One of my favorite things about gardening is that you’re making free food. Well, not exactly free is it? Anymore than anything is free. You spend the time, you buy the gardening supplies, fertilizer, etc. Many people probably do garden at a loss, I’m sure I do, but I enjoy it, so there is that.
There are plants you can grow, which, I think give you more bang for your buck than other plants.
For instance, in choosing a shade tree for your yard, you could plant an oak tree, or you could plant a walnut tree. Both drop nuts, but Walnuts are much more palatable to humans (though, you can eat Acorns in a pinch). Nuts are very expensive at the store, and having your own supply can save you big bucks. You’ll have to shell your own of course, but in the shell nuts keep for longer AND all those empty shells are compost fodder.
For a Spring followering tree you could plant a redbud, or other ornamental, or an apple or pear tree. Both give you flowers, and relatively small size (dwarf and semidwarf varieties are readily available), but the apple or pear tree give you fresh fruit as well. My pear tree planted in 2004 was bought for $20 at Lowes, and came about 6 feet tall, it is now around 20 feet tall and produced last year (it’s fourth year in my yard for those keeping track) around 40 super sweet ripe awesome pears. Big round fresh fruit can be as much as a few dollars per pound at the store. I’m not even talking organic fruit or stuff at Wholefoods or places like that. I shop at a regular old supermarket, and their apples can get as high as $2 each. $80 in production from this still very young tree is pretty good. You also get a higher quality product because fruit left to ripen on the tree does not ship very well, and in fact should be eaten within a day, but man oh man, it is so sweet and juicy.
I’ve also talked on this blog before about raspberries, my favorite edible for saving money, but I’ll admit it isn’t the most attractive plant, so perhaps not a good substitution as the others above were.
This blog post though, is about asparagus. Asparagus is relatively unique among veggies in that it is a perennial, not an annual. Now, from the standpoint of saving money, perennials are a bargain. You buy them once (or start them from seed once) instead of once per year. Additionally, because perennials establish root systems that go deeper and further than annuals, they need less water and less fertilizer. So the savings come all around.
Asparagus is also one of those plants that taste better when eaten fresh, after picking sugars in the plant start converting to starch, so the sooner after picking you eat it the better. And of course it is also fairly expensive in the store, so you’re getting more buck for your acre.
Asparagus I also find is fairly ornamental. The foliage becomes tall and airy, not unlike an ornamental grass, it also clumps somewhat, so I think it could be used the same way as an ornamental grass in an ornamental garden. Additionally it has some fern like qualities as well, but of course for full sun. See the picture with this post of some growing in a field.
The only downside with asparagus is that while you can plant it once and eat for decades, it can take a year for your first harvest. Depending on the size of the roots (and asparagus is sold bareroot) you will probably need to let it just grow the first year without harvesting (though, if some big mamajama spears poke up, feel free to eat them). See, harvesting stresses the plant and you want it to get nicely established in year one, in subsequent years if after harvesting you notice it start putting up weaker and thinner spears (pencil size or smaller) stop harvesting for the year. So generally, you harvest asparagus for a few weeks to two months in the Spring, and then let the plants mature and rebuild for the rest of the year until the following Spring.
I’ve grown asparagus for a few years now, but I am doubling my capacity this Spring because I’ve had good success with asparagus here and after trying other veggies in a certain spot I decided to just go with asparagus there as well. I shopped around and the best deal I found was at Park Seed (direct link to the product on their site). They have 40 plants for $29.95. That is pretty good. Also, both varieties are good (I grow them both). If you do not get this set, when shopping for asparagus male plants are priced at a premium, not because they taste better or grow better, but because the females can go to seed and then you’ll have volunteers all over your garden, which might not be your cup of tea.
To plant asparagus plant them deep, like you would a bulb, spread their roots out in a cone, like you would a daylily, and cover with enriched soil and fluffy mulch.
To cook asparagus, my favorite way is to boil for 3 minutes (exactly, cooking it too long is a bad idea), drain, and then transfer to a hot skillet with a little olive oil (or butter) in it, add the asparagus, squeeze in some lemon juice, toss in some lemon zest, and a little garlic, and saute for a minute or so.