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?
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
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
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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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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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.
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.
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
$1200 bucks a year that used to go to Mr. Marlboro.
Saves us a couple of grand a year when you add it all up. If,
however, you calculate your time at a dollar value -- even as
low as minimum wage, it's certainly a loser ... and a very
big one at that.
What's your time worth? That's the key to whether you think
it's a winning or losing proposition.
A garden will cost more time and money than grocery store produce, but
only for the first couple years when you have to buy seeds and
hardware. After that, it's time, water, and time. If you have those in
your bank to spare (especially the time) you'll find home grown produce
well worth the investment. Buying my tomato plants was about 19$, 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
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
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
If you live near a lake or pond, you won't have to worry about water
If you only grow enough for yourself, you can buy it cheaper. If you
a large surplus, you can sell it to pay for your seed and fertilizer
That's how big ag companies do it -- they grow a great surplus and sell
I'm not sure where the break even point is --- it probably varies
to location. But remember, the only farms that are self sustaining
the large ones with many acres.
On the other hand, if you think of gardening as fun and like to watch
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
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
crop. You may decide to plant grass and get a part time job at
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.....
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
San Jose, Ca.
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
Quality: fair to good
Convenience to acquire: high
Freshness: picked at least a week ago
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
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
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 wrote:> From my own experience of keeping a garden for the past 30
Well, I am getting about a cucumber a day, which I use witha
and some lettuce to make a big saladfor dinner while I watch Stargate
.... 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
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
Andy in Eureka, Texas
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
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.
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
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
Zuchini... expensive to buy. Easy to grow, and produce like mad. Same
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