Does Vegetable Gardening Have a Financial Benefit?
Growing your own vegetables can give you access to fresh, local produce right in your backyard — but can it help you save money on your grocery bill? According to a report by the National Gardening Association, one out of three households are now growing their own food.
If you’re ready to unleash your green thumb, it’s helpful to understand the financial aspects of a food garden: how much money you’ll need to set up and maintain your garden, as well as potential savings once your garden starts producing.
Food Garden Set-Up Costs
According to David Greenberg, executive director of Growing Gardens, a nonprofit dedicated to helping low-income individuals grow their own food, a home garden made of two 4-by-8-foot, in-ground beds can be built for about $200. That price includes two beds of ground soil from your yard, homemade compost, lime (to maintain the soil pH balance) and straw (to aerate the soil). Once set up, the garden can cost about $50 per year to maintain, says Greenberg.
“Home gardeners often start with just two garden plots, but many expand to much larger gardens and produce much more food,” says Greenberg. “It’s a good idea to start small, learn quickly and then take on more each year.” Eventually, he says, it may be possible to completely rely on your backyard garden for all of your summer produce and some of your year-round vegetable needs.
So how does this compare to buying vegetables every week from the store? Depending on the cost of produce in your region and what you decide to plant, you could see major savings by growing your own vegetables.
Savings From Growing Vegetables
A simple vegetable garden has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars, says the National Gardening Association (NGA). For example, if you were to buy lettuce at the grocery store, it could cost about $3 per head. On the other hand, if you were to use that $3 one time on a pack of lettuce seeds and grow your own, says the NGA, you would get multiple heads of lettuce throughout the growing season.
Another example of a vegetable that could yield big savings is tomatoes, says Greenberg. “Tomatoes can cost $2 to $5 per pound,” he says. “A seed packet costs about $3 and can easily produce a harvest of 25 to 50 pounds.”
Greenberg does note, however, that variables such as climate, water requirements, types of seeds planted and pest control needs will all have an effect on cost.
“How much one can grow depends on what is planted,” says Greenberg. “Also, there are some things that grow quickly and one can replant several times in a season. Lettuce and other greens bolt when it gets hot, so they are better for spring and fall crops. Tomatoes can be planted in May in most climates, but they take most of the summer to mature. But once the tomato crop is ready, gardeners often complain that they have more than they can eat!”
To get the best estimate of savings, he suggests checking in-season prices at your local market as well as all of the costs to set up a garden and calculating savings for the specific foods you want to grow. Also, don’t forget to account for the time and energy required to plant, maintain and harvest your garden each season.
The benefits of growing your own vegetable garden can include more than just a healthier eating. If you are looking to save some money, planting a vegetable garden may be able to help you not only enjoy delicious, fresh produce, but also lower your food costs.