Does Gardening Save Me Money - A Year In Review

Although I have been gardening for decades, it has always been viewed by folks as a lot of work that does nothing to save money. “You can buy it cheaper in the store” and “Once you include your labor and seeds it is expensive” were just a couple things that were said.  I told myself that they just don't understand and I continued to grow my gardens despite the comments.  Fast forward to 2023 and I decided that I would try to answer this question and explore if my gardens are actually saving me money.


My Journey  with Gardening

Growing up on the Canadian Prairies it was not uncommon to see gardens as it was viewed as a cost effective way to stock a pantry for the long cold winters.  And my family was no different.  I don't remember my Great-grandfather but I have seen pictures of him standing in his garden, his pride and joy as I have been told.

Garden Journey - great grandfather

His daughter, my Grandmother, always had a large garden to help feed their large family.  And so, it stood to reason that my immediate family always had a garden to feed the six of us.   Food is important and not having to buy it was one of the main reasons that my family throughout history had a garden.  A garden can be frustrating and are a lot of work but they are also a family affair and so it was expected that the whole family help with the garden, whether it be with the weeding, the top and tailing of beans, shelling of peas or digging the potatoes.  I'm sure that there were times I complained, but looking back now I only remember the enjoyment that the garden brought me.

My earliest memory of having a garden was when I was about 10 and  my Mother gave me a small piece of her main crop garden to grow the stuff I wanted to grow.  I don't remember what all was in the garden but I must have been talking gardening and plants even back then as even my school teacher commented on a report card my Mother saved.

Gardening report card

This love of gardening has been with me through the decades and although there were times when I was not able to have a garden for whatever reason, usually life altering  events, once I settled down the garden became a necessity.  Whether it be a rental property or driving 20 minutes to a friends farm to put in a garden with a dear friend, the garden was always there.  Sure it was enjoyable and some wonderful memories were established, but it also helped save money at the grocery store.

One of the happiest moments of my gardening and homesteading/farmsteading journey was when I bought my current place.  It needed work and so the first three years was spent fixing up the house.  But as soon as I could get a spot dedicated to the garden, it  was established  and planted.  I finally was able to walk outside my door and care, harvest and  enjoy my garden even more than I had in all the years before.

Garden - July 1995

It was and is a big garden at around 5000 sq ft (464.5 sq m), including the raised beds I explored in How to container garden, and although it was a lot of work to establish, I will always attest to it's many benefits. Although it has changed somewhat from when it was first established, the benefits of it remain the same.


Benefits of Gardening

Because of the work involved in gardening and preserving the produce it provides, many people despise the garden.  They maintain, in part due to corporate marketing, that they can buy it cheaper in the store and so they have adopted the stance that they don't have the time, the space to garden or that they don't know how.  The how can be learned, but I can't help but feel that these folks forget about the other benefits of gardening.  Whether it be on a small scale with a tomato  on a balcony or a small back yard garden that is grown for summer eating, gardening provides many more benefits than just fresh produce, such as:

  1. Exercise - the garden is work, no denying that.  But with that work, one is getting some exercise which we know we need;
  2. Fresh air - the garden affords the opportunity to get out in the sun and breath in some fresh air;
  3. Grounding - spending time with one's hands (and maybe bare feet) in the soil gives one the opportunity to ground themselves with the forces of nature.  The University of New Hampshire article What is Grounding states that “Grounding is a technique that helps keep you in the present and helps reorient you to the here-and-now and to reality. It can also serve as a distraction from the difficulties you are dealing with.”. Gardening certainly helps to provide mental clarity and reduces stress whilst spend time in silence with nothing but one's thoughts, the garden and the sounds of nature whilst getting a little exercise and fresh air;
  4. Reduce transport costs - with having produce outside the door, it does not have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get to the table.  And in doing so, the environmental foot print associated with transport is all but removed;
  5. Produce freshness - can't get any fresher than picking it right off the vine;
  6. Improved nutrients - by picking it right off the plants in the garden, the health benefits associated with eating nutrient dense fresh produce can not  be dismissed;
  7. Benefits to the ecosystem - a garden grown without chemical insecticides will help provide habitat for bees, birds and numerous other insects and soil biology. It becomes it's own ecosystem;
  8. Appreciate nature - seeing how quickly things can grow and that every seed wants to grow gives an immense appreciation for nature and the beauty it provides.  Let's not forget that a garden not need be only vegetables but can also incorporate flowers for some added beauty;
  9. Boosts self-esteem - Being able to enjoy a meal prepared from garden produce grown in one's garden does wonders for self-esteem.  It gives such a feeling of accomplishment  knowing that you raised this nutrient dense fresh produce;
  10. Knowing what's in your food - so much of the food that one buys now a days contains modified ingredients, has been chemically sprayed and produced in a manner that is ever increasingly being proven to not be healthy.  By raising one's own food you know exactly what is, or is not, in our food;
  11. Diversity - So much of the produce one buys in the store has been selected for it's ability to produce.  But by raising one's own produce it gives the opportunity to raise things that would normally not be found in the store or at farmer's market and explore the unique flavors they can provide.  Things like purple carrots, heirloom tomato varieties, rare species of vegetables, etc.;
  12. Creates community - a garden can allows for family time, meet new people and although folks like myself grow  my garden to  save money and stock the pantry for the winter, it is also there  to share with  family and friends whilst enjoying the comradery .  After all, who hasn't received a giant zucchini given to them from a gardener and had a good chuckle over it.

But despite the benefits of gardening,  it always comes down to money.  And so, last year I decided to do the work to determine if what  I and folks before me thought, was in fact true.  Does a garden save money?


2023 Garden study context

As I mentioned earlier, I have a 5000 sq ft (464.5 sq m) in-ground main crop garden that includes three 4X8 foot (1.2 X 2.44 m) raised beds.  When planting my garden, I also maximize the space by companion planting so that varieties can grow together without needing a lot of space.  And so to accomplish this I plant the rows closer together than is recommended by most seed companies.  I go more in depth about this in the article Garden planning and seed starting.  Over the years, this method of gardening has worked well for me and by mid summer the weed pressure is typically low, the ground is shaded to avoid evaporation and the garden is really producing.  However, sometimes things just don't go as planned as I explored in In the garden - When Garden Planning does Not go as Planned.  But that is all part of it too.

In these parts, most folks  have their gardens in by the end of May, usually by May 20, but for the last years I am not one of them.  I have even heard that in my climate, if you don't have a high tunnel and/or don't have the garden in by May 20, you are wasting your time.  Challenge accepted!  For the 2023 gardening year I did not get the garden completely in  until June 14 because other things took priority as I could not get it worked, I needed to lay down the woven weed fabric I bought from Growers Solution and I needed to get the trellis's set up for the 165 tomatoes I  had started indoors.

Garden -June 8 2023

With the soil being warm and ready to grow, it did not take long for the garden to excel and a month later it was looking really good.

Garden - July 2023

By the beginning of August it was excelling and starting to produce well.  I had been harvesting greens and main crops were starting to come in.

Garden - August 2023

By the beginning of September the garden was in full production mode and pounds of produce had been harvested.  However it would be short lived as a killing frost on September 22 would finish the 2023 garden for the most part.  But it certainly looked good the beginning of September.

Garden - September 2023


Garden Analysis

To determine if the  garden saved me money I  would  need to know how much everything I harvested weighed. And so, throughout the entire growing season I weighed every vegetable I brought into the house, recording it by vegetable type.  I did find out later that although I remember weighing swiss chard, I can not find where I wrote it down.  Lettuce was also not weighed as it was harvested by the meal.  However, I maintain that this error and omission would have little to no affect on the outcome.

At the end of the season I tallied everything together to find out that I harvested 1056.9112 kg (2330.1 pounds) of produce from my 5000 sq ft (464.5 sq m) garden in approximately 104 days.  From talking to folks who sell their produce at local farmer's market, the average selling price is about $3.00 CDN (2.22 USD) per pound which would value my produce at $6990.30 CDN ($5162.42) or $4660.20 CDN ($3441.61 USD) if sold  at a reduced rate of $2.00 CDN (1.48 USD) per pound.

But what if I didn't plant a garden at all?  What would it cost me to shop at the store because if what folks say is true, it should be cheaper at the store.  To determine this, I went on line to a local grocery store that asserts that you can save money on food and gathered prices for all the produce I grew.  From this analysis, I determined that I would have had to spend $6350.38 CDN ($4689.83 USD) to  purchase everything I grew.

As this picture illustrates, some things I grew did not produce well for a variety of reasons and so it might have been worthwhile  to just buy it.  But none the less, looking at the total cost to purchase this amount of produce, all I can say is that it is a lot of money.  And I would suggest that even if a person was not growing over 2300 pounds of produce, this table illustrates that the associated expense would be surprising.

Garden - cost to buy produce


Garden Cost

To determine what should or should not be included in determining the cost of growing your own food, I thought long and hard about that.  Although I could do things like figure out a cost per seed or figure out a cost per plant, I decided that weighing everything coupled with a generalized expenditure would suffice to give the final numbers some validity.

To determine what it cost me to grow the 1056.9112 kg (2330.1 pounds) of produce I included the following expenses:

  1. Seedling care from March 1 - May 31- 3 hours/week for a total of 39 hours;
  2. Maintenance and harvest from June 1 - October 1 at 6 hours/week for a total of 102 hours;
  3. Planting of garden - 16 hours;
  4. Salary total - total hours of 157 hours (point 1,2 and 3 combined) at 20.00/hour= $3,140 CDN;
  5. Seeds - used the total cost of seeds I bought in spring = $317 CDN;
  6. Soil -  for top dressing raised beds - 6 bags at $13.00/bag = $78 CDN;
  7. Roto till = $300 CDN;
  8. Woven weed fabric = $296.95 CDN;
  9. Watering - I use a gas powered pump to water from the dug out I discuss in Rainwater collection - essential water for use on the homestead.  Total fuel cost = $120 CDN

With these expenses I determined that my 2023 garden cost me $4251.95 CDN ($3138.98 USD).  Certainly not cheap, but some of the expenses like the woven weed fabric and seeds will last me a number of years making the yearly expenses a little less. The stucco wire and t-posts used to trellis tomatoes and peas was not included in these expenses because they were purchased in previous years and will be used over a number of years making their expense negligible.  I could also reduce the seed cost by seed saving which I have started doing in the last handful of years.


Does Gardening Save Me Money

The short answer would be unequivocally, yes.  As I have illustrated with the data from my 2023 garden and the subsequent analysis, by growing my own 1056.9112 kg (2330.1 pounds) of produce rather than going to the store, I saved myself $2098.42 CDN ($1549.73 USD.   By comparison, growing the produce rather than buying at the farmer's market at $3.00 CDN ($2.22 USD) per pound realized a $2738.35 CDN ($2022.33 USD) savings.  

This may not be much to some, but to me it is a lot.  And it is definitely enough saving to unequivocally say that even if I was able to get produce from the farmer's market at $2.00 CDN ($1.48 USD) per pound, the $408.25 CDN ($301.50) savings would be worth it to me to grow a garden.


Final Thoughts

Unfortunately some of my garden did not produce as well as others, such as the corn and cucumbers, and perhaps I could have harvested more if it was planted earlier.  However, I am very pleased with the harvest I did get and am equally very pleased to be able to confirm what I, and the generations before me, believed to be true. Gardening is work, there is disappointment, but there is also huge rewards to be gained from taking the time and making the effort to grow a garden, small or large.  Although higher priced items like herbs can save even more money, a person has to question how much you will use and that perhaps it is better to grow primarily staple produce.  But if all you can grow is a pot of Oregano, I would encourage anyone to do so.

I suppose it could be argued that there is no monetary savings to be realized by growing a small backyard garden or even a tomato plant on a balcony.  But I would point out that even if you only got a handful of tomatoes from that plant, you saved some money, even if it's only a couple of bucks.   But more importantly, you gained a skill, you reduced stress, boosted your self-esteem, you spent some time outside and you got to experience a fresh tomato. After all, you can't beat homegrown!

I hope you found this information to be useful and that you consider planting your own garden, however small, not only for the produce but also for the benefits that gardening provides.  Please consider joining the My Boreal Homestead Life community.  By supplying your email address at the bottom of the page and hitting "sign up" or by clicking Join the community, you will ensure you get an email notification when I post new blogs to the My Boreal Homestead Life site.

Thank you for joining me on the front porch of My Boreal Homestead Life as we explore this Homegrown, Homestead life, In a Modern World.

Additional Resources

Gardening - Pinterest link





Leave a comment