Growing your own food is a healthy way to save money, and enjoy fresh produce at home. When done correctly, even the smallest backyard plot can produce copious amounts of fruits and vegetables, and possibly even a significant saving to the grocery budget.
According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), one out three American families grow food in a community garden or at home.
What Are the Expenses to Garden?
The total bill for a do-it-yourself veggie plot will vary by type of plant grown, the number of plants purchased, and the length of a growing season in your home region.
To calculate the true cost to start a garden and maintain it throughout the year, add together the following factors:
- Cost of plants or seeds
- Cost to provide nutrient-rich soil (dirt, fertilizer, and worms)
- Cost to protect and structure plants (cages, coverings, and fences)
- Cost to water plants
- Cost of tools and accessories (tiller, gloves, and spade)
The Real Return on Investment
Food gardening does have some risk. An infestation of bugs, a streak of unseasonable weather, or other nature-related problem, may wreak havoc on your investment. But for most gardeners, the return on investment pays off.
The National Gardening Association reported that the average gardening household experiences a positive return on investment. And according to the Journal of Extension, a magazine on agricultural extension and farming, on average, home vegetable gardens may produce $677 worth of fruits and vegetables, compared to the cost of $238 worth of materials and supplies, like seeds and soil, depending on the nature of the materials, and other factors.
Growing a food garden takes time, commitment, and patience but the potential outcome in produce may lower your grocery bill.
Another bonus of home gardening? Growing your own favorite vegetables and fruits may insulate you from the impact of drought and diseases that slow down production in the fields and orchards of large-scale growers across the country that ship and sell produce.
As much potential as a garden can bring to the bottom line of the average foodie, it helps to research where to obtain affordable plants and seeds for your garden. For example, heirloom and organic vegetables are often more expensive than other types of plants. On average, heirloom plants, like tomatoes, cost $6 and up, although you may be able to obtain them at a local farmers market for less.
- Growing herbs (mint, parsley, sage, rosemary, and tyme) is one way to save money, as fresh herbs can be expensive.
- If you live in an apartment or own a house with a small backyard, consider square foot gardening.
- The National Garden Association is a good resource for new and seasoned gardeners.
Ways to Save
There are ways to stretch your dollars and it is possible to start a food garden on a shoestring budget. Below are three suggestions to get you started.
Start Early With Seeds
At $3.00 a package (or less), gardeners can give their plants a home-grown start and spread the risk out over several tiny plants. Picking the strongest from the bunch for transplanting outdoors will give you a comparable alternative to that expensive plant from the nursery.
Give Square Foot Gardening a Try
This popular gardening technique isn't just highly effective at producing the healthiest plants with the smallest effort, it's affordable, too. If you live in an apartment or have a small backyard, square foot gardening is also a space-saving garden. Costs for materials may run approximately $42 and up for materials, depending on the size. Many square foot gardens are as small as 4 feet by 4 feet.
Grow Only What You Need and Like to Eat
While it's nice to have an abundance of produce to share with family and friends, the upkeep of a larger-than-life garden could be too expensive and too much effort to maintain. Also, don't plant vegetables and fruits that your family doesn't eat. It may be cheap to plant rows of zucchini plants, but if no one likes zucchini, that's a lot of wasted produce.
Consider just one or two of each of the plants you like most, and avoid planting rows and rows of veggies simply because you have the room. Food waste is a common problem for overzealous gardeners.
The Bottom Line
In the end, the decision to create a food garden is a personal one. Don't feel that it's necessary to go 100% into a gardening scenario. Many gardeners grow things that are the easiest to produce like cherry tomatoes, carrots, and herbs, like mint, rosemary, thyme, and lemon verbena. Consider starting small your first season, and purchase trickier varieties of fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market.