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?