Save on seeds at the supermarket

Everyone knows you can buy seeds in those cute little seed packets in the garden center. But you can also get great garden seeds from packages of food in the grocery store. From beans to quinoa, the potential savings are substantial. 

Just one example is quinoa. A 2 gram package of rainbow quinoa was recently sold at a health food store for $1.89. A 1 lb bag of white quinoa at the same store in the grocery isle was $3.89. If you buy the big bag for dinner, there is plenty in a 1 lb container for eating AND planting your entire yard along with a few neighbors'. Looking at the math, there are 453.59237 grams per pound. Quinoa seeds in a garden packet work out to 95¢/gram. Purchased as a bag of food, they are less than a penny/gram. Savings were similar for other items.

Not all food items with make good garden plants. Rice and barley are processed after harvest and you are not buying viable grains from supermarket bags. You can easily test viability of seeds by putting some on a plate between wet paper towels. In a recent test, within a few hours there were the beginnings of quinoa sprouts. By the next morning almost all had sprouted. Beans take longer, but at two days nearly all the anasazi beans tested showed sprouts. Once you know you are dealing with viable seeds, you can plant them in Jiffy Pots or directly place them in the soil.

Also tested were organic whole peas, mung beans and amaranth with good results. Older, clearance items may be a problem so beware. A clearance bag of organic peas only showed a 30% germination rate. The rest were cooked to see how they would work as a food item and the flavor was stale. They were quickly tossed.

Testing beans and other seed items for germination rate is not only smart for gardening, it is a good way to see if the food you are getting is fresh. If your beans and seed don't sprout, they have probably been sitting on the store shelf for a long time and you may want to buy a different brand or shop at a different store.

Organic-style markets like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Vitamin Cottage are well stocked with organic beans, seeds and grains. Available in bulk or prepackaged containers, they sell quickly enough to ensure freshness. Regardless of the source, just make sure the items are whole and not cracked, split or otherwise processed.

Others have tried growing their groceries and have had great results. Here are a few reports from members of

"I grew wheat and amaranth last year from seed from the grocery store. We also got started on our millet by planting the seeds from the sprays sold for bird food. I planted lentils and they grew well, but the seedpods only hold one or two lentils. Not really worth growing, but it was a fun project, to see if we could and what they looked like. I figure it still was good for the soil, since they are a legume....

I planted popcorn that I got at the healthfood store. It was organic popcorn and it grew very well. We now have several jars of our own popcorn, from a handful that I planted." - FarmerDenise

"And we have terrific Yukon Gold potatoes that we hold over year after year for our own seed potatoes. They were originally a 10 lb bag of store bought. I know, lots of people say that's risky and you should only plant certified seed potatoes. But it's worked out fine for us. We get a great crop every year with many very large potatoes, and they store really well." - Kim_NC

"I've done various beans and dried peas with success. Organic wheat and oats sprout well. I grow them into grass for my cats. (I buy bulk whole grains to make my own flour so I get it by the 50-pound sack, plenty to grow) I always grow potatoes and sweet potatoes from store bought ones. Also garlic, I buy whole cloves of garlic in the produce aisle and break them up and plant them." - Ariel301



Extra Dwarf Pak Choy - A path to instant garden gratification

If you are an impatient person, gardening might not be the best hobby choice. All that work in the dirt can take months, or even years for a descent payoff. However, there is hope for those who need a little more of an instant garden gratification to stay motivated. If you plant extra dwarf pak choy, you will be able to see sprouts in a matter of days and harvest your first crop within a month.

Extra dwarf pak choy doesn't mind nippy nights or an occasional blast of snow either. In fact, you want to get these seeds in the ground as soon as you can work the soil and harvest before things get too warm. This is a great choice for fickle climates like the Mountain West. You can plant a batch, wait two weeks, and then plant more for 2 successive spring crops. Once you harvest you can put in a warm season crop, then plant more of the tiny choy in the fall.

Growing equally well in garden beds or containers, this is a good choice for people with limited space or those who want to squeeze a little more productivity out of their growing space. Direct sewing is better than peat pots since the roots on these plants are surprisingly deep for the choy's size. Transplanting will stall growth as the tap root tries to reestablish. Large pots can be started inside and moved out doors, but since chilly weather is not a problem, you might want to save indoor start space for tomatoes and peppers.

Tender and tasty, Extra Dwarf Pak Choy is a great "distraction" crop. It will keep you busy enough in early spring that you wont obsess about how slow everything else is growing. In fact, the dwarf choy went from seed to harvest faster than it took my corn salad or red winter kale to even sprout! Not only is this a great option for an impatient adult, this is a fantastic crop to get kids excited about starting their own little garden patch.


Good seed sources include Baker Creek and Kitazawa Seeds.



Give a thought to gardening

Even in a tiny yard like mine you can grow your own produce. My entire lot, which has a 1000 sq ft house, a garage, a shed, a large duck pen and a pond system on it, is only .167th of an acre. By using several gardening methods including square foot gardening, deep mulching, container gardening and vertical trellising, I am able to grow melons, pumpkins, grapes, apples, pears, zucchini, beans, tomatoes, peppers, several herb varieties, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi, and even some exotics, flowers and flowering shrubs to attract the local bees and other pollinators.

I harvested this basket of food out of my back yard just yesterday morning. The tomatoes and peppers are just starting to take off, all the grapes are ready and I need to harvest more today and over the weekend. The squash, which got a late start, are just now ripening. Cucumbers and beans will be ready next month.

With the drought, rising food prices and the ever increasing genetic modification of foods from the store, you might want to consider your own garden. Food inflation has been creeping up year after year and projections for next year's harvest is grim. Even if you can not grow enough to entirely support your family's food needs, anything you can grow yourself is less you have to buy in the store. Not only that, there is a growing body of evidence that the nutriton level in commercially-raised food is dropping. This means you have to eat more food volume to get the same amount of nutrients that used to be in food years ago. Nutrient density is of particular importance for people with weight and digestive problems like me. Growing your own food and properly managing soil means the food you grow will be more nutritious than food you can buy.

While summer is almost over in the US, you can prep growing beds NOW for easy spring planting. In fact, fall is the time you plant garlic. Thinking of a garden as a spring to fall thing is very much a thing of the past. In some areas you can even grow greens through the winter. My kale survived several hard frosts and a few snow storms with no problems at all.

Give gardening a thought or two next time you see the sorry state and high price of what is available in the stores. Better food could be available right outside your back door.