How Much Money Can You Save By Planting a Garden – Our 2012 Results

by Chris Tecmire

Garden Vegetables

 

Ask any random person on the street how to save money on their food, and “plant a garden” will most likely be one of their first responses.  It’s common knowledge that planting a garden can save you a bunch of money.  But, I want to know details.  The numbers don’t lie, so today we’re going to answer the age old question, “exactly how much money can you save by planting a garden?”

The truth is that gardens aren’t free, but you already knew that.  In fact, if you decide to invest in organic fertilizer, equipment, seeds, pesticides, a sprinkler, and the cutest pair of textured garden gloves you can find, you may even find that it’s not as good of a deal as you thought.

So, my wife, Trisha, and I decided to keep track of exactly how much we spent this year and how many fresh veggies our little garden produced.  I’ve always been curious what the numbers would look like.  Here are our actual results.

Important Note:  This is a minimalist garden.  It is small.  It was designed to need as little upkeep as possible.  It was not created so that our neighbors would all come by and marvel at its beauty.  It was designed to produce fresh, organic vegetables with as little work as possible.  We’re lazy/busy and don’t feel like gardening all day.

 

Our Garden

Our Garden

We have a small, fenced-in backyard (we live in the middle of town), so last year we decided to dig out a 10 ft. x 7 ft. section of our lawn and plant some seeds.  It worked pretty well.  In 2011 we grew tons of tomatoes and zucchini and a little bit of lettuce, but most everything else flopped.  But that’s ok.  You know why?  Because we didn’t spend countless hours out there and we could always head to the grocery store if we needed some veggies.  Fortunately, I don’t have to feel the same kind of pressure that my 18th century relatives must have felt.

This year we attempted to grow tomatoes, zucchini, green peppers, cucumbers, butternut squash, broccoli, and green beans.  We didn’t use any fertilizer or pesticides.  Again, we are lazy, want everything to be as organic as possible, and believe that God will give us what He wants to give us.  So, we put some seeds/plants in the ground with a little compost and watered them occasionally.

 

The Expenses

 

Seeds:  $5.76

Cucumber, zucchini, broccoli, butternut squash, and green beans

6 Tomato plants:   $1.60

Purchased from a local grocery store.

Cherry tomato and green pepper seeds:  Free

My mom provided them, so your expenses would be slightly higher if you don’t have as nice of a mom.

Water used:  $3.11

This is a bit of an estimate, but I know that we use approximately 6 gallons of water each time we water our vegetable garden (I checked the meter), and I know that each gallon of water costs us about 1.3 cents (higher than it used to be due to an expensive city sewer project).  The estimated portion of the equation is the number of times we watered the garden.  I went with 40 because most of the time we watered every two days, but we obviously got rain in there as well, so I assumed an every 3 day average.  That may be high, but it’s close enough.

 

Total Expenses: $10.47

 

To be fair, we already had a hose and nozzle, a shovel, a hoe, and a few tomato cages in our possession, so if you are completely new to gardening and don’t have any of these items, you’ll have to invest a few dollars.  However, if you treat them right, they should last quite a while and the cost per gardening season should be minimal.

If you’re confused about why we didn’t use Miracle-Gro or pesticides, please see the explanations in previous sections.

 

2012 Yield

 

I live in northern Michigan, where the growing season lasts about as long as the average New Year’s resolution.  So, we don’t have the luxury of time that many areas of the world enjoy.  You get what you get when you get it.  Our garden is done now and the nighttime temperatures have recently been in the 20′s and 30′s.  (However, we’re trying to grow Kale this fall/early winter upon the recommendation of an organic gardener in our area)

So, how’d we do?  I guess it depends on which veggie you’re asking about.

The Wins

Green beans were coming at us from all directions.  I think we can all agree that anything picked from your own garden will always taste better than the frozen variety in the store, but, personally, I think that the gap between garden green beans and frozen green beans is one of the largest.  I don’t mind frozen green beans, but I love garden green beans, so this year was a pleasant surprise.

Tomatoes were fairly plentiful again, though maybe not quite as abundant as last year.  However, with as expensive as fresh tomatoes can be in the store, anything our garden wants to give us is welcomed.

The cucumbers crop wasn’t great, but considering that we only have room for a couple plants, we were OK with the results.

The LossesTiny Green Pepper

Everything else.  It was a bad year for a lot of people in our area for zucchini, which is kind of funny since that’s usually one of the most prolific and abundant crops around.  We got a few early, but nothing after that.

I was especially excited about trying to grow butternut squash this year since it was a first for us, but the plants never really produced like we were hoping.  Maybe next year.

However, the worst performers were the broccoli and green pepper.  The broccoli gave us nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  And the green pepper gave us something worse than nothing.  It teased us.  It gave us the perfect, quarter-sized specimen that you see in the picture :)

 

Dollars and Cents

Here’s what we were able to harvest from each veggie and how much it would cost at the store (price is approximate and does NOT represent organic produce even though our produce is, in fact, organic).

Green Beans – 9.6 lbs of beans – $9.41

Tomatoes – 37 medium tomatoes – $24.22

Large Cherry/Cocktail Tomatoes – 8 tomatoes – $2.32

Cucumbers – 8 cucumbers – $3.84

Zucchini – 3 zucchini – $4.65

Butternut Squash – 1 medium squash and 1 small squash – $3.52

Green Peppers and Broccoli – Nothing - $0

 

So, the total yield of our 2012 garden was $47.96.  It cost us $10.47, plus a few hours of work.  Technically, that’s not exactly an exceptional return when you consider what our time is worth, but there are several other factors to consider.

1.  This was an utterly bizarre growing season in Northern Michigan (and a lot of other places in the U.S.).  I wasn’t alone in finding that my garden under-performed this year.  We would have doubled that amount if the circumstances had been different.

2.  The prices that I used to determine the value of our veggies were not organic.  In fact, the green beans weren’t even fresh, they were the frozen beans we often buy if we don’t have our garden beans.  My area doesn’t have a lot to choose from when it comes to organic produce, so it’s difficult to find accurate pricing.  Therefore, the $47.96 should probably be doubled to account for the produce’s organic origin.  $95.92 would sound at least a little better.

3.  There’s something to be said for eating vegetables straight from the dirt.  It CANNOT be beat.  And that’s why we’ll continue tending our little garden for the time being, even though the returns aren’t necessarily going to make us rich.  Not only that, but one of these days we plan on expanding and growing even more when we move to a place with a bigger yard.  Larger gardens create a better return anyway.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Simple gardens are inexpensive ways to add some fresh, organic produce into your diet.  If you’re looking to maximize your savings potential, focus on growing more expensive options like tomatoes, asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, melons, and berries.  If you have limited space, don’t bother with vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and onions that are already cheap enough at the store.

Also, don’t limit your green thumb to a traditional garden.  Having fresh green beans is great, but having fresh basil, cilantro, and tarragon on hand whenever you need them is outstanding.  Plus, even if you don’t have much room in your yard, or don’t have a yard at all, anyone can grab a pot and a little dirt and keep a basil plant on a window sill somewhere.  It beats buying a bunch at the store, just to use a teeny bit, and let the rest go to waste.  We’ve all been there.

If you do decide to have an herb garden, here’s a must have that is often overlooked – peppermint.  Grow plenty of peppermint, pluck it when it’s ready, dry it for a few weeks in a paper towel (or whatever method you prefer), and use it for either hot or iced tea.  Homemade peppermint tea is a staple at our house when the temperatures plunge and the snow starts to drift in.  We go through a large cannister every year.

 

No matter what you decide to do, starting a garden is neither difficult or expensive.  It takes a little manual labor, a few key tools, and plenty of water and patience.  It certainly won’t solve any of your financial woes, but there’s more to it than that.  It’s nice to know exactly where your food came from.

P.S.  I know that everyone’s results will differ greatly when it comes to growing a garden.  Most of you will probably yield much more than we did, some of you will spend more on fertilizers, etc.  This is just a simple example of a very simple garden.  Take it for what it’s worth.

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kacia Todd October 11, 2012 at 7:26 am

I had the same results with my peppers and broccoli too. We did however get one or two smallish heads of broccoli though, but nothing that was the size of what is in the stores. I had never grown broccoli before so I was sort of more curoius to see what and how it would grow than to actually eating it. When the heads started to sprout I thought, ok, here we go. But I did not pick it because I thought it would just get bigger. Well, it didn’t. It got to an average small and then bloomed some amazing yellow flowers right out of the green tree like heads. Who knew! Not me. So that was a bust. We did get one more smallish one and I did pick that before any flowers. My peppers though were just like yours. We also had some that would get to a decent size but then they would start to decay on themselves while still on the vine. We didn’t know what was going on. Oh, well.

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Chris Tecmire October 11, 2012 at 7:30 am

Maybe we’ll do better next year Kacia…

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Amanda October 11, 2012 at 8:21 am

You know I have been waiting for this post!! Everything did well in my garden this season except the green beans!! BUT I when I got my water bill, it was about $125.00 more than it has been in the past. I watered the lawn out front for a few weeks too though so I am not sure how much I really used. I never thought to read the meter. (duh) We bought a 50gal rain barrel at menards for $44 dollars this week. I am hoping it helps. Thanks Chris!

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Chris Tecmire October 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Yeah, I’m sure the rain barrel will help your cause. Watering the lawn tends to take a ton of water from what I hear. I don’t worry about it, so I don’t know exact numbers or anything, but checking the meter before and after is definitely the best way to find out.

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Patti October 11, 2012 at 8:47 am

My husband and I grow a small garden but we have abundant results. We tried “lasagna gardening”- see if your library has the book or google it. It basically is a large pile of different items – newspaper, grass clippings, etc. We didn’t even do it early – just made the piles and planted right into them. It looked like we had four graves in our tiny backyard. But we have had hundreds of tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Our tomato plants are returning and producing as much as ever (got too hot in late July and all of August). We water with rain barrel water – highly recommend that, too. Our city water folks even came to our house to see why our water bill was so low!!! I wish I had thought to calculate the costs. I do know that all of our seeds didn’t make it and we ended up buying transplants so that was a waste of $$ and time. Also no green peppers although last year we had tons. But our freezer is stocked with tomatoes and squash. And we have had fresh produce all summer long… yum!

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Chris Tecmire October 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm

That’s awesome Patti. Yeah, one of these days we’ll take gardening a little more seriously and hopefully get similar results. I’ll have to look into the lasagna gardening. Sounds interesting (and delicious) ;) Thanks for the suggestion and keep up the good work!

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Amanda October 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm

In attempts to lower my water bill -I called the water comp. today and found out that the FIXED amount charged by them just for “maintenance” is $60.99 over three months. $60.99 – $128.50 (total cost over three months) = $67.51 for 15,000 gallons of water. Thats .0045 cents per gallon!?!?! Okay my rain barrel cost $46.00… I’ll spare you the rest of the math but lets just say in 26yrs the rain barrel will have paid for itself. It’s going back to the store tomorrow!

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Chris Tecmire October 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I’m glad you did the math Amanda – saving money often just comes down to doing a little math. Good work. However, just remember it wouldn’t be .0045 cents per gallon it would be .45 cents (or about 1/2 a penny per gallon). It would be .0045 dollars – I’m assuming that’s what you meant, but I just wanted to make sure since you were basing your decision on the math.
Also, there is another reason that people use rain barrels. I’ve heard several gardeners swear by the fact that the natural rain water seems to do a better job watering and nourishing the plants. I don’t know enough about it to be knowledgeable – I’m definitely not an expert gardener :) – but I think that’s part of the interest in rain barrels.
Thanks for the update!

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Amanda October 16, 2012 at 11:21 am

Yes HALF a cent!!!

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Melissa February 23, 2014 at 8:01 pm

We garden very seriously, but I still found the article interesting and informative. I just wanted to offer a few ideas. Here in the hot humid South, a little peppermint brewed in your iced tea makes it especially refreshing, particularly while gardening. :)
When you buy seeds, be sure to check the day count. This is the count from the day the seedling emerges to blossom/harvest date. Match the day count to your area for best results.
Starting your seeds indoors as little as two or three weeks earlier than outside can make a huge difference in yield. You can use any recycled container and soil from your garden area for this. Disturb the roots as little as possible when transplanting – squashes and melons detest having their roots disturbed. Also, you can buy another couple of weeks in the fall just by covering plants with a plastic painters drop cloth. That might help you get those butternut squash. Admit it, they’re worth the $1 of plastic.

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Chris Tecmire March 8, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Thanks for the ideas Melissa. We’d definitely like to get more involved as soon as we feel up to it. My mom is an avid gardener, so somtimes we ask her to help us out when we don’t have the time (which is almost always) :) .

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Judy Vail March 3, 2014 at 6:39 pm

I’ve grown a garden for years and wouldn’t be without it. There’s nothing like a fresh garden grown tomato.
I have a couple of thoughts to add on peppers and broccoli. I grow broccoli every year and seldom see the large heads of the commercial growers. What I do get are the florets which come after you take the main head off. I usually have 4 – 6 plants and these florets last well into October where I live in Ontario. Usually I get at least 1 fresh meal a week.
I have also had a problem with peppers not producing. When you buy plants they are often close to blooming, at least compared to homegrown starts. Peppers need a nightime temperature of @55 degrees or they drop their blooms . By the time they bloom again the peppers don’t have time to mature.
Happy gardening all.

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Chris Tecmire March 8, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for the suggestions Judy.

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