Fresh Garden Produce—on a Budget?

Featured Article, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition
on March 8, 2012

Anything you grow yourself in your garden would be cheaper than buying from your grocery store, right? Not necessarily so. Sure, a 75-cent packet of seeds that will theoretically yield a bushel of vegetables sounds like a no-lose proposition, but there are other considerations, says William Alexander [], author of The $64 Tomato and 52 Loaves: A Half-Baked Adventure. “Throw in seed-starting materials, fencing to keep out the local fauna, the spike in your water bill, new and replacement tools, gloves, mulch or other weed and/or insect barriers, fertilizer and compost, and by the time summer is over, you may wish you’d gone to your local supermarket instead,” he says. Plus, what are you going to do with 30 lbs. of zucchini that all ripens the same week?

Still, there is something special—not to mention healthier for you and the planet—about growing produce in your own garden. Alexander weighs in to help you make the best decisions for your garden, time, effort and budget:

What to grow in your garden
If you cultivate nothing else, grow heirloom tomatoes, such as Brandywine and Cherokee purple. “A Brandywine eaten fresh off the vine is better than any tomato you can buy at any price,” Alexander says. Other things that are easy to take care of in your garden and can even save you bundles are: basil (to accompany your heirloom tomatoes!) and other herbs, such as sage and thyme. Also, asparagus is well worth the effort because it is a perennial vegetable—plant it once, and it will yield for years—and it has a much more delicate taste than store-bought, Alexander notes. “I also grow a variety of leaf lettuces that you can’t normally find outside your garden,” Alexander says. Plus, a small flat of leek plants from your garden center will, for a few dollars, yield tons of fresh leeks right into winter, when you can enjoy leek-potato soup.

What not to grow in your garden
Don’t grow things in your garden that don’t taste a lot better than those that you can buy, such as onions, garlic and shallots, or types of produce that take more effort than they’re worth, like gourmet potatoes. “For a few years, I grew gourmet potato varieties, such as Peruvian Purple and Russian Banana fingerling, until my local farm stand started carrying them. Let them deal with the potato beetles and blight!” says Alexander, who also strongly recommends not growing mint unless it’s in a container or horseradish, as both are invasive and will take over your garden.

Food for thought
There are many reasons to plant a garden. But don’t necessarily plant a garden to save money—do it because you want fresh, organic, healthy foods, and because you have a good reason to be outdoors and enjoy playing in the dirt. “You may in fact save money in the bargain, but consider any savings a bonus, like not having to pay tax on your lottery winnings,” Alexander says.