I was having a conversation with my brother about gardening, and he reasoned that gardening is not a money-saving venture. I’ve also seen memes and jokes about how expensive gardening is, and there’s a book by William Alexander called The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.
So is it cheaper to grow your own food or is it possible more expensive to garden than to pick up food in the grocery store?
The answer is: It depends.
We’ll tell you why in this guide: Is it cheaper to grow your own food?
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What are the Costs of Gardening?
To answer the question, “is it cheaper to grow your own food“, you have to first consider your initial costs and investment in gardening.
If you purchased a $36,000 John Deere tractor for the sole purpose of gardening… you’re probably not going to save money unless you have a mega garden that you’re going to sell produce from. I mean granted, the cost of that tractor will have to be spread out over the years of use and you probably will use it for other things besides gardening, but you get my point.
However, there are ways to grow a garden with fewer expenses and actually save money growing your food rather than getting it at the grocery store.
Here are some potential expenses you might accrue when gardening:
- Cost of soil amendment. Your soil may need organic material, fertilizer, or some other type of amendment before it can grow. Or, you may be growing plants in containers and will have the cost of the soil to grow your plants in.
- Cost of equipment. This could include anything from a tiller to a shovel, gardening gloves, a wheelbarrow, etc. Many of the tools you need for gardening you’ll likely already have so this cost can be fairly low, but a tiller can drive up your initial investment.
- Cost of plants. Tender annuals like tomatoes and peppers have to be planted or purchased every year as they do not survive frost. That’s a repeating cost of gardening.
- Fence or barrier to keep out critters. You may need to purchase something to fence in your garden if you have a problem with wildlife eating your garden as we do. This would likely be a one-time purchase depending on what you use to keep them out.
- Pesticides or something to keep off pests. You may also want to use something to keep bugs out of your plants. I for one can’t seem to grow cruciferous plants without having a pretty big worm infestation. Gross. I garden without using pesticides, but for that particular plant, I was pretty close to using something.
- Pots, bins, and raised beds. Those of you who choose to use pots for growing plants or raised bed gardens will have the cost of building raised beds or buying the pots you will grow your plants in.
Those are some of the top gardening expenses I can think of, and they’re naturally going to come with varying expenses depending on a big range of factors.
If you’re planning on gardening for one year and then quitting, the cost of these one-time purchases will be a LOT greater than if you’re planning on gardening for many years.
We have a shovel that we got for a wedding present 13 years ago that we’re still using. It’s faded and the rubber handle on top is in rough shape, but I use it every year and it hasn’t broken yet. It’s a Craftsman shovel that I believe was purchased at Sears before they went out of business.
So as you can see, the cost of a $20-$30 shovel is not a huge deal when you space it out over many years.
In the next section, I am going to go through a few commonly grown fruits and vegetables and I’ll try to use math to figure out if they’re worth growing from a purely financial standpoint.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Tomatoes?
Is it cheaper to grow tomatoes than it is to buy them in the store?
Now let’s say you want to grow your own tomatoes. You pay anywhere from 50 cents-$4 for a tomato seedling or plant to put in your garden. You could save even more money if you start them yourself from seeds. We usually pay around $3 for 4-6 plants where we live. It may be more where you live or where you shop.
Each tomato plant on average can grow around 20-90 tomatoes, according to Green House Today. Which amounts to 10-30 pounds of tomatoes.
To make the most out of your tomato plants, I would recommend preserving some as well as eating them fresh.
For the sake of argument, let’s do a little math. I went to Walmart’s website and checked out the prices of tomato sauce. On average, the tomato sauce costs ~ 8 cents an ounce. That’s $2.56 a quart. That’s pretty cheap. You can make yourself pasta with sauce for like $3.56 if pasta is a dollar a pound.
It takes about 35 pounds of tomatoes to make 7 quarts of tomato sauce on average.
Let’s say you planted 10 tomato plants at $1 each. Your investment is $10. With 10 tomato plants, you will on average have 15 lbs of tomatoes per plant.
Ten tomato plants will give you ~ 28 quarts of tomato sauce + extra tomatoes for eating when in season. (A single beefsteak tomato costs ~ .59 cents at Walmart. A single Roma tomato costs ~ .44 cents).
Your final cost per quart of tomato sauce is .35 cents. Plus, you get all the fresh tomatoes you can eat in season. If you eat a tomato a day for 90 days, that’s $39 – $53 of savings.
Of course, there are some upfront costs when you can tomato sauce such as your canning supplies. I think the cost of the jars and water bath canner is somewhat negligible as they last for years and can be used and reused again. The only thing you’ll have to pay for every time are the lids. These cost about 29 cents each. That does drive up your cost a bit… so your jar of sauce is now .64 cents a quart or 2 cents an ounce.
Another thing to keep in mind is your tomato sauce can be anything you want it to be — for instance, you can grow organic pesticide-free produce on your property. Organic tomato sauce listed on Walmart’s website ranges from 8.3 cents an ounce to 23 cents an ounce.
And these are today’s prices. In the next year, these costs may continue to rise (or they may go down). There might be a massive tomato shortage. Who knows what will happen with tomatoes? But you will be growing your own and you won’t have to worry about that.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Your Own Potatoes?
I recently purchased 25 pounds of potatoes for my garden at a local feed and supply store. I think I spent less than $20 on those potatoes. I don’t know for certain, but I know I didn’t spend a lot of money getting them. I chose Red Pontiac potatoes because I like them.
You can certainly spend more than that on potatoes, so let’s say you’re going to spend $1 a pound on potatoes and you want to grow 50 lbs of potatoes in your garden. Your investment is $50.
Today on Walmart’s website, red potatoes are $1.03 a pound. (Before you get too excited, potatoes from the grocery store are resistant to sprouting and will likely not grow well so it’s not recommended to source your growing potatoes at the market).
It’s estimated that for every pound of potatoes you plant, you’ll yield ten pounds of fresh potatoes. So, your 50 pounds of potatoes will end up (under good growing conditions) being 500 pounds of potatoes for you and your family to eat.
At Wal-Mart, you would spend $515 on those same potatoes. Your cost for the seeds is $50.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Onions?
While you can grow onion from seeds, we usually grow ours from onion sets. Onion sets are small onion bulbs from the previous year that you plant in the ground. We usually enjoy eating them as green onions and they’re delicious that way, but you can continue to let them grow to a full-sized onion.
Onion sets are inexpensive, and you can probably get 100 of them for less than $5. If you prefer to grow onions from seeds, you can get 300 seeds for around $3.
Onions are also cheap to buy at the store. At Walmart, you can expect to pay .88 cents for a small pack of green onions, $92.7 cents a pound for yellow onions, and $1.23 a pound for red onions.
Two medium-sized average onions would weigh about one pound, so at Wal-Mart you can get two onions for about $1. If you grow them yourself from onion sets, you’d likely pay 10 cents for two medium-sized onions. If you were to buy 100 onions at Walmart you’d pay around $50, whereas the cost of those onions is less than $5 if you were to buy them as onion sets.
For a pack of green onions (let’s say 10 onions), you’re going to pay .50 cents if you grow them yourself. Although cheaper than Walmart’s .88 cent price, it’s not by a big margin.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Peppers?
A pack of 6 pepper plants at a local nursery would likely cost us around $3-$4 for any variety of pepper plants. A pack of seeds with 30-50 seeds would likely cost about $2-$4.
An average yield for a bell pepper plant is 5-10 peppers.
A banana pepper plant can produce around 100-150 banana peppers a season.
Jalapeno plants can produce up to 100 peppers in a season.
I’ll use these three as an example because they’re the ones we grow most often.
A single green bell pepper at Walmart is .82 cents, while a single red bell pepper is $1.38. To grow a bell pepper yourself, you can expect to pay on the conservative side, 10 cents per bell pepper. (I will say that in my experience, we don’t have them sit on the vine long enough to turn red, yellow, or orange and usually eat them as green peppers. I find that the longer they mature, the more likely they are to have pest damage, but that’s just my personal experience.)
At Walmart, jalapeno peppers cost $1.68 a pound which amounts to roughly 16 jalapenos. Sixteen jalapenos grown yourself from a seedling will cost you about .11 cents. For 66 cents, you can have as many as 100 jalapeno peppers if grown yourself, and $10.50 if purchased at Walmart.
Banana peppers are unavailable fresh at Walmart, but at another local grocery store near us they’re running $3.00 for 12 oz (about 6 banana peppers). To grow 6 banana peppers it would cost about 3 cents. A markup of almost 10,000%. What!?
The obvious champion is the banana pepper. Hard to find in the store, pricey in the store, and really cheap to grow.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Lettuce?
I’m just going to stick to romaine lettuce here although there’s a huge variety of lettuces you can choose from, some of which you may like a lot more and which may be difficult to purchase in the grocery store. But it’s getting late as I write this, and I’m feeling basic.
OK, so you can expect to get a pack of romaine lettuce for somewhere between $2 and $5. I’ve personally never purchased lettuce as a seedling — only from seed. Romaine lettuce can be planted before the danger of frost and can be harvested for about 4-6 weeks once ready. You can harvest the outer parts of the romaine lettuce plant during that time frame to get the most bang for your buck.
Want more lettuce? Grow some more!
Each seed packet comes with like 500 seeds. Do you get a full head of lettuce from every seed? I don’t honestly know. I’ve never tried planting a single seed. They’re tiny. But let’s say one packet of seeds will give you enough lettuce to eat as much lettuce as you want. You can even continue growing lettuce indoors using the same packet of seeds.
A three-pack of romaine lettuce hearts at Walmart costs $2.88 or you can get a 10oz bag of romaine lettuce for $2.98.
To figure out the math for this I tried to be conservative. I put the price of the lettuce seeds at $5 and I estimated that from the 500 seeds you only get 150 heads of lettuce. I don’t know what the actual number of lettuce heads from a 500 pack of seeds would be. They’re so tiny it would be hard to track the germination rate of a single lettuce seed.
At that rate, using this math, you can grow a head of lettuce for .03 cents. For three heads of lettuce the way it’s sold at Wal-Mart it would cost you .09 cents. A 10 oz bag of lettuce would cost you pennies.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Carrots?
As I’m writing this I keep thinking there’s going to be something that’s cheaper to buy at the store. Green onions (scallions) came pretty close. What about carrots? Are carrots cheaper to buy at the store or cheaper to grow? I mean carrots are really cheap to buy at the store, so I have my doubts. Let’s do the math.
A pack of carrot seeds will again run you between $1.50 and $5.00. Like lettuce seeds, they’re tiny and you can get as many as 500 carrot seeds in pack. Probably more carrot seeds than you’ll need for a growing season.
Walmart sells a one-pound bag of baby carrots, organic, peeled, and ready to eat for $1.56. You can get non-organic ones for .98 cents a pound. Whole carrots (non-organic) are .98 cents a pound.
I looked it up and one pound of carrots equals about 5 medium-sized carrots. The internet is a marvel. So many answers waiting for me.
We will say that you can get 300 carrots to grow of the 500 seeds. If you paid $3 for your seeds, that’s .01 cent a carrot or .05 cents for 5 carrots (one pound of carrots).
I don’t know how to calculate how many carrots you need to make a bag of baby carrots, but I looked it up and supposedly a medium to large-sized carrot can make 3-4 baby carrots. I don’t know how many baby carrots are in a bag? Maybe 50? 50 baby carrots = 12.5 large carrots = 12.5 cents.
So yes, growing your own carrots IS cheaper. For me, I’m not sure the labor involved with growing carrots is worth my time compared to purchasing ones at the store. But, like everything else listed on here, it is cheaper and you know everything that went into the making of the carrot.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Watermelon?
The conversation with my brother got me wondering if it’s cheaper to grow your own food, but when I saw someone post on Facebook the cost of a single watermelon, I knew I had to find out more.
My friend said that she went to Walmart and a single watermelon was priced at $9.48. WOAH. Now, to be fair, watermelon isn’t in season. That could account for some of the high prices of watermelon in April. Your outside home garden isn’t going to be growing watermelons in April, at least not where I live. But still, $9.48?
I just bought five organic watermelon plants for $3.50. Each plant should produce about 2-4 watermelons. Let’s say each of my five watermelon plants produces two watermelons, that’s 10 watermelons. That works out to be .35 cents per watermelon. At the store in season, you can still expect to pay 5+ for a watermelon. For 10 watermelons at the store, you might pay $50 as opposed to $3.50 to buy plants. At the current price, you would pay $94.80.
Watermelons do take up a lot of space and need a lot of water so maybe in your garden, it isn’t worth it to grow watermelons. We help grow a garden at my parent’s house and we have a large garden, so size isn’t an issue for us. We can toss in a few watermelon plants and have fresh watermelon during summer family festivities. Or, we can save one and toss the watermelon into fresh smoothies to enjoy.
Is it Cheaper to Grow Herbs?
You can grow herbs in your house in a container. You can either purchase an herb plant for around $4 or you can start them by seeds which will cost around $2-$4 for a pack of seeds that will allow you to grow many herb plants.
Herbs are pretty easy to grow, don’t take up a lot of space, and don’t cost very much to grow after your initial plant investment.
Here are the Walmart prices.
- A bunch of parsley at Walmart is .98 cents a bunch.
- Rosemary at Walmart is $1.90 an ounce
- A bunch of cilantro at Walmart costs .88 cents a bunch
- Thyme is $2.64 an ounce
- The only fresh oregano I could find at Walmart was organic and it is $3.96 an ounce
- Organic basil is $3.96 an ounce
- Organic mint is $3.96 an ounce
- Organic dill is $3.96 an ounce
Some herbs like lavender, chives, and lemongrass may be hard to find in a grocery store (it wasn’t available at Walmart).
Some herbs like cilantro and basil are annuals, but other herbs like rosemary, oregano, and lavender are perennials that you can continue growing for a long time. Rosemary won’t survive colder climates, but I brought my rosemary plant indoors and it’s still alive. I’ll put it back outside after the danger of frost and I can clip it as needed whenever I want to cook with rosemary.
One rosemary plant can provide you with rosemary for years. So $4 for years of rosemary as opposed to $4 for purchasing an ounce of rosemary once at the store.
One basil plant can provide you with about half a cup of basil a week, or four ounces. Four ounces of basil from Walmart will cost you $15.84. A basil plant outdoors can last about 4-5 months. Your basil plant can produce $15.84 worth of basil every week, or $253.44 over its lifespan.
Even if the herb is relatively cheap like parsley or cilantro, you’ll have to pay for it frequently because cut herbs don’t last a long time in the refrigerator.
If we have to buy cilantro or parsley once a week, that would still add up to about $50 a year as opposed to $2-$3 for a pack of seeds that I can keep planting for more than one year.
So yeah, it pays to grow fresh herbs if you like using them in your food.
But What About My Time Gardening?
OK so here’s something that might go in the “not saving money” category.
We’ve talked about the cost to purchase the supplies for gardening, but what about your actual time spent? Couldn’t you instead get a part-time job or work more hours for your full-time job?
I’ll admit that this argument is compelling. I asked a Facebook group I’m a member of how many hours people spend in their gardens. The number is literally all over the place. There are a million factors that might determine the hours spent gardening, including the fact that many gardeners enjoy gardening as a hobby and want to spend hours in the garden.
The answer to how many hours varied from very little to like 5 hours a day. Most agreed that planting and harvesting time was the most time-consuming.
There are some things you can do to limit the amount of time you spend gardening if that’s something you would like to do. Some garden time saving-tips are:
- Plant perennials that come back year after year. Planting things that come back every year such as lavender, fruit trees, berries, and asparagus can help limit the time and money you spend on your garden.
- Use mulch. Mulching around your plants can reduce weeds which are very time-consuming and it can also help the soil retain moisture so you don’t have to water as often.
- Use self-watering systems. Save time by using a drip-irrigation system that waters your plants for you.
12 Tips for How to Save Money When Gardening
If you’re looking for some ways to save money on gardening, here are some quick tips. 1.
- Make your own compost to add to your garden
- Use your farm animal’s manure on your garden
- Start with seeds — this can save a lot of money
- Save your seeds — we haven’t started saving seeds yet, but I want to learn how this year
- Use recycled materials for planters — this year we used milk jugs and egg cartons
- Use cuttings (propagating)
- Attract beneficial bugs to your garden with flowers
- Repel pests by planting things like basil, lavender, and alliums
- Plant perennials that come back year after year
- Use cardboard to reduce weeds
- Get things second hand — we love going to auctions to get things we use
- Grow what you eat, and eat what you grow. Don’t grow things in your garden that your family won’t eat, and try to plan meals and snacks around things that are growing in your garden.
- Preserve the food you grow. This is on of the most important elements of saving money growing your own food. The ability to make your food last after the first frost of the year is when you will see the dollars and cents continue to add up. You can learn more about preserving with our guide 7 Preservation Methods.
8 Ways to Make Money Gardening
While it costs money to start a garden, you may also benefit from selling things from your garden. Here are a few ways you can make money gardening:
- Sell extra plants you grow from seed
- Sell seeds that you save from your produce
- Sell cut flowers
- Sell your herbs (fresh or dried)
- Sell produce at a farmer’s market
- Sell homemade jams and jellies
- Sell foods you make from your garden such as salsa or tomato sauce
- Sell crops that are difficult to find in the grocery store
- Have a u-pick garden
The Most Cost-Effective Plants to Grow (And Which Ones Are Not)
What are the MOST cost-effective plants to grow? It depends on who you ask.
From my little estimates, the most cost-effective plants to grow are:
- Peppers (especially banana peppers)
The least cost-effective plants are:
- Green onions (scallions)
According to the author and gardener Mel Bartholomew, famous for coming up with the square-foot-gardening the most cost-saving plants to grow are:
- Winter squash
The least cost-effective plants according to his theory are:
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers (especially ones that are left on the vine long enough to turn red, yellow, or orange)
- Swiss chard
- Green cabbage
The square foot gardening method is primarily focused on using a small amount of space and utilizing the space you’re using to the absolute most production. You can read more about this method in the book Square Foot Gardening.
As with many other things talked about in this article, this is somewhat subjective. You may find growing those things is well worth it for every fruit and vegetable.
Gardening is Good For Your Health
Some of the people in the Facebook group I follow stated that there were additional benefits to gardening that could be cost-saving.
One of the biggest examples is the health benefits that you get from gardening. Not only will you potentially be able to grow healthier foods, you’re also spending time outside, getting exercise, and occupying your time productively.
While you’re gardening you can soak up Vitamin D which helps fight disease.
Healthline mentions some other health benefits from gardening which include, “Studies have found that the physical exertion of working in a garden may help offset both age-related weight gain and childhood obesity. And researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that people who garden are more likely to get a solid 7 hours of sleep at night.”
Gardening can improve cognitive functioning of the brain and help guard you against developing memory issues in older age.
Gardening can also improve mental health. It helps reduce stress, boosts your mood, and helps reduce blood pressure. In some cases, it can help relieve some of the symptoms of chronic pain, and it exposes the body to good bacteria which can help stimulate your immune system.
A healthier mind and body have the potential to save you money over the course of a lifetime.
Homegrown is Often Better
If you’re comparing bare-bones cheapest food items you can buy at the grocery store versus the vegetables you can grow in your garden, you may find that some food items are so inexpensive they’re hard to beat price-wise growing them at home. However, comparing the foods you’re growing to the foods available at the grocery store isn’t totally fair in some cases.
Here are some ways that food at the grocery store is inferior to homegrown foods:
- Taste. If you’ve had the privilege of growing your own food, you’ll often find that the flavor is better than food purchased at the grocery store. This isn’t 100% true in every case, but as I’m writing it I can say with certainty that a homegrown tomato or potato just tastes better.
- Freshness. Homegrown foods are almost always more fresh than storebought. Some companies are very quick to process your foods, so I think when it comes to frozen foods you buy at the grocery store they might be very fresh. However, food is often treated or conditioned to last longer than it normally would. Apples, for example, are often up to a year old and are kept refrigerated and treated to last longer. Blogger Food Renegade writes,
- Here in the U.S. apples generally ripen between August and September. They pick the apples when they’re slightly unripe, treat them with a chemical called 1-methylcyclopropene, wax them, box them, stack them on pallets, and keep them in cold storage warehouses for an average of 9-12 months.
- Food that’s truly organic. Even when you see the label “organic” at the grocery store, it doesn’t always mean it is. Also, it’s more expensive to purchase organic foods. So those super low prices I was comparing at Walmart were mostly non-organic food items.
- Better for the environment. Food that you buy from the grocery store can come from almost anywhere in the world. You’re not buying strawberries in December from your local farmers. That means there’s a significant impact on the environment to transporting foods to your local store. Growing food from your own garden means walking outside, picking the food, and walking back inside. Even if you don’t care about environmental reasons, it’s really convenient.
Best Gardening Books to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Garden
Want some books for more ideas for how to get the most of your garden and save the most money? I have some ideas.
This holistic-approach book by Bret Markham called Maximizing Your Mini Farm will help you learn how to grow a lot of food on a small plot of land.
Ball is one of the most trusted sources for safe home preserving practices. This book has over 400 recipes.
How to Grow Food For Free by Huw Richards teaches beginner and experienced gardeners how to start a garden with a budget and how to manage your garden once it’s started.
How to Build, Maintain, and Use a Compost System by Kelly Smith will teach you what you need to know to create your own compost that can be added to your garden to improve soil quality and boost plant growth.
Do You Think It’s Cheaper to Grow Your Own Food?
So what do you think? Is it cost-effective to garden? Do you think you can save money growing a garden? Is it cheaper to grow your own food?
For me, the benefits are so numerous that it’s well worth it to garden. Perhaps in some ways, you could stock up on sale items at the grocery store and you may in some cases spend less money. However, I believe your initial investment on tools for your garden will be well worth it when you can grow food for yourself.
You’ll enjoy many health benefits from healthier food to good exercise, fresh air, and sunshine. I wake up every morning SO excited to see if my seeds have sprouted or how much my seedlings have developed. It’s an instant mood booster.