A garden of things that are cheaper to plant than to buy
August 12, 2010 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Lazy and cheap gardening in Los Angeles: what plants, fruits, etc. are cheaper to grow (and maintain) than to buy?

I currently have a decent-sized garden, and a huge backyard. I doubt I'll be living in my current home for more than 2 years, so fruit trees that take 5 years to fruit are (unfortunately) out of the question.

So far, I've only figured out that it is better/cheaper to plant any herb. The only article my weak Google-fu has found so far is this article, which says to go for fruit trees, lettuce, herbs, zucchini, cucumber, and bell peppers -- and NOT potatoes, carrots, celery, asparagus, wheat.

I thought about going for a mushroom kit, but button mushrooms seem cheaper to buy (at $1.70 a pack), compared to $36 for a kit of two or three flushes.
posted by Xere to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Radishes are no fuss and grow really quickly, plus they're yummy sliced and layered on good bread with butter and a little sea salt.

Spinach is easy during the cool months. Beets, chard, parsley... all maintenance-free. Pole and bush beans have given me very little trouble, If you have raised beds and the space, carrots and parsnips are fun to grow--sure, they're cheap top buy, but you won't LOSE any money growing them yourself.

I've also had good luck with baskets of strawberries.

Heirloom tomatoes are definitely cheaper to grow than to buy, but not necessarily a match for a gardener. You need to tend to them-- staking, pruning, watching for blight, etc.
posted by idest at 12:50 AM on August 12, 2010

If you can make avocados grow in Los Angeles, you should. If only so we Northeasterners can live vicariously through your cheap and abundant avocados.

Sadly, I do not know the timeline of your average avocado tree.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver describes how easy it is to plant asparagus in small spaces. And I don't know about California, but fresh local asparagus tends to be very expensive here on the east coast.
posted by Sara C. at 6:07 AM on August 12, 2010

From a London, UK, POV, any fool can grow:

Rosemary, oregano, rocket, parsley, thyme, mint, coriander

Tomatoes, courgettes (zuchhini), chillis, beans

Figs and grapes in a year or so.

Prickly pear cacti are fun to grow too.

All of these would probably grow as well if not better in LA, apart from maybe the mint. The cacti might even fruit where you are. You're right about carrots, etc. Not worth growing. Asparagus is, but it takes too long.
posted by rhymer at 6:24 AM on August 12, 2010

Definitely, definitely herbs.

To some extent it depends on what you eat. Lettuce is pretty easy to grow (not in the super-heat, but once it's not quite so hot) and I eat a lot of it. It grows fast and the seeds are cheap, and it doesn't take much space. (And you can interplant it with radishes or carrots, both of which are pretty easy.) Other salad greens are also good.

We don't eat enough bell peppers to make growing them rather than buying them worthwhile, but we do like hot peppers and can grow unusual heirloom varieties by planting our own. Ditto tomatoes.

We do grow potatoes because they're fun and easy to grow, and blue ones because they're unusual-looking, but, no, it's not particularly a money-saver and it takes a lot of space.

Onions are pretty easy -- you won't get huge perfectly round onions unless you have ideal soil, but they help keep pests out of your beds and you have green onions from the tops and onion-onion from the bottoms, even if it's mostly just for chopping, not big lovely round ones for onion rings on your burgers.

Gourds and squash are typically pretty easy -- you could plant yourself a few random hills in your big backyard and not even have to do a veggie bed for them if you wanted. We like to grow spaghetti squash because it's harder to find, and a gourd mix just for the interesting shapes for fall decorating. The seed packets cost 89 cents and require no work once you plant them.

We also like to do sunflowers because they're SOOOOOOO pretty and impressive and I love to watch them chase the sun, but we typically don't get to eat the seeds because the birds and squirrels love them too. This is okay with me, since I'm not the biggest fan of sunflower seeds and I love to watch the wildlife, especially if we leave the flowers up into the early winter when they're scrounging for food (in the midwest, where there's snow and stuff).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Raspberries. We grow them by the gallons and hardly do any work. Every time I see them on sale, I can't help but think about how many dollars of organic raspberries I give away when the season is in full swing.
posted by advicepig at 7:13 AM on August 12, 2010

For me it's not just the cost of grow vs buy, but the waste involved in buying something and having to compost it after it's sat in the fridge too long. Think about plants like lettuce and spinach that you only use occasionally, and can basically be 'stored' outside.

Spring onions are great to grow - just buy one set at the grocery store, and when you've used up the green tops, instead of throwing out the white bottom with the roots, plop it in the ground. The tops will re-grow and you can keep cutting them as you need them. I used to spend $1 a week on spring onions only to use half of them, now I spend $1 in the spring and am set until winter.

Peas are easy to grow but very expensive at the market. And there's nothing like fresh peas off the vine - I've read that the sugar content starts declining the second they're picked, and you can tell.
posted by Gortuk at 7:31 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Raspberry bushes, especially the fall-bearing varieties, can give you good fruit the same year you plant them (and even more the next year), but they're also the kind of thing that the next resident might see as a nuisance plant - thorny, rambling, unkempt-looking, with underground runners trying to spread their reign of deliciousness all over the yard.
And I don't know what varieties work in CA.

I know you'll be moving in ~2 yrs, but consider that you could plant any fruit bush (and many dwarf-size fruit trees) in a big planter and take it with you. You'll still be taking advantage of your large yard, because a large planter with a bushy plant in a small space can be a bit overwhelming.

I'm in New England, so my choice of fruits is perhaps different, but the principle still holds. You can buy ~2 yr old blueberry plants that fruit the first summer, and the mid-size bushes are great for planters. (my pots are 22" diameter, 20"tall) I have a goji-berry vine in a pot (5-gal bucket); I have no idea if it/when will really start giving me fruit, but it's fun to hope.

In a planter as big as my 22" ones, I probably could have planted a dwarf apricot, but Massachusetts is not the kind of place that would lead to particularly delicious fruit. (they're my favorite.) California, on the other hand... I would totally encourage you to do apricot, plum, citrus or avocado trees (assuming avocados come dwarf). A dwarf variety might not be happy in a giant pot indefinitely, but it would be fine for the first 4-5 years, and by then you might have a more permanent location for them. It's a possibility anyway - talk to a garden center person if the idea appeals to you.
posted by aimedwander at 7:45 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Salad greens -- mesclun mix, or straight up arugula. Plant continuously for year-round harvest.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:57 AM on August 12, 2010

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