Growing vegetables is a great way to save money by providing much of your own food, with just a little work. It’s an integral part of my frugal living program.
The average American family spends about 15% of their disposable income on food. Less if you’re single and more if you have a large family with 3 or more children.
Fifteen percent is a big chunk of what you take home. How would you like to knock that back to 10%, 5% or maybe even zero?
With the price of fuel driving up the price of everything, we are seeing much higher prices in the grocery store, especially for vegetables. You should know that fuel and food prices go hand in hand.
I noticed the spike in food prices shortly after hurricane Katrina, when the price of gas went from about $1.69 to about $2.25 a gallon.
Why is that?
Fuel is used for growing vegetables and providing other food products. It is used to plant, care for, harvest, transport, process and ship food.
Higher costs for food producers and transportation companies are passed on to consumers. The consumer is the person on the end of the whip while the marketplace plays “crack the whip”.
Back in the economic woes of WWII, we were growing vegetables in our Victory Gardens to help the war efforts. We are at war again, but this is more of an economic war, and consumers are once again the casualties.
That doesn’t have to be the case if you choose to act in your best interest by growing vegetables for you and your family.
In light of the high price of produce, growing vegetables of your own makes perfect sense today.
Prices will vary according to where you shop, but I’m seeing bell peppers for $1 each, cucumbers for $2 a piece, collards at $4 a handful, kale at $3 a handful, and green cabbage at about $1 a pound. Sweet corn is selling for about 50 cents an ear, and that’s enough to make anyone want to go on a serious diet.
Instead of complaining or worrying, let’s turn our energy toward doing something about the high cost of groceries. Let’s start growing vegetables to reduce our monthly food bill.
Even if you have just a small yard, you can grow plenty of vegetables to feed yourself, and it matters little where you live.
Growing vegetables in your garden gives you quality produce that is better, fresher and cheaper than any grocery store can offer. Better yet, you just step outside to harvest.
Growing vegetables is enjoyable, and work can be minimized if you know how to do it.
A vegetable garden is a joy because:
- You get to see the birth of something new if you’re starting vegetables from seed.
- It’s fun to watch something grow and mature and bear fruit.
- A garden is a contribution to your self-sufficiency, even in the winter if you grow winter vegetables with a little protection from the elements.
- You avoid the high price of produce at the grocery store.
- The variety of vegetables is astounding, and soon you’ll have a list of what you believe are the best vegetables.
- It can be easy and inexpensive.
- Use a drip system to water.
- Stop weeds with fabric mulch.
- Size the garden to match your interests, time and enthusiasm.
- Grow plants in containers instead of beds.
Growing vegetables is a prime example of marketplace alternatives that can be created when the marketplace isn’t providing you with what you want, when you want it, and at a price you choose to afford.
If you’re interested in learning about some of my favorites, then take a look at greens like Swiss chard, lettuce varieties like Valmaine, Crisp Mint, Italienischer, Pirat and Little Gem. For tomatoes, I recommend Super Sweet 100, Juliette and Green Sausage. If you’re in the market for squash, I think Butterstick can’t be beat.
Adventure and Education
Growing vegetables is also educational. You get to see something miraculous from start to finish. Shane Smith, director of the Botanical Gardens here in Cheyenne tells a story about kids looking at carrot tops.
The children were asked if they knew what the vegetable was. None of the kids knew.
A carrot was pulled out of the ground to the amazement of the children. None of them knew that carrots grow underground.
They only knew that you get them in the grocery store.
That’s a shame, but it isn’t far from the knowledge base of many people.
To the left is a young Bell Pepper plant with peppers just starting to develop.
They are about the size of a dime, and they will grow to about the size of your fist before they are ready to eat.
These are cream colored peppers that have a mild flavor with all the crisp juicy texture you expect from a Bell Pepper.
Watching them grow is fascinating, no matter how old you are, and no matter how many times you have seen it.
Growing vegetables from seed is one way to enjoy a renewal of life each year. It is one of the miracles of life that each of us can enjoy on a first-hand basis.
You will be amazed at the food you can grow for yourself with just these basics:
Oh, and there’s a little work on your part. The more work, the bigger the payoff.
During the summer in most of the country, we have 4 out of 5 basics occurring naturally, so we just add seeds and some effort, and we’ll be successful growing vegetables for our table.
Challenges and Choices
If we can grow vegetables here in Wyoming, then it can be done almost anywhere.
Even with our short summers, high winds and dry climate, last year the garden produced a tremendous amount of food that kept us in vegetables for months. We froze some and dried some, and that supplemented us over the winter.
There are traditional outdoor gardens that cost almost nothing except some labor and a little space in your yard. There are greenhouse gardens that have the expense of an enclosure, but allow you to harvest all year long.
You can use chemicals to fertilizers and control weeds and bugs, but I prefer organic methods. They are easier and make more sense for the garden and the gardener.
If you choose organic methods, your vegetables will be free of toxins and other unnatural and undesirable additives that are often present in produce in the store. You’ll know what went into the food you grew, and you won’t need a government certification for that peace of mind.
I’ll also be offering you vegetable gardening tips based on my experience in both an open garden and one inside a greenhouse. Growing vegetables is easy if you know how, and my vegetable gardening tips will help you avoid trouble and get off to a good start.
As part of my vegetable gardening tips, I’ll also recommend books and other resources that I have found to be informative and useful.
We are going for self-sufficiency in vegetables. I have stocked up on food dehydrators and canning supplies. We will process food as we get it throughout the summer and fall seasons of growing and harvesting.
My intention is to kiss grocery store prices good-bye in the area of vegetables. Why not? If you don’t like the marketplace, then find or create an alternative. That is just what I am doing.
Think of the benefits of growing vegetables:
- Save money to the tune of hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year.
- Organic vegetables for good health.
- Thousands of varieties to enjoy that can’t be found in the store.
- A hobby that is fun, costs very little, and provides food for the table.
- An opportunity to sell quality organic produce to others.
- You keep yourself fed.
- No salmonella on your tomatoes, and no E. Coli on your spinach.
I got a big kick out of growing Swiss Chard last year. It is a moderately tall leafy vegetable that grows on short stalks.
It is eaten as a green, like spinach, collards, or mustard. It grows well in a wide range of conditions.
Swiss Chard is a “cut and regenerate” type plant that can be harvested over a long season by removing stalks from outside of the core of the plant.
It continues to grow in the center by producing more stalks of leafy greens. There is no end to it until a hard frost very late in the season.
The thrill for me was the idea that I had a nice bed of Swiss Chard, about 2 foot by 3 foot, that was doing its level best to feed me all season long. I enjoy greens, and this was a kick in the pants.
I kept it watered, and it kept me fed.
This hardy plant gave me an armload of greens every few days that cooked down to a healthy portion in the pan with onions, garlic and minced bacon. Sprinkle on a little apple cider vinegar, and you have steamed greens heaven. What a delicious way to save money.
When you start growing vegetables, you’ll find that there is an almost endless variety – more than you ever thought possible. I know the phrase “endless” sounds so cliche, but it is true. This year we are growing 138 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits in our gardens.
We have 17 varieties of tomatoes alone. Cherry tomatoes, big sandwich tomatoes, smaller salad tomatoes, long green sausage tomatoes, and tomatoes for canning, tomatoes for paste, and grape tomatoes for just munching right off the vine.
If you tried 10 different varieties of tomatoes each year, you couldn’t try them all in your lifetime even if you lived to be 200 years old.
Did you know that tomatoes come in black, green, white and stripes? Did you know that some tomatoes are shaped like hearts and some are shaped like pears?
To the right are Juliet grape type tomatoes.
They are great in salads and snacking. They are prolific producers of tasty tomatoes that fall off in your hand when they are ready to pick.
If you look at the catalog from Seed Savers Exchange, you’ll find some interesting information about the variety of vegetables that are available for you to plant and grow.
Members of the Seed Savers Exchange can make available:
- More than 1,400 varieties of beans
- Roughly 30 kinds of beets
- Over 60 types of carrots
- A couple hundred varieties of corn
- Cucumbers in 136 varieties
- Nearly 100 types of eggplant
- About 275 different lettuces
- Almost 150 types of melons
Oh, I almost forgot about tomatoes. Yes, there is plenty of variety when it comes to tomatoes. If you are interested in trying all the varieties available through Seed Savers Exchange, then you are in for quite a challenge.
They boast 4,228 varieties of tomatoes available through their members. That’s over four thousand combinations of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors.
In addition to growing vegetables, there are many fruits to choose from that you can grow on a bush, tree or vine. Melons are the most prevalent.
- Casaba melons
- Asian melons
Some are long and skinny and others are round, while others are oblong. Many grow on vines that can be trellised or allowed to meander along the ground.
Imagine white flesh, lime green flesh, orange flesh, yellow flesh and red flesh. Think about the sweet taste and enticing aroma of your own fresh melon. There isn’t anything that reminds me of being a kid in the summer like the taste and smell of a good watermelon.
At $5 a piece for a small seedless watermelon, you can most certainly save money growing your own.
Have you tried a ground cherry?
They are small bushes that grow husked fruit that look like miniature Chinese Lanterns.
When the husks fall to the ground, you retrieve them and inside are small round cherry-like fruit.
Ones I have tried taste very much like pineapple. What a great treat.
To augment your garden, you could have raspberries, apples, strawberries, peaches, grapes, paw paws, persimmons, and any number of fruits that grow on vines, bushes, and small trees.
The only limits are your space and the cold hardiness of the plants.
When I lived in California, I grew 21 dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees in my yard.
I had to fight the birds for the apples, but having your own figs, limes, lemons, plums, apricots, apples and peaches was worth the fight.
My peach tree needed to be thinned each year because it grew too much fruit. I could harvest 4 to 6 grocery bags of peaches each season, and it was only a small tree.
Don’t Forget Herbs
How better to enjoy your vegetables than with fresh herbs from the garden. We like Butterstick summer squash with thyme. Have you ever had scrambled eggs with fresh thyme? Once you do, you’ll always regret each time to have just plain old scrambled eggs.
We make pesto sauce with our fresh basil. Chives are used fresh in potato dishes, and dried for use throughout the year.
How about Stevia? Do you know what it is? It’s a bush that provides leaves that are used as a natural sweetener that even a diabetic can enjoy. The Japanese have been sweetening their soft drinks for many years using this natural zero calorie sweetener.
An herb garden is easy to launch and keep growing. It will provide a little fresh zest to your meal and drink preparations, and it costs much less than what you will find in the grocery store.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ed Smith has written a book called The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions. It is indispensable for people who are serious about growing vegetables. It is well written, fully illustrated with wonderfully clear pictures, and it is a pleasure to read. If you only have one book about growing vegetables, this would be the one to have.
My practice is to only recommend books that I have read. I’ve read Ed’s book, and it’s a winner. I highly recommend it to the beginner or experienced vegetable gardener. You can’t go wrong buying this book if you’re serious about growing vegetables. It is truly an indispensable resource.
Get Growing Vegetables!
Whether you’re trying to reduce household expenses, provide yourself with more variety, or take control over the quality of your food source, growing vegetables will help you in pursuit of your interests.
If you’re used to growing vegetables in the summer, then experiment a little with a late summer planting of kale, and see if you can keep it ready for harvest throughout the winter. Try you hand at row covers for an earlier start and a later finish. Here’s how to make a cloche for use in both spring and late fall.
Don’t let traditional gardening methods inhibit your adventure with growing vegetables. Try new varieties, try new methods, and try new seasons for your harvest. Be bold, be adventurous and be successful.
And, if your seedlings are attacked by mice, then simply make a never-ending mouse catcher. Learn about mouse traps for your garden or greenhouse.
Good fortune to you as you implement your plan for frugal living. May you have an abundance of fresh vegetables that offer the quantity, quality and variety you are looking for.