Every summer I ask myself if it's really cheaper to garden vs. buying produce. I'd plant tomatoes anyway because I LOVE home grown tomatoes and MUST have them. But other than that, it's really about eating organically on the cheap. Last year I kept really good track of all my expenditures and tried to keep track of my produce.
I decided to include expenses for anything garden related, even if it was something I could use over and over again. By the same turn, I didn't include expenses from previous years, even though I still get produce from them. For example, I included prices of new tomato cages, but not my old ones, and they're reusable - but I don't want to try to figure out how much mileage I'll be getting for the purposes of this post. I did not include the price of my 14 year old lemon tree, even though I included the lemons in produce count. I figured that way, the basic balance of how much food I got vs. how much I spent would even out in the long run since I can't include future produce from plants I bought this year, even if some plants will continue to produce. Does that make sense?
Also, I grow organically. I don't use fertilizers (other than the occasional bag of manure) or pesticides, even if they are organically rated. I use beneficial insects for pest control when needed.
So here were my expenses last year (including tax):
12 tomatoes $10.80
6 cucumbers $6.97
12 bell peppers $10.80
3 other peppers (poblano and anaheim) $8.92
water - the total uptick for the summer was $35. That includes all the extra water all over my yard, etc... It was just easier to take the difference out for the whole thing rather than trying to figure out what percentage of that was for the garden. I was really surprised it wasn't a greater amount, but I also mulched heavily this year for the first time and it cut my watering by about 85%.
6 zucchini squash - $5.40
tomato cages $32.82
dirt $43.20 (I don't normally buy so much dirt, but I was trying a new garden method)
mulch $27 I also got a large free load from a friend who has some trees removed on her property.
praying mantid egg cases - $6.97
FYI- my garden was small - about 144 square feet, but I also used some dirt and mulch to expand into an area to plant for this current summer. So some of this expense wasn't used for this year's garden at all.
Food I got:
blueberries - 5 berries
peaches - 4.2 pounds
lemons - 321 - yep on a dwarf tree
large tomatoes - 73 pounds
small tomatoes (yellow pear and sweet 100) - 32 pounds
green bell peppers- 60
red and orange bell peppers - 48
Anaheim peppers - 13
Poblano peppers- 42
zucchini - 32
cucumbers - 58
herbs - I didn't count, they weigh next to nothing. I don't cut them a bushel at a time, but just what I need. Not sure how to include this, but I have fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, lemon thyme, and mint, all leftover from a purchase much earlier in the year.
So here's the final data:
$197.13 - over the course of the whole summer
Organic produce obtained:
109 pounds of peaches and tomatoes
574 items of lemons, various peppers, zucchini and cucumbers
That works out to 28.8 cents per item or pound of food. All organic. Not including the herbs and the blueberries (because really, 5 blueberries?). Even I was shocked. I really wasn't sure if I could justify the gardening through cost. It seemed I was always spending a little bit here and there on it. But now this summer, I feel no guilt at all about expanding my garden. ;) That's really even cheaper than non-organic stuff on sale in the grocery store!
Another point about homegrown organic food: The taste and nutrients are better...better even than other organic food in the supermarket. Some farmer's markets can compare, but not all. Here's why. Have you ever heard of mono cropping? It's when a farm grows a food, like we normally have today. Let's say you get organic tomatoes from the store, that come from a tomato farm that uses organic practices. If they're growing pretty much only tomatoes, the same nutrients are being pulled from the soil year after year. Some of the soil nutrients, which is ultimately where we get our nutrients from, are slowly being depleted. When you grow at home you are usually growing a few things. What tomatoes take out, carrots put in, etc... It's better all around for both flavor, the environment, and nutrient content.
Also, unless you know the farmer and their practices, you don't really know what's been used on your produce. I pretty much trust that something that says organic on it really is organic, but several farmers use organically rated pesticides and fertilizers. Those can still create problems and may not really be safe; and, while I trust things may be organic, I don't trust the government and any bureaucratic rating system they have to qualify such products as organic. They're just too controlled by businesses. But that's another post for another day.
So there you have it. Pick something you really like, plant it. Now.
If you'd love to but don't know where to start, may I suggest this documentary that you can watch for free online. It'll help you get started on the newer stuff I was trying and loving.