Everything at the grocery store seems to be more expensive these days, and produce is no exception.
The 2022 Food Price Outlook from the US Department of Agriculture indicates that after strong price increases in February, the fresh fruits and vegetables category is expected to increase prices further between 3% and 4%. Fresh fruit prices alone are expected to increase by 5% to 6%, and fresh vegetable prices are expected to increase by 1% to 2%.
Craig Hayes, director of the Earl May Garden Center in St. Joseph, said consumers can save money by growing their own produce.
“You can often save a lot of money growing from seed,” Hayes said. “You can save a lot of money and get a head start, also buy pre-grown plants for you.”
Hayes said seed packets usually cost around $3 each, and starter plants cost around $4 to $5 for a single plant or a packet of plants. Although the yield varies depending on the type of plant or seed, he gave the example of a packet of tomato seeds containing around 50 seeds, which could potentially lead to 50 tomato plants, which will then produce around 30 50 tomatoes each.
May 10 is the frost-free date in northwest Missouri, Hayes said, so plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons shouldn’t be planted before then. However, he said cool weather plants such as strawberries, potatoes, onions, lettuce and spinach can be planted now.
“It’s easy to jump the gun,” Hayes said. “Wanting to have the first tomato or having that first plant in the garden sometimes doesn’t always pay off,” Hayes said.
If they plan to grow a specific variety of plant from seed, Hayes said consumers should buy the seeds as soon as they see them for the first time. Due to the growing number of people taking up gardening during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have fallen behind in production and faced a shortage of seeds in recent years.
“Typically, in a good economy, a garden center does well. In a bad economy, a garden center sometimes does very well,” said Hayes. “It’s because a lot of people are meeting (at) home more, traveling less, doing more around their house themselves and going back to gardening.”
Seed supply has started to recover, but Hayes said people may still struggle to find certain varieties. He said tomatoes are generally the most popular form of home-grown vegetables, with peppers coming in second.
Produce is generally more successful when grown in the ground rather than in containers.
“Choose things you like and then decide how far you want to go, whether that’s freezing, canning, or just picking fresh for your everyday use.”
Earl May offers approximately 1,600 seed varieties and many starter plants, fruit trees and shrubs. With vegetable gardens, consumers start over each season, but with fruit trees and shrubs, Hayes said gardeners are investing in the future because these plants grow more over time.
Although gardening can save consumers money, it will take more effort. Hayes said people can also buy fertilizers and sprays, which will incur additional costs.