Planting Pricey Produce

comments (17) January 26th, 2011

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WesternGardener Jodi Torpey, contributor
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Gardeners can save money at the farmers market by planting organic, expensive, or hard-to-find vegetables and herbs in their own gardens.Click To Enlarge

Gardeners can save money at the farmer's market by planting organic, expensive, or hard-to-find vegetables and herbs in their own gardens.

Photo: Jodi Torpey

I was admiring the beautiful organic produce while strolling through the farmer's market last summer when a sign at one table stopped me in my tracks:

Heirloom Tomatoes...$8.00/pound

I quickly did the math and figured at that price I had several hundred dollars worth of 'Black Krim', 'Brandywine', and 'Great White' organic tomatoes growing in my garden.

That's when I decided I would start planting produce by price. Instead of spending $2.50 for a single head of organic red kale, I'd buy a $2.00 packet of seeds and grow my own.

The savings are bound to add up when I plant a few Saffron bulbs in the garden. Because Saffron is one of the most expensive spices on the grocery shelf, growing and harvesting saffron threads will add flavor to my cooking and keep dollars in my pocket.

I'll also sow a few Stevia seeds indoors while the weather is still cold and then transplant them in late spring. Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener that's pricey when purchased at the natural grocers, but inexpensive when grown from seed. The plant's leaves can be used either fresh or dried to sweeten everything from iced tea to fruit salads.

Other cost savings will come from planting Hungarian peppers instead of buying imported Hungarian paprika, growing my own organic New Zealand spinach, and planting tiny and tasty Micro Greens.

Have you ever planted by price? Please share your money-saving suggestions here.

Editor's note:
A couple of years ago, Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, kept track of garden costs vs. market costs for an entire season. His account, You can read about the results here.


posted in: Heirloom Tomatoes, saffron, stevia

Comments (17)

kevinalexis8 writes: Great work
Posted: 1:02 am on July 21st
ojacobzeb7 writes: I am new to this forum. I'm an college student and i'm a computer addict. I constantly surf internet.
Planning to socialize and make some cool mates from here.
Posted: 4:27 pm on March 28th
WesternGardener writes: Thanks everyone for sharing all your great suggestions! So many terrific ideas for produce-wise penny pinching!
Posted: 6:29 pm on February 4th
theseedlady writes: One of the best, and least-available of the Brassicas (cabbage family members) is Romanesco Broccoli.The head is comprised of tightly bunched spiraling cones of bright chartreuse green buds. Very nutty and slightly sweet in flavor, very tender also. Around here in broccoli country (cool enough to grow year-round) Romanesco appears at Farmer's Markets for a short period in both spring and fall, at about $3.50 a pound. It's easy to grow from seed, is a fairly heavy feeder, and freezes well when blanched properly.

Just a note: all bell peppers ripen to a color: red, yellow, orange, purple, "chocolate" etc. Green bells are just unripe peppers. There are lots of bell shapes besides the blocky grocery store variety. If you mostly chop them to cook, as I do, try some of the wedge or cone-shaped ones. They ripen faster than the big blocky ones. Nice and sweet, too.
Posted: 12:13 pm on February 2nd
Badener writes: Money can be saved even further, by freezing herbs: I process parsley (my biggest go-to) and other herbs with a bit of water or water/olive oil and freeze them in ice cube trays; cut chives are frozen on a baking sheet, then packed loosely in plastic containers. Since I grow my own, I know they are clean and safe; I can use as little as needed; no energy is used other than opening the freezer door; nothing goes to waste. All a lot cheaper in the winter than fresh herbs or the even pricier frozen herb cubes flown in from abroad.
Posted: 11:56 am on February 2nd
sawdust434 writes: We have found green peepers to be reasonable in the stores, so we plant only red, yellow, and orange peppers because they can be extremely expensive.
Posted: 11:34 am on February 2nd
eliza88 writes: Raspberries! If you have the space and some sun, they are worth a lot. We have a patch of about 10 plants, and have harvested pounds and pounds of them most years. Also, they require almost no care. In the stores they cost a fortune!
Posted: 11:15 am on February 2nd
myseasons writes: Though they never get to $8/lb, I find that green onions/scallions fluctuate in price a lot. They always seem to be at the high end when I need them. Years ago in Hawaii my neighbor taught me to do as Ruth does with leeks. I buy a bunch, cut off 1 inch with root, plug it into a pot I keep near my back door. Up comes a new scallion. Very handy when you just have to have one to shred over the Chinese noodle soup.
This year I am planting them from seed so there will be plenty for grilling.
Posted: 11:13 am on February 2nd
Ruth writes: Leeks certainly fit the category of pricey at the store and easy to grow. Once they're established, you hardly know they're there. They'll winter over, and the second season they'll flower and produce seed, which, if you let it fall to the ground, will in turn produce new plants. Another cool thing about leeks: when you harvest them, cut off the root, leaving maybe 1/2 inch of stem, and replant right away. Guess what? It will grow a new top!
Posted: 9:12 am on February 2nd
smslaw writes:
Two crops that are often expensive, but are easy to grow:

garlic-plant in the fall, save some for replanting next fall

Shallots: plant in late spring, save some for replanting the next year.

Both are pretty much pest free and store well.

For the longer term, asparagus is a perennial. Just make sure to really prepare the bed well and keep it weed free. Lots of compost/organic matter, nitrogen(heavy feeder) and enjoy a single planting for the rest of your life.
Posted: 8:42 am on February 2nd
UpstateGirl writes: Completely agree with everyone's comments on growing tomatoes and the sticker shock at local markets. I love growing different kinds of cherry tomatoes that go for big prices at the farmers market too as they have such a long season and make great hostess gifts.

Last year for the 1st time I grew leeks which are very expensive in the US. They're really easy to grow, can be harvested well into winter, are very pest resistant and are sure to be in my garden for years to come.
Posted: 8:41 am on February 2nd
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for sharing your ideas, Leslie. I love Arugula, too, but haven't grown it. That may change this spring!
Posted: 5:28 pm on January 30th
LeslieinPayson writes: I grow Broccoli Raab and Arugula pretty much all the time (I have some in a cold frame even now). They cost a fortune to buy if they are even available.
Posted: 2:54 pm on January 27th
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for adding the Editor's Note about garden costs versus market costs. I had a feeling this was true, but to see the actual numbers is impressive. I hope this will serve as an encouraging word to gardeners who are afraid to start their gardens from seed.
Posted: 1:35 pm on January 27th
Ruth writes: Nice post, Jodi. While I've never planted things because they're expensive, I have permitted myself to sneer (quietly of course) as I push my cart down the produce aisles of my local market. I especially love to strut by the heirloom lettuce, the arugula, chives, blueberries and strawberries, all of which I have in season. The tag "heirloom" brings a fine price at the store, but in the garden, you grow heirlooms pretty much the same way that you grow hybrids. It's not a big deal at all.
Posted: 12:01 pm on January 27th
vg_made_simple writes: I plant sugar snap peas because they are $5.99/lb around here. I find that almost any type of fresh herb also qualifies...I can pay $2 for a small pouch of fresh herbs at the store or go tear some off a plant in the backyard any time I want. Backyard please!
Posted: 10:21 am on January 27th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: Jodi,

I found the same thing - I especially noticed it with the heirloom tomatoes. I picked one up and purchased it for $5.00.

For. one. tomato.

Posted: 5:59 pm on January 26th
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