Is Gardening Worth It Financially?

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The beauty of gardening is its flexibility. You have a wide variety of options if money, space, or time is tight. But is gardening worth it financially?

We’ve all heard the story of the $900 tomato, stereotyped by first attempts at gardening in which costs keep spiraling until finally the novice gardener is able to harvest a single luscious tomato. However when all costs are tallied up, that tomato ends up costing at least $900. Most people dive into gardening to save money, so that $900 tomato can be hugely discouraging. Is gardening worth it financially?

There are two reasons behind that $900 tomato: First, every start-up garden needs infrastructure. This could include soil improvements, raised beds, tillers or other devices to turn over soil, fencing, drip irrigation or other watering options, pots, mulch … whatever the size of your gardening ambition, you will need to invest time and money to bring it to fruition. Fortunately, most of these improvements are one-time expenses.

And second, if you’ve never gardened before, you have a learning curve ahead of you. Unless you’re very lucky, gardening isn’t just a matter of planting seeds, watering them, and then reaping a generous harvest. It’s a matter of understanding your soil, climate, pests, latitude, and other critical factors. It often takes a number of years to get things figured out.

The mistake many beginning gardeners make is assuming they must have, well, a garden — a lush half-acre paradise that yields hundreds of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and gets on the cover of magazines, to boot. If you try to duplicate either the success or the photos (especially at first) of these Instagram-perfect projects, you’ll get discouraged. This is where many people question whether gardening is worth it financially.

But there are better ways. Instead of trying to duplicate someone else’s perfect Instagram garden, why not concentrate on growing something high yield or expensive? Why not grow just what you love to eat? Why not have a “best bang for your buck” vegetable garden?

There are a few factors to consider when planning a “best bang for your buck” garden: total yields per square foot, monetary value per pound, length of time it takes to grow, difficulties in growing, and, of course, your available space.

In addition to value, certain foods go in and out of style. This year’s hottest trends might be pink chicory, white asparagus, wasabi, or hop shoots. Often served by five-star restaurants supplied by specialty growers, these pricey foods aren’t likely to be found in your local grocery store. If you have a really strong hankering for such delicacies, it’s worthwhile trying to grow them yourself.

But most of us simply prefer to grow our favorite veggies, especially since prices keep rising at the grocery store. Even humble and easy-to-grow lettuce can be worth it, especially if you go through a lot of salad. Of course, it goes without saying you should grow what you eat and eat what you grow. Why grow kale if you loathe kale?

Keep in mind, too, that sometimes the benefits of gardening transcend the costs. What are fresh air, warm sunshine, organic produce, and the satisfaction of a job well done worth to you? Not every factor has to be financial when it comes to gardening.

With this in mind, let’s look at some things to grow that will make gardening worth it financially.

Vegetables that are Easy to Grow and Don’t Require a Lot of Space

Local market fresh vegetable, garden produce

These veggies can be grown in smaller spaces, raised beds, grow bags, or even containers on a patio. Depending on your climate, you might be able to grow two or three crops in a season:
• Garlic
• Lettice or salad greens
• Spinach
• Sweet peppers
• Onions
• Tomatoes
• Radishes
• Carrots
• Potatoes
• Hot peppers
• Bok choy

Fruits and Vegetables that are Easy to Grow but Require More Space

Some vegetables require more space, either because they have a larger “footprint,” or because they vine and sprawl, or because they need support structures (trellises, etc.). If you have the room, consider growing:
• Melons (cantaloupe, watermelon, etc.)
• Cucumbers
• Zucchini
• Pumpkins
• Squashes
• Pole beans, runner beans
• Peas

Vegetables That Require More Space and/or Attention, but are Totally Worth It

Some veggies require a bit more care and attention, but are absolutely incomparable when harvested fresh:
• Asparagus
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Corn
• Cabbage

Most Productive Vegetables

basket filled with freshly picked seasonal vegetables in the ga

Some vegetables are almost comically productive, or very easy to grow. These include:
• Zucchini (tremendously productive!)
• Cucumbers
• Tomatoes
• Peas
• Radishes
• Carrots
• Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula, etc.)
• Green onions
• Potatoes

High-Value Fruits and Vegetables

Small fruits. Some of the priciest produce on the market are small fruits (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.). Aggregate berries such as raspberries and blackberries are delicate, difficult to pick on a commercial basis, and have a very short shelf life. However, berry plants are inexpensive and, once established, they grow like weeds (literally) and produce gallons of abundant fruit. If you enjoy berries, it’s very much worth establishing your own beds.

Blueberries can be costly for the initial plants; but once established, they will reliably produce fruit for a quarter-century or more. Mature blueberries can be tremendously productive over the course of their lifetime.

Strawberries can be very inexpensive (if purchasing bare root plants) and hugely productive. They have an added advantage of propagating themselves through runners. Once established, productive strawberry beds can last a lifetime.

Asparagus. Order this in your typical restaurant, and you’ll pay a premium. But once established in a garden, this perennial favorite will produce reliable crops year after year.

Herbs. Most fresh herbs cost a fortune at the grocery store. Fortunately they’re easy to grow and can be enormously productive. Herbs are often best grown in containers, especially for those that tend to spread. Many herbs will reseed themselves and keep growing year after year (climate permitting):
• Mints
• Thyme
• Rosemary
• Sage
• Oregano
• Basil
• Horseradish
• Parsley
• Chives

Vertical herb garden in individual terracotta pots

The beauty of gardening is its flexibility. You have a wide variety of options if money is tight, if space is tight, if time is tight, or whatever other constraints you may face.

But is gardening worth it financially? Yes and no. You can spend a fortune in up-front costs and get very little yields. Or you can take it one slow and inexpensive step at a time, find frugal alternatives to pricey infrastructure, learn as you grow, and expand year by year as time/ energy/ finances permit.

In this respect, gardening is absolutely worth it financially … and so are those luscious tomatoes and beautiful ears of corn you’ll be delighted to harvest.

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