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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Even with a large garden, I still have to buy some produce in summer

About now, my family begins to tire of kale, Swiss chard, lettuce and snow peas. We live in a maritime climate where many produce items simply don't ripen until late August, and some can't even grow here (such as avocados and melons).

So, I have to supplement what we can harvest with some purchased produce. Supermarket prices on produce are outrageous on most items. One local store is advertising peaches for $1.99/lb this week! (I'm sure that supermarkets are counting on most shoppers to not notice prices.)

I only want to spend a small amount of our grocery money on fruits and vegetables during the summer. So I need to be very mindful of prices as I plan what to buy. I have 3 locations where I shop for produce, and fortunately they're all along the same highway -- Trader Joe's, Country Farms (the produce stand), and Cash and Carry. I shop Trader Joe's for bananas, Cash and Carry for dried fruit, like raisins (not fresh, but we consider raisins as part of our fruits and vegetables), and Country Farms for overall low prices, yes, but I'm most impressed by their mark-down bin.

Yesterday, I made my mid-July produce shopping trip. I spent $21.95 for fruits and vegetables that will last for about 2 weeks, supplementing what I can harvest from our garden. For my $21.95, I bought 20 bananas, 2 lbs raisins, 2  12-pound watermelons, 1 head garlic, 2 large cucumbers, 3 small avocados for salads (will be ripe in about 4 or 5 days), a bag of 1 1/4 lbs of broccoli florets (marked down for 99 cents), a bag of 1 1/2 lbs of Rainier cherries (marked down for 99 cents), 3 large green peppers (marked down for 99 cents), a bag of 7 small and 1 large very ripe avocados for guacamole (marked down for 99 cents).

The cherries, broccoli and very ripe avocados will be gone within 2 days. The green peppers will be chopped and frozen. One whole watermelon to be consumed in the first week. The second whole watermelon is in the garage fridge to hold until next week. The bananas are in varying stages of ripeness and will be used within a week. The 3 unripe avocados will be added to salads over the weekend. The cucumbers should last 10-12 days. The garlic will last until I harvest our garden garlic next month. And, of course, the raisins would keep much longer than they will last here.

What didn't I buy that I saw yesterday? In the mark-down bin -- 3 ears of corn for $1, heads of leaf lettuce for 99 cents each, a bag of 1 pound of cauliflower for 99 cents, aloe leaves at 99 cents each (don't know what I'd do with aloe), bags of corn husks for 99 cents (these would be great for tamales, but that sounds like too much work right now), a 5-lb box of small oranges  for $3 that looked past their prime (would probably have been good for juicing), a 5-lb box of daikon radishes for $3 (might be good pickled, but that would be a whole lotta pickled daikon, 5-lb boxes of overripe bananas for $3 (that's 60 cents/lb, I can do better at Trader Joe's at about 40 cents/lb). At Cash and Carry, they had fresh strawberries, cherries, blueberries and raspberries for more per pound than the supermarkets. I find I have to be careful buying summer produce at the Cash and Carry, as their prices can often be beat by supermarkets.

By the end of July, more will be ready in the garden for harvest, and we'll have the variety that we crave.

When I have to buy produce in summer, I do have a few guidelines that I go by:
  • fruit needs to be very low-priced -- for fruit, under 40 cents/lb for most fruit. I make an exception for berries, cherries, peaches and grapes, but still look for those items at 79 cents/lb or less. For the most part, I buy watermelons, cantaloupe, bananas in mid-summer. Plus, I often find marked down fruit at the produce stand. This week it was cherries for 66 cents/lb. Even though we have some cherries on our trees, extras are always nice to have. I'll be checking road-side stands for peaches later in the summer.
  • dried fruit at $2.50/lb or less for raisins, $3.00/lb or less for dried apricots and prunes, and about $4.50/lb or less, for dried cherries. One drugstore has had containers of dried fruit on sale meeting these prices, every summer for the past several years, and I'm hoping for the same this year.
  • fresh vegetables at 79 cents/lb or less, and they need to be veggies that I'm not growing, or won't be able to harvest for another month or more.

If you grow some of your produce, are there items that you simply can't grow, but like to buy? A lot of supermarkets no longer offer marked down produce. I'm hoping that they offer this to local food banks and soup kitchens. Do any of your local stores have marked down produce? Do you have a price limit in your mind for how much you are willing to spend for produce?


  1. I always buy corn in the summer. When I've tried to grow it, I haven't been very successful. I do watch prices, but buy mostly on how fresh it is. We have our favorite corn man that goes to the fields every morning and gets fresh picked.

    Otherwise what doesn't come from what we're growing or surplus from friends, I buy what Aldi's is selling especially the deal of the week. I have found their produce to be good and reasonably priced because they tend to only stock what they can sell at a decent price.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      We can't grow corn here, either, so buy from a farm nearby. We like to do the u-pick, pick at noon, cook for dinner -- very sweet!

      You do get a lot of garden produce from others. How wonderful!

  2. Those are some pretty amazing deals!

    I used to have a hard and fast rule that I'd never pay more than $1/lb for any sort of produce, but I've eased off of that as my financial situation has loosened. I guess I've come to the conclusion that all else being equal, I'd rather spend a bit more money on food and eat a bit healthier. I still stay on the lookout for a good deal though.

    My neighborhood grocery store still has a discount bin, tho often times the pickings are slim. But several times this year I've been able to stock up on red, orange and yellow bell peppers at 3 for a dollar! But I also find that I can get really good prices on frozen veggies when they're on sale... around a dollar per pound - which is actually better than a dollar per pound for fresh because the whole weight is edible food (no stems or other parts that you can't eat.) I know they're not local, and they come with a lot of packaging, yadda, yadda, yadda - but it makes it so much easier for me to add them to a meal especially this time of year when I'm crazy busy with bike riding, gardening and the like.

    But summer fruits are my eternal weakness - so I splurge on things like cherries, peaches & grapes with great frequency this time of year. My raspberry bushes are doing fabulously though, and I'm considering digging up a few and starting another patch in a separate section of the yard because, really, you can NEVER have too many raspberries!

    1. Hi Cat,
      I buy a few super large bags of frozen veggies, mostly peas, but sometimes a large block of frozen spinach. I watch the sales at our local restaurant supply. I like how easy frozen is, no washing or trimming. And it seems that I can always make use of the plastic bags, so I don't worry about the packaging waste.
      Extra raspberries would be nice. You could freeze them and use in smoothies in winter. Our raspberry patch is somewhat small, and I'm hoping to add to it next year. My favorite berry, though, is blueberries. I could eat those all day long!

    2. I tried to grow blueberries, but alas, they all died. And I'd be happy if I could harvest enough raspberries for some to actually make it into the house. Apparently some CatLady (who shall remain nameless) tends to eat them all as she picks them! Did I mention restraint is not my strong suit where fruit is concerned? :-)

    3. Cat, yeah, I think you would need to really overhaul the soil to grow blueberries. Your climate is so dry. I know my blueberry bushes did poorly until I moved them to a very rich soil, and kept them well-watered all summer. At least you don't have competition for your raspberries. I have two others in the house who regularly "sample" the raspberries. So far, I've only frozen about 1/2 cup of them this summer. I have little restraint when it comes to the cherries. I use the tree as my snacking spot. Actually, I use the whole garden for snacking -- oh well, it's food and it was all planted to be eaten, hopefully by the humans and not the squirrels and birds.


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