Does Gardening Save You Money

David Trammel's picture

It is a question I would love to discuss. I feel like for many, having a garden to grow some of your own food is an oversold luxury pushed out there as an easy answer for the poor. On the other hand, if you do it correctly, and budget wisely, having a garden will save you money while providing tasty and nutritious additions to your food supply.

"Is Gardening Really Cheaper Than Buying Fruits and Vegetables?"

I feel that it is the over-emphasis on buying pre-started seedlings, and the idea you can just buy your soil in a few bags and grow from that, which really runs the price up. Learning to start from seeds saves so much money, and learning to amend your soil with compost does as well.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

For me the answer is definitely yes but I am posting mainly to comment on the linked article. The author makes no claim that he actually gardens or ever has. A reading of the article suggests that he has not. I will cite just one example of several implausible statements therein.
"Okra. Fast-growing and relatively easy to maintain, okra is a great choice for a money-saving garden, assuming you like to eat okra. You can get a pack of seeds for about $5, which will usually get you about three plants, each producing about a pound of okra once the plants mature. With fresh okra going for about $5 per pound in the store, that’s a pretty good savings."
Really?? A $5 pack of seeds producing 3 plants. Okra seed is cheap. For most people $5 would buy a lifetime supply and longer for folks like CB who previously has reported buying multiple vegetable seed packs for a dollar at dollar type stores.
Regarding David's suggestion of an over-emphasis on buying pre-started, I agree though I do buy them myself in addition to starting from seed. I have been tempted in the past to start a thread in the vein of "What is the most ridiculous gardening product you have seen marketed to the clueless?" High on my list would be individual corn plants in pots offered at a Big Box retailer. Wrong on so many levels.

Gardening lets you grow your own vitamins. Leaf lettuces are pricy and, at the same time, very easy to grow. Leaf lettuces mean vitamins in early spring when you need them the most.

A serious gardener can grow a lot of food. You don't even have to grow grains and legumes, just the stuff that make them more interesting and varied eating.

Preserving and using the harvest is a learning curve too!

Ken's picture

That guy writes plagiarized blather about a ridiculous variety of topics, none of which contain any personal experience. Leaving the actual article aside, the topic is actually a good one and really does bear some thoughtful discussion.

Ken's picture

To me, it makes the most sense to grow crops that are either expensive to purchase or are not available with any real nutrition or flavor. Tomatoes are a great example. Greens are another.

It makes no sense for most people with small gardens to devote space to growing staple crops that are readily available at a fair price and decent quality. Dry beans, rice, corn, winter squash, etc. all require more space and experience to grow effectively than most small urban gardens and amateur gardeners can economically justify.

But when it really comes down to it, the learning process in doing ANY gardening is valuable in and of itself, whether it makes economic sense for the actual tomatoes and radishes or not. And as was pointed out above, harvesting, processing, storing and cooking are all skills that have to be learned and practiced as well.

I have plenty of room and water, so I also grow crops of potatoes, dry corn and winter squash but the basic principal of growing what I can't get at a decent price and of decent quality is the same. I also have a small orchard of apples, plums, peaches and berry bushes. In the works is a 'berry cage' which is a bird resistant enclosure for blueberries, raspberries and a pair of cherry trees (on dwarf rootstock). Good fruit is often hard to come by and even harder to find organically grown. I am making an economic decision to build this berry cage and I will chronicle the process for GW. I'm also planning on growing grapes on an arbor on the south side of my house for summer shade and of course fruit! A friend gave me a big box of grapes last year that were decidedly 'tangy' and kind of under-ripe so I tried making raisins with them - turned out to be the best raisins ever!

From time to time I'll hear stories about species or cultivars that are great, but their produce doesn't transport well (bruises too easily, doesn't stay fresh long enough, etc.). Those seem like good candidates for a garden, too.

Ken's picture

Great point about commercial varieties being selected for being able to tolerate shipping rather than for flavor or nutrition! Eat better AND save money!

My step-daughter lives in Bonita Springs on the west coast, north of Naples. What part of Florida do you hail from?

Tampa Bay, just far enough north to get threatened by frost every few years or so.

I didn't read the articles, but I find gardening saves me "cash" money in some ways only, but costs much "time" always. I am willing to spend time to produce really tasty and very fresh and nutritious food that I know I won't be able to buy anywhere at any price. Not to mention the personal satisfaction derived from doing so.

My garden buddy and I scattered spinach and lettuce seed last fall and we have many starts of spinach and lettuce in the garden now. Fresh lettuce and radishes are always a treat in the spring and I can grow many more varieties then I can buy. We also grow all the tomatoes, peppers, squash we can use and preserve. Since we don't have a root cellar, we have a harder time saving such useful veggies like potatoes, but we have been able to keep carrots and parsnips over the winter under bags of leaves. Those veggies we can't overwinter, we either freeze or can or pickle.

According to some writers, corn is the best grain crop for small spaces and we have grown popcorn and flint corn for polenta and corn meal with modest success. I have even tried nixtamalizing with some success. We haven't quite figured out how much space we need for "enough" for a year, but we are working on better record keeping to that end. We have also been quite successful with various varieties of dried beans that you can't buy in the store. Better record keeping will help us figure out enough, but corn and beans in combination at meals can provide complete protein.

Unfortunately my orchard has been attacked by borers that have killed or are killing several fruit trees. Stone fruit seems to be the most effected, and apples, grapes and black currants seem to be doing the best. Very frequently we can get volunteer fruit and we can that as we like.

Growing and preserving all the produce that we grow isn't without "cash" money. Electricity for the freezers or dehydrator (I have experimented with sun drying) and seed starting (lights and a heat matt); canning jars and lids (thrift stores are a good source for jars) as well as propane for the stove; seeds we haven't saved, the starts that we haven't been successful with or to fill in the gaps when we have losses of our own seedlings.

With al the work required to grow and preserve food and all the embedded costs, I can see why people say you can't save money growing your own food, but if the price of commercially grown food truly reflected the real costs of producing it, the price of home produced food might match commercially grown food quite fairly. After all, many people can't afford $5 a pound for an heirloom tomato in the farmers market either, but those growers can't off load their costs like commercial growers can.

I also think that "cost" isn't the only reason people grown their own food as I am sure many here can attest. In fact it is probably the last reason people do even if it is very important for some. Those intrinsic rewards are never factored in and we all seem to look for ways to express our "rewards" in terms of dollars since that is the way our culture measures value. I wish there was another way to express intrinsic rewards, but I guess that if you try to put a value on them you defeat the purpose of experiencing intrinsic rewards and end up truning them into one more commodity.

Ken's picture

Very good description of the real reasons to garden; "cash" savings being way down the list. I am a corn grower and try to raise a patch about 50' x 30' every year. There are innumerable variables, of course, but generally corn of any type pollinates best when planted in blocks rather than rows. It is wind pollinated, in fact if you watch carefully you will be able to see the vast amounts of pollen produced as golden 'dust' in the air over your corn patch. This is why a long skinny row of corn doesn't pollinate well and you wind up with ears that are unevenly filled. Corn will also lodge (fall over) if exposed to too much wind, another reason for planting in blocks rather than rows. I am not obsessed with growing giant ears and prefer flint and popcorn varieties that send up multiple stalks (tillering) because it seems that I get more corn that way. Some of my Glass Gem descendant strains are producing 8 or 10 ears on one plant for me. Generally only 2 or 3 will be good size ears but there will be many smaller ones on the tillers and those kernels are just as nutritious as the ones on the main stalk. I also like varieties that set aerial roots as they seem to help hold the plant upright. My goal is to not have to weed the corn patch more than a couple times in the year and the bushy, tillering types are better at blocking light from getting to the weeds in the paths between rows. You don't want to let weeds go to seed, of course, but as long as you chop and drop before they set seed, it works just fine to leave the weeds laying there as mulch. A couple hours with a sharp hoe is all it takes for my patch... Now if I can just figure out how to grow corn without dripline irrigation down every row, I'll be set!

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lathechuck's picture

In my garden, corn feeds the deer and raccoons, and beans feed the deer and rabbits. Butternut squash, though, helps feed my family through the winter. Either I'm a lot better at letting it ripen before harvest (which I am careful about), or my butternuts have crossed with honeynut (which is plausible), because the flavor of the homegrown squash has been outstanding. They're deeper orange, and sweeter, than any butternut I've gotten in the store. But why should a commercial grower care to let the fruits get ripe? He's getting paid by the pound, either way. So, the squash I grow is worth substantially more than the commercial product.

Another thought on the cost of gardening: some people account for the labor as an expense, but I count it among the benefits. Some people pay for a gym membership; I just paid for a new handle on a shovel. Some people pay for entertainment; I just watch the critters for free.

(I'll bet you thought I was going to say something about Native Americans' planting of corn, beans, and squash, didn't you? ;-))

mountainmoma's picture

I have trouble getting beans also, usually I can get corn as I have to fence deer out to get anything at all

Speaking of the 3 sisters, the time si have done it, the squash surounding everything else detered the racoons.

last year the darn california pocket gophers were eating the butter nuct squash from the bottom -- you dont know its being eaten util it is gone. But certainly, the butternut squash is for me also the easiest best yielding staple crop.

A couple years ago I was looking up the various recipe variations that used the squash, legumes and kale

In 2019, I got sideswiped by a health issue that made gardening pretty much impossible that spring. My grocery bill went up substantially because I had to buy a lot more vegetables. So I'd say it definitely saves me money.

I grow from seed, save seed, compost etc. I find my monetary expenditure on gardening is very low. Time expenditure is high, but because I can do gardening in small amounts on my own and my body's schedule, I find it's not as hard on me as a part-time job of the same hours. Most of the work is in the part of the year when my body and mental health function better, and the desire to be in good enough shape to garden without injuring myself is a substantial incentive to keep up an exercise routine.

I also love working with living things of almost any kind, and I'm convinced it's done a lot to help my mental health, especially during the pandemic. It's something tangible I can do that will fairly reliably produce results, and going outside and working in the garden noticeably reduces my anxiety levels.

Although if deer or slugs wreck entire crops, that's a real downer, and it is hard on my body. When I miscalculate what I can do, or push through stuff because x needs harvesting or transplanting NOW, I pay for it in pain.

For me, gardening is very much worth it.

lathechuck's picture

From a plot of 4'x12', I just brought in about 30 lbs. (weighed with me on a bathroom scale, Not Legal For Trade) of butternut and butternut/pumpkin cross squashes. There may be around 10 lbs. yet to ripen, and probably 10 lbs. lost to the groundhog. I spent nothing for seed, since I saved the seed from last year. (That's how I ended up with the butternut/pumpkin crosses.) I spent nothing on fertilizer, but mulched the area with fallen leaves that I bagged last fall, and grass clippings from the early summer.

We ate the first of the butternut squashes for dinner tonight, and it was very good. I just peel and cut into chunks, fill a glass-lidded casserole dish, add 1 tsp olive oil, and trick the microwave oven into thinking that it's baking potatoes. Salt to taste.

(By the way, I have pumpkin-ish squashes, from saved squash seed, and squash-ish pumpkins, from saved pumpkin seed. I will not be growing them that close together again. The squash-ish pumpkin that we ate had very little flavor, but I toasted the seeds in a dry frying pan and they tasted good. The flavor of the pumpkin-ish squashes is yet to be determined.)