Top 10 Value Veggies to Plant
Can you guess which plant is #1 for getting the most bang for your gardening buck?
“What should I grow?” It’s the first question for most people, beginners or experts, when thinking of planting a garden. It’s also something Mel Bartholomew, inventor of the Square Foot Gardening method, gets asked quite a bit.
Kim Roman, interim CEO of Square Foot Gardening Foundation, says that when she or Bartholomew talk to gardeners, they find that an underlying factor of that question is often cost. “After a discussion about garden goals – their likes and dislikes – we discover that what gardeners really want to know is what to plant to save money,” she says. “I believe most gardeners, regardless of their level of experience, assume that growing their own food is always cheaper than buying it. As Bartholomew suggests, ‘That’s not always the case.’”
Bartholomew’s latest book High-Value Veggies helps gardeners grow more efficiently and effectively. He outlines how to apply basic math to the garden to pick plants that will benefit your kitchen and wallet. Factors like cost of supplies, growing time, gross yield and more can help calculate if growing a certain plant rather than buying it at the store will save or cost you money.
People often choose plants that are easy to grow, but that may mean they’re growing something that’s costing them money. Some edibles that Bartholomew says you’re better off just picking up at the supermarket include potatoes, bell peppers, asparagus and okra. Roman suggests beginners looking for high-value plants that are easy to grow start with tomatoes and herbs.
While Bartholomew does think it’s smart to approach a garden with return on investment in mind, he stresses the importance of also planting vegetables that you like and fit with your gardening goals.
While the most cost-efficient vegetables will range slightly depending on what region you live in and what types of stores and farmers' markets you shop at, Bartholomew compiled a list of top money-saving vegetables across the board. Scroll down to see the top 10 high-value veggies and their return on investment per square foot. Then start planting and saving!
10. Hybrid Tomato - ROI $16.13
'Mighty Sweet' Tomato
These little beauties are so tasty they may never make it out of the garden! 'Mighty Sweet' is Burpee's first determinate grape tomato, producing a bounty of fruit in just 55 days.
Image courtesy of Burpee
If you have a longer winter, you may want to consider starting seeds indoors during the frostier months. Seeds are often available in more varieties than young plants you might buy in a nursery and they’re less expensive, too. A head-start under a grow light will help you take advantage of every bit of the growing season.
After about six to eight weeks, once your indoor seedlings have sprouted two to three sets of leaves, reduce watering a bit to get ready to move outdoors. Plant them in an area that gets a minimum of six hours of full sun. Check your growing region and weather for the best timing for your garden. To avoid shocking new plants, introduce them to outdoor elements for a few hours every day in the shade at first to “harden them off”, increasing the outdoor time each day. After seven to ten days of this process, they should be stronger, and ready to plant.
Make Some Space
Before you plant your seedlings, look to see if they are bush variety (determinate) or vining tomatoes (indeterminate). Bush tomatoes are shorter plants, and produce all at once, where vine tomatoes can grow over ten-feet long and produce over a longer season. Most bush and vine tomato plants require at least two feet of space between them for air circulation. Bury plants up to their second set of leaves to form deep roots.
Don’t have much room? Get a great yield by carefully training your vines to a trellis or fence. Find stretchy, weather-resistant plant ties at your local gardening store. This is a great method for heavy vining tomatoes that need more support. Bonus: Vertical tomato plants tend to be less affected by dampness and pests.
Many master gardeners recommend pruning your tomato plants to make them more manageable. This may result in a reduced yield of tomatoes in a bush plant, but not usually in a vining tomato. Never prune a plant that is shorter than 18” tall – and prune in the morning for the least amount of shock to the plant. Don’t splash water on a newly pruned plant to avoid disease forming.
Walking on Eggshells
Blossom end rot is a particular issue tomatoes suffer when they cannot get enough calcium from the soil. The blossom end begins to sink in and forms a dark spot of decay. Be careful not to over fertilize plants with a nitrogen rich fertilizer. You can avoid this issue by crumbling up eggshells and dropping them into the hole before you plant each of your tomato plants.
9. Spinach - ROI $16.54
8. Winter Squash - ROI $18.15
Image courtesy of JohnnySeeds.com
7. Leek - ROI $18.72
Chinese Flowering Leek, courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company
Chinese flowering leek is a perennial used for its flower buds, stems, and long, flattened leaves. It's used by Asian chefs to add a subtle garlic and onion flavor to foods. The flowers usually take two years to appear, and need low temperatures in the winter and long growing days in the summer. Use this herb in stir fry dishes or salads. Image courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company
Image courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company
6. Turnip - ROI $22.86
5. Heirloom Tomato - ROI $23.65
4. Garlic - ROI $25.21
3. Cherry Tomato - ROI $26.13
Tomato 'Cherry Bomb'
Bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and exclusive to them, 'Cherry Bomb' is a bite-sized tomato that's perfect for snacking (you can even pop them into your mouth while you’re picking in the garden). This variety is resistant to late blight.
Johnny's Selected Seeds
2. Parsnip - ROI $35.04
1. Herbs (Thyme) - ROI $69.08
Williams- Sonoma at Williams-Sonoma.com
Buy plants that fit your climate and soil conditions. Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) doesn't tolerate heat, humidity or poorly drained soils, so planting in the Deep South or in wet soils is a recipe for failure. Instead, this summer bloomer is a long-lived garden stalwart for USDA Zones 3 to 8, in well-drained soils.
Use cuttings instead of buying more plants. If you love the coleus (such as 'Indian Summer' shown here) that you already have, there's never a need to buy more. Take cuttings in the fall, pot up the new plants, keep them indoors by a window for the winter and you'll have plenty of instant color for the garden after the last frost in spring. For more varieties, exchange cuttings with friends, neighbors or garden-club members.
Take softwood and hardwood stem cuttings to propagate some of your favorite shrubs. The method and timing for woody-shrub cuttings depends on the variety. For the common flowering quince (Chaenomeles) shown here, August is the best time. Softwood cuttings, dipped in rooting hormone, are usually successful.
Lasting a Lifetime
Choose long-lived perennials. Plants like scabiosa, wallflower and hardy mums typically last 3-5 years. Other perennials like blanket flower, columbine and coreopsis are equally short-lived but reseed freely. Others are long timers, such as bearded iris, daylily, hellebore, astilbe and bee balm, to name a few. Peonies, seen here, are extremely enduring, sometimes lasting for more than a century.
Divide, Then Multiply
Multiply your plants by dividing them. Some plants like daylilies, bearded iris, yarrow and ornamental grasses need to be divided every few years to reinvigorate them and to reduce overcrowding. What you'll gain for your efforts are new plants to expand your beds and to share with friends.
Late-blooming perennials like helianthus, shown here, are best divided in spring. Filling your beds with a variety of perennials that give successive seasons of bloom, blooming shrubs and colorful conifers means you'll be less apt to load up on trays of annuals to fill holes in the landscape.