Garden economics

Is gardening expensive?

I suppose that if you watch the television and consider garden make-over shows to represent real gardening, then the answer would have to be ‘yes’. As with anything, instant gratification can be expensive… want a semi-mature Ginkgo? You can get one about 15 feet tall for £195. And what about an instant vegetable garden? A couple of years ago, one company was selling plug plants that resulted in each carrot costing £1.09! That’s not to say that buying plants rather than seeds is always bad, it’s just that you need to weigh up why you’re doing it and what your reason for gardening actually is.

The ladder allotment – quite expensive, I should have built one myself

Over the years I have spent lots of money on my garden, but gradually I seem to spend less and less, although I do occasionally see a new gimmicky item that I just can’t resist (like my ‘ladder allotment’). However, I make lots of compost these days, so my need to buy it in has reduced (although not disappeared entirely); I have a good collection of water butts, a fruit cage, a greenhouse and raised beds, all of which should last for a good few years. I save more vegetable seeds than I used to, but I still buy in most of my seeds each year. Last year I bought a new red currant bush, but I don’t think I will need any more fruit bushes for a while. I make my own liquid feed in my wormery, and I don’t use many chemicals in the garden so there’s not much expense there either.

Perhaps my most expensive garden ‘tool’ is the chickens – we bought three from a local breeder two years ago and they cost a total of about £35; the coop (a mistake because of inexperience – I would never buy one like it again) cost £175, and then we have to feed them and treat the hen-house for red mite about twice a year and there have been the recent vets bills (actually so far only about £15 and these are the first in the 2 years). It seems to make for rather expensive eggs, but in the best permaculture tradition, my chickens are multifunctional… they keep the weeds down (especially in the vegetable beds over the winter), they provide fertilizer, they cultivate the ‘rubbish beds’, they provide entertainment and they eat slugs. Now, this latter activity I can start to put a monetary value on. I used to buy Nemaslug to control the unhelpful molluscs – this only works on slugs, not on snails, but it did help to reduce damage a bit. It is no longer necessary – the girls eat snails and slugs alike and prevent areas of dense damp vegetation establishing that provide a refuge for the pesky little things. If I bought Nemaslug to treat my vegetable beds for the year it would cost over £30, so there is a real saving being made there.

Some of the outputs

And then I begin to think more broadly about economics and the value of things… can I really simply allocate a monetary value to my garden and my gardening activity? Of course not. My motivation to garden really has nothing to do with saving money – I earn enough to be able to buy in all the food we need. Can I put a value on picking my own herbs in the depths of winter? Or watching seedlings push their way through the soil? Or the joy of the first new potatoes out of the ground? Or trying to devise a meal using the diverse crops that are available in the garden at any one time? Actually, do I want to try to put a value on it? And my answer is no – like the chickens, the garden is multifunctional – it relieves stress, it feeds me, it entertains me, it saves me trips to the supermarket and I think it is a small part of caring for the planet… that will do me in terms of economics.

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9 Comments

  1. I totally agree. When you start gardening you have expenses that won’t need repeating because there are things can be used for many years. The pleasure of a perfect vine ripe tomato that you grew and picked yourself is priceless.

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  2. This maybe goes back a little to our discussion about peat.

    In my mind gardening is nearly free, and importantly should stay that way for everyone, everywhere in the world. All you need to grow vegetables are a few tools, some potting soil/compost to start seedlings indoors and some lime if your soil is acidic. Beyond this, there are sometimes some initial costs for getting a garden started, for example some of the things you mentioned. Sometime you need to buy some initial soil amendments like compost.

    Everything else you can make yourself out of what’s in your garden, out of trash, or isn’t really necessary.

    I think it’s really important people understand this, and understand gardening doesn’t and shouldn’t cost much money. It’s really a huge industry that teaches people they need to buy fertilizer, commercial seeds, Round Up, bug spray, expensive potted plants, peat free soil, raised beds, garden furniture, barbecue… It’s a very long list, and as a blogger I get approached by these companies all the time who want to advertise on my blog. There are even a few bloggers out there that promote these things in one way or another.

    All the time there are people who give up gardening or don’t get into it, because they think it costs a lot of money. I think this is a real shame.

    It will never be possible to grow vegetables cheaper than what you can buy from the store, because these are too heavily subsidised. This alone means many people on a low income can’t afford to feed themselves from their own garden.

    In my opinion too, I find cheap or free is also usually what’s green. It’s reusing and recycling instead of buying. It’s buying local products instead of paying for things to be transported long distances.

    It’s not that I’m very pure myself. I certainly buy things for my garden, and I don’t usually criticise others for what they buy. At the same time, I’m also very careful about promoting the purchase of expensive or commercial things, because I don’t want anyone to think they need to spend money unnecessarily to have a nice garden.

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    • This is so true – the other thing I didn’t mention is the sense of community associated with sharing plants and resources…there are plant pots that have been going back and forth between me and my sister for years, usually with plants in. Seed exchanging is a great way to try out new things and I always try to give away surplus plants. And using ‘junk’ is astonishingly satisfying – I am currently growing lettuce in an old fish box that a friend found on the beach (it just needed a few holes in the bottom) and several of our raised beds were made simply by standing flag stones on end that had been removed from a patio we didn’t want… the beds are filled with home-made compost… cost at all. The most satisfying projects are often those that don’t require a great financial input and the ‘rubbish beds’ as we call them are a prefect example.

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  3. Getting started in any hobby can be expensive, if you allow that to happen. There are costs for seeds and plants but if you do it right, you get nutritious things you can eat and enjoy. I am enjoying the upcycle and reusing things trend.

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  4. I agree about the garden being multifunctional. I began gardening because of the memories it brings of my dad, the satisfaction of growing and eating my own food and the stress relief I get. It’s evolved into much more that. It’s an act of caring for the planet (we don’t use chemicals either), a way to get my young son to eat fresh veggies (he’s more apt to eat fresh stuff from the garden than store bought) and a way to share with our neighbors (we give some of our extra produce to our elderly neighbor). You most definitely can’t put a price on that! Thanks for the great post. I look forward to reading more.

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    • Thanks for your kind comments. My dad loved gardening too – he’s in a care home now and, I know, misses things like making compost and pottering round watching his own plants grow… the home has a garden, but it’s just not the same for him.

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