I asked Brandy Simper to write a guest post for Frugal Confessions. Brandy gardens in the hot desert of Las Vegas, where it rains 2 inches a year. Despite temperatures of over 90º for 6 months of the year, and summer temperatures of 116º and higher, she is able to harvest food year-round. She gives free teaching tours of her garden, and still has room for a few more people to attend her next tour on October 9th. See how she’s feeding her family from her garden and pantry at her website, The Prudent Homemaker.
Is it worth it to grow food in your own backyard? I think so!
One of the financial advantages of growing your own food is the chance to grow foods that might normally be out of your price range at the grocery store. Last year, we harvested 100 artichokes. Artichokes usually go on sale for $1.50 each in season. This year, we harvested lots of asparagus, and next year should be even better. We grow Asian pears, Mission figs, fresh herbs, pomegranates, and Meyer lemons, all of which are costly at the grocery store, but not expensive when grown at home. While it may take a few years to break even from the initial costs of a garden, there are many ways to keep the expenses of your garden down.
I don’t have a traditional row garden on my .24 acre lot. I have an edible landscape. This means if it grows in my yard, it’s edible (I do have a few exceptions, but most of my flowers are also edible as well). In my backyard, I have 33 fruit trees. Half of these trees are espaliered along the wall, helping me to make use of every inch of space. On my other walls, I grow grapes. My garden grows all around the edges on our backyard. The center of my yard is grass, for beauty as well as to provide a place for my children to play.
I strive to grow as much as possible in the space that I have. I grow things up whenever possible, and I use French-intensive planting methods throughout my garden.
How do you get the most food for your buck? While not everything you plant will give a high yield, some things in the garden really pay for themselves over the long run, and can beautify your yard at the same time.
Some of the most cost-effective vegetables that I grow:
Lettuce: A head of red leaf or green leaf lettuce runs $1.49. A packet of lettuce costs about the same, but it can yield 50-100 (or more) heads of lettuce. Lettuce makes a beautiful border in the garden as well.
Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is sold in small bunches at the grocery store. It steams down to almost nothing in size. Seeds are inexpensive and, like loose leaf lettuce, it is a cut and come again vegetable (you can harvest the outer leaves and it will continue to produce for you).
Green Onions: Like lettuce and Swiss chard, you can harvest the outer leaves of your green onions. Instead of pulling the whole plant up, just snip the sides. The onions will continue to produce more shoots for you. When the season has ended, your green onions will go to seed, providing you with enough seeds for yourself and all of your neighbors. I allow my green onions to self-sow their seeds. Right now I have plenty of green onion seedlings to share with friends, just in time for fall planting.
Zucchini: Most people grow more zucchini than they can give away. While I have never had such luck (I cherish each zucchini we are able to grow), I still make more than my money’s worth on zucchini seeds. You’ll break even with the cost of seeds after you’ve harvested the first 2 zucchini.
Butternut Squash: At .79 cents or more per pound (in season), the cost of one large squash can easily be $2.37 at the grocery store. Since I feed my family of 8 for $5 or less per meal (recently we have been feeding our family for $2 or less per meal), I don’t want a side dish to be the main cost of the meal. Butternut squash also has the advantage of storing long-term in a cool place.
Some other cost-effective vegetables in my garden are sugar-snap peas, radishes, cucumbers, turnips, artichokes and asparagus.
Fresh herbs are an easy way to save in the garden. A small bundle of fresh herbs runs $2 or more at the grocery store. Even if you start from plants instead of seeds, you’ll quickly recoup the money that you spent, several times over, during the summer. Many herbs are perennials and will last many years in your garden.
Fruit trees are often overlooked in kitchen gardens. People envision raised beds or rows, and forget that one fruit tree can yield many pounds of fruit. In addition, you can grow many fruits at home that you may otherwise pay more for at the grocery store. Each year, as your tree grows in size, the amount of fruit that you grow increases, and the $20 you initially spent on your fruit tree is quickly absorbed by the amount of fruit that you are harvesting (and canning!)
Some of the more cost-effective fruits that I grow are Meyer lemons, Mission figs (these fruit twice a year, and this year my trees are starting to fruit a third time!), pomegranates, and Asian pears. I also grow peaches, pears, cherries, apples, tangerines, grapefruit, apricots, and plums.
Don’t forget to include fruit bushes and vines in your garden. In my garden, I grow grapes along the walls that surround my yard. We harvest lots of grapes for fresh eating, as well as enough to can for juice. On the side of my house, in a foot-wide planter, I grow blackberries. Seek to make the most of every inch in your yard, and your garden can be even more effective.
Growing a kitchen garden can be of even greater benefit to you financially. If your income is cut a little or even completely, you may find that your garden is your main (or only) source of fruits and vegetables. For my family, it has been just that for the last several years. I strive to always have something ripe in the garden to put on our table. We can eat from our pantry and garden, and I save money on gas, too!
All photos copyright Brandy Simper.