How to Save Money With an Organic Garden

Updated on August 29, 2017

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 grown. 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.

Organic cherry tomatoes are expensive to purchase. By growing your own you can save money.
Organic cherry tomatoes are expensive to purchase. By growing your own you can save money. | Source

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 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 the soil quality. The beds were filled with a combination of organic gardening soil and compost purchased at a home supply store.

White cedar raised beds are not treated with chemicals, are naturally insect resistant, and hold up well for many years.
White cedar raised beds are not treated with chemicals, are naturally insect resistant, and hold up well for many years.

Garden Expenses

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.

Item
Quantity
Cost (US$)
Raised bed - white cedar - 18 sq. ft planting area
1
95
Organic soil and compost
8 cubic feet
24
Organic tomato fertilizer
1 small bag
5
Zucchini plant
1
3
Roma tomato plants
5
15
Cherry tomato plant
1
3
Basil plants
4
10
Marigolds (to keep away bugs)
12
5
Tomato cages
6
18
Weck canning jars (glass with glass lids, no BPA)
6
30
Misc. canning supplies
-
10
TOTAL EXPENSES
-
218
Roma tomatoes grow well in a raised bed.
Roma tomatoes grow well in a raised bed.

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, 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 with what I have grown.

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 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$)
Roma tomatoes
50 lbs
replaces 34 jars Bionature tomato jars (about $3/24 oz.)
107
Zucchini
15 pieces
replaces 15 pieces of zucchini from local organic farm ($3/piece)
45
Cherry tomatoes
8 pints
replaces 8 pints from local organic farm ($3/pint)
24
Basil
4 batches
replaces 4 batches of fresh pesto sauce from store (about $7/batch)
30
TOTAL SAVINGS
 
 
206
Roma tomatoes being preserved in a boiling water bath in Weck canning jars.
Roma tomatoes being preserved in a boiling water bath in Weck canning jars.

Garden Payback

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.

Poll

In your experience, what's the payback period of gardening?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Melis Ann

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      • Melis Ann profile imageAUTHOR

        Melis Ann 

        3 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

        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 profile image

        Dmitry Kresin 

        3 years ago from Ukraine

        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 profile imageAUTHOR

        Melis Ann 

        6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

        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!

      • nifwlseirff profile image

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        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 profile imageAUTHOR

        Melis Ann 

        6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

        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!

      • mvillecat profile image

        Catherine Dean 

        6 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

        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 profile imageAUTHOR

        Melis Ann 

        6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

        Thanks Jojosi ~ I'm glad you found the information on cost of gardening useful as I hope others will as well.

      • Jojosi profile image

        Gillian Namele 

        6 years ago from Complicated

        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!

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