How much Money you save Growing a Garden (it's A LOT)
Here is something I am really proud of.. We are able to feed our family (of 3) a delicious, organic, GMO-free, plant based, locally produced diet for less than $200/month during growing season. That was six months of last year. This year we hope to have success growing all year round.
How do we do this? We are growing almost $4,000 worth of organic produce in a six month window, accounting for about 75% of our food. We then buy most of our remaining food in bulk at our co-op, and cook from scratch.
Do you have a piece of earth that is about 25’x30’?? If so, you could do something similar!
In this post, I am going to paint a picture for you of how much money you would “earn”, or are unknowingly earning, by planting a garden of your own!
If you set aside just a small amount of your yard for edible landscaping (fruit and vegetable plants and bushes are beautiful!), you will be completely amazed by the remarkable savings on your grocery bill.
Even if you only have space to build a single 30 square foot bed you could possibly grow more than $400 worth of fresh herbs and greens (like spinach and arugula). Or $500 worth of strawberries!
This past week we planted our 2018 kitchen garden. Getting our garden going had me thinking about the money that we earn from this. Not earn as in being paid cash money for it, though there is that too when we sell our surplus. But earn as in the amount of labor and money that we invest compared to the money that we are saving by not having to buy the majority of our food from someone else. Earnings from a slashed grocery bill. Earnings by cutting out the “middle man”.
There are also the indirect monetary benefits. Such as by reducing transportation costs (and carbon footprint) by not having to transport food a greater distance than the yard. Another is by reducing medical spending by maintaining optimal wellness by eating nutritiously and being active in nature.
Did you know that the average “healthy” adult in the U.S. has 2-3 colds annually? The range is wide, but I feel like that presents a pretty clear picture. And the cost of the common cold in the U.S. is figured at $40-billion! $17-billion of that is in direct costs like doctors visits and OTC cold medicine. And $22.5-billion is in secondary costs like loss of work time.
I truly can't even recall the last time I was ill. I had a rogue 24 hour stomach something in 2014, but other than that, nothing. And we have a thriving, social almost four year old who has never been sick. Not even a cold. *I thank the stars* *knock on wood*
Staying well saves a lot of money on doctors visits and medicine. Nary a dime spent by us these past years. It also equates to a lot of time saved not spent being down. And most importantly it improves your quality of life. OF COURSE, there are a myriad of factors that contribute to health and wellness and individual circumstance. Of course. This is by no means meant as an othering or a judgement on those with illness or disease! That is part of the human experience. We are all of the world. We all suffer. (This is also not to demonize foods or bodies). But this is to say that food is truly the base building block of your body’s healing, function and capabilities. To be healthy, we must eat healthy. We all deserve this. To this, I am sure we can all agree.
To start, I will explain our kitchen garden structure. This is what I am basing my math off of. This garden only includes what we grow for our family of three (and when it overfloweth, we share with neighbors and friends). We apply permaculture principles to some areas of our property and growing. But for our kitchen garden we take a more biointensive, square foot gardening approach.
Beyond the kitchen garden, we have a berry patch, and a mushroom patch.
We have 20 chickens for eggs. We grow fresh food for our chickens in a renegade fashion with our extra starts, seeds, and plants that we are thinning out. And we sell the egg surplus which covers their feed and maintenance = leaving us 3 to 4 dozen eggs a week to eat for “free” + manure to enhance our soil. But, I will share the chicken cost/earning breakdown in a separate post.
We also have a burgeoning ⅓ of an acre fruit orchard. We are extending our growing to a 1,000 square foot polytunnel this year, to start producing year-round, and as the beginning of an expansion for market gardening.
But, for the sake of this breakdown, I will only calculate our kitchen garden + herb garden + berry patch + mushroom patch.
Our kitchen garden & herb garden is about 500 sq. ft. + 100 sq. ft. mushroom patch + 150 sq. ft berry patch.
WHAT WE PLANT
In addition to the seeds that we gathered and saved from last years most prolific plants, we plant heirloom seeds that we buy from ethical, clean suppliers. (Message me if you'd like tips on a few good ones!) . I propagate some plants, like I shared in the “How-to” propagate Basil*. We are also sure to plant perennials - The plants that keep on giving! And we inoculated a Kingstraphoria (Wine Cap) mushroom patch.
The produce in our 2018 kitchen garden consists of;
arugula, spinach, lettuce, snap peas, asparagus, eggplant, 2 bell pepper varieties, 5 tomato varieties, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, melon, horseradish, radishes, rutabagas, purple potatoes, yams, carrots, scallions, shallots, garlic, garlic chives, chives, thyme, fennel, tarragon, mint, basil, cilantro, wine cap mushrooms. The berry patch includes; strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR A GARDEN
- Nutrient Rich soil
- Basic garden tools
- Protection from critters & pests
- Seeds & Starts
This isn’t a very complicated list, yet it is… Best case scenario is that you have a bit of space, a few tools, good soil, and either very little nuisance from the likes of deer, and bunnies, and whatnot, (or), a fence.
- assuming that you have a bit of earth anything is possible
- For us, we had to purchase a roll of heavy duty ground cover to smother grass to prep for planting. This cost us $100 and we can use over and again. We had good soil to start with, albeit rocky, and we were able to enhance it further with leftover gypsum from our house build, ash, self made compost, and chicken manure. This all cost us the investment of time. Time sifting out rocks for plantable land. The patience of aging the compost, and the time turning and hauling said compost. Additionally, chickens are a cost in and of themselves. There was an original investment to startup our chicken keeping. However, we have reached the point where selling extra eggs is financing that endeavor = free chicken manure = best compost ever = amazing soil = prolific food!
- If you have no basic tools (shovel, trowel, hoe, scissors…)then this investment would run you about $100
- And as for pests - we live amidst ALL the beasts. So we have had to invest in fences and barriers. But that is a one time price. Our garden beds were built with extra lumber and scraps from other projects. To cover these kitchen garden beds with protective hoops (that double for greenhousing them for season extension), and to surround our larger patches with (moveable) fencing, it cost us an investment of about $350 for ~700 sq. ft. We are also prepping our next planting location with compost, cover crops, and ground cover to do necessary crop rotation. But this is all single time infrastructure financial investment that varies from situation to situation so I will keep this as a separate consideration.
- On year one, we had nothing in regards to seeds or starts. So our cost was about $300 for a variety of high quality seeds, bare root strawberries, horseradish, a few varieties of berry bushes... Year two, we propagated bushes, herbs, had gathered and saved and traded seeds. Year two still cost us $100 for high quality seeds that we found difficult to gather ourselves, and need a lot of - things like; greens and herbs. Our cost projection/goal for coming years is $50 or less. But for the sake of accuracy I’ll just use the high cost of $300
INVESTMENT OF TIME (based off of a six month growing season)
- Ground prep annually = 12 hours
- (4 hours for spreading compost + 4 hours installing ground/bed coverings + 4 for uncovering and turning the soil prior to planting)
- Planting = 8 hours
- “Top up” planting = 10 hours
- (an hour or so every three weeks)
- Tending = 52 hours
- (weeding, harvesting, seed gathering for about 2/hrs per week average)
- Freezing, storing, preserving = 20 hours
= 102 hours
TIME INVESTMENT OVER SIX MONTHS = 102 hours
TOTAL FINANCIAL INVESTMENT ANNUALLY = $300
TOTAL FINANCIAL INVESTMENT, ONE TIME = $550
This provides my family of three with 75% of our food! Remember, we are beginning to grow year round, but the six month growing season is what I’m referring to here. We do not have to buy any produce from someone else during this 6 month growing season. (Though, because we love them, we do continue to buy a few bananas, plantains, and avocados.)
Our chicken eggs provide another 5%-10% or so of our food.
The remaining 20% of our diet is bought at our co-op. This includes bulk things like; nuts, barley, oats, flours, yeast, sprouting seeds, lentils, dry beans, salt, molasses. Products like; butter, raw milk, sour cream (kids is obsessed), cheeses, almond milk, tofu, coffee. And sporadic things like; lemons, brown sugar, granola, Veganaise...
And, full disclosure, this isn’t considering the money we spend on going out to good restaurants, which we very much enjoy doing because WE LOVE GOOD FOOD. But that is considered in our “spending” budget, because it would affect our food budget so minimally if we were eating home instead. [Also, *full disclaimer* does not include the cost of our Zevia obsession. No, Sodastream drinks can’t compare!]
COST OF ORGANIC PRODUCE
This is based off of our “Square Foot Garden”. Over the course of a 6 month growing season, wherein, we did “top up” planting of crops like radishes, greens and herbs so that we maintained a continuous harvest. This is the typical price you would pay for this organic, non-gmo, fresh food at a grocery store or farmers market.
Eggplant - $2.50/lb x 10lbs per plant x 6 plants = $150
Peppers - $2.99/lb x 6lbs per plant x 6 plants = $128
Tomatoes - $2.99/lb x 15lbs per plant x 14 plants = $630
Heirloom tomatoes - $4.00/lb x 25lbs per plant x 2 plants = $200
Sugar-snap Peas - $3.50/lb x 5lbs per 10’ row x 2 = $35
Butternut squash - $1.59/lb x 15lbs per plant x 4 = $95
Spaghetti squash - $1.59/lb x 15lbs per plant x 4 = $95
Melons - $1.99/lb x 15lbs per plant x 4 plants = $120
Asparagus - $2.99/lb x 4lbs = $12
Radishes - $2.50/bunch x 15 bunches x 5 harvests = $150
Rutabagas - $2.09/lb x 50lbs = $104
Potatoes- $1.59/lb x 50lbs = $80
Yams - $1.59/lb x 50lbs = $80
Carrots - $1.99/lb x 30lbs = $60
Horseradish - $6.20/lb x 3lb per plant x 5 plants = $93
Shallot - $1.59/lb x 10lbs = $16
Green onion - $1.99/bunch x 5lbs x 5 harvests = $50
Chives - $1.99/bunch x 10 bunches x 4 harvests = $80
Fresh herbs (avg.) - $1.99/bunch x 40 bunches x 4 harvests = $320
Greens (arugula, lettuce, spinach) - $4.50 /8oz. x 20lbs x 6 harvests (2 of each) = $540
Wine Cap Mushrooms - $4.00/lb x 30lbs = $120
Strawberries - $5.00/lb. x ~1lb per everbearing plant x 100 plants = $500
Blueberries - $5.00/pint x 6 pints per bush x 4 bushes = $120
Raspberries - $5.00/pint x 4 pints per bush x 4 bushes = $80
Elderberries - $7.00/jar of jam x 2 jars per bush x 4 bushes = $56
GRAND TOTAL = $3,914
Holy moly! How radical is that?!
$3,914 - $300 annual investment = $3,614
This prices 102 hours of labor at $35.43 /hour
Heck, even including the startup infrastructure cost this still comes to a profit margin of = $3,064
Or $30.04 /hour
Homesteading a garden values my labor at more than $35/hour and my family gets to eat as much fresh food as we are able.
I’ve priced this based off of notes that I’ve kept on organic produce prices in multiple cities over a few years. But here is a helpful pricing list to refer to.
Here is a basic, but helpful, chart on about how much weight in produce to expect per planting space VEGETABLE PRODUCTION CHART*
Here is a good article with more insight into biointensive square foot gardening.
Intensive Gardening: Grow More Food in Less