I’ve raised a small container vegetable garden on my deck going on five years now. Fresh herbs (oregano, cilantro, basil, etc), tomatoes and a few other easily grown veggies have been added to the list over the years.
Yesterday, I came upon the realization that nearly every lunch I’ve had for the last two weeks has cost me less than $1.
How you ask?
- My basic greens are free. I grow my own spinach, mesclun and lettuce in three medium sized containers (3ft x 1.5ft) that produce enough biomass for me to eat a generous salad at least five days a week. I paid less than $5.00 for seed during the off season, so I made back my original investment the first week I harvested fresh greens.
- My fresh herbs are free. No longer do I pay $5.00 for wilted basil or flavorless chives from a tiny plastic container at the market. It may say fresh on the box, but it doesn’t come close to fresh picked. Many of the herbs I currently harvest from were grown years ago, so upfront cost is a non issue.
- I grow the higher cost items. Cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, and the larger beefsteak tomatoes are all grown on my deck. Best of all, these things cost $2.50 to $5.00 per pack or per pound at the grocery store, so I’m making out like a bandit. They do require a little more work maintaining the vines, but it’s easy once you setup a supporting cage, trellis or stake.
The only costs I really incur are the salad dressings (which I usually make myself), extra virgin olive oil, or any spices that I use to make them more flavorful. In the end, I only use a very small fraction of these supplies, so their cost per serving is minimal at best.
If you’re curious, I have a partial list of some of the herbs and vegetables I’m currently growing this season.
Healthy Meals for Under $1 from the (Sub)Urban Garden
- Traditional Garden Salad. Fresh greens, green onions, cherry tomatoes, and you’re done (I skip the cucumbers pictured below). Takes less than two minutes to make, which is probably why I eat this for lunch five times a week or more. My only out of pocket expense is the Italian salad dressing, which I can buy on sale and costs me no more than $0.50 per salad.
- Caprese Salad. Fresh mozzarella can be pricey, but if you know your local market well enough and keep your eyes open for a bargain, you can catch it on sale. One of my favorite all time simple salads.
- Fresh salsa. While not a meal in itself, it makes a great snack for guests or as a flavor enhancer for any number of dishes (fajitas, scrambled eggs, etc). All you need is a little lime or lemon juice, and you’re set. Plus, it’s way better than the boiled salsa in a jar that costs $4.
- Stuffed Peppers. Bell peppers (I prefer red) provide the perfect medium to stuff them with whatever you want, while still getting a big dose of Vitamin C in the process. I usually go for the spinach, breadcrumb and ricotta stuffing which keeps it cheap, but very flavorful.
- Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. An extremely easy side dish to make, but can get pricey when a small container of cherry tomatoes costs $5 per box. A little garlic salt, pepper, and olive oil, and you’ve got a healthy and colorful side dish in less than five minutes.
If you’re still skeptical that a small urban garden or raised garden bed can actually save you money, some studies suggest that a small home garden can generate a 10 fold return on your investment.
Got any tips from your own garden?
Photos by slushpup, Jeff Kubina, Florian, sfllaw, missy & the universe