One of my favorite books is "The $64 Tomato". It's a story about a man who wants to put in a kitchen garden. He and his wife go through some serious trials and spend quite a bit of money, but finally do get a great garden put in and growing. When all was said and done, he calculated out how much it cost to grow a single tomato in the first year and it was $64. Clearly that will do down because once he has the garden he will have it forever. But you get the point.
Another issue is space. We are fortunate enough to live out in the country and we have space to grow lots. Most people however live in town and have a small yard or in an apartment and have a balcony. In some neighborhoods there are community gardens where you can get a 8x6 ft plot. That's pretty small. How can that produce enough to save any money? Well, I just read an article that has changed my mind some.
The article talks about the most profitable plants that you should grow if you plan on selling at a farmer's market. I don't sell at a farmer's market, I just grow for my family and friends. When I read this I thought "Wait! This is telling what plants I should grow myself so I don't have to spend all that money to buy them." The top of the list is cilantro. I love cilantro and use it a lot in cooking. And it is really expensive - especially if you buy organic. Guess who will be adding cilantro to the garden this year?!
Next on the list is arugula (a leaf green). I got that covered - literally. We have arugula growing in the cold frame right now along with other greens for salad. "Green salad mix" is number 3 on the list. Then are chives, dill, lettuce and cherry tomatoes.
The best part about these top six is that they are perfect for small spaces, raised beds and container gardening. My 8x4 foot planter box, which we put in for growing cold weather plants while the big garden sleeps through the winter, produces more greens than we can possibly eat. I end up giving the left overs to friends or tossing to the chickens. We also have a bunch of small containers (flower pots) that I plant with herbs, including chives which have recently re-sprouted. And a one cherry tomato plant will give you a bumper crop for late summer salads.
Cucumber, basil, radish and snow pea are in the articles top 20. These all do well in small spaces too. Cucumber and snow pea get trellised up so they take no space at all - the side of a house will work. Radish are the easiest thing to grow next to zucchini! Perfect for kids to start with. Basil, the best herb in my opinion, goes in a flower pot.
One surprise to me was that summer squash is in the top 20. Summer squash, if you don't know it by that name, are the small yellow squash sold right next to the zucchini. Summer squash are just as easy to grow as zucchini and there are dwarf versions available. I like to grill summer squash, zucchini and cherry tomatoes. You can also shredded summer squash and use in muffins and breads. Or freeze it and put in soups during the winter.
Some things on the list don't work for small spaces. Such as winter squash. I assume they aren't talking about little decorative pumpkins, but rather acorn and butternut squash. Not only do these take up a bit of space, they have really long growing seasons. We grow pie pumpkins (aka sugar pumpkins), which I bake, puree and freeze to use in muffins and breads. But I gave up on acorn and butternut - they just never matured.
So, maybe with some strategic thinking about what to grow, even a small space can actually save money. That is provided that you like cilantro, radishes, dill, chives and cherry tomatoes. Which I do!