Growing your own food can be calming, give you some exercise and fresh food, be good for the planet and supportive of your local food economy, but did you realize that it could also save you some cash?
I am not saying it is cheap or easy to farm out. Producing a serious harvest takes skill, time, and a good deal of resources. You need to think about what you can realistically commit to, which priorities to shift, and what kind of space you have. Do you just have a patio that gets some morning or afternoon sun? Do you have a giant lawn that you are already devoting a ton of resources to maintaining? Think about how you can take advantage of time you are already spending on maintaining your property or how you can bring some life to your little apartment.
To save money and make the best use of your time, I have recommended some of the easiest crops to grow that give you the biggest harvest for your buck. I have also included some strategies to save you money and time when you are gardening in general.
Herbs can get ridiculously expensive for how easy they are to produce. You can grab many herbs from any nursery, grocery store, or road stand that sells potted sprouts. If you can, try to go with perennial versions of these herbs. Rosemary, oregano, mint, thyme, sage, and sometimes basil, if you protect it from frost, come back readily year after year and can get bigger each time. Just add some coffee grounds or simple fertilizer each spring. Each year you will have plentiful herbs for many recipes and PESTO. Did I mention PESTO? Whether you go with buying the seeds or the potted sprouts, this is an easy investment to recoup in a matter of weeks.
Some greens are perennial as well. Kale and dark greens will come back often season after season. If you buy any greens from seed, you will recoup your investment one-hundred fold. Let’s take kale for example. You can buy a pack of one-hundred seeds for two dollars. That equals one-hundred bunches of kale valued at two dollars each. This does not even count them coming back again in the spring or the multiple times you can harvest a bunch of any greens before it gets too bitter. Just cut the full head of greens down to a few inches tall. It will grow back, trust me.
Growing giant heirloom tomatoes is a resource and knowledge intensive venture, especially if you are growing them naturally without chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. A moderately fertilized bed (with some compost, coffee grounds, worm castings or manure) will produce big ol’ bushes of cherry tomatoes that produce pint after pint for a mere two dollars a seed packet or a few dollars for potted sprouts.
A fruit tree is a larger investment both in terms of money and waiting time. You can usually buy a one or two-year-old, locally-adapted fruit tree from a nursery for twenty to forty dollars. Make sure to grab a bag of organic fertilizer such as manure and some compost each spring.
Fruit trees start producing a good harvest when they are three to five-years-old. If you are sitting on some property plant a fruit tree. It will produce a ton of goodies that you can share with your neighbors to inspire them to plant their own. Yay, you just started your very own fruit cult! I mean fruit tree enthusiast neighborhood organization. We are talking about thousands of dollars of fruit here.
Pro Tips for Saving Time and Money
Used coffee grounds are an amazing source of nitrogen and since caffeine is a natural insecticide, using the grounds as a fertilizer can keep away pests too. Try going to a local coffee shop or café and ask if you can leave a bucket there to save their grounds from the dumpster.
Buy seeds whenever possible and invest in a good setup for germinating healthy sprouts to pot. You will have a much higher success rate and can sell the remainder of your sprouts if you wish.
Don’t buy compost, create it simply IN your beds. Just plant your food and yard scraps as well as extras like egg shells for calcium in a bed that you will be planting during the next season. In a few months it will be ready to feed your plants. Check out a great guide here that also features links to other home composting methods.
Image source: Salvadonica Borgo/Flickr