Fresh wholesome food straight from your garden makes summertime eating a joy. Fruits, vegetables and herbs grown from seed or plants raised in your own containers are free from harmful chemicals, and they're often more economical than buying the same ingredients in the store.
Compare the price and effort of homegrown favorites with what you can purchase in your grocery store's organic produce section before you decide how to plan your time, energy and food budget during the next growing season.
At only $1.32 per pound, you could easily stock up on radishes for a few weeks. But $2.85 total will get you a packet of seeds, which — planted in short rows at weekly intervals in ordinary garden soil — will keep you supplied with the zesty salad ingredient through cool spring and autumn growing seasons. For classic red radishes with crunchy white centers, choose Cherry Belle. But for a rainbow of pink, red and purple radishes, get the Easter Egg variety.
Superfood kale averages $1.59 per bunch in the store, but it's much more cost effective to grow your own hardy, weather-resistant kale plant. Seeds come in under $2 per packet, and live plants are only about $5. Kale is a superstar in the garden, in patio pots and as a decorative addition to flower beds. It thrives in garden soil amended with compost or potting mix to yield robust leaves you can cut, cook and come back to again and again for more.
Buying a fresh bunch of cilantro for your salsa only costs about $1.99, but when you grow your own from the same priced packet of seeds, you'll have more than enough for south-of-the-border style cooking all summer long. As a bonus, seeds of older cilantro plants allowed to flower and dry are the spice coriander, which can be used year round for seasoning curry, roasts and Latin American dishes.
Perfect for container gardening in a sunny spot, meaty Roma tomatoes and tiny, snack-able grape tomatoes are favorites that do best when you start with sturdy plants that cost around $5 per pot. At $1.79 per pound for Romas and $2.50 per pint of grape tomatoes in the store, the price of growing is about the same or a little more than buying, especially when you add in the planter, tomato cage and potting soil costs. But sun-ripened succulence makes it a worthy investment.
Muddled in a mojito, tossed in tabouli or steeped for tea, fresh mint leaves are easily accessible when you raise a $5 mint plant. Why pay for fresh mint leaves — which can be sold for more than $10 per ounce by specialty retailers — when the plant's aggressive growth habit makes it an abundant harvest when kept in a pot on your patio?
Three square feet of good potting soil and a teepee made of inexpensive bamboo is all you'll need to grow an abundant crop of green pole beans. A pack of seeds for less than $2 plus the cost of supplies puts your home-grown green beans at a winning rate compared to the grocery store's $2.16 per pound price.
Red, yellow and orange bell peppers can cost as much as $3.99 per pound at the store, but you'll get many peppers per plant for a fraction of the price when you grow your own in pots on the deck or directly in a sunny spot in the garden. It's okay to skip the fuss of growing them from seed and start with healthy plants that cost about the same as two individual peppers.
Prolific producers, one or two zucchini plants can completely replace the $1.38 per pound zucchini squash you'd buy from the store, supplying enough squash for the whole family from mid-summer until the first frost of autumn. If you're trying to go organic, start with certified organic seeds from a variety that's been bred for its spineless stalks to avoid getting scratched when you harvest. They're available for less than $3.50 per package.
Fans of sweet potato fries and pies might pay up to $1.50 per pound for the root vegetable, but planting this vitamin-rich potato at home is much more cost effective, as each plant typically yields more than a pound of sweet potato. Plus, it has an added bonus of ornamental ground cover for a garden landscape.
Because it's grown from slips (or bare roots), your initial investment will be higher for sweet potato than other plants — about the same as 14 pounds of sweet potatoes from the store, plus the cost of fertilizer. On the bright side, sweet potatoes are great for storing and can last for months if kept at the appropriate temperature.
The ultimate cut-and-come-again leafy green vegetable, Swiss chard is used in salads when the leaves are small and in savory dishes when they get huge. Seeds average about $2 per packet, which you'll sow directly into the ground or into a container garden for ornamental beauty and a summer-long yield that beats the $1.79 per bunch prices in the store.
Add a zippy touch of color and mild onion flavor to meals with chives that you grow from seed. Plant chives outdoors in the summer, then divide the bulbs and transfer them to a pot for a wintertime indoor garden in a sunny window. Compared to $1.99 for a bunch of fresh chives from the store, a packet of seeds for the same price is a long-term investment with high-yield rewards.
Deep purple eggplants hanging on lush green plants add unusual visual interest to flower beds and container gardens. Best grown at home from healthy transplants that cost about $5, a plant bearing two or more eggplants pays for itself compared to an average store price of $2.50 each.