Getting the best bang for your buck

8 vegetables that yield ample payback

By George Wiegel

Getting the best bang for your buck

Given the retail cost and high yield, tomatoes are gardening’s No. 1 high-payoff crop.

If you’re going to take a shot at growing your own dinner, start by picking the crops that offer the best return on your investment.

The best bets are crops that are both easy to grow and that produce high yields in limited space. Here are eight to try:

1. Tomatoes

They’re not the easiest crops to grow in areas prone to blight diseases and high heat, but the payoff is huge. The taste and nutritional value of a home-grown tomato picked at peak ripeness is light years ahead of supermarket fare.

The cost of store-bought tomatoes coupled with the likely yield makes the tomato gardening’s best investment.

Tomato plants are easy to start from seed, and the fruits are versatile for canning and freezing. Stake plants to save space.

2. Peppers

Both hot and sweet bell peppers are easy to grow. They thrive in warm weather.

Yields are good, store prices make the effort worth it, and peppers are nearly as versatile as tomatoes in the kitchen.

The biggest drawback: it takes weeks longer with more risk of loss if you’re shooting for maximum-nutrition, fully ripe red/orange/yellow fruits. Green peppers are perfectly edible, but they haven’t fully matured.

3. Cucumbers

Overcome the main problem of disease-spreading cucumber beetles, and you’ll swim in fresh cucumbers for months. Turn cukes into pickles or relish and the value goes even higher.

Cucumbers are cheap and easy to start from seed planted directly in the garden.

Avoid pesticides, and spread out the harvest by planting new seeds every few weeks throughout summer. If wilt kills the older plants, young ones will then take over production.

AsparagusFerns

Asparagus is a perennial edible that produces ferny foliage when harvest finishes.

4. Asparagus

One of the few perennial veggies, asparagus is planted by roots and can produce weeks’ worth of nutritious shoots each year for decades. The long-term investment is high — especially given the cost of store-bought asparagus. Give asparagus its own patch so spreading shoots don’t migrate into other crops.

5. Onions/Leeks/Shallots/Garlic

Just keep all these watered. They are among the cheapest, easiest-to-grow crops.

Onions aren’t that expensive in stores, but are good keepers and versatile. Shallots and garlic fetch a good price, making them winners in any cost/benefit analysis.

6. Lettuce

Leaf types are easiest to grow and keep churning out fresh spring salads until heat turns them bitter. But new crops can be planted for fall in cool climates and even throughout winter in milder climates or with protection.

All lettuce is cheap to grow from direct-planted seed. The main adventure is keeping bunnies away.

7. Squash

Almost all summer squashes are tireless producers — that is, until either mildew or squash vine borers take them down. Both squash problems are stoppable, or use the same trick as with cucumbers — seed several times so you’ll have a backup supply.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb’s edible stalks are best used in pies and jelly.

8. Rhubarb

Like asparagus, rhubarb is a perennial vegetable. You’ll get years of strawberry/rhubarb pies and strawberry/rhubarb jelly from your expanding plants each season.

Other than rotting in wet clay (a no-no for any vegetable garden, anyway), rhubarb is low-care and long-lasting. And it’s a bold, tropical-looking plant with its large leaves and reddish stalks.

Only the stalks are edible. The leaves are high in oxalic acid and should be cut off when harvesting.

About the Author

George Weigel is a Pennsylvania-based horticulturist, garden consultant, author and newspaper garden columnist. His website is georgeweigel.net.

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