Growing your own – does it really save you money?

Gardener with vegetables

Around a quarter of us are growing our own food, according to our latest survey. And our primary motivation, it seems, is money – or rather, the lack of it. But does growing your own actually save much money?

Six in ten respondents said that a rise in food prices meant they were trying to be more economical by growing their own, with two in ten saying they had less disposable income to spend on food. The rest (33%) are trying to eat more healthily.

I’ve got a part share in an allotment, and for a few short and blissful weeks this summer I am enjoying being self sufficient in soft fruit, potatoes, Swiss chard, courgettes and runner beans. So are all of my friends and neighbours – thanks to gluts of the above crops.

But I haven’t really noticed that my purse is any fuller as a result, and I still seem to be shopping as much as I did before. So can growing our own really save us money?

Our grow your own test

According to the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, a 250sq m plot of fruit and veg is “worth” £1,362 a year – the figure would be considerably less just for veg (soft fruit gives the best return, as it’s always expensive to buy).

However, most of us don’t have an allotment and have limited room for growing, so is harvesting veg from a small space really going to save anyone any money?

Steve Mercer, Which? Gardening’s veg guru, recently ran a 1m x 2m trial vegetable plot over the course of a year for Which? Gardening magazine. While he crammed in an impressive array of crops, he says that the harvests only really supplemented one or two family meals a week in the growing season.

Steve points out that the real savings come from growing veg that’s expensive in the shops. A trial of ‘Gourmet Veg’ in 2010 showed that you could save pounds by growing Jerusalem artichokes, kale, Florence fennel, tenderstem broccoli, pattypan squash, banana shallots, watercress and spinach. But arguably these veg, while tasty, are probably best considered ‘treats’ – they’re not family staples.

Have you saved money?

I must say, I’m feeling pretty smug every time I see tiny punnets of raspberries on sale at extortionate prices at the moment. But if I worked out what I’ve spent on fruit bushes, plants, horticultural fleece, cloches, netting, tools, preserving pans, cellophane discs, Tupperware containers and extra ingredients for the recipes I’m making with the produce I’ve harvested, I’ll be surprised if I’ve saved any money. I could even be down on the deal.

Not that I’m complaining. I grow my own for the pleasure of growing, eating and sharing organic food – not to save money. Which is probably just as well.

Do you grow your own, and if so, why? Do you think you have saved money?

Comments
Profile photo of plruk
Member

Food is worth growing as when you harvest it, it is fresher than when bought from a shop and tastes better. Herbs such as parsley are worth growing as if you have several parsley plants you can pick a little from each and it doesn’t harm the plants and has a much better flavour than parsley from a supermarket, even better than the parsley plants sold in such places for a £1 or more.

Profile photo of ChrisGloucester
Member

piruk,
I agree and would add that it’s not hard to gain sufficiently to provide a free pastime or hobby.
As for saving money well you might save a little but the real pleasure is the achievement of producing something probably better than you’d buy at what is all in all a pretty low price, if not completely free.

Profile photo of frugal ways
Member

Mother nature provides all the things you are buying, for free!
Why do you buy fruit bushes?
Visit any local area and you will find them growing naturally – a foot long stalk of blackberry/raspberry, strip off the bottom 6 inches of leaves and branches, push into the ground six inches deep, hey presto, you’ll have blackberry/raspberry bushes coming out of your ears.
For other produce, the best seeds are obtained from your local market fruit and veg stall. Why pay seed prices when with a little effort you can get them for free?

Every year, my tomato seeds (for example) come from the old damaged tomatoes that my regular fruit and veg market stall are throwing away. 1 tomato produces enough seeds for around 30 plants. Wash the seeds, dry them overnight, plant out in large covered tubs, months later they are growing flowers and fruit.
Plants/flowers come from cuttings from other people’s gardens. I have yet to have someone refuse to let me take a cutting or two when I ask. This way I can see what they look like rather than trust a photograph, I can also smell them, so the scent if I like it, plays a part.
Potato peelings can be grown (providing they are not supermarket potatoes that do not root because chemicals are used in growing them abroad) with the aid of a little bit of rooting powder.
You’d be amazed the amount of times that people have told me they didn’t realise that the seeds they eat in fruit and veg can be grown!

As for your buying of horticultural fleeces, cloches, preserving pans, cellophane discs, etc, none of this is really neccessary.
Think back to how food was grown in years gone by – how ever did they manage without cellophane discs? (you have old cds knocking about, tie them to string?)
Horticultural fleeces? You have grass cuttings/leaves? Use them, they not only protect your plants from frost, they also feed the soil.
I’ll now have to go and search engine “preserving pans” – I suspect you use them for making jams/jellies? If so, ask your neighbours for any old pans they are replacing and use them?

I’m far from a gardening expert, I save a bundle by not falling for the marketing world’s bumph. I too started growing (or trying to grow) various fruit and vegetables, mainly because I prefer the non chemical taste of growing my own.
I generate no carbon emissions when digging potatoes up and carrying them into my kitchen. Any food waste goes on the compost heap (protected by an old carpet to help it breakdown) I have fresh seasonal food, which tastes as it should and it increases my CHOICE, which as always, saves my family money.

Profile photo of Victoria Pearson
Member

My experience of growing my own is that it only really pays off if you are regimented about harvesting thigs – my mange touts are now on the verge of becomming monster peas and I have a forest of purlpe kale that looks beautiful but is somewhat less than delicious. In my garden I also have a loac of lovely flower leeks, self-seeded from the leeks I failed to harvest 3 years ago!
I’m really only at the beginning of my grow-my-own career. In previous years I loved the taste of the potatos and sweetcorn I grew, but I found that lack of space meant I planted only a small proportion of the seeds in each packet that I bought and that of course wasn’t the most economical way to do it. I wasn’t in the country to plants seeds this spring so I bought some seed trays of different crops. I think that has turned out not to be a bad plan in terms of economy – I have eaten more in mange tout than I spent on the seed trays.
Mostly I would grow for taste and fun. Cost is not the reason for doing it for me.

Member
Sandra Manning says:
28 July 2011

I spent money on unnecessary equipment until I remembered that my grandparents produced lovely fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers without these aids and recommend using imagination and readily available sources (as suggested by ‘frugal ways’) to cut costs – which goes for containers too – e.g. a large plastic barrel or even a large plastic bag, with suitable holes supplied for drainage, may not look pretty, until rhubarb, potatoes or trailing plants appear. Grow produce in quantities that will be eaten; a few good sized beetroot go a long way and many crops, such as courgettes, runner beans and spinach can be eaten raw whilst young, which also has the advantage of encouraging yield. Some Local Authorities provide excellent recycled soil improvers if needed and there are inexpensive sources for finding out about companion crops and rotation, too.

Member
jez jensen says:
28 July 2011

dis is a well stoopid idea. If u got loadsa money to excavate some waste bit to grow sweetcorn, den yeah, fair enough, but it just aint cost effective unless your growing for the whole of bermondsey man! Anyway my mate fat dez tried it n the cats kept doin dere business dere!

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Member
MacyMoo says:
29 July 2011

This has got to be a joke, it had me in stitches!

Profile photo of Ben Stevens
Member

My dad got fed up with waiting for a council allotment and removed himself from the five year waiting list and found a private patch seven miles from his home. It costs him at least four times the amount that the council run allotment would have, and he reckons he spends £24 per week on fuel trundling out there.
I don’t expect his grocery bills to have got any smaller but his wasteline has and he seems much much healthier, generally, and he enjoys the fresh air and time alone.
He has at least saved some money by not investing in the horticultural fleeces, cloches, netting, tools, preserving pans and cellophane discs that some might have.

Member
Still_Learning says:
28 July 2011

Our Outdoor Space

I long since learned that growing your own, does not lower your food bill but having said that, it can make you quite fit. My mother has rented an allotment from our local authority for more than 20 years at what I can only describe as peppercorn rent; helping to prepare the site for plants going in, trying to keep on top of weeding plus watering during dry weather is hard work, (our site does not allow the use of hosepipes) in fact all that work is much harder than a session at the gym. So I no longer think of it as mum’s other garden but now fondly call it our outdoor gym. To keep that level of fitness without paying gym membership fees is worth every penny and baring pest and disease plants we have the added advantage of fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement our diet, yet another thing I’ve never been offered at the gym.

Profile photo of Veronica Peerless
Member

I seem to be getting some stick for buying stuff for my allotment, so let me explain…
Without horticultural fleece, I would have no brassicas or leeks, as they would have been eaten by various pests. Without netting I would have no soft fruit.
The cloches are cheap ones from B&Q. The preserving pan and cellophane disks were for making jam – the pan is a one-off investment that will serve me well.
Apart from that my co-allotmenteer and I make use of old buckets, old squash balls, an old TV arial for veg to climb up, old window panes as makeshift mini greenhouses and bamboo canes from my mate’s garden, etc etc. We also save seed from year to year.
There is a hell of a lot of very expensive stuff out there aimed at people growing their own – raised bed kits that cost over £100, dinner party veg kits etc etc… it’s becoming an ‘industry’ in itself.
I guess a lot of the money that I’ve spent this year won’t need to be spent again, but I still reckon I’m not saving masses of money. But as I said, I’m growing my own for pleasure, sanity, fresh air, fitness, no air miles and as much soft fruit as I can possibly eat!

Member
Ali G says:
29 July 2011

For me, it’s not about saving money, it’s about having a larger choice of varieties to grow, knowing that they’ve not had any chemicals sprayed on them, and that they’re only a matter of minutes fresh when eaten, not weeks old and picked well before they’re ready. To know what I’m eating and enjoying the growing processes and fresher flavour is what makes me grow my own. I’m tired of seeing perfect shaped, uniform sized and blemish free produce in the supermarkets. Adults and children don’t need this sanitised, restrictive selection chosen for them, they should be able to see greater ranges of types and choose for themselves.

Member
dean says:
1 June 2014

precisely. and its about taking the initiative, the personal responsibility, to grow some of one’s own food. why is this important? well, it might just be one of the fundamentals of being a human. to participate in the holistic cycle of planting, nurturing, observing, harvesting, eating, and returning the natural “waste” back to the soil to make fertile again – this is life. not shopping shopping and never stopping to look and appreciate how nature provides abundantly for us if we work with her and give back. it’s not about money. this obsession with money has hypnotized us away from things of real value. money has no real value. it is a dead promise, which, as we know, has not been met. it’s a con. the grandest illusion of our times. money does nothing. people do things. so i advocate, and envision, a re evolution, a return to the fulfilment of each rebuilding their relation with the land, the plants, the animals, the earth, the sky, the rivers, and the sacred economics possible for all on this beautiful world, and forget about money.

Member
Alison R says:
29 July 2011

Don’t forget that when estimating the saving on food you should also factor in the free work out (cheaper than gym membership) and the sense of well being when exercising out in the fresh air. On a personal note, I rarely have to buy any veg during the summer months and even do a bit of bartering or swopping which makes the veg and soft friut go even further.

Member
Renee says:
30 July 2011

I also am very lucky to have an allotment, and initially I wanted it for health reasons rather than to save money. To have fruit and veg without pesticides in tastes so much better and it is very satisfying to grow your own. I try not to spend too much money and I am always looking around in skips etc to find useful bits. For example I use an old clothes horse for the mange tout to climb and some discarded scaffolding netting for fruit and an old pine cabinet turned sideways for herbs. A lot of veg can be frozen like perpetual spinach which I cook and squeeze into balls and tomato/courgette chutney can last a couple of years. Can be hard work but worth it and kids love it as well.

Profile photo of jazimews
Member

This is the first year I’ve had a go at growing my own veg. I made raised beds from scrap decking which I got off freecycle. Got top soil off freecycle to fill them. Bought cheap seeds in Poundstretcher. I planted mixed lettuce, rocket, raddishes, beetroot, courgette, cucumber and tomatoes. I’ve saved loads by having my own lettuce and rockett, as I’ve had very good crops. Lots of raddishes too. Have had two very good meals of courgettes, unfortunately a lot are rotting on the plant. Waiting for toms to crop, but lots of baby green ones, so hoping to start picking soon. Beetroot looks ready to harvest too so will be picking soon. Carrots not done well, so have planted more,plus more lettuce rocket and raddishes. I have definitely saved money as, lettuce leaves and rockett is expensive, and really enjoyed gardening. I started all seeds off in pots, again got from freecycle. Haven’t used any expensive stuff.
Next year will have a go at soft fruit too. will see if I can get cuttings like one of the other respondents suggested.

Member
David S. says:
3 August 2011

It isn’t necessary to be an RHS member to know that absolutely nothing beats fresh home-grown fruit and vegetables. Time and space are usually the limiting factors. Most working people simply don’t have the time. In 1940 a noble prime minister asked us to “Dig for Victory!” I doubt that “Dig for Austerity!” could arouse similar fervour.

Member
Annis says:
3 August 2011

I am a gardening novice but I already love seeing where food comes from e.g. tomatoes come from flowers, and broccoli heads are flower buds. Knowing the effort in it, I treasure more of what I buy and cook, as a result. I am develping a good sized strawberry bed which will fruit well next year. I am waiting a good crop of small tomatoes from plants which grew from Sainsbury’s seeds (a bit late in the year). My potato plants have enormous branches and may taste good but growing them in bags is hopeless. The courgette has a kind of white mould on the leaves, but I love seeing the fruit forming. I will only in future grow spinach, kale and soft fruit and plant a fruit tree – I also intend to forage this weekend. There is nothing for taste like real potatoes from our local farm shop – I was interested to hear why supermarket ones taste so bad. As a complete novice, growing has not saved any money so far but I have enjoed it, learnt a lot and value food more as a result. Slowly slowly. One needs to have quite a bit of land to really save money.

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

My window boxes efforts…(unharvested) mint grew like mad and turned leathery… generally stick to stuff that I can consume without waste like Chinese chives, coriander and tomatoes, the tastier cherry variety that is AND a couple or more of other easy-to-grow stuff. Got gifted some ‘pak choy’ seeds that I’ve yet to try, maybe next year.

Profile photo of malcvolm
Member

I don’t think that growing vegetables has saved me a lot of money over the past few years. You do have to buy some essentials – this year I have netted my brassicas to keep off the pigeons, the difference between this year and last is amazing. I never realised how much damage the birds did.

This brings me to another interesting point. I purchased a 10×4 m piece of netting, when stretched on the ground it was about 3×7. Area wise I got about half of what I expected. Measuring the lengths and width separately by stretching the net in the appropriate direction does give a measurement of 10 for the length and 4 for the width. Its all down to the diamond pattern.

I have complained to the supplier. Are there any regulations about how you measure nets?