Grocery bill got you down because it just keeps going up? The price of food increased 4.8 percent last year, and is expected to increase another 3.5 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Grocery bill got you down because it just keeps going up? The price of food increased 4.8 percent last year, and is expected to increase another 3.5 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There is a solution: Plant a food garden. To really save money, you'll need to grow the food you like to eat, grow fruits and vegetables that are expensive to buy, and save as much of the extra as you can. It will take work. You'll need to plant, weed and water. And don't be afraid to try canning and freezing: The "Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving" and the Ohio State University Extension both offer great instruction on preserving the excess. If you're wondering how to get the most bang for your home-gardening buck, look to the USDA. They say the most expensive fresh fruits are raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, peaches, grapes, plums and apples. The most expensive vegetables are spinach, peppers, green beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, winter squash and salad greens. All grow well in Central Ohio. Spinach and salad greens are super easy to grow, prefer cool weather, can produce crops in both spring and fall, and grow well in containers. You can cut the leaves for salad, and the plant will produce more. One packet of spinach seed will produce about five pounds of leaves. Cauliflower and broccoli also can produce two crops each year, in spring and fall, but they can be picky and hard to grow for beginners. They're great to freeze or can, to use fresh or in soups. Tomato and green peppers produce up to 15 pounds of fruit per plant, and can be grown in containers. Excess tomatoes (and sauce) can be dried, frozen and canned. Winter squash, such as butternut, are easy to grow from seed, and suited to containers. Each plant produces multiple one-pound fruits. They store well in a cool, dark basement for several months. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries take time but save money. A raspberry plant produces up to eight pints per season, but needs several years to establish. For blueberries, grow smaller bush varieties in containers in a special acidic-soil mix. They'll yield one to eight pounds per plant. Freeze or can extras. Strawberries don't need a lot of space and each plant produces up to two quarts of berries, which can be frozen or made into jam. Give them two years to reach maximum fruit production. Grapes take three years to establish, but each vine can produce up to 20 pounds of fruit each year for decades. Concord, Niagara, Delaware, Reliance and Canadice are good bets for our climate. Extras can be made into jam, fruit leather or dried (into raisins). Tree fruits such as cherries, apples, peaches and plums grow here. Choose disease and cold-tolerant varieties, from the OSU Extension's "Midwest Guide to Fruit Production." If well-cared for, they'll produce a bounty every year, with plenty extra for freezing, canning and drying. Herbs, such as dill and basil, are significantly cheaper (and easy) to grow at home. The final key to profitable food gardening is keeping costs down. The cost of tools, planters and compost add up. To save, start with a small garden, and build up slowly each year. Look for materials via Craigslist and Freecycle.org. Many nonprofits and schools also sell low-cost plants as spring fundraisers. Starting from seeds is cheaper still. -- Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, bankrate.com and middlepathfinance.com.