Food Costs Rising? Try a Home Garden

By Richard Godke

Budget Food Costs Rising

Food costs rising? As United States food costs and family grocery bills hit new highs, interest in home gardens are blooming. So what is the cost of starting a home garden? Calculating the cost of raising a 4 by 4 foot small home garden is similar to budgeting for a large farm. A farmer amortizes (averages) the cost of the land over several years because the value of the land is not depleted the first year. Calculating the cost of the garden is the same concept. There are large start up costs like soil; raised frame beds and fabric cover costs that need to be averaged over several years or the life of the investment. One needs to understand and explore the cost of a small home garden before you start. Here is a sample budget for a small 4 by 4 foot raised bed garden (for beginners) to get you started. You can use these numbers to calculate a larger garden but for newbies I recommend this size.

Long Term Costs

The long term investment items that need to be amortized over three years are: 8 – 2 cubic feet bags soil at $8 each = $64, 1 – raised bed plastic frame kit 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 6 in. = $40, 1 -10 lb. bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer = $8, and a 10 X 10 fabric cover = $15. The total cost of these Items are $123.00 divided by 3 years = about $41 annual cost. If you don’t have the money to invest in these long term costs here are some ideas that can greatly reduce these expenses. Composting your own soil is simple, easy and cheap but takes time and knowledge. Begin by collecting grass clippings and leaves you can make a compost pile that can produce high quality composed soil (black gold) in 6 months. The composting process will reduce the volume by 75% so it will take a lot of material and time to save the cost of purchased soil. If you are handy with a saw and hammer you can save money by making your own raised bed. You can buy dimensional lumber, cut it, (some stores will cut it in 4 foot lengths), paint it, nail it and you have a low cost raised bed. You can save even more money by reusing lumber. In my neighborhood the unpainted wood privacy fencing is being replaced because the bottom 6 inches has rooted off. In most cases you can cut out a good 4 foot by 4 inch board that can be painted and nailed together for a raised bed garden for a very small investment. A fabric cover is something that you can live without but the benefits of an earlier planting date and an organic way to control insects make the cover a worthy consideration.  Does the long term costs justify the food costs rising ?

Annual Costs

The reoccurring annual costs are: 8 packets of vegetable seeds X $3 = $24, 4 plants X $2 = $8. So an estimated annual cost for a small 4 by 4 foot garden would be about $32. To save money on these costs you can save seed from vegetables you buy (heirloom tomatoes) or plants that go to seed in your garden (basil) and plant them instead of purchasing seeds. This will only work with non-processed, non-hybrid varieties and is not recommended for beginners. Starting seeds indoors before the planning season can save you money, again not recommended for beginners. By growing you own vegetable plants you can choose varieties that are not available in the stores.  Does the annual costs justify the food costs rising ?

Can a home garden save you mon

Other Costs and Benefits Compared to Food Costs Rising?


I do not calculate a labor or water cost for raising a garden. Using the square foot gardening method cuts down on watering and weed control because the plants are so close together the weeds are shaded out. If you want

to calculate labor you can figure about 15 minutes a week in a small garden. The more gardening space you maintain, the more efficient you become per unit, but beginners should always start small. In most cases people who garden consider their labor cost as a method of getting outside and getting some exercise. The free labor that you contribute will also provide a learning venue for children or grandchildren, plus the freshest, most flavorful vegetables you will ever eat.

For man years the cost of food has been so cheap you could not justify the raising vegetables strictly on dollar cost. Now with the high cost of food it is more economically feasible to raise vegetables at a profit. The cost of starting a small raised bed 4 by 4 foot home garden will be approximately $123. Long Term Cost + $32 Annual Costs = $155 is the total first year cost. The next 2 years it would only cost $32 a year. The amortized (average) cost over 3 years is about $73 per year not including labor. Every family is different and you will need to calculate your own costs and benefits of raising a garden.

I have developed a home gardening budget spreadsheet at that allows you to put in your own estimated costs. Remember you can save money by building your own frame, composting your own soil, and collecting your own seeds. If you would like to save even more money on your gardening check out  Gardening will become even more popular as the price of vegetables sky rocket. Are Food Costs Rising, yes so learn how to garden?

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Novices

By Richard Godke

A good soil calculator for raised bed is the most important decision a beginning gardener. It starts you on the right road for producing lots of high quality vegetables. I recommend the square foot gardening method that concentrates the production in a smaller space using less soil. Learn the important math calculations you will need to get started along with a connection to a spreadsheet that will do the calculations for you. Soil is a living breathing constantly changing substance. The soil must have the ability to hold water and also slowly release nutrients to the growing roots of the plants. During the growing season the organic part of the soil is broken down by organisms living in the soil. This happen if it has the soil has the proper water, air, microorganisms, soil nutrients and correct temperature. Here are some important questions a beginning gardener needs to ask.

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Novices

Should I purchase organic soil?

Do not let the marketer confuse you. Organic soil is soil that has some organic material in it. If you want soil that is produced without chemicals you need to purchase Organic Certified Soil. This is organic soil produced from plant materials that were not treated with pesticides, within standards set by an organic certification organization. You can check with the certifying organization for the details of the process and standards. If you want to eat truly organically grown vegetables you must start with organically certified soil. Be prepare – the organically certified soils will cost more.

How do I calculate the amount of soil I will need?

The formula is simple: The garden’s length times the width times the depth gives you the amount of soil you will need to purchase. Here are the calculations for a typical beginner’s square foot garden that is four feet wide by four feet long and eight inches deep. Calculate by multiplying the width 4 ft. X 12 in. = 48 in. and Length 4 ft. X 12 in. = 48 in. Take the 48 X 48 = 2304 square in. Multiply the 2304 square inches X 8 in. deep = 18432 cubic in. Finally divide the 18432 by 1728 [the number of cubic inches per cubic foot] = 10.7 cubic feet. For the non-math gardeners I have developed a simple spreadsheet link towards the end of this article where you enter the length, width and depth in yards, feet or inches and it will calculate the cubic feet or yards of soil you will need for your specific garden space.  The calculation for experience gardeners is the same as for beginners.

How do I compare prices among the different produces or brands?

Some manufacturers use cubic feet others use quarts and others use pounds abbreviated as lbs. For the non-math gardeners the spreadsheet link later in this article will also let you enter three different products, the number of cubic feet or US Quarts per bag, and the cost per bag. It calculates the total cost of each soil choice for your garden size. For the gardener that loves math, here are the calculations for converting US quarts to cubic feet. US Quarts X (57.75) cubic inches divided by the number of cubic inches in a cubic foot (1728). Example for a 10 US quart bag: 10 X 57.75 cubic inches per quart = 577.5cubic inches. Divide 577.5 by 1728 cubic inches in a cubic foot = 0.334 cubic feet. When it comes to comparing ingredients in pounds like cow manure you need to compare the percentage of moisture present.  My soil calculator for raised bed can help you with these calculations (see below).

How do I compare different bagged soil ingredients?

The Standard Soil Mix consists of ? peat moss, ? compost, and ? vermiculite or perlite (a non-organic soil additive). This mixture is very similar to bagged potting soil. Bagged Potting Soil provides great growing material for you vegetables if you can closely manage the watering. When this mix is moist you can squeeze ahandful and it will easily crumble into small pieces. Unfortunately this mix is expense, it tends to dry out more quickly in the garden and it will quickly decrease in volume. Bagged Garden Soil is the lower cost than potting soil and the watering of the garden is easier to manage. This is my pick for the beginning gardener. Bagged Compost is dead plant materials that have decomposed during an aerobic process that has reached 160 degrees F. This product varies a great deal among different manufacturers. It sometimes lowers the garden soil pH and requires nitrogen to be added during the growing season. It is less expensive than other products. Compost is a good additive but it will have a high soil replacement percentage, and should not be used as the only ingredient. Non Organic Soil Additives like perlite and vermiculite are used to lighten or aerate the soil. It is expensive, and increases the need for careful water management. Only use these produces in combination with other soil additives. Peat Moss is a partially decomposed ancient swamp material that is harvested from peat bogs. It loosens clay soil and provides organic material to your garden. It has a high decomposition rate and will lower you soil pH. This should only be used in combination with other soil additives.

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Available

Soil is one of the biggest expenses when starting a home garden. I highly recommend that beginners purchase a mid-priced prepared bagged garden soil. Trying to mix you own individual ingredients may seem cheaper but it is more difficult. In most cases the soil has been prepared by an expert and has the proper nutrients, pH level and organic materials to set you on the road to a successful vegetable garden. You can use my garden soil calculator spreadsheet to help you figure the volume of soil you will need, compare prices of different types of soil and experiment with your own soil mix combinations. Here is another link to a garden soil calculator You can expect to replace from 10 to 20 percent of the soil each year because of the microbial break down in your soil – remember this is a good thing.  By Richard E. Godke.