But some just aren’t worth it
Having a green thumb can save you some green. Growing your own vegetables will lower your grocery bills—potentially by hundreds of dollars a year—and put fresher, tastier produce on your table.
Choose your veggies carefully if saving money is your goal. Some, such as artichokes and cauliflower, are tricky to grow or susceptible to pests and diseases that can reduce yields and quash savings. Others, such as onions and potatoes, are so inexpensive in stores that growing your own won’t save you much money.
Easy-to-grow garden vegetables that offer big savings…
Salad greens such as arugula, Swiss chard and spinach can cost $4 to $5 for a bag sufficient for perhaps two salads when bought in a market. Or for $2 to $2.50, you can buy a packet of seeds that can produce enough greens for daily salads starting 40 to 50 days after the initial planting and continuing until the first frost.
Sample savings: If your garden produces five months’ worth of daily salads and you previously had been spending $2 per day on greens for those salads, your savings would be approximately $300.*
To ensure an extended supply of fresh greens, plant a small number of seeds each week throughout the growing season rather than all the seeds at once. When you require only a small quantity of greens, harvest just the outer leaves so that the plant can continue growing.
Arugula, Swiss chard, spinach and most other greens are easy to grow. They need only four to six hours of sun each day. They do best in soil at least six inches deep with good drainage. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.
Heirloom cherry tomatoes can cost $4 to $5 per pint in a farmers’ market. Or you can grow them yourself from a packet of seeds costing $2 to $2.50 (or from starter plants costing perhaps $2 to $3 for four). Under favorable conditions, each plant could yield 20 pints or more of heirloom (nonhybrid) cherry tomatoes.
Sample savings: If you have four plants that produce 20 pints of heirloom cherry tomatoes apiece, that’s the equivalent of $320 worth of produce if you had been paying $4 a pint.
Heirloom cherry tomatoes are a better money saver than larger heirloom tomato varieties because they tend to have a longer growing season and larger overall crop. They’re easy to grow but require at least six hours a day of sunlight to thrive.
Heirloom green beans (also called string beans or snap beans) can cost $6 or $7 per pound in farmers’ markets. Or grow them yourself from a packet of seeds costing $2 to $2.50. Each plant could produce several pounds of beans.
Sample savings: If you grow 20 plants and each produces three pounds of beans, that’s around $350 in savings if you would have paid $6 a pound at a farmers’ market.
Green beans are very easy to grow but prefer full sunlight. Favor green beans that grow on a vine rather than on a bush—they will yield two to three times as many beans per square foot of garden space. You will need to provide poles or trellises for the vines to climb, which will add a few dollars to your costs if you don’t own these things already.
Herbs including basil, parsley, chives, thyme and rosemary can cost $2 to $3 for a few sprigs if you buy them fresh. Or for that same $2 to $3, you could buy a four-pack of starter herb plants at a nursery. Each of those plants could produce 50 times as much as that supermarket package, for savings in the hundreds if you use fresh herbs frequently.
Sample savings: If you grow four herb plants and each provides 50 times as much as that $2 container of fresh herb sprigs in the market, that’s nearly $400 in potential savings—though realistically few people buy that many herbs.
Herbs generally require at least four to six hours of sunlight per day. Clip flower buds when they appear—your herbs won’t be as flavorful if the plants flower, and flowering stops growth. If your plants produce more herbs than you can use, freeze the excess for winter use. To freeze: Place a spoonful or two of chopped herbs in each compartment of an ice-cube tray. Top with water to cover the herbs. Freeze.