When cash is tight, growing your own nutritious fruits and vegetables is an empowering and rewarding way to stretch precious budgets that little bit further. But what are the highest value crops you can grow to save the most money? We’ve whittled the list down to 10 must-grow favourites.
1. Leafy Herbs
Packets of leafy herbs cost a small fortune in the shops because they are hard to store and don’t travel well. But gardeners don’t have to worry about any of that and can grow the likes of basil, parsley and coriander to harvest fresh, as needed. Leafy herbs take up very little room, grow profusely, and with more herbs on hand to liven up mealtimes, they go a long way to ramping up the tastiness of your cooking.
2. Salad Leaves
Cut-and-come-again salad leaves such as loose-leaf lettuce are incredibly compact and, when harvested little and often, a single sowing should continue to produce fresh leaves for months. Expect an abundance of high-value leaves from even just a few containers. For best results grow salads as individual plants, with clear space around them so they have all the sunlight and airflow they need to thrive for longer.
3. Quick-growing Salad Additions
Quick-growing salad toppers such as radishes, baby beets and spring onions offer prized pickings for the cost-conscious gardener, reaching harvest point in as little as four weeks. Make repeat sowings as you harvest, throughout the growing season, and a small patch of soil can yield a surprising weight of fresh produce. You can even grow them in gaps between slower maturing crops so they don’t take up extra space.
4. Climbing Beans
Beans are the epitome of plenty and once they start cropping will continue to produce their pods in abundance all summer long, so long as you keep on picking. Beans are healthy, filling and high in plant protein, making them a very valuable crop. Train them up trellis or against a traditional A-frame support.
For the most striking effect, however, it’s hard to beat a handsome teepee made from bamboo canes. Plan now for a stunning display. Start seedlings off under cover in late spring then plant one or two per cane. Picking commences just weeks later.
5. Fruiting Vegetables
Like beans, fruiting vegetables that climb, or that can be trained to grow vertically, will produce a lot from a relatively small area. Tomatoes and cucumbers fit into this category, promising heavy harvests of flavoursome fruits from just a few plants. Give them the sunniest spot you can find and feed plants regularly to boost both yield and taste. Pick varieties suited to your climate and be prepared to keep plants well watered in hot weather.
Whereas onions are cheap to buy and take up quite a lot of space, garlic is relatively costly yet efficient on space. Softneck varieties of garlic store really well too, making this crop ideal for spacing out the usefulness of a single harvest. In most climates garlic is done by midsummer, leaving plenty of time to grow a follow-on crop that will bring further homegrown value to the dinner plate later on in the season.
Celery’s an important base ingredient to many soups, stews and salads. It makes our list thanks to its compact shape and the fact you can harvest it one stem at a time, meaning none of the waste associated with purchasing whole heads of celery. Self-blanching varieties are the easiest to grow. Start plants off in plug trays then transplant them leaving about eight inches (20cm) between plants each way. Water well in dry weather and get ready for a superbly intense flavour.
Courgettes are infamous for their heavy cropping habit. The courgette's versatility in the kitchen – used in everything from stir-fries to cakes – makes this one vegetable worth making room for. Grow it in soil that’s been enriched with lots of well-rotted organic matter and you should enjoy a steady stream of fruits all summer long. Try growing companion plants such as marigolds nearby to attract more pollinators to ensure better pollination and even more fruits.
9. Soft Fruits
Soft fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries require careful handling and packaging to keep them blemish-free, which makes them pretty pricey. But grow these fuss-free fruits yourself and you can save the pennies while enjoying some of the tastiest fruits you’ll ever experience. Pick fruits fresh, gently warmed by the sun, and enjoy immediately for a heavenly indulgent experience. Freeze any excess or turn them into jams or jellies.
10. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens such as chard and kale can give a steady supply of leaves for many months, making them very hard-working vegetables. While we’re always being told to ‘eat our greens’, sourcing field-fresh greens, without the wilt, isn’t easy. But with homegrown greens you’ll always be sure of fresh leaves to twist off and enjoy steamed, stewed or blitzed up into your morning smoothie.
This is by no means a definitive list. It goes without saying you should concentrate on those fruits and vegetables you enjoy eating most, but get smart and start swapping expensive buys with delicious garden-grown replacements. Look for plants that make the most of space, that crop prolifically or that have a superior taste you’d struggle to find in the supermarket without paying over the odds.