When people talk about saving money, one of the first suggestions that usually pops up is the idea of starting a vegetable garden. But does vegetable gardening save money? Let’s discuss.
You will only save money with a vegetable garden if it lowers your grocery bill. You can’t just say “oh, I grew 500 lbs of tomatoes, and they are $3 a pound, so I grew $1500 worth of tomatoes, therefore I saved $1500.” Would you have spent that much money on tomatoes over the summer? If not, you didn’t save $1500. It’s like when your Kohl’s receipt says you “saved $150”. Not exactly.
But if you are spending less money on food overall, and don’t spend too much on the garden itself, you can safely say that your garden has been a net financial gain.
I have planted many vegetable gardens that wasted time and money. Here is what I’ve learned along the way.
Plant what you eat!
It’s so easy to get carried away by seed catalog descriptions. There are things like delectable summer squash and heirloom eggplants. But planting things that you don’t like to eat is a mistake. Even the most delectable summer squash won’t be eaten by people who don’t like squash. When I am tempted to plant something weird, I ask myself whether I would ever buy it at the farmers market. If not, I don’t grow it.
What are you buying most of the year? For us it is lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, melon, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, herbs, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, peas, and corn. Boring, boring, boring. But things that will be used. If you interested in canning, think of extra peppers and tomatoes that can be easily preserved. (It can be helpful to use a canning planner to help you with this!)
Do you know how cucumbers you get from one plant? A lot. Like, at least two a day during its peak productivity. And one tomato plant is the same. If you are planning on preserving your food, then this is good. Just make sure you are picking the right varieties and being realistic with yourself. If you are not interested in preserving food, then one or two tomatoes and cucumbers is plenty. Vegetable gardening does not save money when half of your produce goes to waste.
Don’t forget that in many regions you can plan another planting for a fall vegetable garden. So you don’t have to plant a ton of one thing all at once!
Focus on food that is expensive to buy
Vegetable gardening does save money if you are growing valuable and expensive produce that you will actually eat.
Cheap to buy: Lettuce, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Also, they are pretty hard to grow. See my post on growing lettuce.
Expensive to buy: Tomatoes, melons, peppers, eggplants, berries, and herbs. All very worthwhile to grow at home, if you are focusing on saving money with your garden.
Maybe: corn takes a lot of room and is very inexpensive at the farmers market. But it is fun to grow and much better fresh. Onions are a little picky but don’t take much space, and you can easily grow a years supply.
Reduce your expenses to help your vegetable garden save you money
In-ground gardens are less expensive than raised beds
This is a VERY unpopular opinion, but I think raised bed gardens are too expensive, and your vegetable garden will never save you money if that’s the route you take. They might be easier and more fun to work in, since there are no weeds and you don’t need to till or dig. And that’s fine! But if you are trying to save money, raised beds will set you back. There is the cost of setting them up, filling them with soil, and then replacing them when they rot. Also you will need to top off the soil every year, and unless you have a serious home compost operation, that will require money.
If you have an area that is too big to dig by hand, you can rent a tiller once a year, hire someone to till once a year, and tillers appear on Craigslist a lot. If you don’t have heavy clay soil like me, then you can probably just add mulch and compost over the years and not till at all.
Vegetable gardening does not save money when every year you are spending money on soil. So you will want to start a home compost operation. It’s easy and free.
starting your own plants from seed saves a lot
Starting your own seeds is not hard, and is very fun. You can use expensive plugs and trays, but for years I used paper cups with a hole poked in them. The only things you need to get started are sterile seed starting mix, and an indoor light. I use this one. If you store your seeds in the freezer they will last a very, long time. I have one packet of tomato seeds that I got seeds from for seven years before it needed to be replaced. I really started saving money with my vegetable garden once I switched to starting all my plants from seed.
So does vegetable gardening save money?
The very irritating answer is: it depends.
Probably not, at first. Probably yes, over time.
And besides, there’s much more to it than that. A vegetable garden will get you outside in the fresh air, keep you off your phone, and exhaust you so that you sleep like a baby all through the summer. It will give you something to do with your kids and something to talk about with your husband. If you can’t afford a nice summer vacation, you will still be busy and happy all summer long.
That might or might not save you money over the course of your life. But it is definitely worth it.