Growing Your Groceries
The list of reasons to grow your groceries is a long one. Homegrown veggies offer peak freshness, high nutrition, and endless variety. Another attraction is the decrease in “food miles” of locally-gown produce. And then there are the health benefits and personal satisfaction of gardening to enjoy, too.
But can you save money on your grocery bill by growing food at home? It’s possible, but challenging. The article below offers some guidelines for keeping your yields high and your costs low. For the economically-minded we also include a table listing the average selling price (ASP) of different vegetable crops, per plant and per 10 feet of garden space.
Farming isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme and a farmer’s livelihood depends on keeping their costs low. Labor, equipment, and material costs add up quickly. The same is true in your home garden. If cost savings are something you’d like to know more about, we recommend you read Costs and Benefits of Vegetable Gardening, a white paper published by UF/IFAS faculty.
Guidelines for a Money-Wise Vegetable Garden
Grow what you already eat — If you don’t like okra, you probably don’t buy okra, so don’t grow okra to save money. If you eat greens three times a week, plant greens.
Grow Florida-Friendly crops — Not all vegetable varieties grow well in Florida. Struggling plants come with extra costs and frustration, too. The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide is an excellent resource for choosing Florida-Friendly varieties. In some cases you might do better to plant a different species altogether, like Seminole pumpkins instead of traditional pumpkins.
Grow specialty and delicate crops — In general, organic, heirloom, and other specialty crops are more expensive to produce and harvest. And some crops, like strawberries, are tricky to ship, and quick to perish. Their sale price is often higher to compensate for the overhead and losses the growers experience. If you were already buying these higher-priced crops at the store it’s possible you could save money by growing them at home instead.
Start from seed — The most inexpensive way to grow plants is to start from seed, either by direct sowing or by starting transplants from seed indoors. The good news is that many heirloom seeds are available for free through local seed exchanges and library seed bank programs. Save seeds from your harvest and you’ll have free seed for next year.
Save the surplus — You don’t save any money by growing more food than you can eat. If you harvest more than you can use at one time, freeze or preserve your surplus. Or practice succession planting to spread out harvest time. Or swap with other gardeners (or just stop planting so much zucchini).
Know your crop — The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide can help you avoid losses by teaching you how to plant at the correct time, spacing, about rotating closely-related crops, and more. Integrated pest management (IPM) is another excellent resource. Practicing IPM strategies can stop pests from eating your produce before you can (and may save you money on pesticides).
Average Selling Prices of Common Vegetable Crops
Ever wondered what your rows of bush beans are worth? Below are the average selling prices for non-organic, fresh produce, sold in the southeast US from 2018 and 2019*. Keep in mind that the actual prices may vary dramatically from store to store and season to season.
We do not suggest using this table as a guide for any commercial enterprise, but for gardeners curious about what their home harvest is worth, we think the following might be interesting information.
|Crop||Yield per 10 feet (lbs)¹||Plants per 10 feet¹||Estimated yield per plant (lbs)||ASP per pound²||ASP per plant||ASP per 10 feet|
¹ Yield and spacing data were taken from the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. Average retail price data were not available for arugula, lima beans, endive, kohlrabi, bunching onions, shallots, snow and English peas, Swiss chard, and turnips. All other data for these vegetables (yield, spacing, etc.) are available in the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
² Average retail prices reflect non-organic, fresh produce, sold in the southeast US between 2018 and 2019 as reported by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Where multiple varieties exist (i.e. red, white, and yellow potatoes) they have been averaged together. Prices vary by location within the southeast.
* These prices are from the USDA Economic Research Service’s reported average retail process (2018) for the entire US rather than the southeastern US.
If saving money is your primary reason for vegetable gardening, there are other ways to save money in your landscape. You can plant trees to save energy, decrease your water consumption, make your own compost, or enjoy gardening therapy for free. Planting a Moneywise Garden has tips and tricks for saving money as you garden, too.
For answers to your other gardening questions, we always suggest contacting the experts at your county Extension office.
With renewed interest in growing produce at home, we've developed a series of articles, "Sustainable Home Food Production," to get you started.