Preserving the Garden Harvest by Canning - Does Home Canning Save Money

Whether a person grows a garden, visits a farmers market or receives produce from other gardeners, a person can often be faced with more produce than they know what to do with.  There are many preservation methods, but ranking up there for me is canning as my main preservation tool.  Gifting the extra produce to friends, family and neighbors is certainly something that I do on occasion to deal with the abundance but ultimately the main thing I do is to can it up so that I do not need to buy it from the grocery store. Granted, there is work to put it up and there is some expense.  But inevitably, the question arises if it is really worth it.  Do I save money by canning? And so, I decided to do a deep dive, gather some data and do some analysis to find out!


Methods of Preserving the Garden

Depending on how a person typically uses the food being preserved, there is a number of ways to have the food available for use through the non gardening months.  Start up costs are low for some preservation methods while others require a sizeable investment although the investment is typically returned through years of use.  These methods will include, but are not limited to:

1.Freezing - most homes have a freezer of some sort so the investment cost is usually low.  However, if extra room is needed one can look at spending a few bucks every so often, typically every 5 years or so, with modern freezers.  Not all garden produce freezes well and those that do typically require blanching prior to the  food being frozen.  There is some garden produce that can be frozen without blanching though;

canning - preserving by freezing

2. Dehydrating -  a method of drying that uses moving warm air to dry the food.  Typically a small investment that lasts for many years.  This method works great for drying most products.  Depending on the food being dehydrated, rehydration will be required for consumption.  Zucchini chips, apple chips, banana chips, herbs and greens are just a few things that can be made in a dehydrator.  Although there are many brands and sizes of dehydrator, after much research, I  decided  on the Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator;

Canning - Preserving with dehydrating

3. Air/sun drying - the lowest start up investment because the food is typically dried in the sun or hung indoors so that air can move around it.  Indoor air drying can also be done by inserting the item into a paper bag to keep dust off the food while it is drying.  This method has limited use but works well for drying herbs and such;

Canning - Preserving by air drying

4. Fermenting - by adding a salt brine to vegetables and allowing them to sit on the counter, Lactobacillus bacteria convert sugars into Lactic Acid which makes the vegetables more nutritious and allows them to be stored for up to a year depending on storage temperature.  As Homesteading Family explains in What is Fermentation? A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started, fermentation “is a natural process that has been used for centuries to preserve and enhance the flavor of foods”.  There is next to no cost for entry as any glass type jar will work;

Canning - Preserving by fermenting

5. Hot water bath or steam canning - a method of preserving high acid (<4.6 pH) or acidified foods by boiling the filled jars in water.  Some high acid or acidified foods can be preserved without boiling the filled jars but current recommendations are that they be boiled for a minimum of 10 minutes at the very least.  There is a low cost to entry as you will only need to have a stock pot large enough to accommodate the jars.  If you are steam canning, a specially designed steam canner will need to be purchased;

Canning - Preserving by hot water bath canning

6. Pressure canning - although hot water bath canning works by boiling at 212 F (100 C), through the addition of pressure, a pressure canner will take this temperature up to 240 F (115.5 C) to 250 F (121 C).  This temperature allows the process to kill all harmful bacteria, including botulism spores, should they be present.  Therefore, this method is recommended for use in canning  low acid foods, including meats.  The cost to entry is up there but for a couple hundred dollars a perfectly workable stove top pressure canner can be obtained that will last for years if looked after.  There is certainly a variety of makes and prices for a pressure canner for the stove top that will meet one's needs.  If you would sooner not tie up the stove, electric pressure canners/water bath canners are now available.  Those that have them quite like them.  If you are thinking about purchasing an electric canner, be sure to check out this video series from RoseRed Homestead as part of your research - Testing Electric Canners;

Canning - Preserving by pressure canning

7. Freeze drying - through the process of sublimation the food is converted into a dry form that with proper storage will keep for 25 - 30 years according  to the freeze drier manufacturers.  At multiple thousands of dollars, cost to entry is very expensive.  Although freeze driers have not been on the home market long enough to determine longevity, I have read of problems starting to crop up with circuit boards.   However, those that have one do like the convenience despite the only claims to nutrient maintenance are being made by the manufacturers themselves and little to no research is being done by outside sources as to the safety and nutrient maintenance.  


Why do I can

I have been canning for many years and although I do preserve my garden harvest in many ways, canning in it's many forms remains my go to preservation method.  But why?

  1. I am used to it - I grew up with home canned garden produce and so it is familiar to me;
  2. I prefer the taste and texture - perhaps it is because I am used to it, but the taste and texture is familiar.  Like fermenting and dehydrating there are many frozen foods that despite proper preservation methods, I just don't like them.  Everything has it's place and use, but canned is usually the most familiar;
  3. Convenience - by canning ingredients in their pure form, it allows me to make a meal in minutes as all the work was done prior and/or to use them to can convenience meals (Chili, soups, Pasta sauce, etc) for those meals where I just don't feel like cooking.  All I have to do is open and reheat, if desired.  I do not have to rehydrate the food prior to using and/or eating as is needed with air/sun drying, dehydrating or freeze drying.  And I don't have to wait for things to thaw as with frozen items.  It allows me the convenience of  not meal planning;
  4. Long term storage - We are so used to expiry dates on foods that we expect everything, including home canning, to have an expiry date as well.  Rather, unless it becomes unsealed for reason, it doesn't expire per se, but rather degrades in quality over time with exposure to light or temperature fluctuations.  Depending on what was canned, the shelf life is typically multiple years.  In fact, I opened a jar of whole tomatoes the other day that was canned in 2018, making it 6 years old.  It was perfectly edible.  Granted, canned foods do not have the long term storage ability of freeze dried foods but it is certainly longer than dehydrated, air/sun dried and fermented foods.  And to some extent, longer than frozen foods as well;
  5. No reliance on the electrical grid - regardless of what you believe about the electrical grid, the fact remains that it can go down for multiple days from a storm.  And although having generators of some sort are a temporary insurance for keeping the fridges and freezers operational, at some point the fuel to operate them may run out.  Granted, there are other methods to generate the power needed, like solar, but it too has it's limitations.  Having the food shelf stable in a jar means that I don't have to worry about ensuring I keep fridges cold and freezers frozen.  Freeze drying and dehydrating do have the same assurance, but the fact remains that in an extended grid-down situation where freezers start to thaw, I can preserve the food by canning it over a fire or some other heat source.  Electrical reliant preservation methods would not be doable;
  6. I have  a stocked pantry - I don't have to worry about weather, store strikes or anything of that nature as I can go shopping in my pantry;
  7. Less waste - regardless of whether a person reuses canning lids and store bought product jars, by canning your own product, there is less tin and glass hitting the land fill; 
  8. I know what's in my food - As I explored in Does Gardening Save Me Money - A Year In Review, there are many reasons why I garden and many as to why I can. But the number one reason I have canned my own product for decades is because I know what is in my food. I don't have to read labels as I know how much salt, sugar or other ingredients were added to what I canned.  I certainly don't have to wonder why something like Calcium Chloride is in canned food when I know that it is used for keeping dust down, de-icing and is recognized in the article What is Calcium Chloride? that at concentrated rates does pose “ some serious health and safety hazards. If ingested, calcium chloride can lead to burns in the mouth and throat, excessive thirst, vomiting, stomach pain, low blood pressure, and other possible severe health effects.”  Why would we, even in minute doses add it to sliced carrots, 
Canning - carrot label

or to canned tomato products?

Canning - canned tomatoes label

And why do we need Polysorbate 80 in pickles when Polysorbate 80 according to WebMD, in the article Emulsifiers Make Food Appetizing yet Bring Health Dangers, has stated that “In one such study published in 2024, researchers from Belgium showed that polysorbate 80, a synthetic emulsifier often used in dairy products and salad dressings, decreases the numbers of friendly gut bacteria, such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, while increasing the numbers of those associated with inflammation.”.

Canning - pickle label

The article goes on to illustrate numerous examples of where these chemicals being added to foods are causing inflammatory issues, affecting gut health (seriously in some cases) and can cause anxiety in animal trials.  The article then goes on to state that “The safest bet to keep your gut healthy would be to eat homemade foods and shy away from emulsifiers altogether. However, Bancil said, for some people, especially those with a busy lifestyle, this may be tricky to do. As such, checking out labels might be a better approach. “Very often there is an alternative,” Chassaing said. “You have a lot of dietary emulsifiers in ice cream, but you can find some brands that will be doing emulsifier-free ice cream,” he said.”.  As the author also stated, “Keep it simple”. Makes sense to me.

But unfortunately this is only one small example of “stuff” that is used in industrialized food production.  All one has to do is read the food labels and a person can get overwhelmed with the ingredients that are being used in commercial food production.  And although it would be nice if this was not the  case, the reality is that things will not change easily as it boils down to monetary returns, shelf life, transport and the need for convenience. Granted there are perhaps healthier options that can be purchased with less or no additional ingredients, but it makes more sense to me that keeping it simple is the only viable option.  Home canning accomplishes just that.  But as with all things food related, how much it costs is the main concern despite the fact that our forefathers and foremothers, who canned up enough food for the winter, believed that the home canning does save money.  I have believed this for years, but it is hard to prove or disprove anything with just gut feelings.  And so, with this perhaps somewhat idealistic perspective, I decided to find out.


Does Canning Save Me Money - Context

I might be able to convince people that growing their own garden, big or small, has benefits to the pocket book as I illustrated in Does Gardening Save Me Money - A Year In Review.  But I also have to acknowledge that sometimes the garden looses money, especially in the first year, as I illustrated in Establishing a Food Forest Orchard Garden - But Will it Save Me Money.  However, despite the various pros and cons I discussed above about canning the produce you grow or buy, after the work involved is addressed, the conversation will always come around to “Will I save any money”.

In an attempt to answer this question I decided that recording everything I canned from the 2023 garden by size jar would be recorded with no differentiation between hot water bath or pressure canned.  But how to determine what the value of that jar was took some thought.  In the end I decided that it needed to be broken into two categories, the Cost of Production (CP) and the Home Canned Base Cost.  

Typically the majority of the garden is canned in it's pure form and so the Cost of Production could be determined by determining what it cost me to produce the weight from the gardens.  Although there are many factors that can affect this including how much the gardens produced, I decided that determining the cost to produce each Kilogram (KG) by garden would be the appropriate application.  To determine the Cost of Production I took the total cost of growing the garden(s) and divided it by the total KG produced, giving me $CDN/kg. This factor would be applied to all produce regardless of how difficult or easy it was to produce.

To determine the Home Canned Base Cost, I included the ingredients used for canning and decided that only the time spent actively preparing the food for canning would be included.  This decision was made because once the food was in the canner, I was not actively canning and would be able to do other tasks.  I did include the cost to operate the stove and I did pay myself a wage for time spent actively canning.  The Home Canned Base Cost would then be determined by dividing the total canning cost by the total number of jars canned, giving me a cost by jar.  Although I canned 921  jars from August 25, 2023 to March 1, 2024, I had 49 jars that I forgot to write down their contents and 39 jars of greens that I forgot to record the weight of the greens from the garden.  So to be as accurate as possible, although I used the total jars canned to determine the Home Canned Base Cost, the 88 jars were eliminated from the analysis.

Although I have canned 1114 jars during this time period, 193 jars are convenience foods such as soups, stews, chili's and beans like pinto, kidney and navy.  Because they are not canned primarily from the garden, these jars were not included in the Home Canned Base Cost determination.  However, the squash I canned after Christmas would be included, making up the 921 jars used in the calculation.  

I did purchase some fruit off the fruit truck from British Columbia and so the purchase price was included as the Cost of Production.  Additionally, I got some crabapples for nothing and decided I would include them as well. Although these items would contribute to the overall savings or loss, I would break them out for a true gardening comparison.

With these calculations in place I needed something to compare to and so I decided to use on line prices from a local store that claims you can save on food prices.  Because I have varied sized jars, the price per millilitre (ml) was used.  Prices for regular products and organic products was tallied because although I garden organically, I wanted to be able to see what difference there was between the two.

With all these assumptions in place, I was ready to do the analysis.


Does Canning Save Me Money - Analysis


Cost of Production

The first thing  to  determine was the Cost of Production.  With two separate gardens I needed to determine each on their own:

  • Main production garden - from the article Does Gardening Save Me Money - A Year In Review I know that my expenses were $4,251.95 CDN ($3,086.38 USD) and that the total weight produced was 1,056.9112 KG (2,330.1 pounds).  This would equate to a CP of $4.02 CDN/Kg or $1.32/pound;
  • Food Forest Orchard Garden - from the article Establishing a Food Forest Orchard Garden - But Will it Save Me Money I know that my expenses were $1,402.63 CDN ($1,018.13 USD) and that the total weight produced was 115.285 KG (254.16 pounds).  This would equate to a CP of $12.17 CDN/KG or $4.01 USD/pound.

Home Canned Base Cost

The next calculation to determine was the Home Canned Base Cost.  This cost was determined as follows:

  • Total jars canned August 25, 2023 - March 1, 2024 = 921
  • Total weeks spent canning = 12
  • Hours spent canning per week = 9.5
  • Wage costs - 114 hours @20.00/hour = $2,280.00
  • Jar purchases -  5 dozen = $85.00
  • Snap lids =$50.00
  • Sugar, vinegar, spices, miscellaneous ingredients = $88.00
  • Electric Stove usage - 12 weeks @3 hours operation per day @0.20/hour = $50.40

This results in a total cost of $2,553.40 CDN ($1,853.45 USD) to can 921 jars or a Home Canned Base Cost of $2.77/jar or $2.01 USD/jar.

I am able to keep this cost down because I have been canning for a while and so I have a lot of jars.  But I also reuse jars from products bought in the store as I explore in Recycle glass jars, upcycle glass jars and repurpose glass jars....but, can I reuse commercially filled glass jars for home canning?.  Additionally, I also reuse snap lids and glass top lids with rubber rings as I explore in Recycle canning lids, upcycle canning lids and repurpose canning lids....but can I reuse canning lids for home canning?.  I reuse lids and jars in both hot water bath canning and pressure canning, so this helps with keeping costs down.


With this information in hand, I set up a spread sheet to do the calculations for me.  In setting it up I realized that I did not use all of a given produce for canning as I preserved it with other methods. To ensure only the canning portion was used, I estimated the percent used, applied it to the weight  and multiplied it by the CP to give me the Production Cost by Produce type.

To determine the Cost if Purchased, I applied the quantity of each jar size by Canned Product Type to the price of each Canned Product Type by $/ml.  To compare against a price per ml in-store, each jar size was converted to ml with the following assumptions:

  • 1 pint = 473.176 ml
  • ½ pint = 236.588 ml
  • 1 quart = 946.353 ml

To determine the cost of canning the produce, I needed to distribute the Production Cost across each Canned Product Type by jar Size.  To do this I determined the CP Distribution % based on the Quantity Canned of each Size.  The CP Distribution % was then applied to the Production Cost  to give me the CP Distribution Cost. Which, when added to the Jars Base Cost (Quantity Canned x Home Canned Base Cost), gives me My Cost.

And finally the savings could be determined as the Difference of Cost if Purchased minus My Cost.  A savings being realized if the resulting difference is a positive number and a loss if it is a negative number. 

So what did I find out?


Does Canning Save Me Money - Findings

Now that I have most likely overwhelmed you with how I derived the numbers to answer the question of whether canning saves me money, let's see what the numbers tell us.  But to do so I will be splitting them into the  two categories,  Regular vs My Cost and Organic vs My Cost. 

Regular vs My Cost

I wanted to be able to compare against what folks with little to no garden would have to pay so I thought it wise to use store prices for the cheapest brands of each Canned Product Type in my analysis.  At the end of the day, My Cost to can all the garden produce along with the fruit I bought or got for free was $5,277.26 CDN ($3,830.62 USD).  If I had bought the same canned products in-store, I would have spent $4,553.04 CDN ($3,304.93 USD), a savings of $724.22 CDN ($525.69 USD) over canning my own.

Canning - Regular vs My Cost

Depending on what the Canned Product Type was, the results showed that certain items saved me money whilst others I should have just bought in the store.  The interesting thing the analysis showed is that even though I bought my peaches and cherries, it was cheaper for me to can my own.  Coupled with the free apples, I was able to save $377.49 CDN($274.01 USD).  However, if I was to just look at the jars from the garden produce I grew, I could have saved $1,101.70 CDN ($799.70 USD) buying them in-store.

Organic vs My Cost

I garden organically, or as organically as I can, so I felt that a true comparison to what I grew and ultimately canned was to compare to organic prices.  The problem with trying to do this type of comparison is that not everything is available organically.  So for those items where organic was not available, I used the regular prices. Although the apples were organic, I had no way of knowing if the other fruit was grown organically.  But none the less, My Cost to can all the organic garden produce along with the fruit I bought or got for free was still $5,277.26 CDN ($3,830.62 USD but to buy the Organic versions of the Canned Product Type would have cost me $5,606.36 CDN ($4,069.51 USD).  This would indicate that I could realize $329.10 CDN ($238.89 USD) savings by canning my own organic produce.

Canning - Organic vs My Cost

Although the fruit savings were higher than regular price comparisons at $581.83 CDN ($422.34 USD), the in-store savings of just garden produce were less compared to regular pricing at $252.73 CDN ($183.45 USD), due in large part to the fact that a percentage of the Canned Product Type were not available organically.


Does Canning Save Me Money - Final Thoughts

Although it would appear at first glance that I can buy my canned products cheaper in the store, if the cheaper brands are bought, when I look at it closer I realized that in reality I was not only saving $329.10 CDN ($238.89 USD) over comparable organic in-store options, I was having healthier organic options on my pantry shelves, saving things from hitting the land fill or having to be recycled and I know where my food comes from and what's in it!  A big deal to me! Although this analysis shows that gardening and canning what I grow affords me the opportunity to eat better, is it a sufficient enough savings to warrant the efforts and expense? I suppose, that depends.

I would suggest that because I start the plants, plant them, tend them,  harvest them and ultimately preserve them, the process is seamless and therefore the associated costs of the produce have been included in the cost determinations of the specific gardens and should not be included in the determination of whether canning saves money.  The CP and therefore the Production Cost should be zero for everything except the peaches and cherries, which I purchased. This seamless process would result in an overall savings for Regular vs My Cost of $1,805.43 CDN ($1,310.51 USD) with savings from using my garden produce realizing $1,427.94 CDN ($1,036.50 USD).  And an overall savings for Organic vs My Cost of $2,858.74 CDN ($2,075.08 USD) and a savings of $2,276.91 CDN ($1,652.75 USD) using my own garden produce.

Regardless of which way I look at this analysis though, the fact of the matter is that looking at the canning as a stand alone entity, I saved $329.10 CDN ($238.89 USD).  Which, when added to the savings I realized in Does Gardening Save Me Money - A Year In Review and the loss I realized in Establishing a Food Forest Orchard Garden - But Will it Save Me Money, my savings for the 2023 gardening and canning year is $818.84 CDN ($594.37 USD).  Perhaps with some fine tuning I can increase these savings in 2024. 

None of these savings may seem like a lot of money to some and it looks like a lot of money to produce these products, but I would suggest that it is also a lot of money to buy in-store as well.  By starting small with a small garden and preserving the extra, savings can be realized.  By slowing growing how much a person grows and cans, the savings will grow.  But during this journey, a person will be experiencing all the benefits of growing and preserving your own food.

But to answer the question of Does Canning Save Me Money, I would have to conclude that, yes, it does.   And further to this affirmation, that the savings can be increased by having a seamless operation.  And so, although I may cut back a bit, I will continue to can knowing that I am eating better food, reaping the additional benefits, helping the environment to some degree and saving money with every jar I can, as my forefathers and foremothers have done before me.

I hope you found this information interesting, useful and that you consider canning your abundance from your garden. It is worth it! 

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Does Canning save money

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