Incorporating more vegetables into our daily diet is something that we all strive to do. However, as you walk the aisles of your grocery store, you may notice something strange - the price of vegetables is much higher than the price of junk food.
This is one of the reasons why more people turn to sugar-filled, manufactured foods rather than choosing to cook from scratch with delicious, fresh vegetables. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
If you’d like to start eating more vegetables but want to lower the cost of your grocery bill at the same time, the easiest solution is to start growing your own vegetables at home.
There’s also an added bonus to growing vegetables at home. Many vegetables are imported from different countries and, as such, require ships or airplanes to get them onto our grocery shelves and into our kitchens. By growing your own, you won’t only be saving money but you’ll also lower your carbon footprint.
Growing your own vegetables is super easy and rewarding. As long as you follow some simple rules, you can have a supply of fresh vegetables ready to hand at any time of the year.
Below, you’ll find our ultimate guide on vegetables to grow at home and save money. We’ll take you through the best vegetables to grow at home, what you’ll need to grow them, and we’ll offer you a plethora of advice to help you on your self-sufficiency journey.
Before you head out and buy a load of seed packets, the first thing you need to do is make sure that you’ve got all of the equipment you need to grow your own vegetables at home.
Don’t worry, there aren’t too many tools that you’ll need, and you can even save yourself some more money by using everyday household objects or things you were planning on throwing away to grow vegetables in.
Let’s take a look at what tools you’ll need, to begin with. Each of the tools we’ve listed below will be needed at some stage of the growing cycle from sowing to harvesting.
This is a small gardening tool that looks a bit like a wooden stick, and it has two main functions. The first is to create a hole in your compost that you can drop the seed into. All seeds need to be planted at a certain depth, and a dibber will take all of the guesswork out of wondering if you’ve got it right. Some even have measurements on their side to make it even easier. The second job a dibber is responsible for is gently easing the seedling out of its pot when it is ready to move to a larger growing space. It’s the perfect tool for this as it creates minimal root damage as you lift the seedling, and allow you to get the juvenile roots deep into the soil you’re moving the seedling into.
Budget Hack: You can create your own homemade dibber simply by using a small piece of bamboo or a disposable chopstick that you have lurking in a kitchen drawer!
A trowel is essentially a miniature spade that can be used for digging small holes to transplant established seedlings and younger plants into. A trowel is also a useful tool for working some nutritious compost into any existing soil, which your seedlings will need to grow into strong, healthy, delicious vegetables.
These come in two sizes, and you may need to invest in both depending on what you’re growing. The main purpose of a garden fork is to gently ease your vegetables out of their growing space once they are ready to harvest without causing any harm to the vegetables themselves.
Budget Hack: If you’re growing vegetables that can be harvested from the main plant (such as chilies, peppers, or tomatoes), you probably won’t need a garden fork. This is because the fruits grow above ground and, as such, don’t need to be pulled from the earth.
You’ll need these to harvest any vegetables that grow directly from the main plant (such as eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchini). By using secateurs you can create a clean cut when you harvest, which makes it easier for the plant to heal and reduces the risk of disease setting in.
Once your seeds are out of the packet and in the soil, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s what. This is why you need plant labels. As soon as you sow your seeds, take a plant label and write the vegetable type and variety on it. Pop the label in the pot and you’ll know what it is when the seedling starts to emerge.
Budget Hack: If your family gets through a lot of popsicles, save the wooden sticks and clean them. They make great plant labels and will save you from having to buy them separately!
That’s the tools that you’ll need to start growing your own vegetables at home covered. But you’ll also need to think about where you are going to grow them.
A Note On Seedlings
Whether you’ve got acres of land available or a small balcony, most seedlings will need to be started off indoors. When you sow your chosen vegetable seeds, you can either scatter them across the surface of a seed tray or place them into individual pots.
Both of these methods take up minimal space, however, you need to remember that these seedlings will grow into larger vegetable plants. So, choose your vegetables wisely and only sow as many seeds as you think you’ll have space for once they’ve matured.
Budget Hack: You can save money on seed trays and miniature seedling pots by using the inner tube of a toilet roll. Simply stand it on end, fill it with compost, and plant your seed. Since they’re made of cardboard they can be planted directly into the soil when the time comes without having to remove the seedling, and they’ll biodegrade as the vegetable plant grows!
It may seem like the simplest way to grow vegetables is to plant them directly into the ground once the seedling has matured enough. While this is perfectly fine, you do have less control over soil conditions when you do this. Not to mention, you’ll find yourself battling with weeds on a more regular basis.
This is why it’s often a better idea to grow vegetables in containers. By doing this you can add more nutrients to the soil without it being snatched up by surrounding plants. You’ll also need to weed less frequently as there’s less of a chance that self-sown wild seedlings will have found their way into the soil.
Raised beds and plastic plant pots are the most popular choices for growing vegetables as they are tough, sturdy, and will last you for a long time. These are also a great choice for smaller gardens as they take up minimal space. They can also be moved with ease, which gives you the opportunity to shelter your vegetable plants if a storm blows in.
The Best Vegetables To Grow At Home
So, you now know what you need to grow vegetables and you’ve given some thought to where you’ll be growing them. Now comes the fun part - choosing the vegetables you’d like to grow!
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best vegetables to grow at home. These are all super easy to grow too, so they are a perfect choice for new gardeners or anybody looking for low-maintenance vegetables to grow.
Onions are pretty much the foundation of any recipe, and growing your own at home will save you an absolute fortune over time. They are also amongst the easiest vegetables to grow of all.
You have two sowing options with onions - sets and seeds. An onion set is essentially an onion that has sprouted. You may have seen this before if you’ve ever left an onion in your refrigerator for too long and it’s started growing a green shoot from the top.
When you plant an onion set, the sprout continues to grow and underneath the surface of the soil several other onions will grow around the original onion. Hence, forming a ‘set’ of onions! This is the most popular method of growing onions as onions sets give a higher yield over a smaller space.
Onion sets are best planted in spring. Choose a location in full sun and follow these steps:
- Dig a small hole about 2cm deep with your trowel and lower one set into it.
- Cover the onion set so that the majority of it is buried, but the top tip is exposed.
- Space each individual set 2-4 inches apart on all sides.
It’s that simple! As onion sets grow, the green sprouts will get to a height of about 30cm and you’ll need to water them if temperatures get very hot. Once the sprouts start to turn yellow and have died back, your onions are ready to harvest!
Onion seeds are less productive than onion sets, as each seed will only grow one onion. This means that you’ll need more space to grow the same amount of onions, which is something that’s worth thinking about if you have a smaller garden or limited container space.
We know that onions are a staple ingredient in most dishes, but garlic is not far behind. And, as with onions, growing your own garlic at home is another great way to save money on your weekly grocery bill.
Garlic is incredibly easy to grow, and each single clove of garlic will grow into an entire bulb! Just like onions, garlic that is ready for planting will have started sprouting, and the planting process isn’t dissimilar to onions either.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Choose a site in full sun and plant each individual clove of garlic into the soil at a 1-inch depth.
- Space each clove 6-inches apart and space each row of cloves 12-inches apart
- Keep them watered during high temperatures and watch them grow!
Garlic needs a ‘chilling’ period before it starts to grow so it is best planted in fall or winter. However, there are some cultivars that can be planted in the spring so if you’re a little late to the garlic-growing party you still have some options.
Ok, so we know tomatoes are technically a vegetable. But, putting that age-old argument to one side, there’s no denying that a fresh supply of tomatoes straight from your garden is a wonderful thing to have.
Tomatoes also come in hundreds of varieties with loads of different shapes, sizes, and colors to enjoy. You’re unlikely to find most of these in your grocery store too, so you’ll be saving money and adding something extra special to your plate!
Growing tomatoes is a fairly straightforward job, but they do require a little care and maintenance in order to produce a bounty of fruits. You’ll also need to grow tomatoes from seed.
Here’s every step you need to take to raise your tomato plants and grow the best tomatoes you’ve ever had:
- Start by filling a seed tray, small pot, or a toilet roll tube with compost.
- Water the compost so that it is moist, but doesn’t become sodden or muddy.
- Next, take your dibber and create a hole in the soil in line with the tomato seed’s
planting depth. This will be on the seed packet, but it’s generally about 1cm deep.
- Place your tomato seeds into the hole and cover over with compost.
- Put the seed trays or pots on a well-lit windowsill and keep an eye on the soil’s
moisture levels. You want it to be moist at all times but never soaking wet.
- Pretty soon you’ll see young seedlings appearing out of the soil. As this happens, keep the soil’s moisture at the same level.
- Once each seedling has formed two ‘true leaves’ (this means that the entire seedling has four leaves in total), it can be pricked out using your dibber and transferred into an individual pot. If you sowed your tomato seeds in individual pots to begin with, leave them as they are.
- You’ll now need to move your tomato plants through increasing pot sizes as they get bigger. To see when they need to be replanted, take a look at the bottom of their pot. If there are roots poking through the drainage holes, it’s time to move them on.
- Over time you’ll notice your tomato plants are growing yellow flowers. It’s from these flowers that each truss of tomatoes will grow.
- Now it’s just a matter of harvesting them when they are ready! With tomatoes, the more you harvest the more they’ll produce new fruits.
There is one crucial step in tomato growing that we need to talk about, and it’s called ‘pinching out’. This involves removing any ‘suckers’ that are growing between the main stem and a fruit-bearing stem. A good way to think of this is as if the plant Nitrogenates.
You can simply snap these off using your fingers, but we’d recommend snipping them with secateurs to get a cleaner cut that will be less vulnerable to bacterial growth setting in.
Some nurseries will have young tomato plants for sale. This is a good option if you’ve left it a little late in the year to sow from seed, however, it does reduce the number of varieties you can choose from.
Are you a fan of spice? Why spend a couple of dollars on a packet of 2 or 3 chili peppers when you could grow hundreds of your own for the same price?!
Growing chilies isn’t dissimilar to growing tomatoes and they arguably require less maintenance too. However, one thing to be aware of is that chili seeds need heat to germinate. You can get special heat mats to help with this, but simply placing them on a windowsill above a radiator will also get the job done.
Aside from their heat requirements, the chili-growing process couldn’t be easier. Here’s what you need to do:
- As with tomato seeds, tart by filling a seed tray, small pot, or a toilet roll tube with compost and moistening it.
- Plant each seed at the depth stated on its packet. Again, this is usually around the 1cm mark.
- Place the seed trays on your heat mats or in a sunny, warm location and wait for them to start emerging.
- Once each seedling has two true leaves, transplant them into individual containers and increase their container size as they continue to grow.
- As soon as white flowers start emerging, the chilies will soon follow. They’ll be ready to harvest once they’ve reached the final color of the variety you’ve chosen. As you harvest more will grow back.
Another thing you’ll need to remember when growing chilies is that they like heat at all times. If you live in a part of the country with consistently warm temperatures then you shouldn’t have any issues growing them outdoors.
However, if the temperatures where you live are less reliable, you might be better off keeping them in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill indoors.
The humble potato may not be one of the most expensive vegetables in the grocery store, but as they are so easy to grow it wouldn’t make any sense not to give it a go yourself!
The first thing you need to do is make sure your seed potatoes (which you can get online from a nursery) have ‘chitted’. This means that they will have small shoots coming from different parts all over them.
If they have chitted, and the shoots are at least 3cm long, they can be planted by following these steps:
- Fill a large container (some people use dustbins or strong plastic bags stood on end) a third of the way full with compost.
- Lay your chitted seed potatoes horizontally across the surface. Don’t pack too many in though, about 3 seed potatoes per container is ideal.
- Cover with soil and once the stems have grown to about 9-inches tall, you’ll need to ‘earth up’ your potatoes. This means covering all but the top two inches of stems with more compost.
- Continue earthing up your potatoes until they are ready to harvest.
Potatoes come in three different groups; “First Earlies”, “Second Earlies”, and “Main Crops”. While the method for planting all three groups is the same, the planting time and harvest time is different for each of them:
June - July
July - August
August - October
Choosing to grow all three groups and following the correct planting times will give you a steady supply of homegrown potatoes for most of the year. Potatoes also store really well, so if you end up growing an abundance of them you could even have a stash ready to use until it’s time to plant next year’s!
Another fruit has snuck its way onto our list, but it’s one that you’ll save a ton of money on by growing at home. Strawberries are always a welcome sight to any dessert recipe and they can even be used to garnish drinks!
But, the best thing about strawberries is how easy they are to grow! They are perfectly happy in containers and take very little maintenance other than watering and the occasional feed with some liquid fertilizer.
Strawberries are hard to grow from seed, so you’re much better off getting some ready-grown strawberry plants from your local nursery. They are also perennial, so they’ll come back year after year with an increased amount of fruits each time.
Growing your own salad leaves is a fantastic way to save money and it’s also incredibly easy. They can even be grown all year round as most varieties are more than happy living in a container on a well-lit windowsill.
The sowing process is quick and simple. Here’s how to grow salad leaves:
- Fill your chosen container with compost.
- Scatter your salad leaf seeds across the surface then cover with a light scattering of compost.
- Water them in, put them in a well-lit position and you’ll have fresh leaves in as little as four weeks.
That’s all there is to it! Salad leaves can either be harvested as ‘cut and come again’ (which means you harvest individual leaves and wait for them to grow back from the same plant), or they can be left to grow a little larger and harvested by pulling them from the soil.
Sowing seeds intermittently across bi-weekly periods will give you a steady supply of fresh, crisp salad leaves all year round.
Growing your own radishes at home is a fantastic way to save money and, just like salad leaves, they have a quick harvest time.
To put things into perspective in money-saving terms, a packet of 20 radishes will cost around $3 at a grocery store. A packet of radishes seeds will cost around $1 and will contain up to 1000 seeds! You can’t beat those kinds of savings.
The sowing process isn’t dissimilar to sowing lettuce leaves and you just need to scatter your seeds across some earth and then add a light coating of compost on top. However, as radishes are root vegetables, you will need to thin them out.
This basically means pulling a few of the shoots out of the earth once all your seeds have germinated. This might seem drastic, but it ensures that the leftover shoots have room to grow into big, healthy radishes.
Young radish roots are still edible though, so even after you’ve thinned them out you can add them to a salad. Nothing goes to waste and your wallet remains full!
Best Herbs To Grow At Home
You can also save yourself some money by growing your own herbs! Below, we’ve listed three of the best herbs to grow at home, and the best thing about each of them is that they are extremely low maintenance!
The unmistakable flavor of basil makes it a popular choice for Mediterranean dishes and when you grow your own basil at home you’ll have a fresh supply at all times. It’s one of the easier herbs to grow from seed too and has very few requirements.
Sow your basil seeds in the same way as salad leaves or radishes; scatter across the surface of some soil, cover with a thin coating of compost, and water them. They will germinate very quickly too, but it will take a few weeks for them to become usable leaves.
There are only two things you need to remember when growing basil:
- Sunlight: As basil is a Mediterranean plant it needs as much sunlight and warmth as possible. If you can guarantee these conditions in your garden then it should be fine to grow basil outdoors. If not, it will grow quite happily on a sunny windowsill. In fact, if you want to grow basil all year round, you’ll need to grow it indoors during spring, fall, and winter.
- Drainage: Basil’s Mediterranean heritage also means that it hates sitting in water. So, make sure that your compost has good drainage and that your container has holes in the bottom to allow any water to run off. You should only water basil when the top ½-inch of the soil is dry or if the leaves look like they’re wilting.
Mint is also incredibly easy to care for but you’ll need some patience if you want to grow it from seed as it can take a while to establish. For this reason, you may want to get a ready-grown plant instead.
One of the best things about mint is that it is perennial, so once you’ve planted it you’ll get a fresh supply year after year. There are loads of varieties available too, and some even have hints of apple and chocolate in their flavor!
You do need to be a little careful about where you plant mint though. It’s best to give it its own container rather than mixing it with other vegetables. This is because it grows on runners which can quickly overtake an entire flowerbed.
Another delicious herb from the Mediterranean, Rosemary isn’t only easy to care for but it comes with the added bonus of being evergreen. This means that it will be ready to use all year round and, if grown in your garden, will bring some much-needed color in the bleak winter months.
Just like basil, drainage and sunlight are key for growing rosemary successfully. It can also be grown from seed but it does take a little while to establish into a plant that you can harvest from frequently, so you may want to think about buying a ready-grown rosemary plant from your local nursery or online.
Once you’ve discovered the joy of growing your own vegetables it can be all too easy to get carried away and sow everything that you can possibly think of. While this is absolutely fine if you’ve got the space to warrant it, you’ll need to make sure that you’re as organized as possible.
The best way of doing this is to create a planting diary. This will help you keep track of what you’ve sown, when you sowed it, and what you’ve got left to sow. You can also use your planting diary to note any successes and failures, which can help you figure out what you know works and what you need to improve on.
Caring For Your Vegetables While They Grow
A little tender loving care will help your vegetable plants grow big and strong, and they’ll reward you with a bountiful harvest. Below, you’ll find some top tips on how to care for your vegetables while they grow.
Before you can move your seedlings and young plants into their final containers, they’ll need to go through a process known as ‘hardening off’. This basically means subjecting them to outdoor temperatures throughout the day and then bringing them back indoors at night.
This reduces the risk of them suffering from shock once you’ve transplanted them and ensure that they are able to withstand a sudden drop in temperature.
Harden your seedling off over the course of two weeks, and then you can plant them into their outdoor containers permanently.
Choosing The Best Spot
You need to make sure that your vegetable plants are in the perfect spot if they are to grow into strong, healthy specimens. This isn’t too difficult though and there are really only two things to consider; light and wind.
All plants need light to grow, and vegetables are no exception to this rule. The more sunlight they have throughout the day, the more they are able to photosynthesize which, in turn, means that they’ll have strong roots and healthy leaves.
Another reason why sunlight is so important is that many vegetables need to be exposed to at least 8 hours of sunlight each day in order to ripen. If you don’t give them enough sunlight, the vegetables will take longer to grow and ripen, and you’ll be left with a mediocre harvest.
Protecting your vegetable plants from wind is also very important. Strong winds can tear through newly developed leaves and when this happens, the plants put more energy into creating new leaves than they do into growing fruits and vegetables.
Strong winds can also dislodge younger vegetable plants from the soil. This encourages all of the plant’s energy to focus on developing a stronger root system and, again, less time is spent growing the delicious homegrown vegetables you’re longing for.
Water & Feed
We all know how important it is to water plants while they grow, especially when you’ve placed them in a sunny spot. Throughout the summer months, you’ll need to water your vegetable plants twice a day to keep them growing healthily.
Don’t drench your plants, though. Aim to keep the top of the soil moist but not sodden. This will encourage the roots to grow as they search for water further beneath the soil and, in turn, the plant will anchor itself into the earth better.
You also need to remember to feed your vegetable plants. This is something that many people overlook, but it ensures that they are getting all of the nutrients they need to produce high yields of tasty veg.
Look for plant fertilizer that contains Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. This will be displayed as NPK on the bottle, and these are the three essential nutrients that all vegetable plants need.
Common Problems & Their Solutions
Life is rarely ever straightforward, and there may be some problems you run into when you first start growing your own vegetables. This is extremely common though, so don’t feel disheartened if you encounter any of the problems we’ve listed below.
Poor Germination Rate
One thing you need to know about growing your own vegetables is that not every seed you sow is guaranteed to germinate. However, if you’re getting a very low germination rate, there are a few things that could be causing this. These include:
- Poor light quality
- Poor soil quality
- Not enough water
- Too much water
- Not enough heat
Evaluate your growing conditions and sow another batch of seeds under different conditions. Use a different compost, give the seeds trays some more light, and either reduce or increase your watering.
Basically, just do everything the opposite way of the first lot of seeds you sowed. If the new batch is growing better than the first lot, you’ve solved the problem!
Dealing with pests such as caterpillars and birds is something that you’re almost guaranteed to come against. Luckily, there is a one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with both of these vegetable-nibbling nuisances!
Purchase a thin, white fabric, such as muslin, and drape it over your vegetables. You may need to build some kind of support frame to keep it in place, but this is easy enough to do with bamboo canes.
This will stop birds from pecking at your vegetable without risking them getting caught in any netting. It will also prevent butterflies from laying their eggs on your vegetables which, in turn, means no caterpillars!
The lightness of the fabric allows sunlight to penetrate through and feed the plants at the same time. But why does it need to be white? Darker fabrics will absorb heat from the sun and this can make the soil your vegetables are growing in dry up much faster. White fabric deflects heat and by doing so keeps everything at the optimal temperature.
Seed Still Attached To Seedling
This can be a worry at first as it can seem as though the seedling is struggling to break free from the seed itself. However, a seedling still being attached to the seed isn’t anything to worry about. As the plant continues to grow it will eventually shake it off naturally.
It can be tempting to pull the seed off, but this can result in accidentally tearing a leaf from the seedling. With this in mind, you’re much better just leaving it in place and letting nature take its course.
Growing your own vegetables at home is undoubtedly a great way to save money, but it’s also a really enjoyable way to spend your time. The feeling of filling your refrigerator with produce that you grew with your own hands is one that’s hard to beat. Not to mention, you’ll certainly impress all of your friends and family with your new-found green fingers!
Remember, however, that you need to make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job and that you’ve assessed the space you have available. Once you’ve done that, you can choose your varieties and watch your vegetables and your bank balance grow at the same time!