Money-saving Vegetables to Reduce Your Food Bill

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Save money by growing your own salad leaves

There’s no doubt that growing some of our own fruit and vegetables is as good for the soul as it is the body. Gentle exercise, the subtle smells and sounds of nature, the patient expectation of watching our crops grow and thrive – these are all qualities of kitchen gardening that are truly priceless.

Yet with much of the world still recoiling from the financial shocks of the past five years, it’s no surprise that more of us are growing food simply to save a few pennies. A steady global increase of mouths to feed, richer diets and ever-growing pressure on available land means it’s inevitable food prices have ticked relentlessly upwards over time.

Headlines surrounding spiralling prices and food shortages are depressing but the joyous news is that home growing can have a dramatic impact on our weekly food bills – as well as allowing us to grow more unusual and tasty varieties of produce not usually available in the grocery store. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you this seasoned reader!

Save money by growing your own tomatoes

Cash crops

The amount of money to be saved from even a modest garden plot is really rather staggering. People have cottoned onto this and the result is veg gardens of all kinds popping up all over the place, particularly in cities where fresh air and exercise are as prized as the harvests taken.

Looking at growing fruit and veg from a purely wallet-preserving perspective it is worth noting that not every crop is born equal. If your primary objective is to save money and the space you have to do this is limited, start your wish list with the most productive and useful crops and work down it according to the area of ground/number of containers you can spare.

High up the list are those plants that fruit or pod prolifically. If you can preserve some of this glut then nothing need go to waste and you’ll be able to extend the financial windfall well into winter! Tomatoes, zucchini, pole beans and pumpkins and squashes are just a few examples. Tomatoes can produce up to around 5kg (10lbs) of fruit in a favourable season and zucchini will swell anywhere between 10 and 20 of their abundant beauties over their cropping period.

Everybody should definitely grow a few plants of winter squash or pumpkin. The biggest haul will be had if these plants are left to sprawl over the ground, the stems rooting as they creep to give the plant more energy for production of more and bigger fruits. If you are tight for space then train the stems up trelliswork or sturdy poles, pergolas or wigwams. The plants will happily grow with minimal attention over summer but the best bit is that squashes and pumpkins store like a dream over winter – no special conditions needed to enjoy a ready-to-tap source of warming sustenance. You will get a lot of harvest weight for your initial seed!

Save money by growing your own beets

Quick growers

Another way of breaking down the savings to be had is to consider the time taken to reach harvest point from sowing. So while a single flush of radishes may not yield great riches, the fact that they take just three to four weeks to maturity means that the diligent re-sower will enjoy considerable savings over the course of the growing season. Beets take maybe twice as long to grow but are still relatively quick and exceptionally versatile in the kitchen. Try baking chunks of beet with herbs and olive oil, adding the roots to lend a blood-red flush to risottos, or how about slicing wafer-thin rounds of eye-popping varieties such as red and white striped ‘Chioggia’ into salads? A rather mean bundle of beets costs £1.65 ($2.50) in my local supermarket (yes, really!), so I reckon my couple of rows over the course of a summer easily yield close to £100-worth!

But for me my number one quick-growing cash crop is any of the rapid-fire salad leaf mixes. These cut-and-come-again collectives have become incredibly popular over the last few years thanks to their ease of growing, delicious variety of textures, leaf shapes and colors – and no doubt because bags of salads leaves are such a rip off! I sow mine into an old butler/Belfast sink, which is just the right size to provide a regular cut of dinnertime leaves.

Reduce your food bills by growing asparagus

A touch of luxury

Then there are those vegetables that really are luxury items in the shopping basket: asparagus, sprouting broccoli, snow peas and globe artichokes to name a few. A couple of plants of any of the above would produce plenty of spears, heads and pods to keep the bank account healthy. Asparagus is the most luxurious and perhaps easiest to grow considering how little effort it takes; plant a few asparagus crowns and you’ll be able to enjoy the spears from late spring to early summer for many years to come – a delicious prospect indeed!

Everybody knows that herbs transform dishes into something special. A permanent herb bed or planter takes up minimal space and will save a small fortune on the measly sprigs offered in food stores. Barbara Pleasant outlines some high-value must-grows here.

Needless to say, it’s important not to lose sight of the numerous other benefits to growing our own. But when we’re all tightening the fiscal belt it’s good to know that our much-loved pastime just happens to save the wallet too.

By Benedict Vanheems.

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Comments

 
"We find that beans (runner or French) save us quite a bit of money. A smallish bag of beans in a supermarket will cost at least £1, won't be very fresh and will probably only be enough for 3 people maximum for 1 meal. On the other hand, bean plants are easy to grow, take up very little room, have beautiful flowers and yield so many beans it's untrue! Last year I even made runner bean chutney with the excess ones we had"
Andi on Friday 7 June 2013
"Couldn't agree more Andi. It's remarkable how much beans cost in the supermarket versus how easy they are to grow. Good luck with this year's bean crop."
Benedict Vanheems on Friday 7 June 2013
"I live in West Yorshire, UK and have done a couple of sprouting broccoli plants each year for the past few years and they are absolutely wonderful. Have to say I've never had any luck with asparagus and would like more detail on the best way to grow this."
John on Friday 7 June 2013
"Andi, you can also let the beans dry naturally on the plants and store them for later use."
John on Friday 7 June 2013
"John, there's a grow guide for asparagus here: http://www.growveg.com/growguideplant.aspx?id=58 The main trick is that the soil must be free-draining. Asparagus works well in dedicated raised beds for this reason."
Benedict Vanheems on Friday 7 June 2013
"I planted 15 asparagus last october in specially prepared raised bed and only three have come up so maybe another bad year? Everything else seems to be very late too."
John Summers on Friday 7 June 2013
"John, I also dry beans for winter use in soups, stews etc. I also use the saved beans for the next year's plants - free beans the following year! "
Andi on Saturday 8 June 2013
"most plants didn't do very well last year, but we didn't need to buy any runner, french, dwarf or broad beans at all - our bed of legumes were so productive we were also able to give away loads to friends and had we bought even half that many beans from the supermarket they would have cost a fortune. needless to say we have lots of beans planted this year!"
Maz on Saturday 8 June 2013
"I followed the link from the newsletter with interest but you don't actually list what is most valuable. Disappointing article. Phrases like "for me" make it sound subjective not objective, and I can't believe the number 1 item you list, squash. They take a lot of room, a whole year and are not expensive. Lets see a proper list please with value per square foot. "
Mark on Saturday 8 June 2013
"But surely it is subjective Mark - what is valuable to one person is not to another. For instance, I'm not that keen on asparagus, although it is expensive to buy in shops I wouldn't consider it as it's of no value to me. I would also think it difficult to give a precise list with value per sq foot as there are lots of variables, ie price of seeds, is compost freely available and of course varying prices in shops/markets. But of course, that's just may take on it"
Andi on Saturday 8 June 2013
"I understand what Andi is saying. I think he had hoped for a list of veggies that would be most profitable to grow? I did have a list provided to me at one time by a master gardener who I am friends with that did list value per acre. Unfortunatley I've misplaced it so I can't list them here. I also never found a real use for it. That list was based on having the right conditions to grow the veggies. Proper soil, PH, irrigation etc. so a good crop for my conditions would be a bad one for someone else... thereby making even a well researched list often necessarily relevant. I personally think wintere squash is a waste of space in a small garden. They are cheap to buy and besides how many squash can a person really eat? I do however grow them as I have lots of space and enjoy seeing them grow. Only eat one or two myself and give lots away. Potatoes too fall into this category as I can buy them at times 10 pounds for a dollar. I still value and grow them as I believe mine are more nutricious grown organically. My wife and I love fresh beans and the store bought ones taste like shoe leather therefore we place a high value in our garden plans on bean production. My home grown hardneck garlic is worth about $1-$2 a bulb but I can buy 6 garlic bulbs grown in China for about the same price. Lots of folks buy the Chinese garlic because to them it seems like the best buy. If they could afford good quality hardneck garlic or even realized the quality difference they may make a different purchasing decision. The point I am comming to is... the nature of growing and consuming is subjective. There is no difinitive answer only individual situations and opinons. "
Bill Astell, Ontario, Canada on Monday 10 June 2013
"Thank you for the article. It is always good to hear how others put their gardens to good use, and to pick up some good hints and tips for my own. Last year we had an abundance of string and runner beans and I just threw the string beans into freezer bags and sliced the runner beans and did the same and froze them raw straight out of the garden. We had beans for several months through the winter and they tasted so much better than anything we would have bought in the grocery store. Whole tomatoes and sliced onions can also be frozen whole straight out of the garden for use in stews and sauces. Just proof that you don't need to have pickling skills, or lots of extra prep time, to eat the veg from your garden through the winter. I have never tried growing asparagus before but love the tender baby ones reserved as a treat due to how expensive they are to buy. I think you just may have tempted me into having a go at growing some this year!"
Mel on Monday 10 June 2013
"Yes Bill and Andi, there are many factors. Climate, my preferences, shading, soil, how much effort it takes, local prices, etc. But I have that info! I still think it would be useful to review what I'm growing against value. Perhaps even the weight of produce expected per square foot would be useful. I've searched for this and can't find it. Closest I've found is http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Square-Foot-Gardening-Food.aspx#axzz2VpbDqxoE and http://www.harvesttotable.com/2011/06/vegetable_crop_yields_plants_p/. If anyone knows anything better, please share the link."
Mark on Monday 10 June 2013

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