4 (Simple!) Things to Grow in Your Garden If You Want to Save Money on Groceries
The scene: Your pork loin recipe calls for thyme to perfect its herb crust. Or maybe you need a handful of different herbs for a chimichurri sauce. Perhaps your pasta could benefit from some basil. Whatever the case, cue the trip to the grocery store, where each little plastic packet of herbs runs you a few bucks. Oof.
Instead of paying $3 for a few measly sprigs of rosemary, you could easily grow your own herbs at home and avoid extra trips to the store, a homesteading power move that feels especially relevant in the era of coronavirus.
While some veggies are already affordable at the grocery store or farmer’s market and might not be worth the effort to grow (hello, onions!), there are some other kitchen staples — herbs included — that you can easily grow at home to save money.
A lot of different factors can come into play when it comes to planning a garden (even if it’s a tiny one) including what kind of climate you live in or how much space you have. Ahead, pro gardeners share what’s generally worth growing at home if you’re hoping to save some money, along with tips for how to maximize your savings.
It’s best to grow your herbs in ceramic pots in an easy-to-access area, says Erin Lee, the director of landscaping at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. “That way you can snip them when you cook and keep an eye on them to know when they need water, fertilizer, or pinching — a good practice to keep them bushy.” Lee recommends growing herbs on a sunny window sill or a balcony. Large pots are best for root growth and helping your herb plants retain their moisture, she says. Make sure the pot has a drain hole and a saucer to go underneath it. If you’re brand new to gardening, avoid over-watering your herbs, Lee says, because the soil needs air and needs to dry slightly between watering, she says.
“My favorite choices for herbs at home are sweet basil, green onions, parsley, rosemary, mint, sweet marjoram,” Lee says.
To get started, you can pick up small starter plants from a garden store, she says. Or, sweet basil is one that’s easy to start from seed.
Pro tip: A pot that is at least 10 inches across and 10 inches tall can grow three different kinds of herbs, says Lee, who recently gave a virtual tour of the resort’s herb garden.
Grape! Sun gold! Cherry! Juicy, zesty tomatoes plucked from the vine just taste better than the tomatoes that have been trucked to your grocery store. A pint of tomatoes at the store, depending on the variety, can cost $3 to $4. When you grow tomatoes at home, though, you can net quite a big bounty — enough to give to your neighbors and to create your own bruschetta and tomato sauces.
Tomatoes need a lot of sunlight and water, says Greg Griffie, Senior Vice President of Davidson Restaurant Group and an avid gardener. While it can depend on factors like climate, sunlight, and the maturity of the plant you buy, it generally takes 60 to 75 days to harvest ripe tomatoes, he says. Here’s everything you need to know about growing tomatoes from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Pro tip: Once the plants get to 10 to 12 inches long, add a tomato basket or a stake to tie to so that your plant doesn’t blow over or break from the weight of the tomatoes, Griffie says. If you’re short on space, you can use hanging tomato planters so there’s no reason to stake them.
3. Butter lettuce
A head of butter lettuce can run you $5 a head at the grocery store, says Kate Lacroix who runs Stocked, a pantry-building service that helps people save on their grocery bills in Boulder, Colo.. Butter lettuce is a little finicky, so she suggests starting with organic soil to give it a solid start. Butter lettuce’s silky leaves are decadent in a salad. “A larger leaf of butter lettuce can take the place of bread, buns and tortillas, saving you money on other groceries, too” Lacroix says. Butter lettuce germinates quickly — about 1 to 2 weeks — and regrows within a couple weeks. It needs full sunlight, but not searing. It would do well with some nice warm days and morning and evening water, Lacroix says.
Pro tip: Many libraries have free seeds to help get you started, Lacroix says.
Like tomatoes, cucumbers are excellent producers, says Katie Rotella, a spokeswoman for Ball Horticultural. With enough warmth and water, crisp cucumbers can ripen in six weeks. Not only can they be a summer snack and crunchy addition to your salad, you can pickle the extras. Think of all the money you’ll save on those $4 pickle jars. When you’re selecting a site to grow cucumbers, look for one that has full sun and use soil that’s neutral or slightly acidic with a pH of 6.5 to 7, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Pro tip: You can grow cucumbers up a chain-link fence or a trellis, too, for a vertical garden, Rotella says.
Ready to get gardening? Here are money-saving tips from Shelby DeVore, the founder of Farminence and an experienced gardener with a M.S. in agriculture and more than 20 years of experience growing vegetable plants.
- The most productive crops are tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and squash, DeVore says.
- Avoid root vegetables if saving money is the reason you want to grow your own veggies. “Growing onions can be tempting, but one onion set will only produce one mature onion,” she says. “Onions are a very cheap crop, so it may not make sense to grow them at home.”
- The most practical and frugal way to grow vegetables is from seed, DeVore says. You can purchase a package of seeds that will contain anywhere from 10-100 seeds (depending on the crop) for the same price that you can purchase most vegetables in the grocery store. For example, a bag of mixed lettuce may cost about $3 in the grocery store. It’s good for about a week and then starts to wilt. You could use that same $3 and purchase an entire packet of seeds that will produce lettuce for months on end.
- Don’t buy fancy containers. “Plants don’t care what you grow them in as long as they have plenty of well-drained soil,” says DeVore. Think of ways that you can repurpose containers that you already have on hand and turn them into chic planters. Mason jars are perfect for herbs and small plants, for example.
- Lastly, don’t get overwhelmed. There’s a lot of information out there about gardening, DeVore says. Vegetable plants are simple and will thrive with plenty of sunlight, water, and healthy soil.
Get your garden going and not only will you earn a new hobby, but you’ll also take fewer trips to the grocery store and free up some money in your budget. That’s a win-win-win.
This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 4 Things to Grow in Your Garden That’ll Save You Money on Groceries