Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How much did my vegetable garden cost - a detailed breakdown

I love numbers. Adding and subtracting them, analyzing them, using them to derive insights or just playing a number's game. As much as I hated mathematics during high school, I love it now. Sudoku is my favorite solitary activity.

My garden budget for the year 2016, the year I first started a vegetable garden, was drafted to keep track of how much was I spending on every trip to Home Depot and shopping at Amazon. My initial estimated budget for garden was $500 for entire season. My garden, as you will see from my expenses below, was far from being 'on budget'. I will elaborate on the reasons. It may help you understand, based on your level of expertise and experience gardening, where some expenses can be avoided.

Over the course of this year, I came across articles on web that talked about 'gardening on a budget'. Some gardeners spent as little as $75 on their garden while harvesting hundreds of pounds of vegetables while others spent $500 in building a bountiful garden to grow produce they eat. Many of the principles discussed in such articles did not apply to me in 2016, when I just started growing food for myself. Being on budget depends on scale and skills. I still read articles and blog posts from where I can gather information on building a commercial garden on budget. However, I take the advice with a grain of salt. As a beginner, you spend some money learning about materials and equipments that work for you. The budget presented here are the costs I incurred. Not everyone will incur the same when they start. The following costs were incurred because I was growing 8-9 different vegetable varieties in garden. Your expenses, if you start small, will be way less than mine's.

First, a look at my (extravagant) garden expenses for 2016.


Materials                                       Cost (US Dollars)
Wildflowers...........................................32.80
Vermont Seed Company Seeds.............12.15
Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.................14.50
Soil Testing (Rutgers University)..... ....27.00
Cress seeds.............................................2.50
More vegetable seeds.............................19.25
Fish Emulsion.........................................13.00
Echo 16" grass trimmer..........................150.00
Weedblock Fabric...................................39.94
Pre mixed fuel (for trimmer)...................7.97
Spray bottle.............................................3.78
Wood Chips............................................50.00
Galvanized steel wire hoops (25)...........47.56
Hoophouse materials (Home Depot)......55.00
Planting Pots (Single).............................19.00
Garden Labels.........................................6.00
Seed starter trays....................................12.95
Growing trays.........................................16.00
Potting Mix (organic).............................12.00
Pitch fork................................................10.00
Spade......................................................10.00
Fence posts (20)......................................75.00
Woodsaw + Hammer...............................7.00
Trash bin for food scraps (for composting)....10.00
Water sprayer + clips...............................2.50
Wheelbarrow + Potting Mix+Additional Seed Trays.....78.00
Pot (planting ginger)................................9.00
Fence.......................................................115.00
Leaf Compost 10 yards...........................200.00
Pulverized Lime......................................13.92
Rototiller Rental......................................474.32
Hose Pipe 100 ft + Spray Nozzle.............47.00
Pulverized Lime (more)...........................10.41
Spray Mask...............................................5.47
Gloves.......................................................2.48
Agribon Row Cover...................................56.00
Garden stool...............................................75.00
Tomato stakes 20........................................40.66
Raccoon Cage trap.....................................50.00

Total Expenses:  $1833.16



Why did it went so high and where can costs be cut

  • My major expenditure the first year was rototiller rental to turn up the soil and prepare the garden for vegetables. Can it be cut ? Sure, if you own the right equipments or can get land prepapared by a friend. Another way is to practice no-till gardening, prepare raised beds with wood pallets or practice other permaculture methods. Based on my experience, in any way, there will be costs incurred in the beginning. Some people suggest digging garden by hand using broadfork or other tools. It's way too hard to do on hardpan soil that has never been worked before. Moreover, my garden was close to quarter acre. 
  • My second major expenditure was compost and wood chips for the garden. By summer, the weeds were spreading too fast and lack of any kind of weeding tool made it hard to do weeding by hand. I figured covering the rows between vegetable beds with black plastic or spreading woodchips over layers of cardboard would help. It did. Mulching reduced my effort a lot. The best thing, mulching can be done on big or small garden alike. The only problem was I did not have any cheap access to lot of cardboard sheets at once. I found a free source of cardboard sheets on Craigslist and brought whatever I can in my SUV. As for leaf compost, it is a wonderful thing for garden IF YOU CAN GET IT FOR CHEAP or build your own. Lot of horse manure was readily available for free from nearby towns. Bringing it to home was not feasible as I did not have my own pickup truck. Home Depot and other garden supply stores sold compost and manures in 40 pound bags. The quantity of store brought compost or manure was too less for a garden of my size. Additionally, I did not entirely trust the big store brands when it came to superior quality compost. I paid $200 to a garden supply store that delivered 10 yards of leaf compost for me. I did made little bit of my own compost but it wasn't sufficient for entire garden. In future, I would continue to build my own compost or have a truck which can be used to bring animal manure from nearby places. 
  • My third minor expenditure was on some not-so-necessary single planting pots. These pots did look good with it's bright yellow color but could not be used for the purpose I had in mind. They are good if you are gifting potted plants to someone or simply want to keep small pots in kitchen window. I still have them and would find a better use of them for next growing season. 
  • My fourth expenditure item that I did not need in large quantity for my garden size was leaf compost. I ordered 10 yards of leaf compost. I could not use all of it in the vegetable beds. I could have ordered less. Remember that local compost suppliers need you to order compost in bulk for them to deliver. I must say that leaf compost added organic matter to soil and made soil beds loose and workable in addition to being a useful soil amendment. I had not ordered any other fertilizer in bulk except leaf compost. 
  • My fifth minor expense was on purchasing this garden stool. I purchased it thinking it would save my back but since I was doing all the weeding by hand, I still had to bend to weed. It is a great sitting stool but is good for tasks like trimming flowers where you do not have to bend all the way down to do it. Additionally, dragging this stool seemed like a chore. I could have avoided the purchase. 
  • My sixth minor expense was on seeds. The cost of seeds can be cut to a minimum if you are part of a seed exchange group, a community garden or have a good gardener as friend. I ordered organic heirloom varieties of seeds from farms outside my state because I trusted their seed quality over what's available in Walmart, Home Depot or Lowes. If you do order seeds, I would suggested order all your needed seeds at once. You will save on shipping costs. Local garden supply centers, if they grow open pollinated organic seeds, are also a great source for getting seeds. I prefer to grow all of my vegetables and flowers from seed instead of cuttings. I like to learn and understand the entire lifecycle of a plant. Sowing a seed and watching it grow helps me accomplish that. 
All the other expenses were necessary in one or the other way. I should have purchased wheel hoe or something of the sort to tackle weeds in between vegetable beds. When I first started thinking about planning my own vegetable garden, I planted more crops than I could handle and understand. While quarter acre of land doesn't sound like a big land to manage, the varied tasks on different crop families can be a lot of work. For example, weeds were out of control by Sepetember on portions of garden uncovered by mulch. Sweet peppers and melons planted in summer succumbed to the weed pressure. 

Growing a few vegetables in the garden really isn't an expensive task. If you cannot spend much time or money, plant some easy growing crops that do well in your region. Use winter weekends to think and plan that beautiful edible garden. 

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2017. Share your winter garden pictures and feel free to post a comment.