Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Save Money in 2009: Grow Vegetables from Seed

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: save money, seeds, gardens, planting, farm, vegetables,

 The numbers are in for 2008 and they look good for the seed industry. They look even better for folks who want to grow vegetables from seed and save money in 2009.

1933 Oscar Will Seed Catalog front Cover

By some estimates, garden seed, especially vegetable seed sales, were up by anywhere from 40 percent to well over 100 percent compared with recent years. In fact, some industry watchdog organizations suggest that seed companies in North America and much of Europe experienced their best year ever in 2008. We’re talking record seed sales … AND they project another record for 2009.

So, what is the fuss all about?

Easy, people are looking for a safer food supply, while adapting to a tighter economic outlook. If you have never grown a vegetable garden, or started your own garden plants, there’s still plenty of time to save money in 2009 by growing your vegetables from seed. If you are like me, you will be amazed, and thrilled, by all the different varieties of vegetable species from which to choose. If you are looking for that little early-maturing tomato called Bison from your youth, you can find seed and save money by growing your own in 2009.

 Victory Garden offering from the Oscar Will Catalog in 1944.

Even the American government recognized the value that a garden-growing public could offer to a war-embroiled and slow economy. They no doubt also recognized the community building value in making it easy for folks to grow with one another in the garden patch. At those times, it was much more important to feed the folks at home and share the excess with others than to worry about E. coli-infested spinach … oh, that’s right, we hadn’t pushed our agricultural production models so far, back then, that E. coli and other fairly benign microbes had yet to figure out how to be pathogenic.

Our government called those programs War Gardens during World War I and Victory Gardens during World War II. I don’t know what to call the new wave of gardening frenzy, but I do know that it is exciting, and will, no doubt, play a role in healing our culture.

When you consider that a package of tomato seed might set you back a couple of bucks, and that you might get 50 viable seeds in that pack, it doesn’t take much math to figure out that you can grow hundreds of pounds of tomato fruit from that $2 pack of seeds. Even if you factor in the value of a little labor (it can be hand labor, mind you), a small piece of ground, a source of supplemental water and a few miscellaneous supplies, those tomatoes will be cheaper than cheap. But more importantly, the growing, nurturing, eating and processing will pay that elusive dividend of extreme satisfaction; no amount of store-bought or farm-stand-bought tomatoes CAN EVER bring that. Farm-stand tomatoes, when grown locally, do have added value in the dividend department, because at least you are supporting the local economy at its root level.

 GRIT Editor Hank Will, his sister Maika and cousins graced the back cover of the 1958 Oscar Will Seed catalog.

Add the pleasure you will receive from spending time AT HOME and WITH FRIENDS and LOVED ONES working in, marveling at, and generally enjoying your garden, and those tomatoes pay even more. And if you happen to have an extra-giant bounty, think of the joy those tomatoes will bring as you share them with others in need … or sell to pay for that tank of propane when winter arrives.

The way I see it, if the pleasure from that $2 pack of tomato seed replaced the pleasure of just one latte at the local coffee shop and the fuel needed to drive there and back, you are at least $10 ahead. That’s right, folks, vegetable gardens can pay big time if you only let them.

If you are skeptical of my analysis, check out Paul Gardener’s personal blog and follow his annual fresh food tally. He and his family produce a significant dollar-value of crops in minimal growing space. And they don’t factor the weight of family fun, joy, etc., into the formula to inflate those numbers.

Look for all kinds of gardening resources on this website and at Mother Earth News for everything you need to know about how to prepare for and plant a vegetable garden from seed that will save you money in 2009.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

5/14/2009 4:20:54 AM

Thanks for sharing this. The current economic situation has teached us on how to save and use money wisely. The bailouts and economic meltdowns have affected millions of people across the world. People may have want to get cash advance loans. Cash advance loans, or any kind of loans for that matter, is an amount of money given to someone predicated on the idea that they are going to pay them back, either all at once or over installments. The financial market has been getting their fair share of cash advances lately, that's for sure, and it hasn't slowed any job loss. Cash advance or payday loans, however, are far more available than normal financing, and debt report studies have repeatedly shown that cash advance loans do work as debt relief in the short term.

1/8/2009 5:35:12 AM

Hey there Dennis! Nice to see someone from Illinois here .. we have a home in St. Charles and also Iuka (near Salem). Hope you are keeping warm! Debbie in Illinios :-)

hank will_1
1/7/2009 7:51:51 PM

Hey Dennis -- Great to hear from you. I am really impressed by your generosity with the garden plot donation. I can imagine that it might be a bit of a pain at times, but the food, community and connection with the earth that results from that gift is, well, priceless :) You know I am also a machinery junkie ... I really hope they never my diesel engines away ... Thanks too for all the educational resources and tips. Don't be a stranger. Hank

dennis miller
1/7/2009 6:54:31 PM

I set aside about 1 acre from the regular farm so a few/neighbors friends and church group can have a garden. I have to admit I'm out of touch with small scale gardening, but I remember using a cheap digital space heater under the flats to keep the soil warm till emergence. Set it for 82° and it did it's duty. My first real greenhouse was made out of about 12 discarded double-paned patio doors. I believe there was room for 40+ flats. But 6 flats (up to 432 plants) will fit inside a lean-to house made with one patio door and plywood ends (and the little space heater). Advice: 1) Study study study! Go to the www veggie depts of Ohio State U, Mich State, and Cal Davis and begin clicking, reading, and emailing questions. Learn and be ye not discouraged lest your garden fall prey to the lawn mower. 2) Find a Specialty Crop Growers Convention and attend all classes possible (usually January). There is tons upon tons of valuable info there on than the classes and handouts - seed companies, implement dealers, irrigation equipment, nurseries and greenhouses, etc. Plus loads of people just like you! 3) Call your County Extension Office and ask them for everything. Order the Crop Growers Guide (bible) for your area. Wintertime is for reading. Also ask about the local Garden Mastor and a veggie farm you might visit (for the purpose of education, experience, and encouragement). 4) Find a fellow farmer/gardener with the love of planting your little children and watching them grow. I'm a self driven loner that has an extreme tractor addiction that pushes me but some folks need a little company. I could go on and on but this is a blog... Good luck, good planting, and watch the weather. Dennis - Ofallon, Illinois

paul gardener
1/7/2009 5:26:26 PM

I'd love to collaborate if you'd like. I've been writing about this from my perspective for a couple of years now and was a big fan of this project even before the site went up. I think I was one of the first ten members and was actually named the "Freedom Gardener of the month" back in August. I was thinking of putting something up about it, but would love to just add my two cents. If so, email me. I should be home soon. P~

hank will_2
1/7/2009 5:18:30 PM

Sounds more like the Revolution has begun, Paul. 1930 members ... I really think that the healing power of growing your own food is real. I will check out the site. I think I am hatching a plan for tomorrow's blog ... unless you are already on it.

paul gardener
1/7/2009 5:11:52 PM

Ok Hank, get ready for this one... The reason I said to Google the name Freedom Gardens, is because it will return a link to a site called . This is a free site that is currently building an online community between other "Freedom Gardeners" all over the world. It was introduced in 2008 by the Dervaes family (Path to Freedom) from Pasadena CA and has, get this one, over 1930 members. These are people growing their own Freedom gardens world wide. The movement HAS begun! If anyone decides to drop by and check it out, feel free to drop me a line, you can find me as "Cornergardener." Thanks again for bringin up this topic! P~

hank will_2
1/7/2009 4:46:03 PM

Thanks for the kind words Debbie. The Freedom Garden concept could become a very healing therapy for our country, I think. Can you imagine if 50 people planted vegetable gardens this year and called them Freedom Gardens? Friends, they may think it is a movement ....

1/7/2009 4:30:09 PM

Excellent post and GREAT information .. the pictures are really cool also (what adorable children!) I am working on the details for my Freedom Gardens and it keeps my mind busy with all this snow outside. We were able to acquire three 55 gallon barrels from a food service establishment and they were free - they are waiting for us in the barn down south.

hank will_2
1/7/2009 3:38:10 PM

Hey Paul -- I really appreciate your words. There is something visceral about gardening for me ... I was never disciplined enough to really quantify our bounty. I think concrete measures can make a huge difference at times. I once got a campus to start recycling when I did a simple calculation about their trash impact. I converted the cubic feet of compressed trash (based on number of full truckloads they tipped at the landfill each day)to a depth measure on a playing field. What's funny to me, is that when I was in college in the 1970s, I gardened in vacant city lots near my apartment. I worried more than a little about lead and other stuff in the beets and onions ... but I still had to garden. Wow, I love Freedom Garden ... That is perfect ... thanks for the heads up.

hank will_2
1/7/2009 3:19:55 PM

Erin -- Cool about the little greenhouse. For rain barrels see if you can score any plastic (or metal) 55 gallon drums at the University. I made rain barrels out of empty 55-gallon ethanol drums from the supply room when I was in graduate school. I wouldn't have used them if they had contained methanol or ethyl acetate or any of a number of other bulk chemicals. Otherwise, see if you can get some used blue 55 gallon plastic drums used in the food service. It's pretty easy to plumb them into existing downspouts ... assuming the building owner is cool with it ;)

paul gardener
1/7/2009 2:17:41 PM

Thanks Hank for talking about this! It's a topic very near and dear to me. We started growing more and more of our own food a few years back and as the successes have come, tempered by failures too of course, we've only become more in favor of it. It gives us the ability to feel secure with our food supply, frees us from worry about "tainted" foods and allows us to help others out with fresh produce in tight times. There is a new name for these gardens that I've seen bandied about... "Freedom Gardens" (google it) and I think it sums up the idea very well. I could go on and on, and maybe I will; I have a new Grit post in mind. Great post.. P~

erin c. midtlyng
1/7/2009 2:16:26 PM

It was a gift, so no I didn't make it - we're speculating on making one for the yard though! It's about 12 x 18 inches, with a plastic tray with 15 sections, and a vented plastic cover. I think it's from the Gardner's Supply catalog - same place where I got my inspiration for the shelves. Any advice on rain barrels?

hank will_2
1/7/2009 1:44:13 PM

That is very cool, Erin. Did you make the little greenhouse? If so, how did you do it? Seed Savers is an excellent place in general ... Robert DeVault, the new director there used to write quite a bit for us. It is kind of fun to find that some of your great great grandfather's seeds are still available here and there, isn't it.

erin c. midtlyng
1/7/2009 8:28:51 AM

Hey Dad, We started our garden from seed last year, with a fair amount of success (especially the cabbage). I started the seeds in a tiny greenhouse under a plant light and everything sprouted ahead of normal timing - I highly recommend it. I think we're going to order from Seed Savers in Iowa this year to get some heirloom stock - they know a fair amount about our old seed company too!