Just planting a few easy-to-grow edibles can lead to real savings on your grocery bill—if you plant wisely
It’s becoming clear that the cost of nearly everything is going nowhere but up. Inflation has been with us for about a year but now that sanctions on Russia are shifting energy costs, people who are a lot smarter than me about economics assure us that virtually everything will become more expensive.
If you’re looking for ways to keep your food bill from spiraling out of control, take a look outside. Your garden can be your gateway to savings, especially if you use the following techniques to maximize your harvests.
And if you don’t have a garden? All of the following methods can work in containers on a balcony, porch, or patio. Some can even work indoors on a sunny windowsill.
Start with Seeds
Of course, you can always go to a local nursery and buy a six-pack or 4-inch pot of veggie seedlings, but for real savings start with seeds. A packet of seeds from a reputable seed company generally runs between $2.50 and $4.00. You’ll get far more plants from one pack of seeds, and you can do repeat sowings staggered over the season to keep your harvests coming. You also get a much better selection of plant varieties when you grow from seed, including rare heirlooms and disease-resistant hybrids. Want to save even more money? Check with your local library or county master gardeners to see if there’s a seed exchange or seed library where you can pick up seeds for free or super cheap.
I like to call plants like beets, radishes, turnips, and carrots “twofers” because you really get two crops for the price of one. You can snip off the edible outer leaves of the greens to use in salads and sautés while the root continues to grow and then eventually harvest the mature root. Unlike greens, which can grow in partial sun or even light shade, root crops need full sun to develop to maturity, but if you don’t have a sunny spot, you can still grow the roots to harvest at the tender baby stage.
You’ll often see instructions on seed packets to thin the seedlings when they reach a certain height so the plants will have enough room to fully develop. What the instructions may not mention is that the thinnings from all kinds of greens and many root plants are perfectly edible and delicious and a great addition to salads and soups. (Note: Be aware that the green parts of plants from the Solanaceae family, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, are poisonous and should never be eaten at any stage.)
Cut and Come Again
Harvest crops using the “cut and come again method.” This applies to almost all greens—lettuces, spinach, chard, bok choy, even beet greens. The trick is to use scissors to snip off outer leaves or baby greens while still keeping some leaves and the roots intact to regrow. You’ll get multiple harvests from the same plants throughout a longer season.
Don’t Forget Herbs
Buying fresh herbs at the grocery store can really put a bite in your food budget, so be sure to plant a few pots of the herbs you are likely to use often. Basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, chervil, and summer savory are easy-to-grow annuals, meaning that are harvested in the same season they’re planted. On the other hand, perennial herbs like rosemary, tarragon, oregano, sage, chives, and mint will reward you with flavorful clippings year after year. Either way, herbs are a worthwhile investment.
Last but not least (although definitely tiniest), microgreens are an easy growing option that you can do without even going outside. Microgreens are super nutritious, can be grown in small flat containers (plastic takeout containers are a great option) on a windowsill, and are ready to use in 2–3 weeks in soups, salads, sandwiches, and lots more. The typical size seed pack won’t be cost-efficient, so look for sources where you can buy seeds in larger quantities—Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Kitazawa Seed Company are two reputable options but there are others as well.