The Garden Bargain

The benefits of growing your own food include grocery bill savings and family fun

Credit: Flickr / woodleywonderworks

Grow your own vegetable garden

In these economically challenging times, it pays big to be a gardener.

In fact, there is no better bargain than a vegetable garden when it comes to saving money on getting food on the table.

According to George Ball, chairman and CEO of Burpee, a $1 measure of green-bean seeds can provide $75 worth of food, while a $50 investment in vegetable seeds can pay out a whopping $1,250 of tasty returns.

A recent study by the National Gardening Association drew similar conclusions: “A well-maintained food garden can yield an estimated one-half pound of produce per square foot of garden area over the course of the growing season. At in-season market prices, this produce is worth $2 per pound. The average 600-square-foot food garden can produce an estimated 300 pounds of fresh produce worth $600 and a return of $530 based on an average investment of $70.”

Add to that the free benefits of the fresh air and exercise, and the family fun of watching a food garden grow and you have the best deal on earth.


Why more and more families are growing their own food

• To grow better-tasting food – 58 %

• To save money on food bills – 54 %

• To grow better-quality food – 51 %

• To grow food they know is safe – 48 %

• To feel more productive – 40 %

• To spend more time outdoors – 35 % 

• To teach kids about gardening – 30 % 

• To get back to basics – 25 % 

• To have food to share with others – 23 %

• To live more locally – 22 % 

• To have a family activity – 21 % 

Based on a 2009 survey by the National Gardening Association

What you need
 to start your garden

Every gardener requires a few basic tools, of course, but they needn’t be fancy. A shovel and spade, a small rake and hoe, a trowel, hose or watering can, and you’re ready for action. A wheelbarrow is a luxury and will save your back some wear and tear, but optional. Buy good-quality tools as they are the best value in the long run. With a little care and storage out of the elements they should last a lifetime.


From the ground up

Next, consider some soil boosters – a little investment at this ground level will pay off with more vigorous harvests and healthier plants. Compost is the best bargain of all, as this magic mix of kitchen vegetable scraps, fallen leaves, grass clippings and other garden “waste” is the ultimate in creating something from “nothing.” In addition to (or in lieu of) compost, add organic fertilizer and/or Sea Soil to your garden plot. 


Seed money

Perhaps the best bargain of all is the seeds. Buy just a few dollars’ worth and enjoy a great rate of return. For more than enough seeds for a family-size garden of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, peas and beans, plus a few extras, expect to spend less than $50. And with more than 300 in the average package of lettuce seeds, they will last through more than one year. Simply store in a dry and cool location, or tucked in an envelope inside a plastic container in the fridge, with a silica gel pack to soak up any moisture. And the really good news is that if you purchase open-pollinated seeds, you will be able to collect seeds from your very own garden at no cost! In fact, this seed will be even more suited to your garden’s growing conditions than the original seed.


More on growing your own food

Top 10 seed picks

Compost for a garden pick-me-up

When purchasing, a few pieces of information on the packages will help you determine what you need:


Germination rate

Given as a percentage, this is the amount of seeds you can expect to germinate. Spinach, for instance, has a low germination rate of 65 per cent, so plan on about 65 plants for every 100 you sow.


Amount of seed

While the amount of seed varies, you’ll find that the average package has more than enough for one season. In Veseys’ collection of The 10 Must-Grow Vegetables for Beginners, for example, a $3.95 pack contains 1,100 ‘Napoli’ carrot seeds – plenty for more than one season plus overseeding would not be a problem! The ‘Sweeter Yet’ cucumber comes in 50-seed packs, again more than enough for two or three years for the average gardener.



Some varieties are simply more prolific, such as cherry tomatoes. Environmental factors also affect your rate of harvest; and here are some key strategies to ensure the best rate of return for your efforts:

• Apply organic fertilizer regularly.

• Water consistently.

• Sow or transplant early in the season.

• Plant in wide rows to maximize light and air circulation.

• Pick often to encourage new growth or fruit set.

• Choose ever-bearing varieties that offer an extended season.

• Plant a winter crop, and use your garden real estate all year round.