There really is nothing like the experience of eating something that you have just picked fresh from your own garden. Trust me! More and more people like myself are returning to the joy of growing vegetables, herbs and even eggs right in their own backyards.
Fifty years ago, this was the norm; almost every backyard had a veggie patch that supplemented the food bought at a store. Then life got busy, food was more readily available and was often flown in from further afield, making varieties available out of season. Gradually, the home veggie garden became obsolete.
However, the tide has turned again. People are looking for ways to improve their lives, the quality of their food and to reduce their carbon footprint. Fresh food has almost disappeared from the dinner tables of North Americans, with processed, pre-prepared or take-out food the normal fare for the majority of people. This food often contains chemicals to extend its shelf life or to make it taste better because so much of the goodness (and therefore the taste) has been removed during the processing. And don’t get me started on the sugar, salt and fat content of processed food!
The Advantages of Gardening
The advantages of growing your own vegetables include eating fresh, nutritious food, knowing exactly what has gone into your food, reducing food miles to almost zero, healthy exercise, education for the kids and the joy of producing something healthy for the family.
There are also certain disadvantages. Gardening takes time, energy, patience and commitment as well as some basic skills and knowledge.
So, when I started to consider the veggie garden option, I understood how it was greener but wasn’t so sure about being able to save money. I mean you have to buy tools, seed, fertilizer, etc. Then there is the time factor to take into account, not to mention the hard work of getting the garden established.
The Cost Benefit Analysis
Luckily, Roger Doiron of Maine, who founded Kitchen Gardeners International, has already done in-depth comparisons between home-grown and shop-bought produce. He meticulously weighed and measured everything he grew, subtracted his costs for seed etc. and then compared the result with shop prices. Admittedly, he has a huge garden of 1600 square feet but he was able to grow a huge $2,000 of vegetables in just one season! Depending on what you had to buy before you were able to harvest, he calculated a saving of between $25 and $2000.
I guess you could surmise that in the first year of your garden, your saving would be small because you had to buy all the gear to get started. As time went by, there would be less to buy, especially if you employed some cost-saving strategies, and so you would save much more on your fresh fruit and vegetable budget.
Doiron suggests that the best cost-saving vegetables for the home garden are tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, strawberries and salad greens. The great thing about these is that most of them can be grown in pots, on a balcony or patio, if you don’t have room for a garden. We use a container garden approach and it works fabulous. If you don’t believe me, check out my harvests for 2010 and 2011.
The Health Perks
The health saving of growing your own produce cannot be underestimated, either. Studies have shown that farming land has become depleted of many nutrients due to the over-use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, meaning the food we buy in supermarkets is not nearly as nutritious as it was fifty years ago. Vegetables start to lose goodness as soon as they are picked; it stands to reason that what we buy in a store is not going to be nearly as good for us as what we have grown a few feet from our kitchen.
The other health aspect of growing food is that you can choose to grow an organic garden. This means that you use natural products to feed and protect the plants. Your home-grown veggies won’t have any nasty toxic residues on them.
The Contribution to the Planet
One cost-saving strategy you can use in your veggie garden is to make your own compost. Compost is a natural fertilizer and soil conditioner that will help your plants grow big and strong, while keeping the nutrients in the soil. Healthy plants are less likely to be diseased or attacked by pests, saving you even more. Not only will you save money on fertilizers and mulch, you will also be returning the carbon in your kitchen scraps, garden refuse and lawn clippings to the soil and saving considerable waste from ending up in landfill. Making your own compost will save you around $35 to $60.
I mentioned ‘food miles’ earlier. This is the term used to describe how far food has had to travel between farm and consumer. This is a huge consideration for environmentalists because of the pollution of the trucks used to transport the food. When you grow your own food, it has no food miles and you are also saving on the fuel costs to get you to the store to buy what you need. Because what you grow tends to be perishable, you could shop less regularly for other food staples that are non-perishable, saving even more fuel.
So, are you going to join the trend and start up a home vegetable garden?
We tried to plant a few things in pots over the past few years but we were getting these horrible “horn worms” that grew on our tomato plants. It was a little frustrating and we gave up this year. Frankly, I probably just need to do some more research but I’m not sure we’ll dive back into it. I feel that visiting the local farmer’s market better suites us.
There are definitely things you can do to prevent the worms so I urge you to try again. If you have windows in your house you can also try growing indoors. It can work just as well.
Farmers markets are a good compliment though as long as the farmer grows stuff in a sustainable and healthy way.
In my tomato growing experience, I’ve have a few of those fat little green caterpillars invade my tomatoes as well.
I find that one of the simplest solution to that problem and most other pests is just to grow a couple extra tomato plants. Whatever the pests don’t eat, you keep for yourself. One tomato plant will typically produce more tomatoes that you know what do do with anyway.
Here’s another solution: pick the tomatoes while they’re still green and let them ripen off of the vine. They taste just as good once they ripen, and you pick ’em before the pests even have much of a chance. I’ve used this strategy many times as a way to keep the birds from pecking my tomatoes all up as well.
Here’s a little something I found on those tomato horn worms that might help too. http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=772
Thanks for the great tip Donny. I find planting marigolds and putting toilet paper rolls around the roots works really good. You can also get ladybugs to lay babies that eat worms and other bugs on plants.
I usually just resort to planting a few extra plants and whatever the insects and other pests don’t get to is what I get for myself and others.
That can work but if you don’t want things to go to waste you can save them with the strategies I mentioned.
You can still grow some stuff. If you have windows that you are good to. There are so many windowsill varities of food you can grow. Trust me it’s possible.
If you’re interested in which fruits and veggies contain the most pesticides, take a look at the ‘dirty dozen list.’ It’s a list of the top 12 produce items that contain the most pesticides. They also have the ‘clean 15 list’ of items that tend to be lowest in pesticides. The list gets updated frequently as well. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/
I don’t think tomatoes are one of the items that are real high in pesticides, but the ones you buy at the store tasty nasty. Home grown tomatoes are delicious!
That is one terrific article you posted! I first started doing my own vegetable gardening when I moved to where I am about 7 years ago. Besides tasting so much better than the store bought stuff, you’re not poisoning yourself with all of those pesticides.
What kind of fertilizer to you use in your garden?
What are some organic pesticides that you use?
Glad to hear you have been reaping the benefits of a garden Donny.
For fertilizers I use a combination of organic eco friendly items. Coffee grounds work well. Home made compost, eggs shells, and seaweed also do the trick.
I don’t use any kinds of pesticide. To keep bugs away I use cayenne pepper, peppermint oil, marigolds, and ladybug babies. They all work great.
The soil where I life is horrible and honestly I am too lazy to spend the time to maintain a garden. Maybe down the road if I move to a better location or maybe when I retire ill give this a shot.
Gardening does take time. I would urge you try though with something small so you can see the benefits without too much work. A simple container herb garden is really easy to care for and can save a ton of money.
I’ve spent more money trying to grow vegetables than I could have just buying them. I hit up the farmers market once a week and that works well for me. It might work for a family but not for this single guy.
You just aren’t using the right techniques. I would love to help you get started on the right foot. If you want to try again let me know and I can give you some base instructions.
This is such a great idea but I always feel like I am strapped for time. I have considered planting a grafted lemon/lime tree. That way I would have a large supply of both and it wouldn’t require much time 🙂
I planted a lemon tree in a large garbage can full of potting soil in my back yard about 5 years ago. The thing’s loaded with lemons and will be ready to pick in the next few months. I just water it once every couple of days and cover it up with blankets the few times of the year that it freezes. Not much maintenance there.
That is really cool. I am going to have to try that.
If you use the right planting medium combinations and some other proper techniques you can severely cut down the effort gardening takes. If you want some help, let me know and I would be glad to get you started.
Great article, Miss T. (with my own gardening proclivities, how could I say anything less?) It’s been said that if more people got their fingernails dirty, there’d be less business for the mental health industry. Gardening’s good for your noggin!
One more way to think about the cost is balancing annuals and perennials. Our peach trees have been putting out a bumper crop this year. I have gobs and bushels and baskets of sweet white peaches. Fruit trees and berry bushes keep producing every year with little or no additional inputs.
Also, salad greens that are allowed to bolt and go to seed will sprout and volunteer during the next cycle. Cost? Zero.
I have heard that too. We should start a gardening mental health movement.
Great tips. I love berries and am looking into planting some bushes.
Greens are so yummy too. I would just make sure you actually control where they reseed or you could end up with a lettuce lawn.
I am so picky with my produce, it’s really bad. We’re finally buying our first house and I’m so excited to grow my own fruits and veggies. I’m not sure whether to do a garden or grow them in a greenhouse though. 🙂
When you get started let me know. I can share some tips. There are advantages to both methods but containers plus or minus a greenhouse I would favour. That option provides a lot of flexibility.
We put in a fairly decent vegetable garden every year. My personal favorites are green beans and tomatoes. You can’t beat the taste of a fresh ripe tomato just picked off the vine. we tried some broccoli last year and did fairly well with it. We tried a second planting in the fall and that was doing well until we started letting the chicken out in the yard a few hours a day. It appears that chickens LOVE broccoli too. They stripped the plants down to nubs. Seeing as they “contribute” to the garden we forgave them but will fence in the garden this year!
Tomatoes, strawberries, and zucchini also don’t take too much of your time to grow. My sister in-law also loves growing her own herbs. I think growing your own garden may be a little bit more expensive, but the taste and quality is worth it!