Since my garden is almost into maintenance mode, I've been thinking about the economic side of a fruit and vegetable garden. I know that for some a garden can help reduce their food expenses, while for others it does not. The difference between the two is how much time and money they spend on it. Buy mulch every year to prevent weeds and there goes your profit margin. I believe more than just the generic concept of time & money, the plants they choose should be looked at. Below is a list of plants that I have learned are not bad choices:
Strawberry: Once you have your initial investment in plants, they'll take over the bed you put them in and keep coming back every year. We put ours in last year near the house with a sidewalk as the border to prevent them from taking the whole yard. The only items I've done this year to the bed were remove some covering I put on it on the fall (which actually killed most of my plants, this fall they won't get as much of a covering) and then take the rake through it once the weeds sprouted. The strawberries are already forming and I should be having strawberries in a couple of weeks.
Asparagus: This is another annual that once you have planted, the only real work is keeping the weeds away (which you can do with plastic over the area). We started them last year and this year had about a side-dish for 2, but expect more next year. We did not plant them in the ground properly, so that is why our crop was a bit low. A friend of mine nearby with a large farm has them growing wild on his property and harvested 2 pounds a week ago.
Onions & Garlic: These are ones that you also put an initial investment into, but they'll keep producing year after year. One of my neighbors has a garden FULL of onions so much that she gave us some bulbs last fall and they are already starting to form flowers in our garden this spring. If you space them close enough and plant them at the right time, the weeds won't have much of a chance.
Spring Lettuce: For my garden, the romaine lettuce is the winner of easiest spring vegetable. I'm still learning how best to do this one, but I've learned the best way is to plant your lettuces real close to each other. The benefit is the lack of weeding that you will need to do. You won't get as large of a head as you do at the grocery store, but the focus is to reduce your time and costs. We have been picking leaves off for the past 2 weeks and have been enjoying them. (We started them off indoors).
Peppers & Eggplant: These don't produce the quantity for me as much as my tomato plants in the same family, but what they do is slowly produce some great vegetables that I can take my time (for the most part) to pick.
Below are some that are bad choices on the time aspect:
Green Beans: We grow lots of them, but they will become your daily chore if you have even just a couple of plants. The key thing is to cut the green beans before they get too big. They'll easily produce new ones from flower to green bean in a day at the peak of the season. For us, the season went from late June to late September. That's 3 months of hunting for beans.
Peas: They are not as bad as green beans, but they will be a daily chore for 3-4 weeks. They produce their pods pretty quickly, so you have to catch them before they get too big.
Below are some that are bad choices on the money aspect:
Starter Plants: The easiest way to get ahead is to start your own plants. When I hear about people spending $3-5 on a tomato plant, I think to myself that they have already lost the war. For the same price I was able to start 18 plants in my house (though I had to put some more time into them).
Potatoes: From the seed potatoes I see at the garden places, it is another one that you have lost the costs war just buying the seed potatoes. I've seen the price of regular potatoes this past week at $0.16/lb, while the 1 lb of seed potatoes was at $5/lb. To just break even one would need to make at least 32 lbs of potatoes from the seed.
Let me know what I missed!