1 – Herbs
Herbs take the number one spot hands down. No other category of plants give such a huge return for such little space. You don’t even need a garden. You can successfully grow herbs in a few pots parked on a windowsill.
A pot of herbs sell for the same price as a few wilted leaves at the grocery store, but will provide you with dozens of fresh clippings, easily saving you all kinds of money. The great thing about herbs is the more you clip the the more they grow and the more you get. It’s a beautiful thing.
You can even dry your own excess herbs to refill those tiny expensive jars you buy in the spice aisle. It’s dead easy and will taste far superior.
You can also replace your favourite herb teas with your home grown. A packet of Holy Basil Ocimum tenuiflorum seeds cost half the price of a single box of Tulsi Tea at the grocery store. For benefits of this amazing herb click here. You can even make your own unique custom blends of teas by drying and combining different herbs.
Medicines and beauty products are easily made with your own herbs. Homegrown herb products make fabulous gifts, saving even more money, not to mention all that post consumer waste.
Factor all that in and a tiny herb garden – whether in ground or on a window sill – can save you hundreds of dollars.
Don’t worry if you lack a green thumb. Most herbs have the soul of a weed and are ridiculously easy to grow.
2 – Greens
If you buy those big plastic packs of organic baby greens you will love growing your own. No more guilt when you reach for the forgotten pack of greens at the back of the fridge, only to find a slimy mass of leaves inside. All that packaging, shipping and money for nothing. Or maybe I’m the only one guilty of that.
If you grow your own greens you negate the need for any of those things. No packaging, no shipping, no refrigeration and very little cost. Greens in your garden will always be succulent and fresh. You can buy seed packs of Mesclun Mixes which are simply an assortment of leafy greens, or custom blend your own mix. If you gently tear off or cut the leaves, leaving the roots undisturbed, greens will grow back several times. A patch as small as four feet square can easily provide a season’s worth of greens.
Add another four by four foot patch and fill it with Swiss Chard, spinach and kale. You can freeze these heavier leafed greens over the summer to toss in stews, soups and smoothies all winter long. If you don’t have room in your vegetable garden tuck some yellow, red, orange or pink Swiss Chard in your flower beds along with some purple kale. They will add a pop of decorative colour to both your borders and your plate.
3 – Berries
Strawberries, raspberries, saskatoons, haskaps, currants, and gooseberries are just some of the berries that produce well and can be grown in almost any garden zone. If you freeze berries over the summer they will provide you with a flavourful alternative to buying expensive (and too often flavourless) fresh berries over the winter.
Spread the berries out on a cookie sheet, set in the freezer until frozen and then transfer to a large reuseable freezer container. This prevents the berries from freezing together into one big clump and allows you to easily scoop out as much or as little as needed.
If you are going to go to all the effort of growing your own groceries, it makes sense to grow things that no amount of money can buy. Rare heirlooms fall into this category, as do shelling peas. You might luck out and find some at a Farmer’s Market but you won’t find any at most grocery stores.
The reason being, once picked, you only have a day or so (provided you pop them into a bag and put them in the fridge right after picking) before the pods go limp. Shelling Peas are meant to picked, shelled and processed for the freezer all in the same day.*
Frozen peas can be easily bought (though home grown tastes so much better) but freshly shelled raw peas are a seasonal treat best enjoyed while standing out in the garden. Sadly it’s an experience not everyone gets to have.
*Hint – I used to blanch my peas before freezing, until I learned they can be treated just like berries. Spread them on a cookie sheet, freeze and scoop out as needed. Easy peasy.
5 – Potatoes
Potatoes rarely make the list of space/cost/production vegetables for small gardens but I say pffft to that. If you are looking to be self sufficient in something, you could do a whole lot worse than potatoes. In fact, for pure caloric return, you can’t do much better.
If the Zombie Apocalypse hits it would be hard to subsist on a few containers of frozen berries, peas and kale. However, if you have a few bushels of potatoes tucked away in your cold room, root cellar, crawl space or even boxed up in a cool garage, your chances of making it through to spring suddenly look a whole lot brighter. Hungry Zombies notwithstanding.
I once read that commercial potato growers always keep a patch of spuds in a small garden behind the barn for their own family because they don’t want to subject them to the necessary evil of all the chemicals used to successfully harvest a massive crop. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know that potatoes routinely make the Dirty Dozen list of our most chemically compromised produce.
Potatoes are so versatile they usually show up in meals several times a week. If you are going to be eating something often, it makes sense to lighten the chemical load if you can. And there is nothing like the taste of new potatoes. My mouth is watering just at the thought of those scrumptious tiny tubers. They’re worth growing just to experience this summer treat.
Which brings me to my Number One Rule in choosing your Top Five things to grow in your garden…Choose things you love to eat! Sounds like a no brainer, but it is surprising how much effort I have put into growing produce I don’t even like.
If you’re looking at this top five list and thinking, “How could you have left out______(fill in the blank)” then whatever is in your blank should definitely go into your garden, along with onions and radishes.
Notice how I just tossed those two in out of the blue?
I think of radishes and onions as the salt you might sprinkle over your meal. Even if your plate is full, there is always room for a sprinkling of salt. Same thing with radishes and onions.
Radishes reach maturity in as few as 27 days, meaning you are already gleaning a harvest while other vegetables in the same bed are just starting to get their act together. Lots of people sow radishes with carrots, which are notoriously slow in germinating. The quick popping radishes mark the rows and break ground for the carrots that follow and are already harvested by the time carrots need the room.
Onions can be tucked into corners and crevices of both your flower and vegetable gardens, and even into pots. Tall and slender, they take up little space and as an added bonus, confuse and repel pests with their no nonsense scents, making for a healthier more productive garden.
To the above five (or seven if you include the all-over sprinkling of radishes and onions) I think you should add at least one edible a year you have never grown before. It keeps things interesting and who knows? It may become one of next year’s top five favourite.