If I had a tomato for every recent newspaper article that quoted some newbie gardener planning to cut hundreds of dollars from his or her grocery bill by growing his or her own food, I could probably put Prego out of business. I've been waiting all summer for someone to question this assumption and to make the point clear that you have to get pretty serious with your garden to save any sort of real cash--and you might not recoup your sunk costs for a couple of years.
Our very own Michael Tortorello recently penned just such a post on his New York Times gardening blog, asking the question: Is Gardening Worth It, Financially?
With roughly half his harvest in from a pretty serious gardening endeavor, Tortorello estimates he's collected roughly 66 pounds of fresh produce, with a retail value of about $190. But he also spent $940 on equipment rentals, supplies, seeds, mulch, and fencing.
Though I didn't keep such accurate records, I'd guess that my tiny deck garden broke even this year. I scavanged a few pots, paid for plants, seeds, (seeds are far cheaper, but more ambitious for larger plants), potting soil, and manure for a total of about $30. From that investment, I reaped about the equivalent in tomatoes, greens, and herbs. Some of my garden produce is superior to that I could have purchased, especially the Green Zebra and German Green tomatoes, which can be hard to find, but my crop of tiny, tough Swiss chard was a total bust this year and I have no idea why.
Tortorello isn't too troubled by his loss and stresses that home gardening is more than just a way to try to save money:
The numbers tell a story: For me, growing home vegetables makes about as much sense as manufacturing American cars. And yet I can't say that I'm particularly bothered that my starter garden is operating in the red. I could depreciate the costs against next year's garden-although that's surely no way to appreciate anything. If gardening were ultimately about cash yields, we'd all move to California and plant medical marijuana.