Life in the Garden Part 12: Gardening to save money?

I started my garden because it seemed silly to spend $3 or $4 for fresh basil whenever I wanted it. I thought I could buy a plant for that same amount and keep harvesting it.

In the end, instead of spending $50-$60 a year for fresh herbs and vegetables, I've committed nearly $4,000 to the garden over the past 6 years.

It's been fun.
It's been educational.
It's been delicious.

It definitely hasn't saved me any money.

Perhaps if I had an acre or so, I could achieve some economies of scale, but that's not the case.

This is a lesson other people are just starting to learn.

According to a recent article in the Seattle Times, there is a run on seeds. People who have lost their jobs, or who are afraid of losing their jobs, are turning to gardens to grow food and save money.

Sue is the one who answers the phone at the couple's Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, which produces more than 400 kinds of seeds (mostly vegetables), as well as 70 different kinds of potatoes and 25 kinds of garlic.

By some of the questions they get from customers, the couple know these are first-time gardeners.

"We had one person ask us which way the seed goes in the ground," says Sue.

These days, she's handling 100 customer calls a day, and the family business expects to gross $1 million in sales this year. Business is up 20 to 30 percent over last year, both in seeds under its own label and seeds it packages for companies such as Burpee and Park Seed.


A retail garden store like Sky Nursery in Shoreline says seed business is up "at least 20 percent."

And Burpee, the Pennsylvania-based world's largest seed company, says business also is up by that much.

Although it came up with the idea too late for this year's print catalog, on its Web site Burpee sells a "Money Garden" that for $10 puts together $20 worth of pea, tomato, pepper, bean, lettuce and carrot seeds.

It says the seeds will produce "over $650 worth of vegetables!"

"People are belt-tightening, particularly on large-ticket items," says George Ball, chairman of Burpee. "It results in an almost Depression mentality."


The article also discusses how some people are moving to gardening for purer, organic, non-GMO food, and others are taking up gardening to gain some control over their lives.

Those may be viable reasons, but without significant space, saving money through gardening is not likely to be a viable option for most new gardeners.

I don't want to discourage gardening and growing herbs, vegetables, fruit, etc. It's a great feeling to eat something you grow. But it takes practice or knowledge. And while you can start for low cost, it's tough to compete with low cost/high volume food available at the supermarket, farmer's market, or even specialty grocery store.

I am worried that new gardeners will start their crops to save money, and be discouraged by from continuing by the costs. And that would be a shame.


brokenteepee said...

We have a rather large garden. I can and freeze in the summer and I haven't had to buy a vegetable since it started producing in July. We spent about $100 on seeds. I still have enough in my freezer to get me through to when this years garden comes in. It's a lot of work but definitely worth it. The vegetables still taste like they just came in off the vine/stalk/plant and I love the control we have over how we grow them.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. THat is also the reason why I started my own garden. It's small but it's fun. :) And I save too. :)

beth said...

This is soooo true. I've spent far more money "gardening" than just buying. Maybe we should just support local farmers at farmer's markets.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I think our last tomatoes cost about $100 each. Now I just have a few herbs in pots.

Cromely said...

@Pricilla: The fresh taste is tough to beat. It's great that you've gotten to that scale. That's awesome. How long have you had the garden?

@natural candles: That's great. the garden is a lot of fun. I love picking a fresh basil leaf and wrapping it around a cherry tomato.

@beth: I'm always amazed at how inexpensive the farmers' market is. And I usually go the Pike Place market with all its tourists. I get two big bags for fruits and vegetables for $20 and it's always the in season stuff.

@Jan from Better Spines: One of my favorite gardening related books is The $64 Tomato.


Windroot said...

Boy, I heard that. I am planning a bigger garden for exactly the reason you cited, the economy. Yes, I know that I will spend way more than what I would have spent at the grocery store, but there is a satisfaction that comes from growing your own stuff and knowing what did and did not go into it. Plus, I growing fresh herbs is a money saver of sorts. If nothing else, I'll make some local birds very happy.