Roots 'n' Shoots: Starting a Productive & Economical Food Garden (Part 1): vegetables worth growing

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Starting a Productive & Economical Food Garden (Part 1): vegetables worth growing


Squash harvest for 20 December 2013!


I wrote this post because when I started vegetable gardening I didn't think that it would save a lot of money (maybe come out square?). We started the vegetable garden as part of a ‘productive hobby’ and more for the food quality you get from growing your own vegetables.

The economic state of South Africa has changed a lot since then and food prices have sky-rocketed! Not only is food more expensive, but I look at what they want you to buy and eat in the market these days and I am utterly appalled! So, seeing that I am ensuring our food security and quality; I did a little research (and some number crunching) to see whether we are saving money by having a vegetable garden.

PnP peas with worms and mould!
I cannot tell you how many times I have found worms in store-bought peas,
this is why I split them before eating....
Peas are cool season crops, so at least I eat my own in winter!



I was blown away when I started to diligently weigh and catalogue our harvests – the garden was pumping out vegetables like a food factory! Then after I had a good few months worth of produce, I worked out what we save in terms of R/kg of produce…

I have an 80% savings!!! Money wise this means that form the summer (Sep-Mar) garden only, we have gotten R3500 worth of 1500 individual produce items, which amounts to 120kg of produce!!! I keep my input costs at a minimum, the rain tanks pretty much pay for themselves by harvesting rainwater - so no expense on water – and we produce our own super compost from kitchen/garden waste and chicken droppings – so no soil expenses either. Also we use dried grass clippings as mulch - so no mulch expenses as well. Therefore, my expenses are seeds, plants, fertiliser and the occasional tool, which means that we save R2800 (80% of R3500) for summer crops. We only buy produce these days that are ‘out of season’, such as winter crops of leafy veg, peas, cauliflower, broccoli and things we don’t grow such as corn or apples/pears (too hot for pome fruits here).

Note: The prices I mention above are for PnP prices, if you buy at WW we pay R 1000-1500 more for the 120kg of produce! I didn't weigh or add the prices of leafy things and herbs, so my savings are likely to be more than estimated above!!

Harvest of Sweet Potatoes: 23 July 2013

While I was looking up prices I saw that some vegetables are dirt cheap to buy whereas others are horridly expensive. I compiled a list of food crops which are expensive (and easy to grow) to cheap. This means that if you choose to grow food items that are expensive to buy you’ll have a more economically viable vegetable garden, so here is the list:

Food item
Rands per kilogram
Category
Herbs
333-500 (20/30g pack)
Very Expensive
Pomegranate
250-285
Very Expensive
Spice
200-400
Very Expensive
Nuts
160-280
Very Expensive
Asparagus
100-250
Very Expensive
Berries
120-200
Very Expensive
Figs
150-170
Very Expensive
Peas
150-170
Very Expensive
Ginger
100-150
Very Expensive
Baby spinach
100-130
Very Expensive
Spring Onions
100-120
Very Expensive
Button mushrooms
90-100
Very Expensive
Tender stem Broccoli
90-110
Very Expensive
Garlic
75-120
Very Expensive
Spinach
80-90
Expensive
Pineapple
70-80
Expensive
Lettuce
60-75
Expensive
Leeks
60-75
Expensive
Radish
65-70
Expensive
Cauliflower
50-60
Expensive
Cherry Tomatoes
50-55
Expensive
Limes
50-55
Expensive
Peppers
45-60
Marginally expensive
Patties
35-40
Marginally expensive
Grapes
30-50
Marginally expensive
Mango/Pawpaw
30-40
Marginally expensive
Large pumpkins
30-35
Marginally expensive
Beans
20-50
Marginally expensive
Standard Tomato
20-50
Marginally expensive
Avocado
20-40
Marginally expensive
Lemons
20-30
Marginally expensive
Citrus
20-25
Marginally expensive
Jewel Sweet Potato
20-25
Least expensive
Cucumbers
15-25
Least expensive
White Sweet Potato
15-20
Least expensive
Red Onions
15-20
Least expensive
Banana
15-20
Least expensive
Red Potatoes
13-15
Least expensive
White Onions
10-15
Least expensive
White Potatoes
10-13
Least expensive
Beet
8-10
Cheap
Carrot
6-10
Cheap

I must just add in here: I am absolutely shocked at the price of radishes - it is more expensive than cauliflower! I mean a radish is a fool-proof veg, you sow them in the ground, they pop up and three weeks later you have radishes! So, always have some of these in the garden!

So when you start out a food garden, an herb garden is a very good place to begin as they are:

ü    Easy to care for
ü    Use minimal water
ü    Very productive
ü    Save a lot of money

After herbs; getting stuck on growing leafy vegetables, fruits (especially figs and berries), peas!, asparagus, tender-stem broccoli, garlic, ginger, leeks, cherry tomatoes and peppers are good crops to follow the herb garden. After which, you can go onto the large pumpkins, scallops (patty pans), beans, lemons, standard tomatoes and grapes.

Harvest of lettuce: 11 July 2013



I am thinking of establishing an asparagus patch… also I would say that asparagus is better left for when you are a bit more experienced and they need 3 years to start producing! The rest in the above list are very easy to grow; stick them in the ground and watch them grow! Your tomatoes and peppers will do well with some pruning, whereas the figs and berries might need some additional care. Squash need a lot of space, but are very productive (especially the bush varieties), beans and lemons are easy to grow and prolific whereas a grapevine might be attempted by the more experienced gardener with advanced pruning skills.

Here are a few of the profiles I have done so far on the top-expensive vegetables & fruits:
Several herbs: Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Fruits: Raspberries, Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash & Pumpkin, Figs
Vegetables: Peas, winter leafy vegetables, Radishes

Harvest for 22 Feb 2014!
Some of the other ‘expensive’ plants are exotics, ‘baby’ or ‘red’ varieties of the standard ones (such as red potatoes or baby spinach). I would also recommend the growing of exotic fruit varieties to more experienced gardeners and sometimes it’s just not feasible to grow these as they are 10-20m trees (mangos, pawpaw, avocado) that love tropic conditions! (But nothing prohibits you from trying dwarf varieties or miniaturising them yourself, which does take a good deal of pruning & ‘bonsai-ing’ knowledge). Whereas others are not very prolific for the amount of space they take up, such as pineapples.

The other vegetables listed towards the ‘cheaper’ side are by no-means inferior – you simply cannot beat the taste, texture and satisfaction of home-grown potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers and carrots! These are especially easy to grow as well!

The Boer Patty!
30 Dec 2013

With so many vegetables to choose from where do you start? You want to grow them all!

...I’d say that check your fridge and see what you eat, then make a list of potential candidates and weigh them against their costs in the store, space they take up vs. production and their overall maintenance. This is a good place to start your vegetable garden that will produce high-quality food and will be cost-effective as well!

Other articles in the Series

Part 2: Conservation Agriculture
Part 3: Integrated Organic Gardening
Part 4: Vegetable Garden Planting Guide & Management 


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2 comments:

  1. Great article - where can I get TenderStem Broccoli seeds from? Cant seem to find anywhere, and only woolworths sells them for a LOT!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey hey - Starke Ayres supplies them under their 'Special Collections' range - I got mine from Garden World (please see me Nurseries, Suppliers, Stockists and Products page); else they should be at nurseries with large seed ranges. I have seen some of the seeds from the 'Special collections' at PnP, Spar and Checkers as well.

    I have the 'Zara' cultivar. Broccoli is a winter grown crop, it likes it warm when it is a seedling and cooler when it crops. So plant March-April (in SA) for a continuous crop during the winter months. You can find additional details here:
    http://www.starkeayres.co.za/commercial-vegetable-seed-variety.php?id=28
    http://www.starkeayres.co.za/com_product_docs/Zara.pdf

    ReplyDelete

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