I’m an urban gardener and love growing plants. My little balcony holds a bunch of herbs. Last year I unsuccessfully tried some red bell peppers that tasted kinda blechy. But I love my little garden and I have plans to expand it this year. I’m going to try to string up some green beans and see what happens. I’m even tempted to try potatoes in a big trash can (I saw it on Pinterest).
I was talking about all of this to a friend of mine and she scoffed a bit at the potatoes. “They’re so cheap in the grocery store. Why bother?” she asked.
Huh, I thought. She’s got a point … potatoes are pretty cheap, and I’m in New England where we can always get ’em local. Is it worth the bother? Am I saving any money gardening?
Growing Plants in the Backyard
Two years ago I had a spread at a friend’s house with two good-sized plots. We grew a TON of tomatoes, some tasty red peppers, and I waged war with squash beetles who happily munched on my zucchini. The beetles mostly defeated my organic pest control options and we saved a few squash, but not a ton. The basil and oregano were amazing though. Basically I grew a really great tomato sauce, which would have been awesome, but I chickened out on the canning process and wound up giving away a bunch of tomatoes instead. (I did make a great gazpacho though.)
I spent about $100 on plants and soil and such that year, the such being stakes, a hand rake, and a trowel. If I had made the tomato sauce, I would have been way ahead financially … but even still, I think with the overall yield I saved maybe $50. Not bad for my first year of gardening … but if you factor in my time spent, then I was way behind.
Growing Plants on a Balcony
Last year, my little garden saved me about $50 in food costs because herbs are so expensive at the store. Just plucking a few leaves when needed was much better than buying a bag of fresh basil, using a small bit, and then throwing out the rotten leaves a week or so later. Plus the balcony was a lot less time than gardening at my friend’s house and resulted in a similar financial savings.
This year in addition to the herbs and green beans, I’ll be getting two tomato plants (just starting from seeds now) and I hope to use the handrail at the entrance of our building for a cucumber plant that all the residents can use.
Does Gardening Save Money?
I think the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” BUT don’t expect to save oodles of money right away. It will take a few seasons to figure out what grows well, what your family eats, and how to preserve your bounty after growing season is over. You can also amortize the start up costs of gardening as the seasons roll by. My little hand rake is entering its third season and I expect to have it for years to come. The pots I’ve collected I’ve had for years; I just wash ’em out and reuse the following season.
Then I look at people like Angela England who have it down to a science. In her book “Backyard Farming On an Acre (More or Less),” she details how she supplies about 40% of her family’s food on just half an acre. Angela is someone to aspire to for sure.
How about you? Have you started growing plants, vegetables, and maybe fruit or nut tress where you live? Have you saved money? Or do you just enjoy the time spent gardening and eating fresh food from your own land (or, um, concrete balcony)? Let us know.