Can a Vegetable Garden Save You Money on Groceries?

vegetable garden

A vegetable garden can produce gallons of produce each season that would cost hundreds of dollars if bought at a grocery store.

The post Can a Vegetable Garden Save You Money on Groceries? appeared first on Big Blog Of Gardening.

There are many reasons we start a vegetable garden: To exercise, to get closer to nature, to reduce our carbon footprint, to enjoy varieties of fruits and veggies we can’t find in stores, and sometimes, to save money on groceries. In my case, I’m a cheapskate and I love the benefit of saving money on fresh food. Plus, being out in the sunshine suits me well.

If you read The $64 Tomato, you learned that starting a garden can, if done wrong, cost you much more than buying the same produce in stores. Done right however, and you’ll be producing gallons of produce each season with minimal financial investment. Those fresh vegetables and fruit would cost hundreds of dollars at a grocery store. Plus, you’ll know that your food is organic and wasn’t shipped halfway around the world, adding to climate change.

And then there’s the flavor of fresh-picked anything. Supermarkets carry industrial produce that’s specifically grown to survive the long trip from farm to store. Flavor is usually sacrificed for firmness or because it’s picked far before it’s ripe (read Tomatoland for a great explanation of this). But there are so many varieties of vegetables you’ll never see outside of your garden – just flip through any seed catalog and you’ll see what I mean.

Make a plan and grow what you love to eat

If it’s your first garden, it’s important to make a plan to minimize your labor and to grow what you know will be eaten. Lean into vegetables and fruits that are expensive to buy in stores (like berries, tomatoes, peppers), or varieties that can’t be found in stores (heirloom tomatoes and lettuces). And grow only fresh herbs that you use often. Fresh potatoesonionscarrots, and garlic are relatively cheap to buy and growing them is easy – but is it the best use of your space from a save-money-on-groceries perspective?

One of my pet peeves is throwing away any food I grew in the garden. Sure, it can be composted, but my hard work is in that food too. So plan your garden and grow only as much as you can eat fresh, frozen or canned. A good garden plan comes with experience, so go slowly your first few seasons and stick with what you love and what you’ll eat. Starting with a simple plan will make the work you put into gardening and harvesting more manageable.

Calculating the cost of growing fruits and vegetables vs buying them in stores

It’s amazing how much food you can grow in a small yard like mine. I grow an enormous amount in 5 raised garden beds, 1 tree, and along a fence. Four beds are 10′ x 3′ (3.5 meters x 1 meter) and one is 15′ x 3′ (4.5 meters x 1 meter). Maintenance is low because I have 3 beds dedicated to perennial fruits: blueberriesblackberries and strawberries. That leaves 2 beds in which I rotate tomatoessweet peppers, onions, garlic, beans, marigolds, dill, basil, and parsley. Some years will also find celery in there or some other herb or plant I’m playing with. See my post on how to plant crops together.

I also have a small kitchen garden, about 3 ‘ x 3’ (1 meter x 1 meter), off my patio for greens and herbs (easy to fence off from rabbits). I use my split rail fence to grow raspberries, and I have a cherry tree. The crops listed below are my regular rotation, and over the years I’ve also thrown in cauliflower, broccolicabbage, asparagus, pole beans (instead of bush beans), celery, chamomilecucumberssweet corn, heirloom kale, and more (not all at once). See our page on how to grow the most popular fruits and veggies.

Weather plays a big role in how much your garden will produce

Naturally, weather plays a big role in how much each garden bed produces each year. Even the most experienced gardener can be frustrated by 100 degree F (37 C) days in May that cause pepper blossoms to drop or a hot, dry stretch in August that slows your tomato yield to a crawl. And persistent rain creates challenges too. Sometimes the weather can completely wipe out a crop as it did with my cherries this year (a wet spring caused a fungal infection in the fruit). But under normal conditions, these plants produce enough fruits and veggies to feed 2-plus people (plus friends and neighbors) from May to October with some saved in the freezer or made into pesto, tabbouleh, salad dressings, marinades, jams, smoothies, or spaghetti sauce.

How much I spend on my garden

The general answer when someone asks me how much I spend on my garden is “not much”. If you want to factor in the cost of building my raised garden beds, the math is: $300 for cedar planks (all-in) and about $20 for hardware. They were built 10 years ago and are still standing. These days, kits are available online, but they’re pricey. It’s cheapest and more durable to find cedar boards at least 4″-8″ wide (10-20 centimeters) cut to the length you desire at your local home center and wall blocks like these to hold them upright.

And those who want to split hairs will say, “what about your time and labor?”. I suppose there’s an argument for that. But when you love doing something it’s hardly work. Also, my setup requires very little labor after spring prep.

Doug Hall