Growing all—or even a portion—of your own vegetables and herbs at home pays you back in freshness and convenience. You’ll save money by eating what you grow and making fewer trips to the grocery store. In addition, you make a small contribution to overall energy savings in reduced fuel consumption and transportation costs of market items. And, a home garden lets you control what pesticides, if any, you will use.
If space is limited, containers are an ideal way to start veggie and herb gardening. All you need is sun and a source of water. From a small apartment balcony to the deck of a retirement-community home, containers can be productive, fun, and easy. Combining vegetables and herbs in containers gives you an attractive planting as well as a nice variety of edibles. An easy combination is a leafy plant such as Swiss chard or lettuce with rosemary, or a tomato with a basil plant in a 20-inch or larger container.
Try These for Maximum Savings
And if your goal is to grow vegetables and herbs to save money on groceries, check the veggies and herbs listed below that rank at the top for savings. Remember that many times your vegetables are coming in at the same time that local farms are producing, which tends to lower market prices at the peak of season. You can save money by freezing or canning your harvest for later use and buying local produce at in-season prices.
Tomatoes. This is the most popular home-garden vegetable in America. We have a picture in our office of a Bonnie Original Tomato that easily yielded 50 pounds of tomatoes. The average homeowner can expect to pick 10 to 30 pounds of medium-size slicing tomatoes from most varieties, depending on the length of the growing season. Most people will plant and enjoy the first tomatoes, but may not fertilize again or spray for diseases to keep plants going longer. Gardeners with a long growing season would do well to include some disease-resistant indeterminate (vining) varieties in the mix, because they bear all summer and continue until frost if given a little midsummer care.
Big Beef is a popular indeterminate tomato that performs well in many parts of the country and makes a big slice. Grape tomatoes such as Bonnie’s Juliet and cherry tomatoes such as Sweet 100 are pricey at the grocery store but in the garden they are very prolific. A 1-pound box of organically grown grape tomatoes contains 30 to 40 tomatoes. At $3.69 a pound, that is 9 to 12 cents per tomato. All of a sudden a cluster of grape tomatoes in your garden starts looking like “money growing on trees,” only it’s tomato plants.
Currently there is a lot of publicity about heirlooms because many of them have unbeatable old-fashioned tomato flavor. A popular Bonnie heirloom variety is Brandywine. Keep in mind that there can be a trade-off, because some heirlooms also have old-fashioned fruiting habits, which tend to be skimpy compared to hybrids. If pure volume is your goal, hybrids are probably the best bet.
Whatever your tomato preference, you’ll find a good cross-section of hybrid and heirloom varieties of Bonnie tomatoes.
Yellow squash and zucchini. Although squash plants don’t produce as long as tomatoes, they are very productive when it’s time, and you have to pick every day. This is one of those vegetables that is expensive to buy out of season, so it pays to freeze. Generally, yellow squash freezes better than zucchini, but both should be cooked prior to freezing. You can also use your extra zucchini (an almost guaranteed phenomenon) to make zuchinni bread to store in the freezer for later use or last-minute delivery to someone in need.
Lettuce. Leaf lettuce (as opposed to head lettuce) just keeps on bearing leaves as long as the weather is mild in spring or fall. This is a great savings for people who eat a lot of salad. The number of pounds produced will vary depending on the length of the growing season. Per pound, Romaine is the highest-yielding type of leaf lettuce. If you pick their large outer leaves, a couple of leaf lettuce plants will produce enough to make a salad for a family of 4. Leaf lettuce grows fast, and so in a week or 2 the same plant will be ready to harvest again. A row of 10 plants will keep your family in salad just about every other night for as long as the growing season lasts. Many gardeners have found ways to extend their lettuce harvest far into winter under the cover of a cold frame or fabric row cover. The same is true for other greens such as mustard, kale, and collards. These are highly nutritious, too.
Cucumbers. Grown on a cage or trellis, a single cucumber plant will produce 5 to 10 cucumbers. Most of the time you can get 2 or 3 plants on a cage that measures about 18 inches in diameter and 4 feet high. So that rewards you with 15 to 30 cucumbers from a slice of ground no bigger than an end table.
Specialty peppers. Poblano, jalapeño, serrano, Cubanelle, chili peppers, red bells, orange bells, and other specialty peppers are the ones that command top dollar in the grocery store, but they are also easy to grow. The hot peppers are especially high-yielding and productive in areas with a long, hot summer. Last year one of our staff harvested more than 40 poblano peppers from a single plant! Hot peppers such as Tabasco are also nice because you can use the peppers to make gifts of hot pepper vinegar or sauce to give at Christmas—an indirect way to use the garden to save money and add a personal touch to your gifts.
Herbs. Fresh herbs are very expensive to purchase at the grocery or market, yet economical to grow at home. With the exception of basil, one plant of each of the following is enough for most family cooks’ seasonings. Sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, chives, and basil are very easy and fun to grow in containers, a raised bed, or in the ground. Basil is particularly economical if you like pesto because making it from your own basil is a lot cheaper than buying the little jars at the grocery store. Making pesto takes lots of leaves, so grow at least 6 plants. There are several varieties of basil. Good choices from Bonnie are Sweet, Cinnamon, Thai, and Lemon, each with a unique taste.
Four No-Brainer Techniques for High Yield
Trellising. Any time that you can grow a vegetable on a trellis, it increases your yield per square foot. Plants that trellis well include cucumber, cantaloupe, tomato, and sweet peas.
Wide rows. Growing small, leafy plants such as leaf lettuce, spinach, and arugula 3 or 4 rows abreast (without walking aisles in between) gives you more food per square foot.
Raised Beds. Raised beds organize the garden, letting you concentrate on the most productive items. Because a raised bed allows you to use near-perfect soil, your plants will be their most productive, too. Raised beds can be easy to build, nicely incorporated into the landscape, and certainly lots of fun to harvest and show to your friends. See our section on raised beds in Gardening.
Start with transplants. Transplants buy you lots of time. Plants are several weeks old when you put them into the ground, giving you a head start to harvest time for most plants compared to starting from seed.