The Payoff of Home Gardening
The bottom line of vegetable garden economics is that a little planning can pay big dividends. A well-maintained 4-foot by 8-foot (1.21-meter by 2.4-meter) garden in a Midwestern climate can produce about $600 in food savings over a single summer. For example, one $1.50 pepper plant or packet of tomato seeds can produce anywhere from six to 100 times the amount of produce for the same amount of money spent at the grocery store. Even better, herbs such as parsley can grow like weeds in pots by the kitchen window, providing a year-round supply of flavor for the same price you'd pay for a single packet of fresh herbs in the produce isle [source: Noll, Herigstad].
If you want to see just how far you can stretch your garden's value, there are a number of moves you can make. A heavily landscaped garden will cost significantly more to establish than a simple vegetable bed, so consider trading form for function when designing the beds. And if you live in a four-season climate zone, consider building or buying cold frames: open-bottomed, glass-topped boxes that you can place over portions of your growing beds. These act like mini-greenhouses, allowing you to start plants earlier and extend the growing season, squeezing just a little more money-saving produce out of your garden.
Keep in mind, though, that there's no guarantee in gardening. Major variables like unexpected rain or droughts can stymie even professional farmers. Your best tactic for countering such a powerful factor? Experience. Talk to other gardeners in your neighborhood to find out what grows well and learn what it takes for them to reap a good harvest. If the results come back within the range of what you like to eat and what you're able to do, you may be in a good position to harvest savings along with next season's bounty of homegrown fruits and vegetables [source: Herigstad].