If “April showers brings May flowers”, those showers also bring cabin fever to my house. Since the wintry nights in January, I’ve been dreaming of going outside to work in the garden and start growing produce again for my family. I’ve been longing to see corn tassels in my garden boxes, and bees swarming around the blossoms on the apple trees.
This will be the third summer we’ve been able to produce food on our suburban lot. We live in a community with lots of tall pines and oaks and dense shrubs. Most people in our neighborhood plant roses, rhodies, and other flower-bearing trees. But a few years ago, we ripped most of that out of our yard and went entirely edible. Based on that experience and having had two successful summers with growing my own produce, here’s my top five things I think every family should consider growing to save money.
The five things on my list can be grown relatively easy in most climate zone, and can all be done in containers for those living in apartments or have limited yard space.
Blueberries – Yes, you can container blueberries. A nice 5-gallon container berry bush can be had for $13. IF you keep the soil acidic and move it to a bigger container, and even in an apartment, it can be trained to make a nice broad hedge. Blueberries in the grocery store sell for $5 a pound on average, and one full tree at maturity can yield around 18 pounds – that’s nearly $100 savings year over year per plant. Plus, berries freeze well and are high in vitamins and antioxidants.
Sugar Peas – a $1 packet of seeds can keep you in sugar peas all summer. Peas thrive when you trellis or string them up, so they don’t need a lot of space since they grow vertically. It’s perfect for small area gardening. Sugar peas are usually $3.99 a pound at the store, so $1 in seeds can save you $50 or more over the course of the summer. For those in an apartment, try letting them train up and over deck rails..
Lettuce - If your family loves salads, lettuce is so easy to grow. The growing season can be very long, so planting lettuce could save you hundreds over buying bagged salad every night. Lettuce comes in a wide array of varieties, so plant lettuce that’s going to give you good nutritional value over the iceberg type that is commonly found in bagged lettuce mixes. If you get your lettuce in the ground now, you’ll have a harvest before Memorial Day. And, lettuce is a cool-weather crop, so if you take care with your plants, and plant new seedlings every few weeks, you can have lettuce well into the fall. The average cost of a bagged lettuce is $2 for 12 ounces. Between May through October, the savings for a family of four eating salad four nights a week is $200..
Green Beans – Like the snow peas, these can be done in the ground or in containers. The can also grow vertically up and over deck rails, so even in a small space, if you don’t mind giving up your rails to growing food, you can get an amazing amount of green beans that can either be frozen or canned. Growing your own beans lets have enough so you can pull them out all winter long. The beans grow as fast as you can pick them. If you remember to enrich the soil midway through the growing season, you can keep growing green beans well into the fall. The easy pace lets you process in small batches for winter dinners. If I had bought all the green beans I grew last year, I would have spent close to $125..
Basil - a few ounces of basil can run you $3.99 in the store. But a single packet of basil seeds can keep you in pesto for the entire winter. A simple trick to storing basil is to mix it into your own paste with olive oil and freeze it for later use. Making my own basil paste saves me a few hundred dollars over retail a year (which honestly, I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on basil in the store, so we’d go without). Of all the herbs I use, basil has the highest return on investment over any other herb we plant. You can harvest it all summer long. Quick tip – freeze basil paste or pesto in ice-cube trays and then transfer to a zip-seal bag when it’s frozen. Then you can easily pull out what you need for dinner..
There are many reasons to garden, and certainly, the variety of what you can grow is eye-popping. But if you have to make some choices due to time or space constraints, or if you’re just getting started as a gardener, the items on this list return a lot of value and can shave hundreds off your grocery bill.
What are you waiting for? Get planting!
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