The Economics of a Backyard Garden

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Does home gardening make sense financially? I believe it can.

Last week at lunch, a good friend was telling me how much he had been enjoying all manner of fresh greens harvested each week from his small garden. Cheap, abundant, healthy greens harvested a couple times each week and plenty so share.

I know in my own garden, I can buy a cherry tomato plant for $6 and get several harvests off of it. Each harvest would be at least as much as a $3 basket of cherry tomatoes at the grocery store. Picking twice a week for a few weeks over a couple months certainly adds up.

Looking online, both Forbes and Investopedia had articles saying that growing your own produce can save you money. They cited, from the national Journal of Extension, that the average value of produce from a home garden could be as much as $677 with costs could be kept below $300. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, please do not think that you can go buy a large tiller and all kinds of fancy equipment and tend a small garden the size of a bedroom and make the numbers work out. As with all economic endeavors, you have to be mindful of your upfront expenses in addition to your ongoing input costs.

Last year I had the pleasure of reading a book “The $64 Tomato”.  It is a fun read as it shares how one man went to ridiculous lengths to have the perfect garden and the perfect tomato. Truthfully, one can go way overboard.

But with a raised bed and some good soil growing vegetables 12 months of the year, one could see a small, to modest financial return. I think the biggest hinderance is keeping your garden plot going year-round.

Bear in mind your input costs of seeds or transplants, soil and nutrients, all the tools, structures such as fences or cages, and the water bill that will certainly peak in the summer.  They will add up over time.

If you want to drill down and get serious about saving money on your grocery bill and enjoy the outdoors, consider the following. First, grow only what you like and what you need. Even a flat of six transplants of any certain vegetable can out-produce what most households can consume. See if you can buy fewer transplants or swap with friends.

Second, consider the square-foot gardening method. This gardening system looks at each square foot as a production unit. Forget the three-foot-wide rows with lots of bare ground exposed, and interplant smaller, earlier maturing produce between longer maturing types.

Lastly, for the really frugal, start everything from seed. From a $3 package of seeds, you will have worlds of seed that you can use in successive crops to spread out the harvest, or to use half in the spring garden and the other half in a fall garden. If you are still a little hesitant, try out growing some herbs that you really like on your back porch in a pot. The idea is to make it enjoyable and worth your time outside, in the kitchen, and in the wallet.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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