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Ok, so this is year #2 for me and my garden. I have quite a bit of land here where I'm renting, so, last year, we went ahead and made a pretty big plot for a beginner (about 600 sq ft). Right now, I feel like my garden is at the "hobby" stage - where I work out there, plant stuff, etc, but I'm definitely spending more than I'm saving by gardening.

When did your gardens become cost efficient? As in, when were you spending less on the garden than you would to just buy the produce?

Plus, some of my garden is just fallow because I can't get stuff to grow. I allocated room for lettuce this year, and nothing came up (I planted 3 separate times with no success). Is it just more experience, keep trying different things until I see what works?

Thanks.
 

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Wondering this too...

We spent quite a bit on a raised bed this year and half the stuff we planted either didn't grow or grew but died (due to disease or the d*mn rabbit I've been battling). Fortunately, dp is keeping an open mind about it but he does get a joke in here and there about how the tomato I just picked cost him $50
But- we've learned a lot from this experience and we have some ideas for next year...
 

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Oh gosh, it totally depends. As you become more experienced, your garden is bound to be more productive, and the expensive stuff (tools, initial inputs for beds) has already been purchased, but it is still easy to put more money into it than you need to if you aren't careful.

This year, I spent under $30 on seeds and plants (I bought some new seeds, used seeds I had saved from the year before, and bought plugs instead of full-sized starts for tomatoes and peppers and such). I did not buy any fertilizer (I used homemade compost only), but did spend $8 on new mulch for the rows between my raised beds. I really didn't buy anything else, so for under $40, I had my garden. That wouldn't even cover 2 weeks with a local CSA, so even given a really bad year where plenty of things failed, I did better than I would have had I not grown the garden.

Some things were totally free. 4 years ago, I spent $9 on garlic seed bulbs. This year, I harvested 40+ heads of garlic. I'll plant half for next year, and the rest should last us half a year. Parsley, cilantro, and dill all reseeded themselves from years past, so I didn't even need to plant those. Radishes all grew from seed I saved the year prior. I let the first 7 radishes go to seed, and I'll plant those next year. 4 tomato plants were volunteers from my neighbor's compost pile that she didn't have room for. Anything you can save or acquire for free will help.
 

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I guess it just depends. If you do bare bones everything and don't buy anything (and only plant free plants or use seeds you saved yourself) you could be pretty cost efficient.

I'm still in more of the hobby type phase.
The garden is my fun (so yes, I've got quite the seed collection, but dang, with all my seed saving I could probably go years without having to buy more seed).
Wood cutting is hubby's fun (so he has the nice gear - kevlar-weave chaps, 4 chainsaws, tow cable/chains, a towing block, etc.). Our hobbies just happen to be useful - mine helps feed us, his helps keep us warm from Sept-May.

Plus I'm still adding things and moving things around - probably until I absolutely run out of room to put things (our house lot is .28 acres). Our garden beds add up to about 1200sf plus fruit trees around our property, but I want to put a greenhouse someplace, the blackberries up by the shed, move the hops vines to a to-be-built trellis over the blueberries, more grapes on the shed, and blah blah blah. It keeps me happy and busy, the kids actually know that a carrot or potato comes from under the dirt, etc.

Did I have a point? Oh, once you get the hang of things and if you don't have to move, I'm sure you'd find your groove like my grandparents did. Their garden always had something going on when we visited, and if they had flops, I never knew about them (but at that age I wouldn't have paid much attention anyway).
 

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It never paid off for us--it required too much to make our dirt usable and to work around our leech fields. So this year we quit spending money on a garden and just joined a CSA instead...and that paid for itself within the first few months.
: For us, gardening just didn't work out well--we have bad soil, a huge leech field, and to do it organically resulted in a lot of stuff that just didn't survive.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by jojoboy View Post
Plus, some of my garden is just fallow because I can't get stuff to grow. I allocated room for lettuce this year, and nothing came up (I planted 3 separate times with no success). Is it just more experience, keep trying different things until I see what works?
Well, without more information it's difficult to tell... it could be that your soil is not fertile enough - so you'll need to either spend some money on amending it, or some energy on composting. It could be that you have a seed thief - so you might need to start your plants inside and only put them out when they're big enough. I know I have an allium thief - garlic, onions, doesn't matter, the squirrels love them - they dig up my bulbs. So I eventually decided to stop planting them (although with squirrels I could just cover them until they're big enough, it costs money and effort). It could be that your soil is contaminated (someone posted on this just recently - about contaminated compost/soil)... in which case nothing you do is going to solve the problem - depending on the contamination source, it could sterilize the soil for years. Unfortunately there's no one thing that we can point to and say THERE! THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM!

As for when it starts paying off... it really depends on how much you're spending, how much effort you're putting into it, etc. For myself, I can buy a single tomato plant for $2. I can't get a pound of organic tomatoes for $2 (they're something like $3/lb here). So if I get a pound of tomatoes off that plant, then I've about broken even. If I get more, then I'm golden. But, that's assuming that I have pots from previous years, that I don't have to go out and buy soil/compost just for that one tomato, and that I dry harvest them (watering as little as possible). Similarly I can buy a 6-pk of basils for $3, and even if only 3 of them survive (like happened this year), and I only get 1 bunch of basil from each, I've still broken even, since organic basil goes for about $2/bunch.

For something like strawberries though, which come back year after year... that's a whole different ballgame. The first year I'm not going to break even at $2-3/plant (for this particular breed I grow)... I'll be lucky if I see a single pint of berries all season. But next year my 2 plants will have grown to 6 or 10, and the year after that those plants will have grown to 20-30. In a few years time I can take 2 strawberry plants and they can multiply to 100, easily. At that point they're most definitely paying off, assuming I can find somewhere to put all of them.
 

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Depends on how much you put into it.

We haven't spent much on our garden. I buy seeds and some plants, but alot of the time, I share plants/seeds with friends. Like I didn't need 4 cherry tomato plants so I split with a friend.

We borrowed a rototiller during the spring, we bought tomato cages, dh did put up a fence that cost some money but that's about it.

And I am saving money not buying what I grow at the store, so I'm guessing at this point I'm breaking even at least.

I gotta add, this totally makes it worth every penny.
 

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Our water budget alone this year blew any kind of break even. I'm not sure how to get around that -- after all, we're in Texas. We had a very mild winter, so it was great in terms of harvesting, but summer was a total bust. The drought was a big part of our loss, plus hungry squirrels which ate everything that did grow (even the unripe stuff!).

I agree with others, though, that planting from seed and using your own compost helps a lot. Also, we are figuring out what we don't grow well (tomatoes, for example!) and what we do. I overproduce what grows well and then we trade with friends and neighbors who grow the stuff we can't! That helps a bunch! Last year, we made a ton of collards, and traded for melons and herbs. It was great.
 

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Oh, another thought on starting from seed in the ground... if you're new to gardening I do not recommend starting that way. It takes knowledge, practice and tenacity to make it work. That's one of hte main reasons many of us start seeds inside - they conditions are easier to control. If you put seeds in the ground, you water them and then tomorrow they start to sprout and then you miss a day of watering (or it gets really hot) and they dry out, then you've just wasted your seed. Even many commercial farms start seed elsewhere and then transplant into the ground (I know my CSA does).
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks for all the advice - I had started lots of stuff inside last year, and this year tried to just put seed in the ground. I think my cilantro, cukes and some basil came up, and that was it. No lettuce, carrots, spinach. Plants that make it in the ground do better, but I live in Maryland, and I think because it's humid, I have some sort of wilty/fungus type issues with the cukes/pumkins/tomatoes. I'm gonna keep keepin on.

I haven't been composting yet - maybe I should start, but I do use mulch - dried leaves/grass/straw, so I get some pretty good earthworm activity. Just kinda wondering. I really do love watching stuff grow.
 

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I have never figured out if my garden pays for itself or not. I do it because I love the connection I have with my food by growing my own. Picking a salad for supper is such an awesome thing to do! And nothing tastes as good as something that was alive in the earth only minutes beforehand.
 

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I figure that if I harvest 1 quart of produce for every dollar I spend then I am breaking even. Usually I spend about $100 on transplants and seed and harvest well over 200 quarts. This year I decided to use up old seed and only bought tomato transplants, seed potatoes, and strawberry plants for about $80, and I did buy a tiller- but so far I have harvested 225 quarts with my tomatoes just starting. this doesn't include what we just eat fresh out of the garden.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by cymbeline View Post
Our water budget alone this year blew any kind of break even. I'm not sure how to get around that -- after all, we're in Texas. We had a very mild winter, so it was great in terms of harvesting, but summer was a total bust. The drought was a big part of our loss, plus hungry squirrels which ate everything that did grow (even the unripe stuff!).
I've never gardened in a hot, arid climate, so this is something I am so curious about. You can grow year round - do you need to water year round, too? Do rain barrels or cisterns work in your climate, or is it just too dry to make those practical?

I didn't even think to add my water costs in, but I don't end up doing a lot of supplemental watering. Usually, I just need to water once or twice a week in July and August, and I don't notice that my water bills are much higher during those months, so it isn't a huge amount of water.
 

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Ours paid off immediately. We don't water, most of our tools we got for free or cheap and all our plants are started from seed. I think the first year we harvested 80 lbs of tomatoes which at the grocery store cost between $2-3/lb. So yeah, even though we spent $70 on raised beds, it was still worth it.

It definitely depends on what you spend going in. I'm super laid back gardener so I generally just plant it and ignore for the entire season. Maybe weed once or twice and see what I get at the end.
 

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I've never sat down to figure my costs but I think the non-monetary benefits far outweigh and dollar figures. Someone had mentioned that their children know where their food comes from, which I think is extremely important these days. The pride in picking the literal fruits of your labor is on of the best feelings ever. The family time spent together in the garden, the smell of dirt, the anxiety over bugs and diseases, the ache in your back after weeding, watching the bees - I think it is all worth it.

I think a garden become more of a closed-loop system after years, which probably saves money in the the long run - but for me it's more of a hobby and activity which I could never see myself not doing - no matter what costs are associated with it. There are definitely ways to save expenses like others have mentioned: saving seeds, trading seeds, composting, repurposing/recycling, buying broken bags of soil at the store, hitting season-end clearance sales for gardening supplies, craigslist, urban scavenging, etc.

I picked this up at the library a while ago. It is a fun read, especially if you garden. While I do not think my tomatoes cost $64 each - I think all of us a gardeners can relate.
 

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My input may be totally useless, since DH actually does the gardening, and does it his own way...

We may just be really blessed with super soil too but....

We spent a total of under $20 on seeds this year. Watermelon, cantalope, tomato, bell pepper, pole beans, some herbs....pretty basic stuff. We only have about 200 sf and this is our second year gardening. We have more stuff than I could have ever imagined, and we did last year as well. Ours has most def. paid off.

More importantly for us though, our 4 kids, 2 teenagers a preschooler and a toddler, LOVE working in the garden and I've overheard my super cool cheerleading, mall loving teens telling their friends "yeah this is the best salsa, we grew it" which is priceless. Yesterday I came home from work after a LOONNGG day to find DH in the middle of the garden with our 2 year old dd (who was just dx'd as autistic) who was having a ball. She was helping daddy pick the "wed ones" as she held up and showed me when I entered the back yard. I've been planning to do a plan for gorwing the majority of our own food and canning and when I do, I had planned to try to figure out how cost effective it is to do so. Honestly, I don't need an answer to that. You can't buy those kinds of family experiences, particularly in 2009.
 

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Quote:
You can't buy those kinds of family experiences, particularly in 2009.
Well said, MSU mama.
We would grow some food, even if it didn't pay for itself. OTOH, I do understand the desire to save money and live on less. For a lot of us this is an important part of downshifting, simple living, and/ or living off a single income.

To address the OP's question, I really think that experience counts, but can only carry you so far, plus each year comes with it's own set of variables. One of my best gardens was the very first one that I grew on my own as a student. I bought garden center seeds and knew very little about soil ammendments besides composting. But it was a new garden, and the soil was incredibly rich. It was like a tiny little jungle. Years later, I experienced near-failures where the soil was so depleted or too acidic, in spite of adding manure, compost, etc. In those cases I think you need to either consider spending some money upfront (like a pick-up truckload of manure which would be about $50 around here) or let it go. This is where consulting more experienced gardeners could come in handy. If you have friends or family who can come take a look at your garden, they may be able to give you some helpful insights as to where you should start.

I was never willing to spend a lot of money on a plot that was in a rented house, but if it were my own home and I was going to be there a few years, I would definately invest some money into building up the soil. In the meantime, there are some AMAZING things that can be done with container gardening. I got this book from the library earlier in the summer, and it had fantastic, productive potted plots. Best of luck.

BTW, Midnight Commando I'm adding the $64 tomato to my winter reading list. Looks like a fun read. Thanks for the suggestion!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Right - my first year was amazing. I had so many tomatoes, among other things. This year, not so hot. I do love gardening, and working out there, walking out and eating raspberries straight off the vine. I guess I'm trying to achieve a balance between hobby and growing stuff for us to eat. Plus, I'm sure the first few years must be the most expensive as we invest in tools, seeds, etc.

I'm definitely checking out that book. It reminds me of my parents who planted a tomato plant in Dallas in a container. After months of TLC, they finally got one red tomato off the plant. That was it for the season. The day they ate it was like a holiday.
 

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Our garden usually pays for itself, but sometimes, just barely. We started a 3000 sq ft garden almost 6 yrs ago w/our neighbors. Fenced it, went in halvsies on the tiller, etc. We got SO many things that year. The next year was pretty good, too. Then I was pg, and couldn't do as much. The garden still produced lots and lots, but I didn't put as much by as I could have. Then the next year it was kind of a crazy year and I had a 1 yr old, and things got out of hand. But we still could harvest around the edges, lol (weeds were BAD). This year we had massive amounts of potatoes and onions (like 900 onions!), and tons of kale. We got 'some' squash, and lots of radishes and carrots. We got a handful of peppers and tomatoes and quite a few green beans at first. Then we got hit w/major heat (June), and things just stopped growing, no matter what we did. Our onions stopped growing, and then started making their skins. Then they grew 2 more layers of onion flesh and then another skin, and we have a bunch going bad on us, which we've never had happen before... We pretty much left it alone after harvesting onions and potatoes, and I just went out yesterday and brought in a whole huge bucket of banana peppers. Oh, and my kale came back.


Some years you have better luck than others. My mom can't get her garden to STOP growing, and they are only 1 1/2 hrs north of us. I'm so jealous! I was going to get a Fall garden in, but my dh was so swamped w/work that he didn't have time to help till. I'll try again next year, and in the meantime dump all our chicken, guinea, goat, and rabbit poop on it and till it in December and again in February right before we put next year's onions in.
 

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Oh, another thought on starting from seed in the ground... if you're new to gardening I do not recommend starting that way. It takes knowledge, practice and tenacity to make it work.
I disagree. If you're planting for your zone it isn't hard to grow from seeds & you don't really need any knowledge other than when to plant.

Our garden has paid off right from the beginning & we've been gardening here for 11 years. The only year it probably cost us to garden would have been last year when I purchased a new Food Saver after my old cheap version broke.

I never start plants indoors, they never live after I take them outside.lol Our last frost date is usually mid-May, we plant the first week of May. When it's hot out we water more often. We haven't watered our garden in over a month even though it's hot out right now & we aren't getting alot of rain.
 
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