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Midwest Gardening: Save Money on Grocery Bills With a Home Kitchen Garden

Updated on July 12, 2011

With so many families looking for ways to cut costs and save money thanks to the recession, seed companies have seen an explosion in business. Starting a home kitchen garden can be a great way to save money on grocery bills.

A recent study by the National Gardening Association found that the average family with a vegetable garden spends only about $70 per year on the garden and grows $600 worth of vegetables. Individual types of vegetables may offer even better return on the investment. For example, $1 worth of green bean seeds will produce as much as $75 worth of vegetables. Perennial fruits such as raspberries and strawberries may cost more money upfront, but will continue producing good crops for years.

Vegetable gardening also has hidden financial benefits in the form of better health thanks to the extra fresh air and exercise. In addition, even the pickiest of eaters are more likely to eat a vegetable they’ve helped grow themselves, so many families can also expect improved health after starting a home kitchen garden thanks to eating more fresh, homegrown vegetables.

The Best Books To Get Started

The best way to learn how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden is to find an experienced gardeners to help you.

If that isn’t possible, the second best way is to learn from a book. There are hundreds of great vegetable gardening books available, but I consider these three to be the best for beginners:

  • The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, by Ed Smith. My favorite vegetable gardening book focuses on organic gardening techniques designed to produce high yields with a minimum of labor and expense, and to improve the long term health of your soil in the process. The books contains a wealth of information on preparing and maintaining a vegetable garden, as well as information about how to grow specific kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Smith explains the information clearly enough for a beginner, yet comprehensively enough that even experienced gardeners will find it useful. He also includes lots of step-by-step pictures for some of the more complicated tasks.

  • Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. A vegetable gardening classic, Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening has been helping beginning vegetable gardeners since it was first published in 1981. Bartholomew’s book is especially good for gardeners with limited space, as his square foot technique uses just 20% of the space of a traditional garden.

  • Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza. Lasagna gardening is a new technique that has gained rapidly in popularity thanks to the minimal labor it requires. Instead of digging a new garden bed, lasagna gardeners lay down thick layers of organic matter, such as old newspapers, straw, compost, and shredded autumn leaves, and plant the garden directly in these. In addition to the low labor required, lasagna gardening, a type of sheet mulching, quickly builds healthy, fertile soil, even in areas that start with very poor soil.

Cherry tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables for home kitchen gardens. Photo by GenBug.
Cherry tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables for home kitchen gardens. Photo by GenBug.

The key to cost-effective vegetable gardening is to minimize up-front costs. The simplest vegetable garden will require only a shovel, a patch of decent soil with enough sun and a steady supply of water, and some seeds or transplants.

Here are some more money-saving tips for your home kitchen garden:

  • Planting seeds or transplants slightly closer together than recommended not only reduces the need for weeding, it also shades the soil, keeping it cooler and reducing the need for water.
  • Mulching transplants or young seedlings with straw also reduces weeding chores and conserves water, saving money on water bills.
  • Composting weeds, vegetable peelings, and other plant matter is a great way to improve the soil without expensive fertilizers or soil additions.
  • Although many vegetables species are hybrids that will not breed true if started from seed, some types of seeds can be saved from year to year and used to save money on seeds the next year.

What To Grow

A huge variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and herbs can be grown in the Midwest. Here is a partial list:

  • Almond (zones 6-9)
  • Apple (zones 3-9)
  • Apricot (zones 5-9)
  • Aronia (zones 4-9)
  • Asparagus (zones 4-9)
  • Basil (annual)
  • Beans (annual)
  • Bitter melon (zones 5-10)
  • Blackberry (zones 5-8)
  • Blueberry (zones 3-9)
  • Borage (annual)
  • Cabbage (annual)
  • Chamomile (zones 4-10)
  • Cherry (zones 4-9)
  • Chestnut (zones 5-9)
  • Chives (annual)
  • Chokecherry (zones 2-6)
  • Crabapple (zones 3-9)
  • Cranberry (zones 3-8)
  • Cucumber (annual)
  • Currant (zones 3-8)
  • Eggplant (annual)
  • Elderberry (zones 2-9)
  • Filbert (zones 4-8)
  • Ginger (6-10)
  • Gooseberry (zones 3-8)
  • Grape (zones 4-10)
  • Hazelnut (zones 4-9)
  • Hickory (zones 4-9)
  • Highbush cranberry (zones 2-7)
  • Hops (zones 4-10)
  • Jerusalem arthichoke (zones 2-9)
  • Jujube (zones 6-10)
  • Kale (annual)
  • Lettuce (annual)
  • Lotus (zones 5-10)
  • Maple (zones 3-6)
  • Marjoram (annual)
  • Melons (annual)
  • Mint (zones 4-10)
  • Mulberry (zones 5-10)
  • Nanking cherry (zones 3-5)
  • Nasturtium (annual)
  • Nectarine (zones 5-9)
  • Okra (annual)
  • Oregano (annual)
  • Parsley (annual or biennial)
  • Pawpaw (zones 5-9)
  • Peas (annual)
  • Peach (zones 5-9)
  • Peanut (annual)
  • Pear (zones 4-9 common, 5-9 Oriental)
  • Pecan (zones 6-9)
  • Peppers (annual)
  • Persimmon (zones 5-9 American, 6-10 Oriental)
  • Pine nut (zones 3-10)
  • Plum (zones 4-9)
  • Prickly pear (zones 5-10)
  • Quince (zones 5-9)
  • Raspberry (zones 3-9)
  • Rhubarb (zones 1-9)
  • Rose hips (zones 2-9)
  • Rosemary (annual)
  • Salal (zones 6-9)
  • Serviceberry (zones 4-9)
  • Sorrel (zones 5-9)
  • Spinach (annual)
  • Squashes (annual)
  • Strawberry (zones 3-10)
  • Sunflower (annual)
  • Sweet potato (annual)
  • Swiss chard (annual)
  • Thyme (zones 1-10)
  • Tomato (annual)
  • Walnut (zones 3-9)
  • Wild rice (zones 4-9)


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Nothing better than gardening. Your whole body gets a workout in the fresh air and you will eat wholesome food.