Frugal Gardening: Growing Foods that Practically Preserve Themselves

There is something special about growing food that you labor to preserve, like this:

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But what if you’re just starting out with gardening? What if you don’t have much of a green thumb? And what if you don’t have the time, money, or ability to learn how to can or dehydrate or ferment?

All is not lost, I say! I would encourage you to grow foods that basically preserve themselves. What do I mean by this? Let me give you a few examples.

#1: Garlic

100_5495 (800x600)Garlic is one of those vegetables I recommend every new gardener start with! You shove it in the ground in fall before the frost and basically do nothing. It will start to emerge sometime in winter and continue to grow through the spring. Water it a bit in spring, and then you can go back to neglecting it a bit while the bulbs dry out. It’s also a good one because it doesn’t tend to have many disease or pest issues (though I learned my lesson this year – don’t plant it right next to moisture loving lettuces!).

Once your garlic is done, just hang it up to dry. Store. Enjoy.

(You can read more about this at my Garlic Planting post.)

DSCN1202 (753x800)#2: Onions

I like growing onions because they appear in many, many recipes. You can grow them by seed or sets, which are kind of like little bulbs. This was my first year growing them by seed and I did get them to bulb – but not as big as the sets.

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If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend going with the sets. You plant them in early April….

And like the garlic, you stop watering them the last couple weeks and let them dry (“cure”). The Copra onions I harvested last year kept until March of this year – about 7 months!

100_4255 (800x600)#3: Dried Beans

A lot of people think about growing green beans, but have you ever thought about growing dried beans?

DSCN2594 (800x600)This year I’m growing black beans, and they are just starting to come ready.

Dried beans are super easy to grow because you just stop watering them the last few weeks and let them dry out. (Notice a theme with the varieties I’m sharing on today’s post?) They’ll look all papery and ghost like and anyone walking by not in the know might shake their head sorrowfully at the sad state of your garden. (Little do they know this is exactly how you want the beans to look!)

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There is ZERO fuss to preserve them. No canning, blanching, freezing, drying. Just shell them and pop them in a jar. I do wonder why I don’t hear more people opting to grow them – especially considering how versatile beans are! Even better, shove a few in the ground next year and voila. More beans.

100_5011 (800x679)#4: Squashes

I also have a soft spot for vegetables that can sit and sit and sit in your garage and still be good to eat. A couple years ago I grew spaghetti squash.

hipstersquashHonestly if you can grow zucchini (which is pretty hard not to grow), you can consider growing other squashes too.

This year, we tried these:

DSCN2580 (800x734)I’ve read that you pretty much shouldn’t try to grow pumpkins if you don’t have the space, but I just let them grow over the side of one of my raised beds and it worked just fine. I’m just letting them chill for a bit before moving them to my garage.

Other ideas…

There are a couple additional things I’m trying this year that I think should be pretty easy to preserve…

DSCN2051 (600x800)While this looks like corn, it’s actually popcorn. Looks like this is another one of those things you just let dry out and store. I can handle that.

DSCN2053 (800x600)The heads on my sunflowers are getting heavy and droopy so I’m thinking it will be time to remove them soon. While there will be a little process involved to remove and clean the seeds, basically this is another edible that should be pretty easy to preserve when the time comes.

I hope today’s post has given you some ideas of what to grow that may be quick and easy to preserve at the end of the growing season. Not all edibles require you slaving over a hot stove for a weekend of canning! They are also frugal choices because no fancy equipment is needed to preserve them in the end. The beauty about many of these varieties is that they will grow pretty well even with a little neglect on your part.

Can you think of any other things you’d add to my list?

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  1. AC says

    I planted some vegetables that were wilting/spoiling in my kitchen (more like threw dirt on them), and now they won’t go away! Aside from onions and garlic, potatoes, lettuce, and most of all herbs (especially mint and basil) are so resistant, they keep popping up after the driest summers and coldest winters with no maintenance.
    Instead of storing them in the house (and watching them wither), you can ‘store’ lots of plants alive in the garden.

    • Angela Russell says

      Great thought – and I love this!

      On that same idea, I like growing things like kale, swiss chard, and cut-and-come-again lettuce varieties for this reason.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  2. jayme says

    Wow beautiful pumpkins. I only got one from my plants and it got a rot spot before it turned orange :(. I was just wondering about how many beans you get from a plant? We eat a lot of beans. It might be a great way to try new varieties. With garlic do you just plant a clove from the store? Thank you

    • Angela Russell says

      I know it’s hard to tell, but that’s a pint-size jar of dried beans above. So maybe… two cups or so? I got that from one tee-pee trellis’ worth of beans. I bet you could plan with the end in mind for how many you’d like!

      I hope that helps.


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