Survive Inflation: Grow These 5 Crops

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag


Going to the store these days is scary – I can hardly bear to look at the prices! Suddenly the drive to grow more of my own food has taken on a whole new urgency. It got me thinking: What should I grow to slash my food bills – or at least stop them going up?

Slash Your Food Bill

The five crops I’ve chosen are all easy to grow (that’s important because we need them to succeed!) and dense in either calories, nutrients, or both. I’ve leaned towards vegetables at the pricier end of the grocery shop, as our goal here is to save money.

I wanted a rough idea of how much produce I can expect to harvest from my chosen crops. To work this out I used one of my raised beds as a standard unit for comparison, assuming one crop per bed. The beds are 3x4ft (1x1.2m) and five of them – one for each crop – makes a small but nevertheless meaningful garden area, giving an appreciable amount to harvest and enjoy. If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry, all the veggies we’ll be covering can be grown in containers too.

I used the Garden Planner to calculate how many plants can be grown in each bed. Lots of gardening books give an expected yield per plant, and I’ve taken an average of these. And to convert yield to potential savings, I’ve averaged out what it would cost to buy this produce from a range of grocery stores in 2022.

So let’s look at our five must-grow crops…

Keep picking beans and they'll keep producing over a long period

1. Budget Beans

Beans are incredibly versatile and can be stored in so many ways: frozen, canned, or dried. They are high in calories and a great source of plant protein. I love the fact that dwarf beans can be slotted in here and there, helping to make unused space more productive, but climbing varieties are the most space-efficient. Climbing beans are incredibly productive, and can continue to produce beans throughout the summer for three to four months. Keep picking, and they keep producing.

For these types of beans I prefer to sow them in pots then transplant them as sturdy young plants after the danger of frost has passed. You can grow them up any kind of supports, from graceful arches to sturdy teepees of bamboo canes. If you don’t have ground space, then try dwarf or climbing beans in containers.

So, let’s look at the stats for beans. My small raised bed has the potential to yield up to 5.3 lbs (2.4kg) of climbing beans, or an astounding 32lbs (14.5kg) of runner beans, giving a potential saving of around USD $54.

Winter squashes
Winter squashes are high-yielding and store for ages

2. Save Money by Growing Squashes

Squashes make our list because they are superbly productive. There are two types of squash you can grow, and I recommend both.

Summer squash, which includes courgettes, produces fruits repeatedly throughout the summer. They famously produce more than you can ever eat! Expect to be picking your summer squash or courgettes as soon as a month after planting – and on and on until the first frosts. Just like beans you’ll need to keep on picking them to keep them coming.

Then there’s winter squashes (including pumpkins), which are harvested once, right at the end of the growing season. The fruits will store for months at a time, providing rich, delicious flesh for soups, roasting, stews and more throughout those lean winter months.

In cooler areas you’ll need to sow seeds of both summer and winter squashes indoors, in the warm, then grow your seedlings on in a bright but frost-free place, ready to transplant after your last frost date in spring. Give them a sunny spot and plant into really rich soil – I improve mine by dumping on plenty of garden compost in the weeks before planting. Keep plants well-watered to ensure they remain in tip-top condition. You can grow one squash plant in a large container, but you definitely need to be on hand to keep it well watered.

Over the course of summer my standard raised bed should yield around 45 courgettes worth up to USD$32, or an average of around four winter squashes, working out at around USD$15.

It's easy to grow lots of nutritious kale leaves

3. Nutritious, Delicious Kale

I had to have a leafy green on my list because luscious, green leaves are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals. Greens keep us healthy – and it doesn’t really matter what kind you grow. Kale is must-grow leafy green because it’s pretty bulletproof to grow and is super-hardy, often giving leaves throughout the winter months. Other greens to consider are cabbage for making fantastic slaws and for fermenting, and Swiss chard, with its slightly softer texture and ease of freezing.

I start my kale off in either late spring or early summer, sowing into a pot of potting mix before transferring the seedlings into individual plugs or pots to grow on. They’ll then go out once earlier crops have finished, around midsummer.

When picking the leaves, take the lowest and oldest leaves first. The younger leaves at the center will continue growing to give a future harvest. Kale is a superb choice for container growing. It loves rich potting mixes, and you can pop up to three plants in a good-sized container. It’s amazing how fast they’ll grow like this if you keep them well-watered.

Let’s look at the figures. One bed, with six well-spaced plants, will produce around 12lbs (5.5kg) of nutrient-dense leaves, saving you around USD$37 at the grocery store.

Beet roots and leaves are both edible, making this a really versatile money-saver

4. Value-For-Money Beetroot

We, of course, need a staple, dependable root crop on our list. I had considered potatoes, but while they are calorifically very dense, you can pick them up pretty cheaply. Instead, beetroot has come to my penny-counting rescue. Beetroot is awesome for a number of reasons: it's so good for you, there’s no doubt about that; it's versatile in the kitchen, suitable for pickling, roasting, boiling or juicing; and as well as the root you can also eat the leaves just like spinach or chard. Nothing goes to waste! And with their relatively quick-growing habit, it’s perfectly realistic to grow at least two successive crops of beetroot each year.

Sow two or three of the chunky seeds into plug trays. When the time comes, transplant the clusters of young seedlings together, with each cluster about a foot (30cm) apart. Alternatively, just sow the seeds direct where they are to grow, then thin the seedlings that pop up to about 3-4 inches (7-10cm) apart.

Keep your beetroot well-watered to encourage speedy root development and to reduce the chances of plants bolting (when they try to flower), as this will affect the quality of the roots.

Beetroot is a joy to grow both because it is so quick – you can expect roots as soon as 10 weeks from sowing – and because it rarely attracts pests.

But what about those all-important stats? In our standard bed there’s space for around 42 plants, giving about 36lbs (5.5kg) of roots. This should save about USD$34. But bear in mind you can re-sow, so the true saving over the course of one growing season is likely to be at least twice this!

Growing your own peppers can save a packet

5. Grow Peppers and Tomatoes to Beat High Grocery Store Prices

When we did a video on inflation-busting crops previously, many of you (particularly American viewers) suggested peppers as an excellent money-saving crop, since a single pepper may cost more than a dollar, which is twice the price I pay here in the UK. For me, tomatoes come out as the clear money saver. Because of this I’m including both peppers and tomatoes as our final choice. Which one you decide to grow will depend on the cost of these fruits locally to you, and your climate. For me, tomatoes are a lot easier to grow outside and generally more productive than peppers, but in a warmer climate you’ll find both a breeze to grow.

Both crops are started off in exactly the same way – indoors in spring – then grown on and re-potted in stages until they’re ready for planting after your last frost.

Peppers need minimal support, while vining tomatoes will need to be regularly tied in to sturdy supports that are capable of holding up to the weight of those hopefully plentiful fruits.

Both make excellent container crops. In fact, in cooler climates peppers are best grown in pots so you can move them into the sunniest, most protected location. I’m lucky enough to have a greenhouse, but a sunny windowsill or balcony would also work.

I improve the soil at planting time with plenty of compost, just like I do for my squash plants. During the course of the summer I water on a liquid tomato feed to give plants a further boost and to help ripen those fruits.

Prices vary a lot between countries, and remember the prices calculated are just average. For peppers we’re getting about 54 fruits per raised bed, worth an average of USD$80. For our tomato plants, you can expect to pick at least 32lbs (15kg) of fruits, saving you around $66.

Herbs are some of the highest-value crops you can grow

Bonus: Save a Packet by Growing Herbs!

Don’t forget to include a few herbs if you can, especially perennial herbs that will last for years like rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme, and quick-growing annual herbs like basil and parsley.

Fresh herbs are costly to buy from the store, and you have to buy a whole packet at a time when you might only need a few snippings. Clearly, growing them yourself is going to save you quite a lot, as well as offering more convenience and freshness to boot.

Low Cost Gardening

Now what about the price of growing all of these delicious veggies? Well, it doesn’t have to cost the earth!

The first port of call for anything super-cheap or even free are sites like Craigslist and Gumtree. Search under the ‘free’ section for old pots and containers, as well as any lumber which you might be able to use to make your own raised beds. Don’t see anything suitable? You can always place your own ‘wanted’ advert.

Pallet potting bench
Old pallets can be turned into all sorts of useful garden items like this potting bench

Check out car boot sales, and keep an eye out for discarded items in dumpsters, but don’t forget to ask permission first! I’ve found several pallets for various projects this way, and people are usually only too happy to give them away. If you’ve ever ‘skip dived’ I’d love to know what your best find was – let me know in the comments!

Don’t buy pots for sowing - raid the recycling instead! Old yoghurt pots, soft fruit trays and ice-cream tubs can all be used to start off and grow on seedlings until they’re ready to be planted outside. Check out our video on reusing plastic bottles for more ideas.

The end of the growing season is a great time to pick up end-of-line seeds on the cheap. Multipacks of seeds are cheaper than individual packets, and you can often buy starter packs of several different vegetable seeds aimed at beginners that are ideal for setting you on your way. Discount stores are also a fantastically frugal place to pick up seeds for pennies.

Wheelbarrow full of compost
You can get started gardening with just a few basic tools

Potting mix and soil amendments are an unavoidable cost, but one thing you can make for free is compost. You can compost uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, spent crops, annual weeds that haven’t set seed, and even paper and plain cardboard. Collect up fallen leaves and add them to the compost bin too. It’s all good organic matter to mulch your growing areas with a few months down the line!

You don’t need an armoury of tools to get gardening. For me there are just four tools I really rely on: a hand fork, a border fork for digging and spreading mulch, a rake for levelling, and a cheap old watering can. Nice-to-haves if you’re really getting into it include a hoe for easy weeding, a wheelbarrow, and a spring-tine rake for gathering those free leaves.

It’s a common misconception that you need lots of gear to get growing – you really don’t – and by starting with these reliable, money-saving crops you can be sure of surviving the cost-of-living crisis – and even thriving despite it.

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