Food Garden · Fruit · Herb · Homesteading · Vegetable

Starting a Productive & Economical Food Garden (Part 1): Vegetables Worth Growing

I wrote this post in 2014, but is has become even more applicable given the state of South Africa’s economy and sky-rocketing food prices.


When I started vegetable gardening I didn’t think that it would save a lot of money (maybe come out square?). We started the vegetable garden as part of a ‘productive hobby’ and more for the food quality you get from growing your own vegetables.

The economic state of South Africa has changed a lot since then and food prices have sky-rocketed! Not only is food more expensive, but I look at what they want you to buy and eat in the market these days and I am utterly appalled! So, seeing that I am ensuring our food security and quality; I did a little research (and some number crunching) to see whether we are saving money by having a vegetable garden.

Worms in peas from the store, lack of food security
PnP peas with worms and mould! I cannot tell you how many times I have found worms in store-bought peas, this is why I split them before eating…. Peas are cool season crops, so at least I eat my own in winter!

I was blown away when I started to diligently weigh and catalogue our harvests – the garden was pumping out vegetables like a food factory! Then after I had a good few months worth of produce, I worked out what we save in terms of R/kg of produce…

I have an 80% savings!!! Money wise this means that form the summer (Sep-Mar) garden only, we have gotten R3500 worth of 1500 individual produce items, which amounts to 120kg of produce!!! I keep my input costs at a minimum, the rain tanks pretty much pay for themselves by harvesting rainwater – so no expense on water – and we produce our own super compost from kitchen/garden waste and chicken droppings – so no soil expenses either. Also, we use green manures or alfalfa as mulch – so no mulch expenses as well. Therefore, my expenses are seeds, plants, fertiliser and the occasional tool, which means that we save R2800 (80% of R3500) for summer crops. We only buy produce these days that are ‘out of season’, such as winter crops of leafy veg, peas, cauliflower, broccoli and things we don’t grow such as corn or apples/pears (too hot for pome fruits here).

Note: The prices I mention above are for PnP prices, if you buy at WW we pay R 1000-1500 more for the 120kg of produce! I didn’t weigh or add the prices of leafy things and herbs, so my savings are likely to be more than estimated above!!

potato, red, white, harvest
End of season potato harvest red and white, 2015

While I was looking up prices I saw that some vegetables are dirt cheap to buy whereas others are horridly expensive. I compiled a list of food crops which are expensive (and easy to grow) to cheap. This means that if you choose to grow food items that are expensive to buy you’ll have a more economically viable vegetable garden , so here is the list (based on 2014 prices):

Food item Rands per kilogram Category
Herbs 333-500 (20/30g pack) Very Expensive
Pomegranate 250-285 Very Expensive
Spice 200-400 Very Expensive
Nuts 160-280 Very Expensive
Asparagus 100-250 Very Expensive
Berries 120-200 Very Expensive
Figs 150-170 Very Expensive
Peas 150-170 Very Expensive
Ginger 100-150 Very Expensive
Baby spinach 100-130 Very Expensive
Spring Onions 100-120 Very Expensive
Button mushrooms 90-100 Very Expensive
Tender stem Broccoli 90-110 Very Expensive
Garlic 75-120 Very Expensive
Spinach 80-90 Expensive
Pineapple 70-80 Expensive
Lettuce 60-75 Expensive
Leeks 60-75 Expensive
Radish 65-70 Expensive
Cauliflower 50-60 Expensive
Cherry Tomatoes 50-55 Expensive
Limes 50-55 Expensive
Peppers 45-60 Marginally expensive
Patties 35-40 Marginally expensive
Grapes 30-50 Marginally expensive
Mango/Pawpaw 30-40 Marginally expensive
Large pumpkins 30-35 Marginally expensive
Beans 20-50 Marginally expensive
Standard Tomato 20-50 Marginally expensive
Avocado 20-40 Marginally expensive
Lemons 20-30 Marginally expensive
Citrus 20-25 Marginally expensive
Jewel Sweet Potato 20-25 Least expensive
Cucumbers 15-25 Least expensive
White Sweet Potato 15-20 Least expensive
Red Onions 15-20 Least expensive
Banana 15-20 Least expensive
Red Potatoes 13-15 Least expensive
White Onions 10-15 Least expensive
White Potatoes 10-13 Least expensive
Beet 8-10 Cheap
Carrot 6-10 Cheap

I must just add here: I am absolutely shocked at the price of radishes – it is more expensive than cauliflower! I mean a radish is a fool-proof veg, you sow them in the ground, they pop up and three weeks later you have radishes! So, always have some of these in the garden! See my How to Grow Radishes Posts.

Tomatoes, Squash, Patty pans, zucchini, maize,
A day’s harvest during 2015/16 summer

So when you start out a food garden; an herb garden is a very good place to begin as they are:

  • ✓ Easy to care for
  • ✓ Use minimal water
  • ✓ Very productive
  • ✓ Save a lot of money

After herbs; getting stuck on growing leafy vegetables, fruits (especially figs and berries), peas!, asparagus, tender-stem broccoli, garlic, ginger, leeks, cherry tomatoes and peppers are good crops to follow the herb garden. After which, you can go onto the large pumpkins, scallops (patty pans), beans, lemons, standard tomatoes and grapes.

I am thinking of establishing an asparagus patch… also I would say that asparagus is better left for when you are a bit more experienced and they need 3 years to start producing! The rest in the above list are very easy to grow; stick them in the ground and watch them grow! Your tomatoes and peppers will do well with some pruning, whereas the figs and berries might need some additional care. Squash need a lot of space, but are very productive (especially the bush varieties), beans and lemons are easy to grow and prolific, whereas a grapevine might be attempted by the more experienced gardener with advanced pruning skills.

Carrot (Daucus carota), winter leafy vegetables, turnip
A 2017 soup mix of carrots, winter leafy vegetables and a turnips!

Some of the other ‘expensive’ plants are exotics, ‘baby’ or ‘red’ varieties of the standard ones (such as red potatoes or baby spinach). I would also recommend leaving the growing of exotic fruit varieties to more the experienced gardeners and sometimes it’s just not feasible to grow these as they are 10-20 m trees (mangos, pawpaw, avocado) that love tropic conditions! (But nothing prohibits you from trying dwarf varieties or miniaturising them yourself, which does take a good deal of pruning & ‘bonsai-ing’ knowledge). Whereas others are not very prolific for the amount of space they take up, such as pineapples.

The other vegetables listed towards the ‘cheaper’ side are by no-means inferior – you simply cannot beat the taste, texture and satisfaction of home-grown potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers and carrots! These are especially easy to grow as well!

 


With so many vegetables to choose from where do you start? You want to grow them all!

…I’d say that check your fridge and see what you eat, then make a list of potential candidates and weigh them against their costs in the store, space they take up in the garden vs. production and their overall maintenance (water and pruning requirements). This is a good place to start your vegetable garden that will produce high-quality food and will be cost-effective as well!

 

Several How to Grow Profiles of Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs will be posted regularly on Whisker Flowers as I migrate from Blogger. Posts on soil maintenance, no-cost mulch and water will also follow in the coming months! 

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