Gardening to save money: These leafy greens and herbs can boost your food budget

There are so many reasons to grow your own food, and saving money is just one of them. But with the cost of living rising (and rising!), it would be great to see more Kiwis grow up.

I’m not saying you would be self-sufficient or anything like that. Just that some crops are easy to grow and/or store and preserve to help bulk up your meals or add a splash of flavor to budget-friendly ingredients. So I thought I’d ask a few of my expert gardening friends what they found best to grow at home to save money and here are their suggestions, plus some that I recommend myself. .

A packet of lettuce seeds costs less than a single bag of salad greens and can yield literally hundreds of salads.

BRYA INGRAM/STUFF/Marlborough Express

A packet of lettuce seeds costs less than a single bag of salad greens and can yield literally hundreds of salads.

Grow any lettuce and/or mixed salad

Bulk lettuces

lettuces harvested leaf by leaf, your salad days last longer… and a packet of seeds costs less than a single bag of lettuce and can yield literally hundreds of salads. Sow a few seeds every two weeks for a continuous supply.

Mesclun means a mix of greens, traditionally including chervil, arugula, lettuce and endives, but in fact any mix of salad seeds or a mixed seedling tray is a great way to grow a range of greens . Chief Nelson and New Zealand gardener Food writer Nicola Galloway recommends Setha Seeds’ Heirloom Lettuce Blend.

Sol Morgan, takaka permaculturist says miner’s lettuce, a hardy annual that easily self-sows at home and grows everywhere when the weather turns cold. “As far as I know it was brought to New Zealand by early Chinese gold miners, hence its name.” The leaves are shaped like a wide spade and both thick and juicy, Morgan says, and make a wonderful addition to fall and winter salad menus. This harvest can also be cooked as spinach.

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Also grow cut and reconstituted leafy greens

Rocket

In all but the coldest regions, rocket grows all year round and is super versatile in the kitchen. If it bolts, just let it self-seed (plus the flowers are also edible).

silver beet

True, silver beet is not the most exciting crop, it is productive, pest free and easy to grow in a pot Additionally, it self-seeds easily and in most of the country will produce year-round.

Mustard leaves

They grow super fast, says Auckland permaculturist Ellen Schindler. Baby leaves add a zesty note to salads and sandwiches, and you can add them to soup or stir-fries.

mizuna

Jack Hobbs of Auckland Botanic Gardens also assesses mizuna as one of the most underrated leafy vegetables. “It is a fast growing, tasty and nutritious plant. I find it also tolerates warmer conditions better.

kale

Morgan says Russian cabbage, also known as Siberian cabbage, is a fantastic fall-to-winter crop and you can let it self-seed.

spring onions

Barbara Smith, who is the editor of New Zealand gardener e-zine growhas always spring onions in his garden. “They are so easy to grow from seed or trays, but they are expensive to buy and the purchased ones don’t last long. Cut off the tops and the roots continue to grow so they last a year or more in the garden. She uses them in salads, stir-fries, muffins, omelettes and more.

perpetual spinach

Taranaki urban market gardener and Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki academic staff member Carl Freeman rates perennial spinach for its productive, easy-to-grow nature and versatility in the kitchen. You can use it in place of spinach, but it’s much less finicky about conditions and much less prone to bolting.

Urban farmer Carl Freeman and a team of researchers have won the 2019 Pivot Prize.

Simon O’Connor / Stuff

Urban farmer Carl Freeman and a team of researchers have won the 2019 Pivot Award.

Grow any perennial herb

Freeman agrees that herbs are unbeatable for adding a wow factor to meals and are a great way to jazz up budget recipes. Additionally, he points out that some are perennial; As rosemarymint, sage, chive, oregano and thyme. You plant once and can harvest for years, with very little maintenance required (and they’re all easy to grow in containers if you’re short on space).

“Let’s be honest, the herbs you buy at the supermarket in those little packets are a massive rip off and anything that comes in a squeeze container doesn’t compare to the real thing,” he says.

In my garden in Auckland, I also very much appreciate Lemongrass and makrut lime, which are essential if you enjoy cooking South Asian-style recipes. In warmer regions both are ridiculously easy to grow and mine have produced year round for years. They add a huge boost of flavor to curries, broths and soups and can turn cheap cuts of meat and homemade vegetables into healthier, cheaper takeaways!

Some annual herbs are also worth growing

Basil

Smith did the math: A punnet of basil from the garden center costs less than a jar of hydroponically grown supermarket basil, which isn’t even enough for a batch of pesto. And if you buy, say, ‘Sweet Genovese’, you’ll get six plants that could give you enough big, flavorful leaves for a year of pesto.

The way to maximize production is to pick frequently, she says. Pinch the tips of each stem just above a node. Two more stems will grow from the node – more stems equals more leaves. “Basil freezes very well,” she adds. “Process in a food processor with olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays. Thawed basil lacks the visual appeal required for garnishes, but adds flavor to pastas, soups and dips.

Save the seeds of annual herbs that have finished growing, such as basil, borage, cilantro, dill and parsley.  Divide established clumping and creeping perennial herbs such as chamomile, chives, oregano, lemon balm, sage, tarragon and thyme: Take 10-15cm stem cuttings of upright, prostrate rosemary, cut soft tips and put in pot.  Additionally, all types of mint will grow roots quickly if placed in pots of water on a sunny windowsill.

SALLY TAGG/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Save the seeds of annual herbs that have finished growing, such as basil, borage, cilantro, dill and parsley. Divide established clumping and creeping perennial herbs such as chamomile, chives, oregano, lemon balm, sage, tarragon and thyme: Take 10-15cm stem cuttings of upright, prostrate rosemary, cut soft tips and put in pot. Additionally, all types of mint will grow roots quickly if placed in pots of water on a sunny windowsill.

Ginger

Another winner, Smith says, is the piece of ginger root purchased five years ago that has provided all the fresh, crystallized ginger she has used since. “Once established, you can cut small pieces of root to use fresh any time of the year. Each winter, when it is dormant, dig up the whole clump. Replant a few pieces and crystallize or freeze the rest.

Coriander

said Jack Hobbs coriander is one of its most popular winter crops. Cilantro prefers the cooler months and does not like transplanting, so Hobbs sow the seeds directly in the garden from February to early April to ensure successive harvests. “I find the ideal time to be early March, with germination taking around eight days and plants ready to harvest from mid-April. It’s important to keep the seeds moist during germination, so I cover the rows with shade cloth for about a week until I see the first signs of seedlings appearing,” he says. “I always leave a few plants blooming because that attracts a lot of beneficial insects, so I always have a plentiful supply of fresh seeds on hand, both for cooking and re-sowing.”

Parsley

Nicola Galloway wouldn’t be without curly parsley in her plot in Nelson, and grows it year-round to supply her kitchen. “I leave a few plants to sow every year, then I transplant the little seedlings that grow into the garden,” she says. “It’s used in cooking throughout the week, to make parsley pesto or salsa verde, sprinkled over soups or stews, and the stems are added to broth.”

In Tākaka, Sol Morgan loves Dalmatian parsley. This self-seeding green grows all year round for him, “which means I have a plentiful supply of nutritious parsley for my salads. It also goes great with pumpkin soup during the busier months. fresh,” he says.

Learn more about how gardening can save you money:

  • Nine Fruits Worth Growing
  • Grow these prolific, easy-to-store vegetables

Jo McCarroll has edited NZ Gardener since 2010. She lives in a central suburb of Auckland in a section filled with vegetable beds, fruit trees and flowers.

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