I'm a mother, environmental scientist & former Covid contact tracer who does research on a variety of health-related topics. Copyright 2021
How Long Does It Take to Recoup the Expense of an Organic Garden?
One of the many advantages of growing your own food is saving money. Although there are more inexpensive ways to garden at home, I opted to purchase a raised garden bed. I was curious to see if I could pay for the expense of implementing this garden with the food I grew. To maximize money savings, I chose foods that are easy to grow, expensive to purchase from the store organically, and ones we love to eat. My choices were Roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and basil.
Containers vs. Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Gardens
The choice to go with a raised bed was clear for me when attempts at container gardening failed in the past.
- The containers did not hold moisture.
- Even with healthy soil, containers just didn't produce healthy plants.
- Containers are fine for herbs and smaller plants, but they just couldn't support my tomatoes and zucchini.
- Tilling the soil to put a garden in the ground wasn't an option because of poor soil quality. Even with amendments to improve soil quality, there were chemicals that had been applied to the lawn nearby that have contaminated the area, preventing the garden from being organic.
- Poor drainage can also be a problem with in-ground gardens.
The raised bed method keeps soil cool on hot days, allows for drainage, and gives me the control I want over soil quality. The beds were filled with a combination of organic gardening soil and compost purchased at a home supply store.
I've included all expenses related to the garden in addition to canning. In order to avoid BPA, I opted to invest in Weck brand canning jars which are glass with glass lids. They worked quite well.
Since I use the Roma tomatoes for making fresh tomato sauce, I was able to use the fresh harvest for the week to make a big batch of Sunday sauce each week. During peak production, I used the glass canning jars to preserve the excess and also froze some sauce for short-term storage.
Raised bed - white cedar - 18 sq. ft planting area
Organic soil and compost
8 cubic feet
Organic tomato fertilizer
1 small bag
Roma tomato plants
Cherry tomato plant
Marigolds (to keep away bugs)
Weck canning jars (glass with glass lids, no BPA)
Misc. canning supplies
Calculating Savings From the Garden
For the season, I tracked how much the garden produced. I approximated to get a general sense of savings without getting bogged down in details. For example, I figured out the average weight of a Roma tomato from the first couple of batches—and from then on, I just counted the number of tomatoes picked and documented it.
I approached the calculation of savings with the idea that I am replacing what I normally would buy at the store with what I have grown in my garden.
For example, in the off-season, I don't spare expense in buying tomatoes for sauce. I buy Bionature Organic Strained Tomatoes, made in Italy, and sold in glass jars (no BPA because of the glass container, but also no BPA in the metal lid). Since I'm already spending quite a bit to ensure quality tomatoes, the savings is significant in growing my own tomatoes.
For basil, I normally buy a freshly made pesto sauce, which is fairly expensive. Using my home grown basil, I'm able to make my own pesto sauce and save quite a bit.
Tracking Garden Production
|Produce||Quantity Grown||Quantity Grown Replacement Value||Estimated Savings (US$)|
replaces 34 jars Bionature tomato jars (about $3/24 oz.)
replaces 15 pieces of zucchini from local organic farm ($3/piece)
replaces 8 pints from local organic farm ($3/pint)
replaces 4 batches of fresh pesto sauce from store (about $7/batch)
I was very happy with the result that my garden payoff period turned out to be one summer, even with challenges and mistakes made along the way. Total expenses equalled $218 and total savings was approximately $206.
I should be able to realize significant savings in following years as some of the initial expenses have already been paid for. Besides adding soil amendments and purchasing starter plants, there are no other expenses for the second season. I would like to implement some improvements, which will incur some cost. Perhaps starting from seed would result in even more savings.
Improving Garden Yield
My future plans to grow even healthier plants and hopefully improve yield are as follows:
- Instead of letting Roma tomato plants bush out, try square foot gardening method. Have more plants, but reduce each to a single stem. For my climate, this would allow plants to dry better between rain storms and prevent the plant from shading the fruit. Less bugs, less disease and more sun should lead to more fruit.
- Use a calcium and magnesium supplement for tomato plants next time. Many of my tomatoes had end rot. My yield could have been double what it was without this issue.
- Clip off the top of the tomato plants toward the end of the season so that it doesn't continue to put energy into flowering, but instead can put energy into the fruit that hasn't ripened yet. This would have given me one last big harvest.
- Install a metal grating on the bottom of the raised bed to keep animals from burrowing near roots.
- In the beginning of the season, buy a batch of ladybugs to set into the garden to eat up the aphids. Also try garlic water spray as a preventative treatment to deter insects.
- Use a drip line to water plants to save water as well as keep moisture off leaves, preventing potential disease.
- The garden was a little overcrowded, so leaving more space in general should lead to healthier plants. The square foot method for tomatoes will improve this problem drastically, but this was a problem also for the zucchini.
Overall, yield should increase with improved conditions. Since I know that the expenses were paid back to me with the first season, I am more comfortable investing in some improvements. It will be interesting to see what the payback of a new and improved garden will be.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Melis Ann
Melis Ann (author) from Mom On A Health Hunt on March 19, 2015:
That's a great idea Dmitry. I do live where there are harsh winters. My boxes have held up for many years after being buried deep in the snow, but I'm sure they will eventually need to be replaced.
Dmitry Kresin from Ukraine on March 04, 2015:
Everything described here is absolutely great except that boxes done from wood will quickly die under water and snow (if you have it in your country). I prefer to make all these boxes from slate - it is cheap and will live far longer.
Melis Ann (author) from Mom On A Health Hunt on August 05, 2012:
Don't give up nifwlseirff...every year is a learning experience. It took me a couple years to figure things out. It's wonderful that you have a space to grow on your balcony - good luck!
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on August 05, 2012:
Love the cost breakdown! I'm trying to do the same with my new balcony garden, but haven't had enough of a harvest to bottle anything yet. I suspect at my current rate, it will take 2 seasons to pay off (pots are not cheap!)
Melis Ann (author) from Mom On A Health Hunt on July 30, 2012:
I will do that mvillecat! Consistency of water is always a challenge whether it be too much or too little. I hope the rest of the summer goes well in your garden!
Catherine Dean from Milledgeville, Georgia on July 30, 2012:
Fantastic Hub! I too am an organic gardener trying to raise a large portion of our food. This year it has been difficult due to the heat and humidity. You made several great points that I agree with and problems that we have also faced in our plantings. Thanks! Please check out my hub on Gardening in Georgia! Thanks!
Melis Ann (author) from Mom On A Health Hunt on May 02, 2012:
Thanks Jojosi ~ I'm glad you found the information on cost of gardening useful as I hope others will as well.
Gillian Namele from Complicated on April 30, 2012:
Great hub we have here and lot of useful information. And since the goal was to save money, I am sure the objective was met. Voted up!