The Only Fruits and Veggies Worth Growing Yourself
Not everyone has a green thumb, and growing a garden can often be a tiring — and expensive — endeavor for anyone to tackle. While it can be easy to spend hundreds of dollars on seeds, plants, additives, and water, you can make gardening worth your investment by growing the fruits and veggies that cost the most in stores today.
Starting a plant as a seed (for veggies) or a sapling (for a fruit tree) is the best way to realize savings, although it takes longer for your harvest to come, and there is more risk. Seed packets usually run no more than $2 a packet, even for heirloom varieties. (Heirloom is original, non-hybrid, non-GMO seed stock.) With between 20 and 100 seeds per packet, if even a handful of the seeds grow into fruit-producing adult plants, you've earned much of your investment back. (See also: 25 Simple Recipes for 25 Delicious Veggies)
Most gardeners hope to go far beyond "breaking even," however. Considering that the recent California drought, rising gas prices, and overall food inflation will make fresh fruits and veggies even more expensive this year, it may be easier than ever to earn back what you spend on even the most modest garden.
Here are my favorites for reaping what you sow.
These delicious veggies are actually cousins to the thistle, and preparing them for eating is a process way more complicated than growing them. Since they are also one of the most expensive items to buy in the store, however, any success you have in growing them will be much appreciated! They can be started from seed, shoots, or the cuttings of other adult artichokes; they do well in most any climate, and can be replanted new each year in those areas that are too cold to survive the winters.
Production Tip: Many people aren't sure how to harvest them once their artichokes are ready; by cutting them before they get too big, you can ensure energy is devoted to creating more "fruits" than flowers.
The hated Brussels sprout has become a popular choice of chefs across the country, and more people are creating delicious dishes with the veggie in their own kitchens. By growing your own, however, you can choose — among other things — how big, how tender, and how flavorful your sprout becomes. You can also grow hundreds for the price of a pound of store-bought. Starting from seed can be difficult, which is why many sprout lovers get plants from their nursery. Hot summers can kill these plants, so it is recommended to grow them for a "fall garden" when the chance of high temps has passed for the year.
Production Tip: Looking for the best flavor in your Brussels sprouts? Experts suggest is it a good idea to harvest after the first mild frost each fall. The cold weather give them a delicious note that you just can't buy in the store!
You really have to have some bad luck to get nothing from a tomato plant. While veteran gardeners can take a packet of seeds and get a dozen or more healthy plants, you can expect to get amazing results from even one adult plant ready to transplant to your own garden. (See also: What to Do With 100 Tomatoes)
Tomatoes all offer varying degrees of yield, but the cherry or grape tomato plants seem to give and give and give. Varieties such as Romas are great for cooking and making sauce, and with more meaty pulp than water and seeds, you can expect to get gallons of sauce from just one plant. Hard-core canners with a dozen or more plants can put up hundreds of jars of sauce at the end of the season, giving you a great return on your initial investment.
Production Tip: If you have too many green tomatoes at the end of a season, with no chance to ripen before frost, consider any one of these delicious green tomato recipes!
This very productive plant is the butt of many garden jokes, and people go quickly from appreciating their bounty to wondering "what the heck can I do with all this zucchini?" Luckily, this makes it a sure-fire way to get a little back on the light maintenance zucchini plants require. Whether you eat them small, sliced thin for stir-fry, or let them grow large and bake with them, there is a zucchini recipe guaranteed to help you use up your surplus. Since zucchini actually start best as seeds planted directly in the garden, their cost to get started is minimal, too!
Production Tip: If you grow tired of eating them yourself, here are some unique ways to get rid of all that zucchini.
While not exactly something to make much of a meal out of, the humble mint plant is a fantastic addition to any garden and one that will literally take over if you aren't careful.
Mint comes in many varieties, including chocolate, pineapple, apple, and spearmint. Use it to make jellies, jams, teas, and salves. One small plant from your nursery usually runs no more than $4, and can quickly cover several square feet of raised bed within weeks of planting. (Plus, it comes back every year stronger than the previous year. You may find yourself digging much of it up to give away.)
Production Tip: Annoyed with how well your mint is doing? Consider pulling up all but a few plants each year and donating the surplus to the kitchen or garden of your favorite non-profit.
This salad must-have is nutritious and versatile. While it does best in cooler weather, once established, it can be kept in the shady part of a garden for almost the entire spring through fall time period. Cutting just the top leaves off when they are young can help keep the flavors mild and leaves tender, plus it will encourage growth. Started as seed, it's similar to lettuce or spinach, but is much more resistant to bugs, cold, and heat. Kale in the store can run $4 or more for a bag; having a single row in your garden can keep you in free salad for many months!
Production Tip: If you see your kale plants starting to get tough or "prickly," it's time to start anew. Sow new seeds in between older plants and pull up the old plants when the new ones are producing. Rotating fresher stock every few weeks ensures you will always have the most tender leaves possible!
Other Smart Choices
Depending on your soil and growing season, there are a few other plants that tend to do well in most climate zones; squash, peppers, and radishes all grow well most years and either cost very little to start (like the radishes) or produce many fruits per plant (like the peppers and squash).
As with any endeavor, it's best to plant no more than what you can reasonably maintain, care for, and harvest. Wasted produce does not count on the plus side of your ROI formula! It's also fun to factor in just how much you are earning back with your garden. Homegrown isn't just valued higher because it's fresh and free from strange growing and handling procedures. Food you grow yourself is tax-free, too! It takes far less effort to grow a tomato than to work to earn the money to buy that same tomato — after you pay income taxes, that is!
What fruits and vegetables in your garden have given you the best ROI? Please share in comments!