Thursday, June 05, 2008

Gardening Isn't Free

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 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,


Dreamer said...

Head to the nearest construction site to find scrap board for the raised beds. Another option is to use stones. Around here sandstones are plentiful and you can literally pickup truckloads from the side of the highway.

Garage sales or estate sales used to be a good place to find canning jars. Although they are less and less frequent nowadays.

I buy my ziplock freezer bags from the wholesale club in huge quantities that last me all year.

When considering the expense of a garden, don't forget the cost of a rototiller or to pay someone to break the ground. Of course if you are just doing a small bed, say for herbs, you can do it with a shovel and hoe. That's called sweat equity!

Look for free things to amend your soil with. For instance, my parent's garden was full of clay. (Turns out the spot they choose for a garden was were the clay from the dug basement was put when the builders were originally putting in the foundation.) They found some gypsum board being thrown out and after crushing it, added that to the garden.

Of course the best thing is the have your own compost pile. I have more than enough to add to the garden with the fall leaves and grass clippings alone. If you have kitchen scraps, (not meat) those are good too.

My folks have just under an acre, so they don't have any animals. But that didn't stop them from adding manure to the garden. A local farmer who raised horses was more than happy to let them scoop poop. I suggest you have a pickup truck with an open bed for this one!

I'm sure I could think of more if I had more time. I'm interested to see what other money saving ideas your reader's have.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried using the inside bits of toilet rolls to raise seedling in? You can put them in the ground, roll and all, and it will decompose.

Seeds are certainly the way to go when planting. I often share seeds with friends, because I don't plant as much as you...yet! I also save whichever seeds I can by letting the some of them go to seed, mostly lettuce, etc.

I have my favorite variety of cherry tomatoes for salads which I was given by a friend, and if you let some of them drop to the ground at the end of the season, they will come up in their hundreds the following year - so that is pretty close to free! The same with other varieties of tomatoes. Some are better for seed saving than others.

We're not allowed to water our garden here from the tap because of the drought, so we use our dam water (or for those of us who have tanks) our rain water. There is the initial expense of the tanks, and of course you have to have rain first! We do get enough rain for this.... now we need to save up for a water tank. This past summer we carted up water from the dam and used any waste water we could from the house.

I have lots of canning jars that I bought second hand over ten years ago. I also have to buy new lids sometimes, but often can re-use them. I can usually use the rings two or three times.

For jams and jellies, I use normal jars from the shop that have had jam, sauce, whatever, in them. I also ask friends to save them for me.

Well, those are a few things I can think of! I am enjoying sitting here in our Australian winter and seeing what you are doing in summer! It is getting me all motivated for our next growing season!!!



TnFullQuiver said...

Thanks for the great ideas. Yes, we too scooped poop for our beds...truckloads of it (literealy)!!! This is the reason that we didn't have to add any amendments to the soil. It was so rich it was actualy beautiful. I would never had thought to add the gypsum board. We have to get out of our traditional garden thinking and open up our minds. Well, I have to do a lot of reading because I don't have all the knowledge concerning this. I have to listen and learn!

I had never thought about using the toilet paper rolls...that would have been great this year. We too had a lot of things go to seed and then found the treasures the next year. That is always fun. I have really wanted to start saving seeds, but I just never have gotten that far. Each year I try to grow something new and I also try to do some new thing like saving seeds. Thanks for the reminder!!! It is always fun for me to think and learn about garden things in the winter time. I fill many hours reading and planning our upcoming garden during the cool winter months. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas!!!
grace and peace,