The Return on Investment of Gardens
An Introduction to Cheap, Lazy Gardening
I’ve been gardening for around two years now. I still consider myself to be a beginner gardener, because I’ve always had a cheap, lazy approach to gardening.
I don’t measure the pH of my garden, I don’t pay too much attention to the seasons. (Except winter, of course. It freezes here.) I don’t routinely prune my plants or rotate crops to maintain soil health.
I spend maybe 20 minutes a week in my garden, mostly to pick ripe fruits and vegetables and plant new ones. Even with all this, I consider myself to have been fairly successful and would like to share my experiences with other beginner gardeners.
My Gardening Setup
My garden consists of two beds: one raised and one not. They’re around 3–4 feet wide and 12 feet long.
The raised garden bed was made from old wooden fence posts I got for free on Craigslist. The non-raised bed was just dirt that I added some homemade compost to. It was originally a placeholder for some plants so that I could get a couple of raised beds in, but eventually it became so successful that I decided to leave it.
For irrigation, I use a drip system with an Orbit timer, a Y splitter, an old hose with holes drilled in, and a Rainbird drip system. Moving forward, however, I’m going to skip the Rainbird drip irrigation system and instead just use hoses with holes drilled into them. I found that the Rainbird drippers would clog up because of the hard water in my area, and I feel like I’ve spent too much time and money replacing them. Eventually, I removed a majority of the drippers and drilled holes directly into the 1/4 irrigation hose instead.
Total Cost of the Items I Used
Orbit Timer: $25
Y Splitter: $10 (Not strictly needed, but I use one.)
Old Hose: It was free, but you can buy a cheap hose for around $10–15.
Rainbird Drip Irrigation Kit: $26 (You can use the hose instead.)
Power Drill: I already had one.
I think I might be watering more than normal people, but it seems to be doing OK. I have my timer set to water every six hours for 30–40 minutes. I live in a hot desert climate, and 100°F days are normal in the summer.
I know this says Repair and Expansion Kit, but this is the one I bought and it has everything you need.
Here’s the exciting part. You can buy seeds from other gardeners or websites. They’re not too expensive, ranging from $1–2 dollars typically.
However, you can get many more seeds for way cheaper. This special seed bank is called the grocery store! I’ve had massive success buying fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, then planting the seeds. My favorites are tomatoes, green onions, cantaloupe, potatoes, and lots of different squashes.
One butternut squash has dozens of seeds, and then you can have an abundance of butternut squash for months! Same goes for tomatoes and cantaloupes. You only need one to get a huge garden started.
The Return on Investment of a Garden
As mentioned before, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Growing your own food provides a couple of different returns:
- You’re more likely to eat it if you grew it.
- You now don’t have to buy as much food.
For example, I can go to Trader Joe's and buy a butternut squash for around $2. That same butternut squash—although this will take a few months to grow—will produce literally dozens of butternut squash. I have around four plants (exact number not known since my plants are all tangled up), but I counted 10 almost-mature squash, with around 10 more small squash currently growing. Over the season, I’ll have around 20 squash from four plants. If I were to buy those squash in the store, that would be a cost of $40 dollars.
Similarly with the cantaloupe, those seeds were planted from one I purchased at a grocery store in April. Since the beginning of August, I’ve been able to pick around two or three cantaloupe a week.
They’re usually around $2 dollars each in grocery stores, and I counted 30 fruit. There were around 10 plants, although I didn’t count since they just popped up in my compost pile. I decided to leave them to grow. The full 30-fruit harvest would cost $60 in the store.
However, I didn’t plant all my plants from seed. I was walking through Home Depot in June and found a six pack of crookneck squash plants for $3. I could have purchased the seeds for $1–2 dollars and then germinate them myself. But by buying the plant, I was able to save at least two to three weeks of growing time. That means two to three weeks of more production. I quickly bought them and now they produce 3–4 lbs of squash a week.
They usually go for around $1.29/lb at my grocery store (the straight neck variety, but close enough). To date, I’ve harvested 23 yellow squash, averaging 0.5 lb (so they don’t become tough) for a total of 11.5 lbs, which adds up to almost $15 dollars at the grocery store.
A Rough Estimate of My Savings
I could go on and on about my garden and my plants. But if I had to give a rough estimate on the savings my garden has provided this year, it would be around $200. With the cost of the timer and all the other supplies to be around $65, that’s a return of 308% in one year!
Next year would likely be even better, since I won’t have to worry about those start-up costs. You won’t get that sort of return from any other investment, and the year’s not even over yet.
What ROI has your garden provided? If you’re an experienced gardener, I’d love to hear tips on how to make my garden more productive.