Friday, February 24, 2012

Buying vs growing your own vegetables

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A lot has been written in various media for quite a while now on how easy it is and how much better for you it is to grow your own vegetables at home. In many ways I agree but, for me, it's totally unviable and not very economical.

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Raised garden beds, garden beds made from recycled materials, permaculture, organic gardening, companion planting, succession planting, saving seeds, etc etc are all terms I hear and read about all the time. I would love to eat nothing but fresh, homegrown produce but it's just not worth my while. 

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Don't get me wrong, if you've got the time, the resources and the people to eat all of this produce, then it might just be worth your while. My grandmother grew her own vegetables (and fruit) on her dairy farm and then also in retirement. Whatever she grew, she ate. There wasn't much she had to buy except for pantry staples. It was all there in her backyard. My mother tells me stories of how they'd eat green beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner (just kidding) but when the beans were in season, that's all they ate. I couldn't even get my children to hold a green bean.

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I'll grow a few herbs, which I know get used up in cooking meals, but I'll choose to buy my fruit and vegetables and strive to get the best value for money I know how.

Buy in season

Rather than menu plan and then buying what I need, I plan the meals I will cook based on what fruit and vegetables are in season. They will always be in great supply, in peak condition (hopefully) and, most importantly, cheap. Here are some websites to look up what and when will be in season.

Australia: Fruit & Vegetable Season List

New Zealand: What's in season?

USA: Interactive Peak Season Map at Epicurious

UK/Ireland: Eat the Seasons - What's good to eat this week? (Updated weekly)

Canada/USA: Eat the Seasons - What's good to eat this week?

Buy frozen

Look out for specials at your local supermarket or, when fruit and vegetables are in peak season and cheap, and you have the room, freeze them for use later. This is also to good to remember if you do happen to grow your own.  There is quite a lot of information on how to freeze and preserve vegetables and fruit on the internet but I found The National Center for Home Food Preservation in the USA has quite comprehensive information on freezing, canning, drying, smoking or pickling fruit and vegetables on their website.

Buy canned

Some people may argue that frozen vegetables are far superior than canned but some vegetables actually increase the phytochemical content of some foods, for example lycopene in canned tomatoes and the beta-carotene in canned carrots and pumpkin.  I use a lot of canned tomatoes and find they are full of flavour, cheap and easy to store. Canned beans and pulses such as lentils and chickpeas are a great standby as a source of protein.

In a family where I am the only one who eats capsicum, zucchinis, eggplant, varieties of lettuce, cucumber, beans, celery, silverbeet and spinach, just to name a few, I'll choose to buy a little when it's in season and use other seasonal vegetables in a way my family will eat them to get the most from my dollar.  I'm talking about pureeing the fruit or vegetables and adding them to muffins and cakes or using the puree in pasta sauces, curries, patties and any other deceptive way I can. I also just put them on my kid's plates and cross my fingers, sometimes with success.

No, that's not me. That's Martha. I find it hard to believe she gets her hands dirty.
As much as I love getting in the great outdoors and gardening, I'd prefer to spend my time in other ways rather than ensuring that all my hard efforts are being wasted in growing an abundance of vegetables that no one else will eat (except maybe the snails and grubs). I give full praise and credit to people who do grow their own and make it work for their family.

Some excellent resources to get you started on a home vegetable garden, should you so desire.

Gardenate - A worldwide resource to keep your kitchen garden growing and producing

Easy organic permaculture garden

Step by step no dig garden

Growing vegetables in pots

There is a lot of information out there on the internet and at your local library and hardware or garden centre.

This post is part of domesblissity's THRiVING - Thrifty Living feature.



  1. So's best to buy in season if possible and frozen veggies and fruits are pretty good. I do have a garden every year but I grow those items that are AMAZING like tomatoes or things that are horridly expensive, like fresh basil (so I can make Pesto!).

    Have a wonderful day!

  2. I like the idea of growing my own vegies - and I think it would be good for the kids to do as well - but I'm the only one who would eat the majority of them. So, I'm thinking of planting a few basics that we can use - and the rest I will continue to buy, otherwise it is a waste of resources.

  3. We have a huge vege garden now because we have the space. Before we moved to the country though we didn't. Also I am married to a horticulturalist who loves to grow veges. If it were up to me, I would be buying them all too.

  4. We have just started a small veggie garden. Luckily my kids eat most veggies but we have bought only herbs, fruit and veggies that we actually eat.

    Any produce that we don't need I plan on giving to friends and family.

  5. Anne I am so with you. It cost me a whole LOT more to try and grow my garden then to buy it. I do not have a green thumb. Thanks for the great post.


  6. Im with you, have grown my own before, but now I rent my house and have had spinal surgery so gardening is no longer for me. I do have two pots of herbs and I buy in season mostly from the local growers markets...we are lucky to have two markets a week here.

  7. Great info! I've done a little gardening but I can buy the veggies so cheap when they are in season that it isn't worth it for me!

  8. I'd love to have a huge garden but I'm kinda with you on the practicalities. We eat a ton of frozen peas and broccoli - I wish I could get my kiddos to be more adventurous but I'm guess I"m lucky they eat those!

  9. This is so true Anne. I honestly fail to see how it is cheaper to grow your own, unless you have a community of people who grow different things and share them out. I have had a few forays into growing veggies and I have found it costs a lot of money to set up. I cook seasonally too.
    A herb garden on the other hand would be totally worth it.. fresh herbs are so expensive. xx

  10. I have tried for 3 years in a row now growing our own herbs without much luck. Something around us keeps attracting all these little bugs when I do. I wish I had better luck at it. I know I have spent a lot of money trying. Thanks for sharing at Bacon Time. You are so right about it costing more to grow your own.

  11. A thought provoking, informative article. I enjoyed it. The goats keep eating our garden, lol, yet we keep planning and dreaming. For us, it must be a psychological need, to dig in the dirt! Thanks for joining us at Foodie Friday.

  12. I was considering starting a small garden this year. I loved reading your information here. I'm so glad I found this link through the Bacon Time with the Hungry Hungry Hypo's party. ~ Megan

  13. Stopping by from the Anything Goes Linky!

  14. I agree Anne--my husband and I spent so much time nurturing a nice veggie patch. I'm from Victoria, where veggie patches run riot and you can grow just about anything really well. I was so disappointing to see all our hard work and money go to waste, as the soil wasnt right, and the nasty pests got to it all before everything was ready to pick (grasshoppers and caterpillars, moths and such) We even tried treating the garden with insect deterrents (sort of defeats the purpose of growing your own vege doesnt it?) but to no avail. it was one big waste of money and time. Good thing is we have a local vege market up the road and everything is so cheap and locally grown to boot! awesome. ps I cant even get my herb garden to stand--creepy critters are at that too!


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