The Economics of the Home Garden
Much of our discussion around gardening at TGN revolves around health and self-sufficiency. But a garden can make a lot of sense in purely economic terms. You can grow food more cheaply than you can buy it, and you don't pay sales tax on the food you grow to eat yourself.
However, not every garden makes economic sense, and not every crop is economically suitable for every place you might want to grow it. There are several factors that affect this: the size of your garden, the length of your growing season, the cost of making the soil productive, the productivity per plant or per square foot, and the cost of the plants or seeds.
My Crop List:
I've found that green beans are my economically-best crop. They cost almost nothing. Seeds are cheap, soil does not need much preparation, and they can produce a steady supply all summer. Preserving them consists of a quick blanch and freezing in simple bags.
Peas also work well, handling poor soil and having minimal prep. However, they are much less productive. Their season is shorter because they don't tolerate heat well. I have had little luck growing them in fall, so I only get a single crop in the spring and early summer.
Potatoes are very productive and my best garden source of calories. They don't need rich soil, but do need loose soil, and it requires some care to mulch or hill around the tubers. I lost a lot of tubes this year because they were too close to the surface and turned green, indicating they were likely poisonous. And if you follow the standard recommendation to buy certified disease-free seed every year, the cost is much higher than buying small seeds. However, I have found that I can save potato seed (including those inedible green potatoes) and plant them for a good crop the next year. My experience suggests that the need for certified seed every year is overstated. (Farmers growing large-scale commercial crops on the same soil every year with little or no rotation almost certainly do need it.)
Onions were a waste of money for me when I was buying transplants. I have never been able to get bulbing onions going from seed. Transplants are expensive. And they never produced much. It was only when I switched to multiplier onions (walking onions, potato onions, shallots) that I got a crop that justified the space and expense, and since it is easy to save "seed" to replant the next year, the cost should be nearly zero from now on.
Much as we love tomatoes, they make no economic sense for us. They are too prone to disease, produce only a few tomatoes per plant, and have a very short season of about one month. We will always grow a few to enjoy fresh tomatoes, but economically they don't justify the space they take up here.
Lettuce, spinach, mustard, and similar greens are very cheap to grow. While it is difficult to save their seeds, it is cheap to buy them every year. They provide nutrition and fiber in our diet. However, it doesn't make sense to grow too much, because they have few calories. In some years, I have planted too many because they were so easy and had such a long season, only to find that we couldn't eat that much and the space could have been better used for potatoes or beans.
Garlic is ridiculously easy to grow and you can easily save seed for it every year. But how much garlic can you really use in a year? It's a flavor additive, not a major source of calories or protein. In some years, I have made the mistake of growing too much garlic and not even being able to use it all. Again, that space could better have been used for other crops.
What crops are economic for you? What have you tried, but then dropped because it didn't make sense?
This Week's Leaders
- All Categories
- 36 Our Front Porch Welcome! (Please Read Before Posting)
- 29 Introductions & Region-Specific Discussions
- 367 Educational Opportunities & Resources
- 467 Current Events & Breaking News
- 53 Emergency/Disaster Preparedness & Resiliency
- 1.4K Our Garden: Growing Food
- 1.7K Our Apothecary: Natural & Home Medicine
- 516 The Back 40: Animal Husbandry & Harvesting
- 40 The Bush: Wild Game and Survival
- 540 Our Kitchen Table: Food Prep
- 401 The Homestead: DIY
- 1.2K Personal Journals
- 110 The General Store: Sell, Buy, & Barter