One of the most common questions I get from potential clients who are interested in starting their own vegetable gardens is, "How much does it cost?" Obviously, these people are looking for our sevices to assist them and want to know that cost. In this post I want to talk about how much it costs for those DIY gardeners out there.
The answer can vary widely depending on several factors. Let's break down the costs into categories to help you plan your garden budget effectively.
1. Location and Size: The location of your garden and its size play a significant role in determining the cost. If you have a backyard with suitable soil, you're off to a good start. But if you need to create a garden bed or use containers, expenses may increase. Building your own containers can help curb some costs depending on the material.
Consider the cost of land preparation, fencing (if necessary), and the amount of space you want to allocate for your garden. Obviously the larger the area, the more time and resources are needed. It is hard to narrow this category down into exact dollar amounts. There are so many factors that can play into it.
2. Seeds and Seedlings: The price of seeds and seedlings can vary, but it's generally quite affordable. You can save money by saving seeds from your own crops or by participating in seed swaps with other gardeners. Facebook groups and Instagram pages are filled with people and groups that focus on exchanging and swapping seeds. This is a great way to save money. It also is a great way to discover varieties that have been created by fellow gardeners.
Other people will sell or swap rooted cuttings - another way to propagate plants instead of through seed. The benefit here is that the plant is already rooted and growing vs you having to germinate a seed and hope it survives.
Price of a package of seeds approx $1-$3
Price of a rooted cutting
3. Soil Amendments: Depending on your soil's quality, you might need to invest in soil amendments like compost, organic matter, or fertilizers. These costs can range from minimal to substantial, depending on your soil's health. Florida soil is typically sandy and lacking in nutrients. Sandy soil does not hold water and nutrients well. Sandy soil also is a favorite for harmful nematodes. Adding amendments is essential to increasing yields and keeping plants healthy. Since vegetable and other fruiting plants require more energy to grow, they also require a higher amount of nutrients in the soil to support that growth.
The cheapest soil amendment is to create your own compost. This is relatively easy. Simply place all small sized yard waste and MOST of your table food scraps into a container. Then give it some time to break down into nutrient rich compost. This can be quite time demanding and is not going to help new gardeners with soil amendments they need right away.
The next option is to buy compost. The price will vary depending on where you are at. I recommend avoiding big box stores. Sometimes farmers or other homesteaders will sell compost that is both cheaper and probably less likely to have unwanted chemicals in it.
Expect to pay $5-$10 per cubic foot of compost
Another consideration is that soil may have a pH that is too high or too low. Adding compost or other organic materials typically brings the pH closer to nuetral. However, many fruiting plants like soils that are slightly acidic. Blueberries like very acidic soil. Testing your soil's pH can help you determine if there are any amendments needed for what you intend to grow.
Simple at home test approx $20
More intricate testing kits can be close to $100
Some FL Department of Agriculture offices will test your soil for free
4. Tools and Equipment: Basic gardening tools like shovels, hoes, rakes, and pruners can be relatively inexpensive. However, the cost can add up if you invest in more specialized tools or need to purchase equipment like a tiller or a lawnmower.
Shovels, rakes, pruning tools, etc expect to pay anywhere from $25-$75 a tool depending on the quality and brand
Gas powered tools like chainsaws, edgers, string trimmers, etc expect to pay anywhere from $300-$400 depending on the brand and power.
5. Watering System: The cost of a watering system depends on whether you use a simple hose and watering can or invest in a drip irrigation system. Water conservation is important, but setting up an irrigation system may require an initial investment. Paying someone to add or change existing irrigation is also expensive. Obviously, standing in your garden with a hose is the cheapest option. But it is also time consuming.
Simple irrigation systems may only cost a few hundred dollars while more intricate systems can easiliy be a few thousand dollars.
6. Pest and Disease Control: You may need to invest in pest control measures like fencing, netting, or organic pesticides. The cost can vary greatly depending on your local pest and disease pressures. We always recommend allowing your garden to become an ecosystem. In this fashion, the garden will establish its own system of check and balances through benefitial predators. Once an ecosystem is established, the need for pest control is greatly reduced. Many gardeners don't ever have to use chemical methods at this point.
Some garden pests don't have as many natural predators as others. These pests may require more invasive methods. Check out our forum category "Gardening Friends and Foes" for more information on how to handle specific pests.
7. Time and Effort: While not a direct monetary cost, it's essential to consider the time and effort you'll invest. Gardening can be time-consuming, and you should ask yourself if the rewards are worth it. Many vegetable gardeners are doing it for fun. Some do it so they don't have to rely on the food supply we are given here in America. Some may do it for health reasons. Either way, there is hard work that goes into vegetable gardening.
8. Harvest and Preservation: The cost of harvesting and preserving your produce depends on the scale of your garden and your chosen methods. Canning, freezing, or drying your harvest can involve additional costs. This is assuming that you are growing enough to put away in storage. Often times, new gardeners are not familiar with how many plants are needed to sustain a person - or even a family - over a period of time. If you do have enough to store away, then the costs associated with preservation become real. There has been a spike in the price of these items recently. Canning jars were almost impossible to find during the COVID19 pandemic.
Vacuum sealer $50-$200
Pressure Canning Device $150-$400
Glass canning jars and lids $15-$30
Freezing - deep freezers $200 and up
9. Education and Resources: Books, classes, and online resources can be valuable, but they come with their own costs. Social media is your best free resource. But also is not a verfiable resource. There are many experts out there willing to help, but not everyone willing to help is an expert.
10. Unexpected Expenses: Remember that unexpected expenses can arise, such as replacing tools, dealing with crop failures, or tackling unforeseen pest problems.
In the end, the cost of a vegetable garden varies from person to person and location to location. Some gardeners might get started with a minimal budget, while others might invest significantly in creating a more elaborate garden setup.
The good news is that gardening can be as budget-friendly or as extravagant as you make it. Whether you're on a tight budget or have more resources to invest, growing your vegetables at home can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to enjoy fresh, organic produce. The main driving factor here is time. If you want everything to be perfect and growing right away, you have to invest more. If you want the garden to be built over time, you will invest less.
If you would like help planning and starting your vegetable garden, feel free to reach out to us. We can provide consultations as well as the labor for installations. We have many free resources on our website that will be useful. So make sure you check them all out.
Lastly, head on over to our shop to see if we have any plants in our online nursery that will fit in your garden. We sell many native plants as well as plants useful in edible gardening. Check it out HERE.
Feel free to share your own experiences and tips on keeping the costs down while maintaining a thriving garden!