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Does Growing Your Own Food Really Save Money?

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(Image credit: fotzepolitic.com)

The New York Times today put out a piece on this year’s unexpected rise in home gardening.

Seed companies and garden shops say that not since the rampant inflation of the 1970s has there been such an uptick in interest in growing food at home. George C. Ball Jr., owner of the W. Atlee Burpee Company, said sales of vegetable and herb seeds and plants are up by 40 percent over last year, double the annual growth for the last five years. “You don’t see this kind of thing but once in a career,” he said.

Ball said this year’s produce price spike is the main reason people are going back to the garden.

“People are driving less, taking fewer vacations, so there is more time to garden.”

With a big enough garden, people say you can take up to 30% off your weekly grocery bill.

Inspired, I decided to start my own vegetable garden. On the patio of my condo. Clearly, I won’t be reaping the advantages of scale. But I figure a few tomato and pepper plants will at least save me a little money.

In truth, it’s looking kind of expensive. Here’s the price breakout.

2 potted tomato plants: $16 (note to self: do not buy tomatoes at Whole Foods. Or anything else, for that matter.)
3 potted bell pepper plants: $10
One potted basil plant: $4 (Again, the high price comes from Whole Foods.)
Fertlilizer: $8
Soil: $5
Total costs: $43

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Savings:
3 pepper plants. Each pepper plant produces 15 peppers. Cost to me: 38 cents per pepper. Cost of organic peppers at the store: $2.39 each.

2 tomato plants. Each plant produces 10 tomatoes, for a total of 20 tomatoes. Cost to me: 80 cents per tomato. Grocery cost for organic tomatoes: $1 per pound. Grocery store cost: $20 (assuming each tomato weighs a pound).

One basil plant, which is the equivalent of 2.5 packages of basil. Cost to me: $4. Grocery store cost: $10.

Total savings: $10 (basil) + $20 (tomatoes) + $35.85 (peppers) – $43 (total costs of plants and supplies) = $22.85.

Not bad. Not phenomenal, either.

After revising my math (thank you, commenters), I found that the savings are good.

Of course, my yields could be bigger, or prices could once again increase by the time my veggies ripen. Still, in the language of gardens, it looks like if you want to save significant amounts of money, plant seeds and go big.

Time for a real garden plot.

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