Save Money with a Garden?

There are lots of ways people try to save money.

  • Some methods work well for most people.
  • Some work well for a few people.
  • Some don’t really work well for anyone.

One approach to saving money that seems to have folks advocating all of these conclusions is vegetable gardening.

Onions in the garden

What is the truth? Can you save money by growing your own food?

Or is the whole idea a hoax and you will likely end up spending far more than you save? With all the different views out there, each strongly held, how can you know the truth?

Ideas about Gardening

The reason there are so many different conclusions about the value of gardening is that most people form their opinions on individual experience, either their own or that of other people they know. All of these experiences are true for the people involved, but the fact is each experience is determined by a wide range of circumstances.

Cucumbers in garden

What you can grow successfully and the extent to which it is financially profitable depends on your climate, your soil, and many other factors, the most important of which is your knowledge about gardening.

Unfortunately there is a lot of false and misleading information floating around. Some is promoted by charlatans out to make a fast dollar but even more comes from well intentioned but ill informed friends and neighbors.

So how can we avoid the confusion? Let me suggest two things.

  • First, get your information from proven, reliable sources. The most dependable source in America is through your state extension service. Most states have a lot of great information on the web, freely available. This is research based information that is related to the local climate.
  • Next, learn from local successful gardeners. Almost everyone has an opinion about gardening. But not everyone has successful experience to base their opinions on. Accept that when people tell you how it is, that’s the way it is for them the way they do it.

If you want to learn how to save money with vegetable gardening, learn from people who are saving money doing it. (For the record, I have been a gardener most of my life and at one time operated a farm market.)

Keys to Profitable Gardening

Whether you will be successful in saving money with your garden depends on a number of factors. Here are a few of the key things to keep in mind if you want to save money.

Keep your purpose in mind.

There are many ways to do almost everything. If your goal is growing exotic and unusual food or preserve heirlooms you will choose one way; if it is to save money your choices need to be different.

Focus on controlling costs.

Restraining costs is as important as increasing productivity. You can spend a lot on new tools or get by with a few old ones (check out garage sales). Your tomatoes won’t know the difference.

Grow economically valuable crops first.

Some vegetables are hard to grow, produce little, are cheap at the store, and are rarely eaten. Others are easy to grow, eaten a lot, and are sometimes expensive to buy.

Start slowly.

It takes some experience to learn the ropes. If you start on a large scale you are more likely to spend a lot and end up with a small harvest. If you don’t keep up with weeding, watering, dealing with pests and the like, you can lose much of your produce very quickly.

To make vegetable gardening pay, especially in the beginning, requires careful planning and lots of self-discipline.

  • It means using a hoe or shovel, perhaps renting a tiller for a first tilling, not rushing out to buy an expensive new garden tiller.
  • It means making compost bins of old fencing wire or thrown away pallets, not cedar planks from the lumber yard.
  • It means daily, disciplined watching and caring for your garden.

To Garden or Not to Garden

In the past I have saved a lot of money and even made money growing vegetables. Currently I am more into flowers and other landscape plants so I spend a good bit.

Pears on tree

Even in the way of food crops, next year my plans call for buying more fruit trees. Depending on how many I buy this could cost quite a bit and be several years before being cost effective.

But the fact is, if you make it your goal and do it right you can save some money with a vegetable garden—if you commit to it and make the right choices. But it won’t happen by accident!

Comments

  1. Save money? The average small back yard gardner, I don’t think so. If you think of gardening as Five Acres to Independence (1935), I believe it is still possible to live off the land. …backbreaking work it is.

    I know with the raised beds I use, I get fresh, vegetables grown in the conditions I want. I do not save money. But the satisfaction is immense when leaf devouring slugs are not there.

    If you have more space to establish permanent crops you cans save money on apples or apricots. Then again a grape arbor done conventionally would take time to pay off.

    There I have circled the subject. Maybe yes, maybe no, it just depends

    My advice is to grow rhubarb.

    Richard

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Even though you suggest it may not be a good way to save money for the average person, your tips suggest a view that closely match mine I think. People who try to grow a lot of things when they have no idea how to care for them usually do lose money. I don’t save anything either because I spend too much: I buy too many tools, I’m now working on a nice greenhouse, and I have plans for an elaborate three section compost bin next spring.

    But you can have some savings, as you note, growing things like rhubarb (I have two plants that supply all we can eat). I have a ring of strawberries around our rock garden that I started with twelve plants years ago and have a hundred plants or so now that we eat on all summer (day neutral that produce from June to September). Our two apple trees that I bought for $20 together a dozen years ago produced hundreds of apples last year.

    But you only save money when you are highly productive or grow only cost effective crops like those, especially if you consider your time.

    Thanks again for stopping by. And for reminding me of Five Acres to Independence. I remember when that was a very popular book back around 1980 when the back to the land movement was popular. Perhaps you remember Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life as well.

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