A vegetable garden can help keep your family’s grocery budget down, but which crops should you be growing? Let’s have a look at 14 cost-effective vegetables to get you the most bang for your buck (and 6 that will not). Gardening to save money is easy and fun.
Deciding on Budget for Vegetable Garden?
If you’re looking to grow a vegetable garden to support your family’s budget and bring grocery costs down, there are a few things to keep in mind. Of course, much of it depends on your own preferences, but here are a few considerations you can make when trying to choose the best cost-effective vegetables for your project:
- Supermarket price: If it’s very cheap year-round, you may want to save yourself the effort of growing it. After all, nurturing any veggie takes time that you could spend on something more productive.
- Your area: Some vegetables are very specific about temperature and may have a very short harvest season or not do well at all in climates that don’t match their needs. You’d do well to select plants that produce abundantly in your climate.
- Space: This is a concern if you don’t have a large garden to work with. You may want to track down vining vegetables that take up more vertical than horizontal space to maximize your yield.
- Yield: Some vegetables are cheap to buy in-store, but yield so much when grown at home that they’re still worth it. This especially applies if you’ve got plenty of freezer space.
- Initial cost: Most seeds are very cheap, but some crops require buying starter plants that are a bit more pricey. And what about fertilizer, soil, mulch, propagators and more?
Last but not least: Do you actually like this vegetable?! It seems a silly question, but I can’t count the number of times friends and family members have brought me bags and bags of veggies because they planted loads of a particular plant that they don’t even use. Unless you’re looking to sell, just skip whatever you don’t think you’ll make much use of.
Veggies to Buy Instead of Grow
There are quite a few crops that can be considered ‘non cost-effective vegetables’. These might be very cheap to buy at your local supermarket, or they may take up so much space that their yield isn’t really worth it. We’re looking for the optimal dollar-calorie ratio here compared to your local supermarket!
It’s all a matter of taste, though, and if you prefer the flavor of the home-grown version of these, that can make it worth going for it for you.
- Corn: Although I love the Three Sisters concept of planting corn, beans and squash together, corn really does take up a lot of space for the crops it yields.
- Onion: They’re always abundant and cheap to buy. If you want to grow some alliums, why not try something like shallots or green onions?
- Potato: Honestly, a bag of nice potatoes is so cheap that I’d rather use my garden space for something else. Here too, the exception would be less common varieties that are difficult to find and have specific culinary uses.
- Celery: Has a reputation for being fussy, and to be honest, I’ve never had success with it. It always turns out horribly bitter! It needs a lot of water, takes a good while to grow and doesn’t like heat. With how cheap it is to buy… I’ll invest my efforts elsewhere.
- Brussels sprouts: Takes ages to mature and oh, the bugs! So many bugs. The latter is why I’m not huge on brassicas in general, especially the large ones like cabbage. They take up a lot of space and seem to just end up being cabbage white caterpillar fodder.
- Dry beans: I love some of the fancy heirloom varieties, but the basic ones just don’t really seem worths it with how cheap a bag is to buy.
Cost-Effective Vegetables to Grow
Pretty much the queen of cost-effective vegetables, and that’s despite the fact that it’s officially a fruit! The main advantage is in how mind-blowing homegrown tomatoes taste compared to store-bought. Additionally, seeds are cheap and there are loads of varieties to grow that you won’t find in your local supermarket.
Have a look at the list of my favorite heirloom tomatoes for some great examples of tomato varieties to try at home.
These green nightshades are the star of Mexican salsa verde and look almost like a cross between a tomato and a cape gooseberry (the latter of which, by the way, may be worth growing at home as well – it’s extremely expensive to buy). It can be used green for salsa, or as a tomato replacement when it’s ripe and has obtained a yellow to purple color.
They’re difficult to find in areas that don’t have a strong South-American influence, and they’re as easy to grow as tomatoes. Why not include a few tomatillo plants in your tomato patch?
Lettuce & Salad Greens
Many varieties have gotten quite expensive – iceberg being the exception in most zones – and the waste! I know I’m guilty of throwing away lettuce sometimes, as it just goes bad so quickly. Plucking some lettuce from your garden on an as-needed basis helps keep food waste down.
Lettuce seeds cost peanuts and you can keep sowing and re-growing throughout the season for never-ending leafy goodness. Lettuce wraps galore!
I don’t know about your area, but bell peppers can really get quite pricey sometimes here, especially the red ones that take longer to mature. Like other nightshades, bells are pretty easy to grow and don’t take up too much space. Home-grown ones taste fantastic, too. Perfect to roast, stuff or for delicious spreads like ajvar.
If you’re a salsa fanatic, you’ll know that small containers of some hot peppers can get very expensive. It’s also not always easy to find the specific varieties you’re after. In some places you’ll struggle to find a single serrano!
Hot pepper plants aren’t too difficult to grow and are pretty prolific, so find your favorite cultivars and give them a shot. Mine are jalapeños, which can be smoked to make chipotle. If your harvest is bigger than expected, hot peppers dry very well for use throughout winter.
They grow quickly, do well in cool weather and can be stored for ages. I like to roast turnips or use them along with beets for my homemade, low carb chips. And speaking of beets, those are pretty similar in terms of care and other characteristics, so why not go for both?
Unlike many of the other vegetables on this list, rhubarb is a perennial. That means you can reserve a corner in your garden, plant it once, and harvest for years.
It can be difficult to find in-store and may be expensive, while rhubarb grown at home produces plenty of stalks throughout spring that can be frozen for year-round use. Rhubarb custard, anyone?
Like rhubarb, this is a perennial. It takes a good while to get your first harvest, but after that, it never really stops. It does need a bit of space, but considering how steep the price can be at the supermarket, this one is definitely worth it for me.
Asparagus does best in cool to moderate climates.
Holy leafy greens! This one can be difficult to find in-store but is extremely prolific in the garden. You can cut it, and it’ll just re-grow. It’s a good thing it freezes and cans well, because otherwise, I would’ve had a significant chard problem last year.
Snow peas & sugar snaps
Depending on your area, these ‘fancy’ pea varieties can get pretty costly to buy. In the garden, they’re not difficult to grow at all and don’t take up much horizontal space due to their vining nature.
Peas like snow peas and sugar snaps are cool-season veggies and perfect for a short but sweet early harvest. I just wish I could stop eating them straight off the plant and actually manage to use them in my recipes…
This one’s a bit controversial. Some point out that due to how prolific zucchini is, they have other gardeners begging them to take a few (or a lot) every summer, so why waste space on growing it? If this is not the case for you, you may find it very much worth it, provided you have some freezer space.
Don’t grow more than 1-2 plants unless your garden is very roomy: they get large and produce like crazy. Pick some of the blossoms and eat those if you’re worried you’ll be buried in zucchini.
I especially like pole beans (as opposed to bush beans), since they make great use of vertical space if you don’t mind setting up a few trellises. They’re also pretty prolific, produce for a long time and freeze very well.
If you love some microgreens on your sandwiches on a regular basis, continually growing them at home is probably your best bet. They’re very expensive and don’t keep long in the fridge.
Seeds for radish, alfalfa and much more are not expensive to buy, and growing them isn’t much of a challenge either. It can easily be done indoors with the help of a good grow light or just on a bright windowsill.
Similar story to zucchini here! Really, all I can say is, don’t go for more than 1-2 plants unless you’ve got a big freezer. Pumpkin, butternut squash and their cousins are crazy prolific. They need space, because they’re horizontal crawling growers, but the fact that they keep through winter is great.
As with zucchini, if you’re worried you’ve overplanted, you can eat the squash blossoms to keep the harvest down a little. They’re great with ricotta cheese.
It’s not just cost-effective vegetables that can give your grocery budget a good boost. Herbs are so expensive to buy as well! I hate having to get fresh herbs in the supermarket. They’re expensive, usually half wilted and packaged in loads of plastic.
With how easy it is to grow various herbs, it seems a no-brainer to reserve some backyard space for a little herb garden.
Have a look at my post on herbs for a tea garden for some inspiration on which herbs to grow yourself instead. Perfect for cooking, cocktails, crafting, and yes, tea!