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Nutrition Articles  ›  Meals and Food

Calculating the Cost of Growing Your Own Food

How to Put Away Big Bucks with Your Green Thumb

-- By Jenny Sigler, SparkPeople Contributor
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Many of us assume that a backyard vegetable garden can save us money, but is it really true? After investing in equipment, soil, seeds and water, do you really come out on top?

The answer varies upon the size of your garden, whether you start your plants from seeds or purchase seedlings, and how many tools or gardening accessories you may need to purcase. According to National Gardening Association estimates, a well-maintained food garden can yield an estimated half pound of fresh produce per square foot, yielding a $500 return on average when considering a typical gardener’s investment and the market price of produce. 

Here are some tips on starting a cost-effective garden for your wallet and your waistline.
 
Get the Right Soil for the Right Price
If you are starting a new garden, the most cost effective method is using the soil you already have available. However, most soil needs to be supplemented to improve its texture and nutrient density. If you live near farmland, you may be able to find free or inexpensive aged manure from a nearby farm that you can work into the first few inches of soil. Check your local paper or Craigslist for manure. Most will offer it for free if you pick it up yourself, or charge about $20 per truckload.

If your clay soil lacks texture and breathability, take a trip to the garden center for sand or compost. A bag will probably run from $3-$10 for 40 pounds, which will cover about 4 square feet of topsoil.

Sandy soil has the opposite problem of clay soil. Where clay is prone to waterlogging plant roots, sandy soil is too loose and struggles to maintain moisture. To amend sandy soil, simply use compost or some chopped up leaves, which are free! To save money over time, start your own compost heap. By next year, your pile will save you big bucks on fertilizer!
 
Seeds and Seedlings
Most packets of seeds cost a couple bucks, and a typical seed packet contains between 800 and 2,000 seeds. If you only harvested half of those seeds (about a 40-foot row) you’d be spending $140-$200 less than if you had purchased those mature vegetables from the grocery store. If you were to buy organic produce, the savings could be upwards of $180-$300.

Starter plants, available at nurseries and farmers markets, cost more than a packet of seeds (up to a few dollars per plant), but are still inexpensive and can save you time and space if you don’t want to start your plants from seed yourself.
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About The Author

Jenny Sigler Jenny Sigler
Jenny is a stay-at-home mom to her young children, Augustine and Olive. An avid gardener and baker, she enjoys writing about health and childcare topics to empower people to make healthy choices. See all of Jenny's articles.

Member Comments

  • I started my own garden in pots on my deck last year and it's been a great source of joy along with food. We had a GREAT crop of lettuce last year, this year we haven't been able to harvest any. However, our green beans, basil, and parsley are out of control in a good way. We're also having some success with peppers, where they were duds last year. The investment of the planters was expensive at the time, but a great idea for the long run. Between seeds, starter plants, and dirt, we only spent $25 this year. That's a win! - 7/6/2014 5:14:38 PM
  • I would love to grow my own food but the time is just not there. And I think that I would need to invest in some tools and stuff to get me going, which would cost a lot. Granted, over time that would pay itself off but still....so I am now participating in a local hybrid CSA where I get food from a local farm each week. This is a good one because I can pick and choose what I want if I want it with no obligations, so I don't end up with food that I don't eat. And I love supporting this local farm. I also get amazing organic free range eggs from them. - 10/8/2013 9:44:29 AM
  • DANAFISHER61
    It never fails to amuse me when I read about amending CLAY by adding SAND. Welcome to adobe making 101. Compost, yes, sand, not so much. You would have to add about 10 inches of sand to one inch of clay to get anything resembling a workable garden soil, and you would STILL need the compost. Since you've added so much volume, at this point, you might as well build a few raised beds. - 11/5/2012 2:18:05 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Much of the cost of gardening depends on where you live. A friend of mine, living in southern Arizona, decided to plant a small garden. Because of the soil in the area, she needed to create a raised bed (purchased), buy topsoil, add irrigation, buy fencing to keep the animals out of the garden, buy shade cloth to protect the plants from the hot sun, and buy plants. By the time she eats her first home-grown tomato, if they haven't been killed by the 100+ degree temperatures, it will cost her over $700, and that doesn't include the work involved in weeding, or the additional water and sewer costs due to the additional - daily - irrigation required.

    By her own admission, it will take at least 5 years to break even, assuming any of her plants survive.

    - 8/12/2012 1:32:08 PM
  • I've had a small garden for years. It's amazing how much I get out of it! One of the best investments we made was to buy a small freezer. I freeze my harvest each year and it lasts most of the winter. There is nothing better than the taste of home-grown produce! This year, I started some grapes I clipped my father in law's grapes that came from Italy years ago. My husband and I are going to attempt to build a small arbor for them so we can have grapes in a few years. My first attempt at fruit! No chemicals and sprays for me....it's mostly organic (I can't say all the seeds I buy are organic). I love learning new things about gardening, too. Good article! - 8/12/2012 11:04:45 AM
  • MOONPITTS
    I have grown a Square Foot Garden in my backyard for about 7 years now and I grow everything from seed. It is one of my favorite hobbies and my kids really enjoy it too. But it isn't there to save us money! Have you read "The $64 Tomato" by William Alexander? LOL! Between fighting vermin, fancy drip watering systems, and an indoor seed starting set up....there are so many hidden costs to hobby gardening (depending on how in-depth you want to get). But I still love it! Everything tastes so much better than store bought -especially the tomatoes - and it gives us so much satisfaction and joy! - 8/12/2012 10:50:18 AM
  • Growing your own food is priceless to me - the ability to control how it grows. I love seeing my garden grow with no chemicals. - 8/12/2012 10:20:10 AM