Is Growing Your Own Food Really Cheaper?

Food gardens are increasingly popular—even for folks without a green thumb. But is growing your own fruits and vegetables worth it?

Whether they call it a victory garden, a micro-farm, or just “that collection of pots on your front porch,” more and more people are choosing to grow their own produce at home. If you’ve been thinking about giving this trendy, eco-conscious hobby a shot, check out our guide to gardening on the cheap.

Rows of plants in a garden

Is a Food Garden a Good Investment?

Food gardening can offer an astonishing return on investment. According to the National Gardening Association, a $70 investment in home food gardening can yield, on average, a $600 return. That’s over 750%!

“These numbers are based on a $2 per pound in-season market price of produce grown in a national average garden size of 600 square feet with typical yields from the most popular vegetables,” said NGA Director of Research Bruce Butterfield.

Planting vegetables

If you plant heirloom fruits and vegetables, you’ll be able to save the seeds, reducing the cost year after year. You can still save seeds from hybrid produce, but you might not get the result you want. Hybrid plants aren’t necessarily sterile, but they may produce seeds that lead to underperforming plants that are less hardy or flavorful.

In addition to saving money on your grocery bill, you could potentially earn a little cash on the side. If you have more produce than you can handle at home, you could potentially sell it for a profit. That’s particularly true if you devote part of your garden to a popular cash crop, such as arugula, that local farm-to-table restaurants want to buy. If you decide to pursue selling your crops for cash, you might want to stick with organic gardening as those veggies will sell for more money.

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Benefits Beyond the Bank

While your bottom line is important, there are lots of things in life that are more important than money. Gardening has been proven to benefit your health, from increasing your vitamin D levels to reducing your risk for dementia! It’s also a great way to get some exercise—just don’t overdo it and wear sun protection. Gardening can bust stress and boost your mood, too.

Woman watering vegetable garden

Growing a food garden is something that you can enjoy with your family, friends, neighbors, and community. Whether you’re sharing the bounty of your harvest or tending the beds together, plants bring people together. You’ll also be able to enjoy the freshest, most nutritious veggies and fruits.

Finally, there are the environmental benefits of growing your own food. A kitchen garden can offset your carbon footprint. That’s because you won’t be driving to the store to buy food that, in turn, has been shipped and trucked to your hometown.

Downsides of Gardening

Growing a garden is a commitment. You’ll need to be prepared for early morning watering throughout the growing season. If you go on vacation, you’ll have to get someone to take care of your plants while you’re gone. It can be hard work, especially on days when the weather turns hot and muggy.

Working in a garden

There’s always a chance that your crops won’t turn out the way you hoped. You might battle a bug infestation—such as tomato hornworms—or face unfavorable weather. And if you’re not an experienced gardener already, coping with those problems can be a major source of stress.

Finally, consider the fact that your garden will only become profitable over time. When you first get started, you’ll need to buy tools, soil, and plants or seeds. You may also need to buy pots, lumber, or cinderblocks if you want to do container or raised bed gardening. As you gain more experience, you’ll lose fewer plants to pests or disease and enjoy better harvests. If you’re on the fence about food gardening, just start with potted herbs and see how you like it.

Startup Costs for Your Food Garden

Before you put a single seed in the ground, you’ll need to lay some groundwork for your garden. That starts with doing some homework. Do you know which USDA Plant Hardiness zone you live in? Is your soil sandy, or does it contain a lot of clay? Will the spot you pick for your garden get enough sunlight? You can find the answers to a lot of these questions online. I particularly like watching YouTube videos from more experienced gardeners. You can also check out books at your local library to learn more about gardening basics. However, there’s no real substitute for hands-on learning.

Raised bed gardens

Don’t worry too much about buying a lot of fancy tools. You can do a lot with a hand trowel and a pair of pruning shears (or kitchen scissors). If you plan to grow directly in the ground, you’ll need a spade and a garden rake as well.

Raised beds require something to build retaining walls; make sure that you don’t use chemically treated wood, such as from pallets. Here’s a great guide to building DIY raised beds. And, of course, you’ll need dirt! Look for topsoil or garden soil, not potting soil. You may be able to find a better deal with a local garden supply company over buying bagged soil.

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The Best Plants for Kitchen Gardens

Ready to start planting? These plants are some of the best, most popular choices for food gardens. Make sure that you pick seeds suited to your hardiness zone and pay attention to the recommended planting times.


You’ll definitely save money by growing your own basil, oregano, mint, rosemary, and other culinary herbs. Fresh herbs are pretty pricey at the grocery store, and dried herbs—though cheaper—aren’t as versatile. When grown in pots, they don’t take up much space and can even be grown by people living in apartments. Best of all, many herbs are perennials, meaning that they’ll come back year after year.

You can start your herb garden with potted plants or seeds. Generally, I’d recommend that any herbs with a woody stem (such as rosemary or thyme) be purchased as plants since they take longer to start from seed. Basil and mint, on the other hand, will grow quickly from seeds. You can either grab a few fresh leaves or sprigs as needed or cut back some of your herbs during the growing season to dry them. Near the end of the season, let your plants flower and then collect the seeds for next year. Some herbs, such as basil, can also be easily propagated in water.


It’s surprisingly easy to grow lettuce at home, even in a small container garden. You can order seeds for a wide variety of lettuces that aren’t usually available at the grocery store. If you harvest the outer leaves of the plant but leave the rest of it intact, it’ll just keep growing! You can grab a fresh daily salad for pennies on the dollar compared to bagged lettuce from the store.

If you’re a spinach fan, however, you may find that it’s a little trickier to grow. It grows quickly, but it’s finicky about temperature. Spinach prefers cool weather, so you can try growing it in spring or fall—but not summer.


harvesting tomatoes

A single healthy tomato plant can produce upwards of eight pounds in a growing season. That’s a lot of tomatoes! In fact, unless you have a plan in place for using all of those tasty fruits, you might find yourself overwhelmed—or worse, letting the produce rot. Tomatoes also attract some tenacious pests, so be ready to defend your crops.

That being said, you can get tomato plants for about $5 at your local garden center. Supports are fairly easy to DIY rather than buying special cages to take the weight of all those tomatoes. If you make a lot of sauces and salsas, then go ahead and plant tomatoes! However, if you don’t eat fresh tomatoes very often in your regular diet, then it might be kind of a waste to grow your own.

Zucchini and Summer Squash

In my opinion, zucchini is one of the best crops you can grow in your kitchen garden. They grow well from seed—and fast, too. These squashes freeze well, unlike many other fresh vegetables. In addition, you can bake with zucchini or make trendy “zoodles” as a pasta substitute. You can also eat the blossoms themselves, which are considered a delicacy. Check out this list of recipes for squash blossoms and tell me you’re not tempted!

Most often, zucchini is grown as a vine along the ground. To prevent the fruit from sitting in water, plant the seeds in a raised mound and mulch underneath the plants. It’s also possible to train zucchini to grow on a trellis, making it easier to harvest.

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