I have heard a lot of people insinuate that because produce is from the garden it is the same as being free. This isn't the case at all. When we first started a garden, I was shocked at the hidden expenses. We were on a tight enough budget without adding extras to the mix. Here is what I learned about some of the hidden expenses...
First, be prepared to pay for the cost of seeds. This amount will be determined obviously by the amount of seeds you purchase. This year we spent about $120 on seeds and strawberry plants. We ordered them from Heirloom Acres. I bought enough seeds for this year and next. We store our unused seeds in an old refrigerator and they stay nice for several years. Since Heirloom Acres sells heirloom seeds only, I had to buy Ambrosia Cantaloupe Seeds somewhere else. I chose to buy them at the feed store. I about had kittens when I saw that a pack of seeds was $1.99! (I really like Ambrosia)!!! I had another litter of kittens when I realized that there were only 6 seeds in the pack!!! It would be fine to purchase seeds in small packs if you are planning a small garden, but for the size garden we grow it would cost a small fortune!
Another obvious cost is the price of plants. This can get very expensive depending on your supplier and the amount of plants you intend to purchase. It was getting so expensive for us to buy plants that Michael set up a grow center down in the shop. We grow most of our own plants from seeds so we have eliminated the need to purchase most of them. The grow center was made for around $70. He used an old table and leftover wood to make shelves. The majority of the money was spent on light fixtures and grow lights. It has saved a ton of money for us plus I really love growing things!
This brings me to the next hidden cost. I have probably spent about $100 this season in potting soil and jiffy pots. I meant to go to the wholesale place that we purchase our supplies from, but I just didn't ever make the time. I purchased jiffy pots as I needed them and the cost did add up! We did not add any thing to our beds this year so we spent no money there. Since we grow in raised beds there were obvious dollars spent to construct our beds. We felt it worth the money, but it wasn't a necessary expense to raising a garden. This expense was pretty much a one time getting started expense.
Don't forget to add the extra water usage to the upcoming water bill. If we didn't water our garden these last few years, we wouldn't have had a garden at all. However it does cause a large amount in our water bill. We know to expect the increase so we plan for that during the summer months.
If you have already purchased your canning supplies, you are one step ahead of the ballgame. Our first year we had to purchase a canner and all the extras. Jars, lids, and rings don't come for free. I am more than willing to purchase jars from auctions or yard sells. However, I wanted a new canner. I didn't want to take the chance of something being wrong with the canner because this could result in a serious accident. If you are canning green beans or dill pickles, the cost is minimal. However when you can tomatoes take into consideration that each quart of tomatoes needs 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice added. (Today's tomatoes just don't have enough acid so adding lemon juice helps). If you are canning 100 quarts of tomatoes, this one thing can get expensive.
I had a person ask me if I would sell jam to her. I thought about it and decided that I didn't want to do that. I would have to sell it for an enormous amount just to get my costs back. Jams are expensive to make. There is the fruit and sugar purchase. If you make freezer jam, you also must take into account the cost of Sure-Jell. I KNOW it is cheaper to buy jam at the grocery store than to make it, but the taste is so much better with homemade.
After I about broke our budget the first year, I came up with a few ways to make it a bit easier. I plan ahead of time and spread the cost out over several months. I know I want to freeze cabbage and peppers in ziploc freezer bags. These bags are not cheap so I start buying a box each time I do my grocery shopping starting in March. By the time I am ready to put up these things, I have a well stocked amount of bags. If strawberry season is just around the corner, I start buying extra sugar in 25# bags so that expense is spread out over several weeks. It is easier to spare $10 extra every 2 weeks than to cough up $100 in one fail swoop. I also start purchasing canning lids each time I go grocery shopping. I can reuse my rings, but I have to use new lids each time.
Now the good news...you do save money when you are not having to purchase produce from the store. The extra money you save can go towards the extra things needed to grow and can food. The best news of all is that you KNOW what your family is eating and you KNOW exactly where it came from and what is in it. You also KNOW that the taste is unbelievable compared to the grocery store equivalent. I won't even think about purchasing tomatoes or cucumbers from the grocery store because we don't like them. They have no taste and the mouth feel is unbearable to us.
As long as you understand that gardening isn't free, you can plan ahead and work it into the budget. The first year that we had a garden I felt kind of duped because I had the notion that I could take the extra from my food budget and use it for something fun. This wasn't the case, and now that I know the extra costs I am willing to make the plan to absorb them into our monthly budget. If you have any other great money saving tips for the garden, please leave a comment and share it with us all! I am always looking for a good tip on saving money.
grace and peace,