for a disease but if you are eating them as part of a mixed diet they will definitely contribute to a healthier life - it's the Mediterranean diet effect, having natural anti-oxidants in your diet. If you're eating enough of these it will build up to have an effect''.

Well, I've just ordered my fruit and vegetable seeds, including Gardener's Delight tomato seeds, so as soon as they arrive they'll be planted-up for another season of home-grown fruit and veg!


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