What to Plant, What to Buy at the Store
Like me, you may have limited garden space. Maybe you live in the city. My problem is that I live in the middle of the forest, and to make more garden room I would have to cut down trees. I do have one area that I'm slowly clearing so that I have the potential to have a much larger garden, but for now I'm limited to about 1600 square feet. So, I can't plant everything I would like to. I've had to make some decisions about what to raise in the garden and what to buy at the grocery store. I take mainly three things into consideration; flavor, price, and storability.
Take bell peppers for example. I was at the grocery store the other day, and one green bell pepper was $1.19. I bought it (stir-fried pepper beef doesn't taste right without the pepper), but it ticked me off. Last Spring I bought 6 bell pepper plants for $1.79. I turned up a little patch about a foot across for each pepper, planted them inside of a little PVC collar to keep the cut worms away, sprinkled a handful of 8-8-8 fertilizer around each plant, and laid down a good bed of mulch to keep the weeds down. That was it. Total work time about 45 minutes. I had to water occasionally, and when the plants got bigger I staked them up for support. What I'm saying is that there was no intensive labor involved here. I figure that at $1.19 each I must have harvested 75 or 80 dollars worth of bell peppers off of theses 6 plants. I picked bell peppers from June to November. Now that is a good return on investment.
Onions are another good example. A good onion at the grocery is $0.75 to $1.00. I can grow 300 onions for $5.00. We pull them, braid them, and hang them from the ceiling beams, and have onions all winter. Again, a good return on investment.
Now pinto beans are another story. I could plant my whole garden in pinto beans and not harvest as many as I can buy at the store for $10. It just doesn't make sense to take up garden space for pinto beans. I plant a few just to enjoy a meal or two of fresh picked beans, but that's all.
I plant purple hull peas for flavor. Dried peas or canned peas just don't come close, so I plant bed of purple hulls and get enough for ten or twelve meals of fresh peas.
Tomatoes are a good example of planting for taste and to save money. Eight or nine tomato plants will yield hundreds of tomatoes. My Arkansas Travelers yield all summer; even in the heat of August. I eat fresh tomatoes that are so much better than store-bought that it can't be described. I can tomatoes, can spaghetti sauce, and can hot sauce. I also dry tomatoes, and I give a lot of tomatoes to friends. All of this for the price of about 5 tomatoes at the grocery store.
I plant Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce, a type of leaf lettuce. It is fairly heat tolerant, and a dollar's worth of seed will yield many bunches of lettuce. A good return on investment here, plus you know it's not loaded down with DDT or contaminated with ecoli.
Boston Pickling Cucumbers are great for making pickles. I plant about a dollar's worth of seeds along a trellis and get pounds and pounds of cucumbers. Last year I planted a trellis about eight feet long by 4 feet high and put up about 30 pints of pickles. Of course there's some additional expense and labor involved in canning pickles, but man are they good. You can also eat these cucumbers fresh, but I'm not a big fan of fresh cucumbers. They give me heart burn, but if you can tolerate them, the taste is good.
I can't understand why squash is so expensive in the grocery store. I plant about 4 or 5 hill of it (7 seeds to the hill), and I get sick of squash I end up with so much. I eat it, I freeze it, I give it to friends until they run when they see me coming, and I still have squash. I like Yellow Crook Neck, Zucchini, and in the fall I plant Butter Nut. Squash seeds are super easy to save. Plant one good crop and you'll have squash for life.
Potatoes are good when they're fresh from the garden, but when they're planted in the traditional way they take up a lot of space relative to the yield that you get. I'm trying a new method of potato planting this year where you plant the potatoes inside of wooden frames and add more frames and mulch as the potatoes grow up through successive layers. The yield is supposed to be huge for a very small area. We'll see. If it works I'll do a post about it; in the mean time, potatoes remain on the buy-it-at-the-store list.
I currently buy flour and cornmeal at the store, but this year I will be trying my first corn crop in my new garden area and we'll see how that works out. I would love to be able to raise a good crop of Country Gentleman each year and grind it on a home grist mill.
Well these are just a few of my thoughts that may be of some help if you are planning a garden and wondering what to plant. By the way, if this is your first garden, plant some radishes. I don't really like radishes, but they come up so fast its almost like an instant reward. A good confidence builder.