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Vegetable Gardening for Profit

How one gardener cut nearly $500 off her grocery bill with suburban vegetable gardening.

| July/August 2014

  • Tomatoes, squash, zucchini and green beans all start to roll into the bounty basket come late summer.
    Photo by iStockphoto/DoraZett
  • A healthy zucchini plant in the prime of the season sports five healthy looking zukes.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Leptospira
  • Raised beds perform beautifully in the suburban backyard.
    Photo by iStockphoto/youngvet
  • Pepper seedlings uncurl from their seed coats, reaching for the grow light a day or two after first starting to sprout. Left to right, varieties are Paprika, Candy Apple, and Nikita.
    Photo by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti
  • Peat pellets are often encircled by a biodegradable netting. It's helpful to remove this netting prior to repotting.
    Photo by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti
  • Lettuces continue to thrive in a container bed in a sunny window in spring.
    Photo by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti
  • The foliage of a blueberry bush turns rich reds in fall.
    Photo by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti
  • Genovese basil has large, meaty leaves and a peppery scent. It is often used in cooking.
    Photo by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti

As gardeners, we all suspect that our efforts are saving us money. After all, the work, patience and worry that go into producing a vine-ripened tomato or a perfect zucchini must yield some monetary savings as well, right? Being a bit of a data nerd, I set out to prove the value proposition of vegetable gardening in my own backyard.

It’s important to note that mine is not the story of someone who achieved complete food independence after buying five acres in rural America. My husband and I live on a corner suburban lot that measures .71 acre, just south of Dayton, Ohio (growing Zone 5b); healthy for the suburbs, but certainly not what anyone would call a “farm.” In addition, most of that land is not able to be cultivated. Given what I know of the township’s rather zealous lawn-mowing regulations, I feel pretty confident that we would risk citation if we tried to plow up the sunny front yard or do much more than grow a few attractive herbs out there.

That leaves us with the well-fenced backyard, much of which is shaded by mature pines and oaks. Our total gardening space is 650 square feet of tillable ground, plus four raised beds that masquerade as flower beds. Our “micro-farm” is dotted with a couple of blueberry bushes and an assortment of container-sized fruit trees that are more entertaining than productive. We extend the season with a southwest-facing sunroom and a few sunny windowsills.

My process was simple: For a year, I would keep a running spreadsheet of my garden expenditures and harvests. In expenditures, I would tally things like seeds, plants and peat moss that get used up over the course of a season. I don’t tally expenditures for “capital improvements” like a new tool; after all, “no gear, no hobby.”

The income tallies record ounces of each vegetable or fruit harvested, plus a retail value based on the closest equivalent price I could find at one of the grocery stores I frequent. I always use the price for organic produce if I can find one, since my garden is grown without any chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Since I consider my garden my most pleasant part-time job, my purpose was to prove how much money I saved over buying the equivalent amount of produce at a grocery store.


Snow blanketed the ground, and nothing was growing when my project started in January. The makeshift cold frame we built over one of the more hidden raised beds was too cold to even shelter leeks, and the unheated sunroom was not warm enough to support the planter box in which we grow lettuces.

5/9/2016 11:07:37 AM

Hey Jennifer - awesome story thanks for sharing! could you share roughly how much time you and your husband would spend a week working your garden?

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