I still hear people asking if it’s really worth it to grow your own food. Usually what they mean is “Is it cheaper?”. In our country this is how we evaluate nearly everything. By its cost in dollars. There are aspects of growing your own food that are difficult to quantify such as the benefit of choosing the variety of food you grow, knowing exactly what chemicals (if any) were used in their cultivation, and getting your food directly from the garden to the table in a matter of minutes or hours rather than days.
The cost of growing your food is much easier to quantify. You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you want. There will be a cost but you control how much you spend on garden tools and purchased compost and the seeds or plants themselves. Depending on where you live you may have to pay close attention to how much you spend on watering your garden. When I consider the cost of gardening I don’t include and then add in the cost of tools every time. You don’t replace your garden tools every year (unless you’re fighting off zombies with them) so I think of it like this: gardening requires an initial investment of some things like wheelbarrows, shovels, trowels, and clippers.
The cost of water is highly variable so it will be different where you live than where I live. Here in Oregon it’s a lot cheaper to water your garden than it is in California. You don’t have to start watering regularly until at least a month later than you have to in California. The water isn’t rationed here and we get so much of it falling during the spring that spring crops rarely need watering at all. In the southwest water is more expensive and precious than it is even in California. So there are places where this is definitely a bigger cost and concern for growing your own food. I will counter this with the fact that there are a few ways to cut down on watering your vegetables (drip lines, heavy mulching, and under-planting come to mind).
If you’re gardening smart then you aren’t buying compost for your garden, you’re making it. Fertilizers can also be made from things in the garden such as comfrey (you make a comfrey tea to pour on the plants). Depending on where you live you can also get free horse/cow/goat manure from people who keep such animals. This might be hard if you’re gardening in a large city but even most cities have farmland not far outside of it where such things as free manure can be found. When I set up a garden initially I do buy a large quantity of compost because I always do raised beds and I have to buy soil to fill them with. After that I don’t buy compost and I rarely buy fertilizers or pest control products either. So my yearly garden expenses aren’t very high once I’ve set my garden up.
I’m mentioning all of that because I want to acknowledge that there are a lot of costs to consider when gardening but most people with gardens are already spending all that money whether they’re growing vegetables or not. So it seems silly to me to quibble over those costs because the person who is gardening but not growing any of their own food is spending the same amount I am (probably more if they have any lawn) but they also have to buy more food than I do. So what if you were watering an artichoke plant where some lawn used to be? Or where a rhododendron used to be? How much would it save you to grow some artichokes of your own?
Here’s some artichoke math I was doing just yesterday:
I have 5 artichoke plants that I paid about $2.50 each for. This year I picked and ate 24 artichokes of varying size from those 5 plants. That means that each artichoke cost me .52 cents.
I saw some globe artichokes on sale at the store yesterday for $2.69 each. I recall that last month they cost $3.69 each.
24 home grown artichokes cost a total of $12.50
24 store bought artichokes on sale cost a total of $64.56
Even when you consider that my home grown artichokes were much smaller than those enormous ones at the store – the math still works out in favor of home grown. The truth is, I didn’t buy those artichoke plants this year. I planted them last year and they did yield artichokes but I didn’t count them and I didn’t eat them because I was not paying attention to my garden enough and they flowered before I could pick them. The plants died down and then they came back this spring. And just for the record – I didn’t water them once. So this year I actually paid nothing for those 24 artichokes.
One other thing to note is that size is NOT superior when it comes to artichokes. It turns out that those small artichokes – the baby ones – they haven’t matured enough to develop the inedible choke yet – which means that more of the leaves are edible and tender. I’m telling you – they are wonderful!
I love artichoke math.
Why not plant some artichokes for yourself if you haven’t already?