Edible Landscaping

Get Healthy and Save Money by Food Gardening

Squashes are one of the most prolific vegetables you can grow.

It’s almost predictable: When economic times are hard, people head to the garden. It happened in the early 20th century with Liberty Gardens, in the 1940s with Victory Gardens, and in the 1970s with the back to the land movement. Similarly, with current concerns about food safety, global warming, carbon footprints, and pollution, along with a desire to build a link to the Earth and our own neighborhoods, food gardening has become a simple and tasty solution.

Food gardens aren’t just in backyards anymore. People grow food in containers on decks and patios, in community gardens, at schools, at senior centers, and even in front yards for everyone to see. Food gardens are beautiful and productive, so why not let everyone enjoy the benefits? Let’s look at the health benefits of growing some of your own food.

Nothing tastes better than freshly harvested tomatoes from your own garden.

Improve your Health

We all know we’re supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables every day. It isn’t just good advice from mom. Many vegetables are loaded with vitamins A and C, fiber, water, and minerals such as potassium. A growing body of research shows that eating fresh fruits and vegetables not only gives your body the nutrients and vitamins it needs to function properly, but it also reveals that many fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants — specific compounds that help prevent and fight illness.

While specific vegetables and fruits are high in certain nutrients, the best way to make sure you get a good range of these compounds in your diet is to “eat a rainbow.” By eating a variety of different-colored vegetables and fruits, you get all the nutrients you need to be healthy. Here’s a rundown of the colors of different vegetables and fruits along with the specific health benefits research suggests may be associated with each.

Color Phytonutrients Associated with Color Health Benefits Associated with Phytonutrients Examples of Vegetables/Fruits
Red Lycopene and anthocyanins Strengthen collagen proteins in the body; improve memory; prevent lung, prostate, and stomach cancer Strawberries, tomatoes, watermelons, raspberries, apples, radishes, beets, red peppers
Orange Beta carotene and liminoids Protect against chronic bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema; reduce the risk of cataracts and lung cancer; decrease cholesterol levels Carrots, squash, pumpkins, melons, sweet potatoes
Yellow Liminoids, beta carotene, and zeaxanthin Protect against chronic bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema; reduce the risk of cataracts and protect vision; decrease cholesterol levels; prevent tumors and cancer in the colon, breast, and prostate glands Yellow peppers, corn, beans, yellow squash
Green Lutein, saponins and glucosinolates Preserve eyesight; maintain heart and skin health; increase enzyme activity to detoxify carcinogens; prevent prostate cancer and lower lipid levels Spinach, collard greens, broccoli, kale, tomatillos, cucumbers, asparagus, cabbage, pac choi
Blue Anthocyanins Strengthen collagen protein; lower blood pressure; prevent colon, cervical, and prostate cancer Blueberries, grapes, plums
Purple Anthocyanins and flavonoids Strengthen collagen proteins; prevent cancer; provide anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits Purple cabbage, purple onion, eggplant

While eating fruits and vegetables is generally a great idea, the quality and safety of produce in grocery stores has been increasingly compromised. Whether it’s Salmonella on jalapeño peppers or E. coli in spinach, warnings seem to be happening every year. Also, some people are concerned about pesticide residues on their produce. A list called the “Dirty Dozen” points out the vegetables and fruits most likely to contain pesticide residues. Here’s the list: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. What better way to ensure a safe food supply free of biological and pesticide contamination than to grow your own? You’ll know exactly what’s been used to grow those beautiful crops.

You can't get any more local than growing a vegetable garden in your own yard.

Save some cash

You can save big money by growing your own vegetables and fruits. In fact, depending on the type and amount you grow, you can save a significant amount of money. By spending a few dollars on seeds, plants and supplies in spring, you’ll produce vegetables that will yields pounds of produce in summer. Instead of having to go to the grocery store to buy all that produce, you’ve got it ready for the picking for free in your yard. It’s your personal produce department! You’ll save hundreds of dollars on your grocery bill each year by growing a garden.

Here’s just one example of how a vegetable garden can save you some cash. The 20-foot-by-30-foot production garden illustrated here highlights many favorite vegetables. There are also plans for succession cropping and interplanting. When I indicate succession crops, I’m assuming two crops in one growing season. I’m also assuming 8-foot-long raised beds planted in rows with space to walk between the beds.

Click to enlarge garden design plan »

To show you how this garden saves you money, the following list provides vegetable yields and the price per pound of each crop. However, keep in mind that these are general averages. I’ve erred on the conservativeside with many yields. Yields, after all, can vary depending on your location, variety, and how well the crops grow. The prices are based on national average prices from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service for those vegetables grown organically in summer. Again, these numbers may vary depending on the year and location in the country. However, even with all these variables, you can see that you can grow more than 300 pounds of produce worth more than $600 just by working your own garden!

Vegetable Yields Dollars per Pound Value
Beets 12 pounds $1.50 $18
Broccoli 16 pounds $2.50 $40
Cabbages 18 pounds $1 $18
Carrots 16 pounds $1.50 $24
Cauliflower 8 pounds $3 $24
Cucumbers 10 pounds $2 $20
Eggplant 12 pounds $2 $25
Leeks 10 pounds $1.50 $15
Lettuce 10 pounds $2 $20
Onions 16 pounds $1.50 $24
Peas (double row) 8 pounds $3 $24
Peppers 30 pounds $1.50 $45
Pole beans 12 pounds $1.50 $18
Potatoes 25 pounds $1 $25
Spinach 10 pounds $3 $30
Summer squash/zucchini 25 pounds $2 $50
Sweet corn (50 ears) 17 pounds $.50/each $25
Tomatoes 80 pounds $2 $160
Winter squash (bush) 15 pounds $2 $30
Totals 350 pounds   $634

If you grew the garden illustrated here, it would yield 350 pounds of vegetables. If you went and purchased all those 350 pounds of vegetables in a grocery store, you’d have to pay more than $600 dollars. This garden costs only about $70 to plant. So you’re saving money and getting great food to eat.

Adapted from Vegetable Gardening for Dummies (Wiley Publisher, 2009).

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