When Does “Growing Your Own” Become Too Expensive?
April 6, 2010
When does growing your own vegetables become too expensive? I’m not sure I can answer that question but it’s a valid one to ask. Every year I grow a garden and every year I’m sure I spend more on the garden than if I bought organic vegetables from the farmer’s market.
This year, I’ve decided to track everything I spend and then everything I yield to get a realistic picture. This doesn’t mean I’ll stop, even if it’s more expensive, but it’s important to recognize that not everyone may have the means (be it space, time or money) to have their own garden. I’m aware I have some challenges not everyone who gardens faces, which may add to my cost, but I know I’m not alone. I have the space, and I find the time, but I’m always shocked at the expense.
One of the biggest challenges is the how and where to grow. Some people are blessed with great soil; anything they put in it will grow. My soil is hard packed clay; I’d be better off building a kiln and throwing my own pots than trying to grow anything with it.
Last year we built raised beds and tried the No Dig Garden method (also known as Lasagna Gardening). The garden is approximately 100 square feet and 2 feet deep. We are using those same beds this year, and the same method, but they have to be filled with compost, hay, alfalfa and manure, and all those things cost money. The wood for the raised beds will not be included in my cost for this year*, but the soil amendment/fill for the beds will be, because it would have to be amended, raised beds or not.
Another challenge which ends up costing money are the pests, both of the insect and the mammal variety. They have to be kept out of the garden if I am to have any hope of harvesting these vegetables. We bought beneficial nematodes as an organic way to get rid of the white grubs in the soil and could have bought pesticides for less, but that defeats the idea of growing organically, doesn’t it?
The bigger problem is with raccoons who will toss the plants right out of the garden in their reckless attempt to dig for their supper. In order to keep the plants from these masked marauders so I have to buy “protection.” No, I’m not hiring a guy named Joey, but rather, securing the plants in their boxes with chicken wire and bungee cords. Seriously though, if they don’t leave the plants alone, I may consider putting out a hit on the little monsters.
Above; one of the caged beds. As the plants grow I’ll either cut holes for them to grow through, or pull back the chicken wire in stages.
Left: Raccoons have dug under the beds, pulling out the dirt, undermining the stability of the boxes.
Right, I’ve tried to push the dirt back in and put up barriers to prevent them from doing it again.
The plants themselves have a cost and are not always cheap. Starting from seeds is definitely a money saver but I have been only minimally successful with growing from seed. Six packs of seedlings are a better value, but frankly, I don’t need or want most vegetables which come in six packs. This article in the Sacramento Bee offers good, solid practical advice about not planting more than you can eat and only planting what you actually want to eat. This is why I only plant 1 zucchini rather than buying six. I also don’t plant vegetables I don’t enjoy, but I do plant extra of the things I love and know how to cook and freeze for later like tomatoes, eggplant, basil and squash. The one thing in the article I’m not clear on is where they get the figure of $100 in garden cost yielding $600 worth of vegetables. That may be true for some, but probably not for me.
Of course, there are things I can do to save money and there are intangibles I get from gardening on which one cannot put a price.
I will continue to try to grow from seeds and hopefully, next year, will not need to add so much purchased fill for the beds. I have faith my composting of kitchen scrap will eventually work and be usable. We even re-purposed an ancient ladder which had been languishing in my yard for years to use to grow the peas.
For me, the intangibles make it all worth the time and expense. I can do a cost/benefit analysis all I want, but ultimately, there is something immensely satisfying in doing physical labor to create and grow. And there is nothing comparable to a tomato fresh off the wine, still warm from the sun.
What price the joy of a home grown tomato? Total spent so far: $246.63
( will be buying more plants/seeds but hopefully nothing else)
Pest Prevention:$89.53 (Beneficial Nematodes, Fencing)
Plants: $24.38 (in box, top photo left)
1 Yellow Squash (straight)
6 Sugar Snap Peas
1 Japanese Cucumber
6 Regular Eggplant
1 Celebrity Tomato (Hybrid-1 gal size to get a head start and early crop)
1 Brandywine Tomato (because I am a sucker for this specific tomato even though Heirlooms don’t grow well for me)
1 Black Russian Tomato (Heirloom)
Seeds Started (no cost/packages from last year)
* In case you are curious, the wood for the beds (#2 Pine in 12″ boards and 4x4s) plus screws cost us $228 when we built them in 2009. I don’t have numbers for what we spent on drip irrigation supplies.
What do you think? Is a gardening worth the expense to you?