The Economics Of Gardening: Can You Dig It?

By Lisa Smith | June 04, 2009 AAA
The Economics Of Gardening: Can You Dig It?

Since Michelle Obama broke ground on a garden at the White House, interest in growing your own food has soared. Seed vendors report a massive increase in sales and those of us old enough to remember (or to have heard it from parents) recall the "victory gardens" planted by more than 20 million Americans (including Eleanor Roosevelt) and countless Brits and Canadians during World War II.

Does It Really Save Money?
So the hype factor is there, but is planting a garden really worth the investment? It depends. If you spend $2.00 on a patio tomato, $2.00 on bucket to put it in and $1.00 on a tomato stake, you'll almost certainly yield at least quadruple your investment in the value of produce that will grow.

A similar investment payoff occurs if you dig up a small section of your lawn and put in a few low maintenance plants, such as tomatoes, squash and zucchini. For an investment of less than $20 just a few pieces of produce puts you in the profit zone. (Making small adjustments to your habits and lifestyle can have big payoffs. Read Cheap Steps To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint to learn more.)

Of course, the profitability picture could change dramatically depending on your costs. If you go with a designer planter, fertilizer-enriched potting soil, and a designer garden stake, that simple patio tomato could cost you $60 or more. You'd never grow enough tomatoes from a single plant to make the math work. Likewise, if you plant bean, lettuce and other plants that critters and insects like to eat, you'll need a fence, maybe some repellent and some insect spray. The costs continue to rise.

Stay Basic: Save Bucks
If you keep it simple, your home garden is likely to both fun and profitable. If you get fancy, gardening is likely to be a financial loss for most people (at least in year one) when stacked up strictly in dollars and cents. Longer term, the cost of that fence and pretty pot fall when amortized over years or decades so the longer you stick with it, the more likely a profit becomes.

Canning, saving seeds from your crops for replanting next year, and (where climate permits) growing a winter garden are all ways to further stretch your dollars. And don't overlook the satisfaction of planting something, watching it grow, and getting to put it on your dinner table! It might not generate an instant financial profit, but you'll at least have fun and get to enjoy a nice dinner. (Learn other ways to reduce your impact on the environment, read Go Green, Save Money.)

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