My husband grew up eating from his family’s large garden. Since we’ve been married, we have grown at least something every year, but most years we’ve had a full-blown garden. We plant all sorts of different vegetables and try new things each year.
We grow some vegetables because they’re fun. Take carrots, for example. My kids love digging up the carrots to discover all the fun shapes and sizes they grow in. Sometimes they’re huge, other times they have three legs. They’re not super cost effective, though, since each seed grows only one carrot and they aren’t the best use of space. Regular carrots in the store are typically around $.60 per pound, so they aren’t too expensive to buy.
Since our garden is a major supplement to our grocery budget, we make sure to plant veggies that are not just fun, but frugal. Here are a few of our favorite cost-effective vegetables to grow.
Tomatoes don’t take up much space since they grow up in a cage instead of with vines spreading out on the ground.
Tomatoes are very useful for storing and eating fresh. I love picking cherry tomatoes to put in sack lunches. Besides the tomatoes we each fresh, most of the others we can as tomato puree. Tomato puree is very versatile. We make our own tomato sauce for pizza, spaghetti, and other pasta dishes. We make homemade tomato soup and add tomato puree to beans and stews. At the end of the season, we harvest the green tomatoes and let them ripen indoors.
We start our tomatoes indoors from seed, which really keeps the cost down. Each packet of seeds will last for several years despite the “packaged for” date on the envelope.
Swiss chard is amazingly tolerant. It handles cold and heat well and grows nearly year-round in many climates.
Swiss chard is very nutritious and versatile. It can be boiled, cooked or eaten raw. The leaves get pretty large, but when it’s cut up, it can be used in salads along side other salad greens. You can also substitute chard for cabbage in cabbage recipes. Our family uses chard most often in green smoothies. I freeze chard to use in smoothies.
Chard is a prolific “volunteer”. If you let your chard go to seed, you probably won’t have to buy seeds again. In the spring we get many volunteer chard plants scattered throughout the garden. We have had great success at transplanting them to be where we want them to be, but sometimes we leave them where they are. You could also collect the seeds and plant them.
Zucchini has a reputation for being very prolific. Even one hill of zucchini can provide an impressive harvest. Even so, we usually plant several!
There are lots of ways to eat zucchini, so in the summer zucchini is a part of at least one of our meals on most days. From sweet treats like zucchini bread and zucchini brownies, to savory dishes like cheesy squash, stir fry and zucchini spaghetti, zucchini never gets old. We preserve zucchini by freezing or dehydrating shredded zucchini.
Zucchini is very easy to grow from seed. You can start them indoors or outdoors. An envelope of seeds will cost a dollar or two and will last for several years.
Everyone’s list of frugal veggies will be different since we all have different preferences. While carrots may be on the “fun” list for us, if you normally buy fancy organic carrots for $3 a pound, then growing your own may very well put carrots on the “frugal” list for you! If you hate tomatoes, then it doesn’t matter how space-effective or versatile they are.
How about you?
- What are your favorite cost-effective veggies to grow?
- What do you grow just for fun?
I love growing veggies and my kids too. Thank you for posting this article, It really helps me on how to save time. i assure you that i recommend your article to my friends.
Do you know of a guide that could help explain what to plant at what time? I would love to get started now, but it is almost august! Thank you!
The “extension center” at your local university should have all the details about what to grow when specifically in your area. They probably have a website, so go ahead and google it! 🙂
okay thank you!
Hi All, very interesting read – thanks. One of the things which I think is space/time efficient to grow are climbing French beans. They can be expensive to buy and are easy to freeze. I grew green and purple ones last year and my saved seeds are producing good looking plants (will be interesting to see what colour the beans come out). In my runner bean row (I’m in the UK and it’s the law to grow runner beans ;-)) I also try and grow some flat yellow stringless ones (Goldfield) too otherwise everyone gets fed up with runners. Totally agree about herbs – also neighbours will always enjoy/buy the excess basil as it’s so expensive . How annoying about the aphids Stephanie – maybe try and reduce ant population and increase ladybird?? Have a great veggie season everyone.
I’ve never tried climbing French beans! That’s great that your seeds from last year seem to be growing well! We saved seed from a few things we great last year and I’m excited to see how they turn out too! I had to look up “ladybird” because we just call them ladybugs here! 🙂 My kids know that they are good for the garden, so they get really excited when they find them!
Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says
You are right on the money (pun intended, ha!) with your picks for cost-effective veggies, Stephanie! I would add kale and broccoli to the list (in temperate climates) because spring-planted starts of these produce until frost for me! Kale is just hardy like chard, but if you plant a broccoli variety that produces prolific side shoots, 3-4 plants take care of our family’s broccoli needs for 4-5 months!
Thanks so much for sharing this at the Tuesday Garden Party!
Thanks Jami! 🙂 We grew kale for the first time last year and used it mostly in green smoothies. I grew well, but ours got aphids pretty bad, which made it really tedious to wash. Does yours get aphids? Amazingly, our chard has never had aphid problems at all. We’ve also had bugs in broccoli. We’ve got some broccoli planted this year, so hopefully the bugs stay away!
Liz H says
WE do tomatoes too although last years crop got wiped out and we ended up buying boxes of tomatoes to can at the farmers market. Still worth it because home made sauce all year is so GOOD! I have planted my herbs in buckets and my raised beds and love having “fresh” (frozen) basil all year to throw in food when I am cooking. Dried basil doesn’t taste like much and fresh is so expensive at the store. I also have some mint this year which I am planting in boxes as well as oregano, stevia, lavender (mostly to look at) and a couple of curry plants. There is nothing like running your hands over the plants and inhaling the wonderful fragrances!! We have great luck planting garlic in the fall. We are still using up last years garlic crop and probably wont’ be done with it before the next crop is pulled up! My husband is the master gardener and has planted peas, carrots, leeks and beets. Beets are best eaten fresh but store fairly well and then we can some. We are buying tomato plants this year because our grown from seed plants didn’t do well at all last year. We also got a late start on seed starting. As in, we never started any. Thankfully we have some inexpensive places to get good plants and the yield more than pays for it. The only problem is that we are so spoiled with fresh garden tomatoes that any store bought tomatoes pale in comparison. It saves money though because we just don’t buy any!
We have lots of garlic too! I need to start using more! When we’ve lived in other places, we’ve bought boxes of tomatoes (at an Amish produce auction) and canned them. It is definitely cheaper (and better) than buying them at the store.
Meadowsweet Cottage says
I grow some veggies because they just plain taste better. Fresh tender lettuce! Sun-warmed tomatoes! Crispy green beans! And it feels good to step outside and come back with home-grown ingredients–fresh and healthy.
Besides being frugal, there are lots of reasons to grow your own veggies for sure!
Spaghetti squash is the best! It is very prolific, it stores in our garage during the winter and is very easy to grow. Be prepared for long trailing vines…but it is really good if you have chickens- they don’t like the leaves or fruit and they have fun hiding in the giant leaves in the heat of summer! You can toss it with almost anything (tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, butter, brown sugar, other veggies and olive oil) and it is a great substitute for pasta!
We’ve had spaghetti squash in the past, but it’s been a while. Thanks for all the ideas on how to eat it Michele!
Connie at Bird and Seed says
Great post. I do think a lot about what’s worth taking up space in the garden and how much things cost in the store or farmer’s market when garden planning time comes around. I agree that herbs are a great option as they are often surprisingly expensive. (I always freeze batches of pesto because that really is pricey). Also, store bought herbs are often so wasteful- you only need a handful but cilantro always comes in a big pile!
It’s so true! So many expensive herbs go to waste when you buy them fresh at the store. Growing your own and freezing or drying them is the way to go!
I have to say those images of all those fresh veggies look really good to me. I haven’t grown my own veggies since I moved out of my parents home years ago. Now I live in an apartment and have to get creative if I want to plant/eat my own fresh veggies. I do have a lot of orchids though. At least I have some beauty in my home that are pleasing to my eyes.
It takes a little more creativity to grow your own veggies when you’re in an apartment, but it can be done. I’m glad you have orchids to enjoy though!
Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow says
I don’t have alot of space for veggies and think the same way…tomatoes first, as I can them, and then I try to decide what do I eat a lot of versus the cost in the store, etc.
Very nice post here! 🙂
Smart thinking! It’s especially important when space is limited!
Suburban Finance says
I like this post, very informative. As a beginner in growing my own vegetables, I sometimes wonder what kind of vegetables worth the hassle and actually help me to save money. I’m not a big fan of carrots so we don’t cook much of it most days, so I think I’ll skip it this time.
We still grow carrots, just not tons of them. Our garden has plenty of space, so space isn’t an issue and seeds are cheap. We use a lot of carrots, we just don’t try to grow all the carrots we need.
Shannon @ Of The Hearth says
This is good to think about. In planning our garden, I’ve just considered what we can grow, not what is wise for us to grow.
We’re growing tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, and cilantro.
Mmm cilantro! We haven’t started many herbs this year, but cilantro is a good one because we never eat the whole bunch from the store before it goes bad, but if you grow your own you can just pick it as needed!
What a great post! We’ve been trying different veggies over the years, and found that a good one for us was cucumber. The plant does get huge, but my kids love cucumbers, and they make great snacks or salads. I wish my girls would eat zucchini without it being hidden. Until they learn to appreciate it, it’s not going to be a part of our garden. We did have problems with rotting when we tried tomato plants (didn’t get a single tomato off of two plants). Do you have any recommendations for keeping the plant healthy?
We always grow cucumbers too! My husband loves them (though the kids and I are not big fans)! Have you tried lemon cucumbers? They don’t get bitter at all. They’re just shaped like a lemon.
That’s sad that your tomatoes aren’t working well. I am no expert. Maybe too much water? We have always had good luck with tomatoes in the three different states we’ve lived in, so I haven’t had to do much trouble-shooting. I would check with the extension center at the university close to you. I’m sure they have a website and tons of information pertinent to your area.
Hi Stephanie. I love growing–and eating–tomatoes, chard and zucchini too. One of my other favorites is beets. Beets are inexpensive at the store, and they’re plentiful at farmer’s markets too. But not so much with the golden ones. So I grow a big bunch of golden beets, and buy the red beets. What I like about beets is that every part of the plant is edible, leaf, stem and root. The leaves are yummy in salads, so I grow a small stand of Bull’s Blood beets and Red Ace beets for their leaves. I leave my large stand of golden beets alone through the growing season because the more you pick the leaves, the smaller the beet roots tend to be come harvest. And I want big beautiful golden beet roots. The stems of all beets can be a little tough. I tend to just chop them up and save them in a freezer bag to add to soups.
We grow beets too and use the greens in smoothies, but none of us really love the beets themselves. I’m glad that they work so well for you! It’s pretty cool that you can eat the whole thing!
A lot of this will depend on where you live.
In our drought-stricken area, where water rates and watering restrictions make growing veggies nearly impossible, I have ripped out most of my garden in favor of drought-tolerant herbs, edible flowers, and greens. Chard, amaranth, and sunflowers will grow without too much water and can take the heat. Herbs include parsley (in winter), sage, Greek and Mexican oregano, coriander (cilantro), sweet marjoram, bay laurel, thyme, and rosemary.
Some people here even cultivate native and adapted edible plants such as mesquite, prickly pear, wild mustang grapes, pomegranate, loquat and pecan trees that don’t require supplemental water.
Yes, location is a major factor in what will grow and what is cost-efficient to grow. It sounds like you’ve done lots of research and have good experience knowing what will grow in your area. Way to make the most of what will grow!
We have high hopes for our new veggie garden – so far we have tomato, carrot, onion, potato, spinach, some lettuce varieties and garlic. It’s our first year at our house so we’ll see how things go this year. Next year should be great. We’re also fortunate that we have some established fruit trees (apple, pear and peach) and grape vines.
Something else that we’re trying is the seed library (run by our city library). It’s just started this year in our city but many cities in North America have something like this – either at libraries or community gardens. Basically, you get to ‘check out’ seeds, grow your veggies and then, collect and save seeds from the plants to return. All free!
That’s really exciting to have some mature fruit trees and a brand new garden! How fun!
I’ve never heard of a seed library, but that sounds like a brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing!
Peppers (sweet and hot) are on my list of frugal garden items. Often sweet peppers are about a dollar each in my area!
I make (and gift) a lot of hot pepper jelly. The extra sweet peppers are chopped and either frozen or dehydrated.
That’s great Virginia! I am a wimp when it comes to peppers. My father-in-law always grows lots of them though! Making jelly is a great homemade gift!
Jayleen Zotti says
Love this post! I’m so excited to see how our garden does this year! We are growing tomatoes, zucchini and carrots too along with many other things. I have to say my absolute favorite last year was blue lake green beans. We’re hoping to be able to freeze a bunch this year as grocery store green beans just don’t measure up;0)
We always do green beans too (not sure on the variety though). Good luck with your garden Jayleen! Thanks for sharing!
A thought on zucchini (and yellow squash). In my area (Tennessee) the squash vine borer is a problem. this means your zucchini plant looks great and starts producing, then starts wilting and falls over. The borer has laid her eggs in the stalk where it comes out of the ground and that little worm takes all of the plant’s energy and eventually kills it. You may see some “skat” where the borer laid her egg or see the stalk begin to get brown and spongey. There are lots of remedies and insecticides, but my solution to this problem is to plant a variety called zucchino rampicante or trombochino squash. This variety is a prolific producer of funny (trombone) shaped zucchini which can be harvested young as a summer squash or left to turn tan and harden into a winter squash. You will only need one or two plants but they will take over your garden unless you grow them up a trellis. If grown on a trellis, the fruits will hang straight and you won’t get a crooked neck, but otherwise, it’s the same. Because this squash is actually a winter squash, it has a hard vine which isn’t susceptible to the vine borer. So your vine is safe from the predator and you can use some for typical zucchini recipes and save some as winter squash for storage and use later in winter squash type recipes.
Beth @ Goodness Gracious Livinf says
I started a garden a few years ago, but because of where I live, my growing season limits me to the summer and early fall for outside gardening. I grow tomatoes too and also cucumbers. Both can be eaten raw or canned for the winter months. I make a killer grape tomato sauce and my kids love my pickles. I also like to grow herbs which saves a lot of money. Have you sane what they charge for a few basil leaves in the supermarket?? Thanks for sharing your frugal veggie list!
Oooo herbs yes! I have some basil started too. I have had the most luck with basil. Parsley and oregano are the other spices I use regularly, but they didn’t come up. I’ll have to try again.
My husband is a fan of cucumbers, but for some reason I don’t really like them. He especially loves Armenian cucumbers (which oddly enough are actually in the melon family).
I didnt have any luck with oregano seeds either.It is worth the $3-$5 to buy an oregano plant.Just be sure to put it in a large pot.Oregano is part of the mint family and will spread like wild fire if its not contained.I had 1 small cutting from a friend that spread out to cover more than 1 square yard in just over a year!I have since moved it to a container but its still spreading through out my garden!
Maybe I should do that. Oregano is a spice we use regularly for homemade tomato sauce, so we would definitely use it. Thanks for the reminder to keep it contained!