Digging the Dirt: Is Growing Your Own Economical?

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Is growing your own vegetables economical? With many families starting new victory gardens this year, the question is timely. Michael Tortorello analyzed the costs/value of his new garden this year and his conclusion: based only on a cost/savings analysis, growing your own is anything but a money-saving hobby. 

The numbers tell a story: For me, growing home vegetables makes about as much sense as manufacturing American cars. And yet I can’t say that I’m particularly bothered that my starter garden is operating in the red. I could depreciate the costs against next year’s garden–although that’s surely no way to appreciate anything. If gardening were ultimately about cash yields, we’d all move to California and plant medical marijuana.

It is important to note that Tortorello's costs must heavily factor the costs of building a new garden bed.  These costs can-and often do- include renting a rototiller for a day (roughly $70 for a day, plus the cost of gasoline); lumber or other edging materials (let's say roughly $1/running foot or $200 for a 10x20' garden); supplemental commercial compost or commercial soil (the cheapest I've found it is about $1/cubic foot so maybe about $50 for that imaginary 10x20' garden); mulch  (additional $50); supports- like tomato cages ($15?), gardening tools (Woah! Depending on impulse buys and new vs. used -$10-100). Then there are starting plants and seeds.

Costs here are mounting tremendously, and we haven't even considered the cost of water!

Most of the above costs can be amortized over time -somewhere between 2 years and a lifetime- which would drop the costs of gardening considerably.  For myself, this year we built one new bed to my terraced vegetable garden.  Averaging 2' deep and one foot wide that bed cost about $100 (mostly in lumber) to build and will last without additional extra expenditures for at least 5 years.  If I can average $20 worth of additional produce a year from it, than this bed was worth adding.  This year (with ALL my vegetables destroyed by critters) not so much. 

Still, commentor Laurie told the delightful tale of her lazy first venture into vegetable gardening this summer.  She knew how to do it right!

Still, many who, like me, have vegetable gardened for years do not necessarily view the act as cost-effective.  Especially if you preserve your harvest for winter use- slow-roasting tomatoes, freezing pumpkin, canning pickles.  The energy expenditures that go along with preserving food at home often makes this a very expensive proposition.  That's why I stopped canning tomatoes- when I can buy organically grown and commercially processed tomatoes for less than $2 a can, spending hours consuming heat energy and using gallons of water becomes to can my own makes no sense.  I slow-roast some tomatoes and solar-dry other vegetables because the pure taste of summer is worth the cost.

If vegetable gardening isn't an act of economy, why do I continue to do it? 

  • There is something essentially soul satisfying about working in the soil. 
  • I love to brag when most of a dish I serve was fully alive and growing less than 12 hours before we eat it.
  • As one commenter in Tortorello's article explained: no matter the cost, it's cheaper than psychiatric therapy.

Another commenter brings up a key question: if lower-income families are being encouraged to grow their own for health and economic reason, how do lower-income families afford the initial costs?

How about you?  Do you think about the cost when vegetable gardening or is it simply an activity you enjoy?  Is your garden paying off this year?

Other Garden Bloggers Are Talking About:

Clair from An Alameda Garden believes she has found the World's Ugliest Tree and hope her city will replace it. 

Whereas, An Accomplished Woman would hug this tree.

Pam from Digging shows a beautiful xeriscaped front yard.  Or do I simply thing so because this my gardening goal for the fall and winter?

Debra Roby blogs her creative life at A Stitch in Time and her journey to fitness at Weight for Deb.

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