Can growing your own food save you money?
There are nay sayers that say it costs so much to set up a vegetable garden, to buy a polytunnel, compost, pots etc., that if you’re growing your own to save money then you’re wasting your time.
Peter Donegan wrote a well researched post back in January this year where he pointed out how cheap it was to buy vegetables in supermarkets. The cost of veg that have been grown for you can be ridiculously low – why would you bother growing your own when you can pick it up for next to nothing?
As a small time grower I can’t help but wonder how a farmer makes any money (do they?) How much does she or he take home from a 49c pack of parsnips I wonder? When you take into account the shopkeepers cut, transport, distribution, packaging – and that’s all after the cost of the farmers employee wages, seeds, propagation – it begs the question why does anybody still farm? It’s also a reminder of why we should support local food producers when we can if we want them to stay in business – the majority of us don’t grow enough veg to see us through an entire year so need to shop for it, usually out of season.
The cost implications of growing vegetables in containers can’t be ignored either i.e., the cost of the pot, compost and plants or seeds (can be €20 or more) versus the cost of a kilo bag of vegetables grown for you. These points are valid considerations when working out whether you will save money by growing your own.
So how do you save money by growing your own?
The important point that Peter made however, and my argument for the saving money case, was the fact that it depends upon how you go about growing your own as to whether it will save you money.
If you grow your own the way our parents and grandparents used to – straight into the soil, no fancy or expensive equipment – then yes it will save you money. What qualifies me to say that? Because we did it in Leighlin Parish community garden this year and it’s how I learnt to grow my own food here.
We didn’t keep a diary of costs, but other than the initial purchase of seeds and one bag of compost that wasn’t used, some bamboo sticks and netting, the overall spend at Leighlinbridge was very low. The wood and well-rotted manure were donated, the labour was free (i.e. the gardeners). We also had access to lots of free topsoil though we would have managed perfectly well without it as the soil in the garden is beautiful. The tools, netting and structures will all be used next year and there are enough seeds to last another year or two.
Gardening ‘the old way’ can be more challenging and it’s not for the faint hearted. Your outcomes are much more dependant upon the weather conditions – both in terms of growth and how much work you feel like doing.
At Leighlinbridge we were certainly tested in terms of the cold, wind and rain. The beauty of gardening with others in a slightly structured way is that it doesn’t matter if it rains, you’re getting wet with a bunch of other people who will find a way of making it a cheerful experience whatever! As one of the jovial gardeners pointed out “sure if you let the rain in Ireland stop you doing anything you’d be at nothing.” As it happens, this garden had one of the most bountiful harvests I’ve seen this year. A polytunnel would have been a welcome addition in that we were limited with the vegetables we could grow – no tomatoes or peppers for instance, but we managed.
Back to the point… can you save money growing your own? Yes you can. Jono from the Real Men Sow blog kept a month by month spread sheet in 2011 and showed us that he saved £470… or approx €587 at today’s rates.
Aside from the monetary savings, there are hidden savings too. Once you start harvesting the vegetables you’ve grown, you wont need to visit the shops as often and thereby wont be tempted to throw lots of unnecessary items in your trolley. Not to mention the taste, satisfaction and health benefits that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.
Forty eight euro a month may not sound much in the grand scheme of things, but with so many families struggling, and more families resorting to ‘cornflake days’ every little bit helps. If your financial situation isn’t as bad as those families, imagine if you redirected that €48 into a piggy bank every month – it would have the Christmas booze paid for, the hair doo every couple of months, the satellite tv paid for, lunch every week with a friend or even more plants to brighten up your garden.
When times are tough, anything we can do to save some cash so that we can still afford those little luxuries has to be worth it, don’t you think?