Once upon a time, vegetable gardens were all but ubiquitous. Whether they tended a small container garden in the city or a backyard plot in the country, many -- if not most -- families had at least a few food-producing plants. In World War II, "Victory Gardens," maintained by ordinary families, contributed to the war effort by growing 40 percent of the country's produce. Since then, community gardens, city farms, and even green roofs have been part of the fabric of America's food production.
But for all that, the idea that every family should have at least a small garden has faded. It's not hard to see why: In many ways, America has become a produce wonderland. Whether the month is January or June, whether the place is San Francisco or St. Louis, most of us are rarely more than a short drive away from a reasonably ripe tomato, a crispy head of lettuce and a fairly fresh onion. And, given our economies of scale, this embarrassment of riches isn't all that expensive; even out-of-season, a red bell pepper rarely runs more than a few dollars, and a red (well, pinkish) tomato doesn't cost much more than a can of Coke.
Or, to put it another way, when Grandma can easily afford to buy beans and fresh basil at the local grocery store, she doesn't really need to grow her own anymore.
But while fresh fruits and veggies are easy to find, high quality ones, grown with minimal pesticides and maximum taste, are rarer -- and a whole lot more expensive. And while modern cultivation and transportation has made fresh veggies available to almost everyone, the cost has been huge. Whether the issue is e Coli contamination, a lack of nutrition, an excess of pesticides, or the environmental impact of monocultures, it's clear that even a $1 tomato can carry a huge price tag.
With that in mind, you might want to consider taking a cue from Gram and growing a couple of plants this summer. Chances are that your produce will be tastier and healthier than the stuff you buy in the store -- and it might even be less expensive. While some vegetables, particularly potatoes, carrots, celery, asparagus and wheat, are not cost-effective, many fruits and vegetables pay for themselves, particularly after you cover the initial startup costs of constructing a garden bed or window box. With that in mind, here are nine of the best -- and most profitable -- vegetables that you can produce in your backyard (or on your fire escape!).
Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.