Are you thinking of starting a garden to save some money at the grocery store? Do you already have some garden space, but are wondering how to get the most "bang for your buck" in terms of what to plant? Then read on, because I've got a list of some of the best things you can start in your yard that will save you money on your grocery bill... for months to come.
Starting a garden to save money?
Before we get started, we should take a few moments to address HOW you're growing your garden. How much space do you have for a garden?
The three most common ways people grow gardens at home are:
- A "traditional" garden where you till up the soil and plant in rows. (Think farm style, but on a much smaller scale.) This requires the most space and manual labor, but can be cost effective if you've got good soil and you're willing to do the work. If you have the space and the right climate, you could potentially grow just about anything, from tiny radishes to big crops like corn, pumpkins or melons.
- A raised bed garden, where you build or buy garden boxes and add some kind of a garden soil mix. This is more expensive than the traditional garden at setup, because you've got to gather the supplies to build the box(es) and the soil mix to put in it. But it requires less space to grow lots of plants, and it's a great option if the soil around your home might not be the best for growing (sand, rock, clay or contaminates). Raised beds give you the next best option in terms of variety of crops, though your ability to grow the huge things might be scaled back a bit.
- A container garden, where you're planting in pots on a patio or deck. Containers make gardening possible for people that live in cities and/or have no outside space to set up a large garden. Container gardening makes it possible to grow some fruits and vegetables in a very small footprint, and it's easy to set up and maintain. With the small space though, you're more limited in your plant selection.
My Top 10 Money-Saving Home Garden Crops
Everything on this list can be grown in any one of the three types of gardens listed above. You just might need to pick and choose to fit your space. These veggies and fruits are some of the best you can grow if you're trying to cut your grocery bill. Not only do you get great-tasting food that you grew yourself, you'll love the money you save.
1. Herbs: Basil, Cilantro, Parsley, Rosemary, etc. There is no substitute for the flavor of fresh herbs when you're cooking. Raw or cooked, these can really pack a punch! But they're also really expensive if you need to pick some up in the produce section at the grocery store. Starting your own little herb garden at home can save you a TON of money over the course of the year. They're perfect for all three kinds of gardens, and are probably the most convenient if grown on a pot out on your deck or patio. You can even grow many of them inside, in a sunny kitchen window, if you have the space!
2. "Cut & Come Again" Salad Greens: Lettuce, Spinach, etc. I typically see Romaine and leaf lettuce at the grocery store for between $1.50 and $2.00 a head, and more if it's organic. But a pack of seeds that cost about $2.00 can keep you flush with salads and burger toppings for months. Just cut the outer leaves off when you need it, and let the smaller, newer leaves in the middle keep growing.
3. Radishes, Green Onions & Onions. Radishes and green onions (scallions) are really fast growing little veggies. Depending on the variety you plant, you can have radishes ready to harvest in as little as four weeks! (I am dreaming of street tacos now, but I digress....)
As for onions, I start off with a $3.00 pack of 100 "seed onions" (immature onions) at the start of the spring growing season and let some grow to big cooking onions, and harvest others while they're young and "green onion-like." (It's an industry term, I swear. Or at least it should be, because it's really descriptive.) They're cheap to grow and easy to harvest. Many of the big cooking onions can last for a couple of months or more if stored properly after harvest.
4. Garlic. Oh, we love our garlic in this house. One head of garlic gets separated into individual cloves that will each grow a full head of garlic! Once you harvest, pick the biggest cloves to go back in the ground at the start of the next season to encourage larger heads over time. You can't get much more cost-effective than one head of garlic that will give you multiple heads of garlic year after year.
**PSA: Onions and garlic are part of the allium family, and as such they are hazardous to dogs and cats. I grow all my veggies behind some pet-proof fencing to help keep them out. I even put some chicken wire over the top of my garlic when I plant it, and weight it down with some rocks at the edges, to keep my dogs from digging it out and eating it. They actually got into it the first year I grew it (unprotected, because I didn't know), and I got REALLY lucky with the small amount they got into.**
5. Beans and Peas: Bush or Pole (climbing) green beans and peas. Admittedly I don't get a lot of peas or beans that make it into the house, because my kids tend to sneak them while they're out playing in the backyard. But beans and peas are PROLIFIC - not only do they grow quickly, but they also produce a lot. Keep harvesting them and they keep giving you more, all season long.
6. Tomatoes & Cucumbers. Whether it saved you money or not, a tomato plant would be the number one crop I'd suggest you grow in any garden. They do well in rows, raised beds and containers, and there's just no matching the flavor of a garden-fresh tomato compared to something grown commercially in a hot house.
Both tomatoes and cucumbers are great in salads or just for snacking. This year I have four tomato plants (grape and cherry varieties for snacking, and two heirlooms for slicing) and two cucumber plants. Check your local county extension office (part of one of your state universities) or some local experts on whether you can start from seed or if you need to buy some young plants in the spring, as the length of growing seasons varies widely across the country.
7. Celery. Celery runs about $1 per bunch at the grocery store, but a $2 pack of tiny seeds will give you tons of celery for snacks, soups and other recipes. It's really easy to grow, and you can even start a new celery plant from the scraps of a head of celery you bought at the grocery store! How cool is it that you can grow a complete plant with essentially a full second harvest from something you would have thrown away?
8. Zucchini and/or Summer Squash. Other than the tomatoes, I think zucchini and yellow summer squash rank as my most prolific vegetable crops, year after year. They're great sliced and cooked in some Italian seasonings and a little olive oil and butter on the stove, made into "zoodles," or turned into some amazing zucchini bread. You can always wash, chop and freeze some to use into the winter months, too... but I would recommend using the frozen stuff for baking, rather than a stovetop side sish.
9. Berries: Strawberries, pot-sized blueberries, etc. Oh, strawberries. They are amazing. They grow well in any of the three gardening options mentioned above, and you can also get strawberry pots that let you plant multiple plants in a small space for a bumper crop each summer. Dwarf blueberry plants grow well in a pot on the patio or deck, and you can get loads of berries off of them. Full of antioxidants, berries are a must-have, budget-friendly crop.
10. Kale, Chard and other "power greens." Kale is the darling of the vegetable world right now, as it's a nutrient powerhouse. There are tons of different varieties of both kale and chard, and many are readily available as seeds. They are also really easy to grow in various gardening setups. From soups and pasta dishes to salads and smoothies, you've got several options for eating them.
This is just a sample of the money-saving vegetables you can grow at home.
It was hard for me to pick a "top 10" list. There are lots more veggies out there that are inexpensive and easy to grow in a home garden. I hope this gives you an idea of the things you can start with, if you're new to gardening or if you're looking to expand what you currently grow.
I love the fact that each summer I can essentially cut tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and zucchini from my grocery list, at least for a good two or three months. I've already started harvesting the lettuce I started back in April, and I can say in mid-May that I don't see needing to buy lettuce for a while, either!
Just starting out? Start small and expand your garden as you get comfortable.
I started small with my own garden, with just one 4x4 raised bed. I added a second two years later, and now I'm contemplating expanding one or both of them to turn each one into a 4x8-foot bed. I'm also looking at inexpensive ways to extend my gardening season both earlier in the spring and later into the fall. (Did you know you can grow lettuce, radishes, spinach, kale and other veggies into the winter months, with the proper shelters?)
Whatever your situation, if you've been growing a while or you're just starting out, I hope these favorite budget-friendly home garden plants help you get going this season, or make your plans for the future!