Growing food is one of America’s favorite pastimes, with roughly one in every three households either growing fruit and vegetables at home or in a community garden. If you’re among the green-thumbed masses and want to make your garden pay, it may be worth taking a look at crops that provide the best bang for your buck.
In reality, of course, the perfect crops for your garden will depend on where you live. But, as a broad category, think fruit trees, bushes and vines. The key reason these pay off big is simple. You invest once and get repaid each and every following year for as long as you live — or at least as long as you own that plot of land.
”It’s hard to beat fruit trees,” says Greg Seaman, editor of Eartheasy.com, when asked about the most cost-effective crops. “Our semi-dwarf apples, for example, average a minimum of 500 apples per tree per season. And they require few inputs and minimal maintenance.”
Naturally, buying a fruit tree will set you back a few bucks. Depending on the size and the time of year, you might pay anywhere from a $20 to $50 for a 10-15 foot tree. But, once established, a healthy tree is likely to produce hundreds of pieces of fruit each year. Better yet, if you’re into organic foods, which often cost a fortune in the store, it needs no pesticide. Organically grown fruit may not look as pristine as the oiled and pesticide-soiled fruits in the market, but it tastes delicious.
Berry bushes and vines, which usually require a smaller initial investment — $10 to $25 — offer many of the same benefits. Plant a blueberry bush in the proper soil (mainly peat moss) and it will deliver bowls full of fruit each Spring. Plant the right raspberry, boysenberry or blackberry for your area and you’re likely to not only get bushels of berries, the vines will reproduce like weeds, leaving you with either an increasing number of berry vines each year or with the opportunity to sell the vine “volunteers” to other gardeners. And, as you’re doubtless aware, each little clam shell of berries sold at the market can set you back $2 to $5. The bottom line: Your initial investment is likely to be repaid in the first year. After that, you’re living large on dividends. (If you’re not a stock market investor, this may be an unfamiliar reference….but, trust me, dividends are a good thing. A really good thing. See the Money section for more on that topic.)
Below, we take a look at a few different fruit trees and vines, providing a reasonable guesstimate of your initial costs; crop size; and break-even point. Once you hit the break-even, every additional piece of fruit provides a juicy bite of profit.