Growing your own to save

My husband and I are in the midst of a heated debate. He disagrees with me that growing your own produce is cheaper than purchasing it.
Besides the health benefits, and obviously the better tasting produce I would be very interested in hearing everyone's thoughts on the subject.
Is it cheaper or more expensive to grow your own crops?
-M
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GrlIntrpted wrote:

The initial expense for the home gardener is far more than what you'd spend in the supermarket. This year alone, I spent $300 on hose and timers, $1000 on two small greehouses, $50 on potting soil, $30 on mulch...not to mention $40 in seed. There's no way in the world I'd recoup those costs in the next ten years (and that's just this year's investment). Last year I spent well over $1000 to build five raised beds and fill them with good bagged soil.
A very frugal gardener could get away with minimal cost but some are unavoidable. Seed, mulch, manure, fertilizer, pest control measures... that expands with the size of the garden and I imagine you'd be cutting it close in terms of cost. My neighbour (the one with the brown thumb) is a frugal gardener - he just opens the ground, throws in seed and walks away...but his costs already outweigh anything he'll get out of his garden.
Like you said, I grow for the pure enjoyment of growing as well as the better tasting produce. To me, that outweighs the cost.
..
Zone 5a in Canada's Far East
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Yeah, but do you need to buy all these things? I manage to have a vegetable garden without hose timers, greenhouses, etc. I don't buy mulch or potting soil. I make compost in a worm box, using kitchen and yard waste I'd dispose of anyway. Using compost means you don't have to spend as much on fertilizer. $40 in seed also sounds like a lot of seed. Maybe you're buying really fancy types or something? Or do you have a farm-sized spread? It seems like every packet of seed has far more seed than I really need, and the packets are something like $1.49 except they usually go on sale at the local nursery for 50% the marked price around planting time. Pest control measures? I'm not growing for the market, I'm growing for myself, so I don't mind if there's a hole in my lettuce, and other than hand-picking slugs (free), I don't spend any money on that, either.
Potatoes generally I don't bother to plant. Every year, even though I think I've dug out every potato, I still get more that come up. This year I bought one organic potato from the grocery, cut it up, and threw the pieces in the ground, which is how I've introduced new types of potatoes into the garden in the past. So this year I might have spent 50 cents on potatoes this year. This year it was a purple potato, and I'm curious how it will hybridize with russet-butter ball-yukon gold hybrids I've already got out there.
My big expense this year was buying new tomato cages. That was the first time I bought tomato cages in 15 years. If every year I spend $20 on something major like that, then maybe I spend $50, which seems like a very high estimate, on everything. And I seem to get more than our family can eat of tomatoes, squash, peas, etc., in the summer.
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Warm Regards,

Claire Petersky
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we definitely save with spinach-a bag of baby spinach for salads is $2.50 and has an expiration date, unlike fresh-picked as you need it-so easy to grow.
i turned my mom on to spinach salads-she had never had one. use wishbone raspberry or cranberry salad dressing, add pecans and feta cheese mmmm!
i grew up forced to eat cooked spinach which i detest and was greatly surprised as an adult to learn there are methods of prep for vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower other than cooking the hell out of them :-)
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On Fri, 2 Jun 2006 08:14:57 -0400, "GrlIntrpted"

I think the actual produce is more expensive. Especially if you count your time as worth anything. [McDonald's is paying $10-12 an hour in my neck of the woods. If I needed grocery money, I could buy a lot of produce for 4-5 hours a week-- and I could work in January, when it is a bit frozen in my world.]
OTOH- As hobbies go it is fairly inexpensive; As a fitness regimen it is cheaper than a gym membership & I have always taken more pride and pleasure in a great tomato than in rippling biceps; it is handier than running to the grocery store; and there isn't a grocer within 100 miles of me that carries the different varieties of peppers that I grow, the types of tomatoes that I like, and my favorite purple basil.
Jim
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Oh, man I love purple basil too. It's hardy, showy, and has a nice decorative form and color in addition to a beautiful mild taste. I tried it on a whim this year but won't do without it in the future.
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Depends on how you value your time and what you'd be doing if you didn't garden. If you spend the average American's four and a half hours a day in front of the boob tube watching Seinfeld reruns, then it's definitely cheaper -- and better for you than being a couch potato.
***
Costs are virtually nothing. I bought about 30 bucks worth of seeds 5 years ago, and have been saving seeds from each year to start the next year's crop. I do manage to spend 6 or 8 bucks a year on new seeds for some of the goofbal hybrid varieties that produce junk on second generation seeds.
Haven't spent a dime on fertilizer. We compost everything, and there's a lot of organic waste on our 9 acre plot.
Trelises, cages, poles, stakes -- what are those? Who needs to buy those? We plant everything that likes to vine/climb or needs support -- we plant them along our fenceline and they climb the fence.
We don't buy pots or other containers. We recycle stuff -- yogurt containers that would normally get thrown away, butter tubs, CoolWhip(tm) plastic containers -- we even wash and recycle the styrofoam cups from our FouthOfJulySummerBash(tm) to use to pot out small plants. Cardboard egg cartons (not the styrofoam ones) make excellent little seedling starter kits. No need to purchase containers to hold your plants for starting indoors. You don't need a greenhouse either. We do ours in the basement with flourescent shop lights that we already have in the basement, and a set of shelves (built from scrap lumber) to hold the plants up close to the light. I bought a 6 dollar timer at HomeDepot to control the lights.
I had to buy a box of shotgun shells to chase out the annual migration of Canada geese that would show up and tear our garden to hell and back -- cost: 6 bucks, first year only. They never came back once they figured out I was serious.
We have no need for potting soil or topsoil -- we make our own (see composting above).
We use no insecticides in the garden, however we do plant roughly double what we'll need -- knowing we'll lose better than half to the bugs.
I did buy a used tiller for 80 bucks about 5 years ago. Amortize that out over its expected lifespan and you're looking at ... maybe 10 bucks a year (?). We use about 3 gallons of gas a year to till our entire plot (twice a year: spring and fall). Maybe 8, 9 bucks a year.
I'd guess that it costs us about 40 or 50 bucks a year when it comes down to it. What do I get out of it? Don't know for sure now -- haven't calculated it since the first year, but that first year we added up what we would spend on the produce at the local WeSellGroceries store. Came to around $900 bucks worth of produce.
It's far, far more now. I've started growing and curing my own tobacco to roll my own cigarettes. That, alone, saves me about $1200 bucks a year that used to go to Mr. Marlboro.
Saves us a couple of grand a year when you add it all up. If, however, you calculate your time at a dollar value -- even as low as minimum wage, it's certainly a loser ... and a very big one at that.
What's your time worth? That's the key to whether you think it's a winning or losing proposition.
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A garden will cost more time and money than grocery store produce, but only for the first couple years when you have to buy seeds and hardware. After that, it's time, water, and time. If you have those in your bank to spare (especially the time) you'll find home grown produce well worth the investment. Buying my tomato plants was about 19$, but I've been eating cherry tomatoes - at about 4$ for a box in my local store - by the handful every day, with plenty to give to family and friends.
The biggest way to save gardening cash is to McGuyver your own shades, trellises, seedling cups, etc, instead of buying trellised and such from a store. One tomato trellis might cost 5$, but a huge roll of sisal twine will cost about 3$, which if used creatively can tie up not only your tomatoes, but your gourds and dog too, with plenty to spare. Things like that trim a LOT off the cost.
Of course, if your husband is anything like mine, you'll have to get out there and prove it. Our tradition is to bet a box of doughnuts on things like this. I've eaten doughnuts from every pastry store in the city. :)
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do tell more
rob
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GrlIntrpted wrote:

Andy replies;
It depends on what you already have and what you have to buy. If you already have a fenced in space, you might need to worry about rabbits and squirrels..
If you live near some woods, you probably won't have to buy mulch or compost.
If you live near a lake or pond, you won't have to worry about water prices.
If you only grow enough for yourself, you can buy it cheaper. If you grow a large surplus, you can sell it to pay for your seed and fertilizer costs. That's how big ag companies do it -- they grow a great surplus and sell it....
I'm not sure where the break even point is --- it probably varies according to location. But remember, the only farms that are self sustaining are the large ones with many acres.
On the other hand, if you think of gardening as fun and like to watch stuff grow, and eat your own produce, it is certainly worth doing.
I figure my cucumbers have cost me a couple bucks each, but I have nothing better to do, and like to watch them grow. Same with tomatoes.
So, give it a try. Keep track of all your costs and all your time for the first crop. You may decide to plant grass and get a part time job at McDonalds and use the money to buy fresh vegetables at the Farmer's Market..... .... just depends :>))))))
Andy in Eureka, Texas
PS This analysis doesn't apply if you are growing a really profitable crop like marijuana.....
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I just ate my first tomato of the season from my garden. I've never bought a taste like that in the store or local market.

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...

...
Then I'd say you were indeed a lucky man.
I can still remember what a sun-warmed tomato tasted like, fresh out of our garden, from when I was a kid. Some years back I was gonna dazzle my kids with that same flavor. Bought the plants. Tended 'em with care. Picked and ate that first one...and it tasted just like the ones I get at the store (i.e. like red cardboard).
It seems that the nursery gets their tomato seedlings from the same place the local farmers do...and whatdyaknow...they ended up tasting exactly the same...(:-o)!
Now I buy heirloom seeds and raise 'em myself from seed. Now *those* tomatoes...they taste righteous!
As for the costs involved, I think that "AndyS" got it just about right. Kinda depends on what ya got and where ya wanna go with it. Me? I do it for the flavor and simple pleasure of just doin' it. Knowing what's in/on it. And so I can have fresh things even though we're miles from a store way off the beaten track. I can have fresh greens and my herbs year round, and even enjoy growing Carnations for their lovely aroma. Especially wonderful in the depths of winter...
L8r all, Dusty San Jose, Ca.

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me
IMO, most gardeners will tell you it/s matter of value more than whether it/s cheaper or more expensive to grow your own food.
I value going into the back yard for a few qts of strawberries more than a trip to the supermarket to get them. I value picking a few zukes right before dinner more than buying the shriveled ones @ the store Most of all, I value sharing the surplus.
As just one example, consider the cost for one head of romaine lettuce...
At the grocer Cost: $2.00 Quality: fair to good Convenience to acquire: high Freshness: picked at least a week ago Value: good
From the garden You can raise at least four dozen heads of fresh, tender romaine lettuce with a retail value of $96 and enjoy some every day for three to four weeks in the spring and again in the fall for less than a nickle per head.
Space required for 48 plants on 1' centers: 48 ft^2 (4' bed width x 12' row length)
Pack of > 1000 seeds from Wally-World: ~$1.00 48 transplants (minimum) per 100 seed sown outdoors: < $0.02 / plant Fertilizer: one side dressing with 5-10-10 = ~ one-half cent / plant. Irrigation: electricity to run pump 4 - 6x for ~80 - 120 mins total time < $1.00
Sub-total: < $2.25
Cost: < $0.05 / head Quality: good to excellent Convenience to acquire: low Freshness: picked daily Value: good
From my own experience of keeping a garden for the past 30 years, there/s enormous satisfaction that comes from eating something homegrown. You can grow a lot of food in a relatively small area without a whole lot of effort if you do what needs to be done when it needs to get done. The value (to coin a phrase) comes from enjoying the fruits of your labor.
That just one seed grows into a plant that can produce hundreds of new seeds is the beauty of the gardening / agriculture economy. There's no better return on one/s investment than growing your own.
--
TQ



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TQ wrote:> From my own experience of keeping a garden for the past 30 years, there/s

Andy comments:
Well, I am getting about a cucumber a day, which I use witha tomato and some lettuce to make a big saladfor dinner while I watch Stargate SG1. .... My wife asked me to let her have a couple cucumbers to give her sister down the road, to show her what comes out of my garden...
No way, I said. If she needs cucumbers, I'll give her a couple bucks to go to the store and buy herself some..... I figure my garden cucumbers probably cost me a couple dollars and an hour of labor apiece, and there's no way in hell I'm going to give them away !!!!!
It may not make financial sense, but it makes good emotional sense....
Andy in Eureka, Texas
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can
effort
(to
I plant 10' -12 ' of row in bush cukes every year. The average daily yield over the 30 days they typically produce is just under three. Some years, I/m still picking two or three every other day on day 45.
I get plenty to eat, plenty to pickle, and plenty to give away.
Burpee seed pack cost: ~$2. About a pound of fert for side dressing: ~$0.12. Fungicide once a week for about eight weeks: ~$0.50 Electricity to pump well water for irrigation, as needed: < $0.25
Yield: ~80 cukes
Cost / cuke = $2.87 / 80 = $0.04
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Sounds like a good reason to take to collecting rain water. Do you do any water collection? (I'm just curious.)
Puckdropper
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GrlIntrpted wrote:

You've had a whole lot of different answers.
Last fall, I calculated that if I were to buy all the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that I grow, I'd have to pay more than $1,000 ... and that was in regular pesticide-treated grocery store stuff, not organic produce which costs up to twice as much. I'm not even counting the tons of tomatoes I give away each year in this estimate.
I'm a cheapo organic gardener with a suburban backyard, so I'm not planting fields. But I get really good yields with a very basic approach. I do as many of my own seed starts as possible, use my own seeds, our own compost in the garden beds, and spray with a dilute pure castille soap solution (that we use ourselves) for soft bodied pests like caterpillars and aphids. A big bottle of Dr. Bronner's concentrate costs about $10 ... and I've had mine for personal and garden use for over a year. I bought some diatomaceous earth for $7 that will be enough to keep bugs out of the house and hopefully keep the ants from climbing the fruit trees to tend their aphids all season. Diamtomaceous earth is good for hard shelled bugs, and is completely safe for people and pets ... just don't inhale it.
We freeze our excess plum tomatoes, peppers, black currants etc and they see us through until the next harvest. We store the garlic and shallots in a cool dark part of the basement. If you have a chest freezer, that's where the savings come in because you can grow enough to enjoy all year round.
Over the years, I've bought a lot of 8 ft. bamboo poles, which I've had for about 7 years and store for the winter. I also bought tomato cages 10 years ago, most of which are still OK. When starting a new bed, I sometimes buy topsoil - 6 huge bags for $10 at the superstore.
I invested in a couple of rain barrels a few years ago. They cost $70 each and save on water costs. If I add up all I've spent on supplies directly related to food crops in the last 10 years, it doesn't come close to what I save in produce in one season.
Besides, it's not about cost, it's about knowing what went, or didn't go, into the food, and the taste.
Some people have talked about the time involved, and how much your time is worth. I say it depends on your attitude to gardening. I find it therapeutic, so it's way cheaper than what I'd have to pay a shrink.
EV
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GrlIntrpted wrote:

Like many things... it can be done pretty cheaply, or pretty costly. If you don't get too fancy, and study up a bit you can do it pretty cheaply. One way to ensure it is cheaper is to grow only items that: A) Are expensive to buy, or B) the quality of home-grown is far better.
Also consider thay you can grow organic, or at least with no pesticides or herbicides. So if you are inclined than compare with the cost of organic produce.
For example: Tomatoes...you can't go wrong. Expensive in the store and the quality of home grown is so much better they don't compare.
Sweet Corn... I don't grow it because I can buy pretty darn good sweet corn for as cheap as 6 ears per dollar in season. It takes up a lot of space, you are not saving any money and may just be feeding the racoons.
Zuchini... expensive to buy. Easy to grow, and produce like mad. Same with cucumbers.
(etc) GF
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On Fri, 2 Jun 2006 08:14:57 -0400, "GrlIntrpted"
--
During my first few years of gardening I kept good records of all
my costs and time spent gardening, from seeds indoors to harvest.
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