Money doesn’t grow on trees, alas, but you sure can save money with a vegetable garden. According to the venerable seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co., a home vegetable garden “...will result in a 1 to 25 cost-savings ratio.” In terms I can understand, that means $50 in seeds and fertilizer can produce $1,250 worth of groceries purchased at a supermarket. Where else can you get that kind of return on your money or your time?
Thinking About Starting a Vegetable Garden?Most homeowners are willing to pop in a few annuals around the shrubs, but the idea of a vegetable garden can be daunting. A vegetable garden requires commitment. I know gardening will never appeal to everyone, but there are some real advantages to having your own vegetable garden.
- Fresh vegetables are delicious.
- You know what’s going into your food.
- Freshly picked vegetables are more nutritious.
- Your family will discover that shrink wrapping isn’t the way nature does it.
- It’s a great way to save money.
Veteran gardeners will be delighted to know that their passion is money well spent. But this news is also a great impetus for non-gardeners who’ve mulled the idea of starting a vegetable garden, but haven’t taken the first step. Or perhaps they don’t know what that first step would be.
So, How Can I Grow a Money Garden?About 10 years ago, Burpee began tossing around ideas of how to get the word out that vegetable gardening is a great way to save money. From 1998 through 2008, Burpee conducted a cost analysis study of the home vegetable garden. I asked Burpee President, George Ball, Jr., about the impetus for this study. He likened the renewed interest in vegetable gardening to a kind of “new age victory garden”. Where the original victory gardens were intended to reduce demand on the public food supply, today’s vegetable garden is meant to reduce our dependance on it. “It started with the spike in oil prices, then the mortgage and credit crisis, plus the food scares (e coli and salmonella). Most people garden for taste. But there’s a strong argument to be made that growing your own vegetables is also a cost saving proposition. A family of 4 can save a lot of money growing their own vegetables.”
The statistics back up this claim. Factoring in the cost of seeds, fertilizer and water, the study compared the cost of growing vegetables against the cost of purchasing those same vegetables in a grocery store. According to Burpee, The 1 to 25 ratio was arrived at by averaging the savings for several different vegetables. For example, corn is not a big cost saver. You don’t get a high yield in a small space and, in season, corn is inexpensive to buy. So, as delicious as fresh corn is, home grown corn only has about a 1:5 cost-savings ratio.
On the other hand, tomato plants will produce all season. Beefsteak tomatoes offer about a 1:50 cost savings ratio. Those expensive orange bell peppers come in at a 1:100 ratio. According to Burpee, “By choosing vegetables that are easy to grow and produce well, a family could spend $100 on seeds and fertilizer and grow $2,500 in herbs, lettuces and vegetables. ...Over a five month period, if they refrained from purchasing store-bought produce and ate only the produce that they grew, they could save $2,400 in five months.”
And so the idea of packaging an entire vegetable garden, with seeds of the most popular and easy to grow cost saving vegetables resulted in The Money Garden.
The concept of selling a pre-packaged vegetable garden has never really taken off before. Gardeners will buy a packaged flower garden, even if it contains one flower in a color they don’t like. But for some reason, one distasteful vegetable is enough to call off the whole deal. As Mr. Ball puts it, “It’s the difference between the eyes and the mouth. You can look past something, but you’re not going to eat something you hate.”
What Vegetables Give the Most Bang for the Buck?If you’re looking to start a vegetable garden to save money, take a tip from experienced gardeners. Ball says the same vegetable seeds are top sellers year after year. The varieties may change as seeds are improved, but standby vegetables like tomatoes, beans and carrots will always trump the trendy. That’s how the vegetable seeds for The Money Garden were selected.
If you’ve never vegetable gardened before or if you’re looking to make your vegetable garden more efficient, Burpee selected six classic vegetables you can grow from seed and harvest throughout the summer:
- Bush Snap Bean ‘Heavyweight’
- Lettuce ‘Burpee Bibb’
- Bell Pepper ‘Home Run’
- Carrot ‘Big Top’
- Garden Pea ‘Super Snappy’
- Large Round Tomato ‘Steak Sandwich’
Of course how much you save by growing your own vegetables depends on the fluctuating cost of food. But as Ball also pointed out, you’ll never see a bailout needed for a vegetable garden. Vegetable gardens can pretty much guarantee a 25% return, year after year.
Ready to Get Started?I asked Mr. Ball what advice he would give to first time gardeners. He said he always tells would-be gardeners that gardening is digging a lot of holes. If they smile, he thinks they’ll see it through. If they think he’s joking, they’re in for trouble. “Gardening is not passive. It’s a lot like pet ownership. You can’t just bring it home and that’s the end of it.”
But Ball says anyone with a sunny spot in their yard can be successful. “Even a relatively small garden, say 20' x 20', will give you enough room for variety, without being overwhelmed.”
For Ball, sun exposure and warm weather are the keys to a great vegetable garden. Give your vegetables as much sun as you can and let them do what they do. “Don’t over coddle them. Don’t over feed or over water.”
And don’t panic. There’s plenty of help. Burpee provides complete instructions with The Money Garden and answers questions on their web site. Of course, you can always get help here at About Gardening.
For more information on The Money Garden, visit Burpee’s website (http://www.burpee.com/). The Money Garden retails for $10, half the price of purchasing the seed packets individually, and provides enough seed to grow about $650 worth of vegetables.