Do the Numbers on Gardens

There's a fascinating article using Zillow analysis to figure out the value of food gardens to residential housing.  This isn't news to a lot of us, but it is nice to see the numbers quantified:


  • Minor Kitchen Remodel.  Cost: $14,917   Return on resale:  $14,645   Percentage Return:  -1.8%
  • Major Bathroom Remodel.   Cost: $26,060  Return on resale: $24,264 Percentage return: -6.9%

Here’s how a garden stacks up:

  • Average cost of a garden per year (what people spend today):  -  $70
  • Average value of a garden per year (in produce):  + $600
  • Average value of a garden per year: + $530

So, the garden improvement not only pays for itself, it potentially increases the return on the resale of a home by:  5-7%.  Wow.  In contrast, the kitchen or bathroom remodel don’t even increase the value of the home more than they cost.

Gardens do cost us time, but the value of the food security they provide and the aesthetic pleasure, as well as light exercise are huge.  So if you haven't been able to get a garden in for any other reason, you could do it to improve your resale value.


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I love growing edibles and gardening and encourage everybody to try it. But if I'm completely honest with myself, I spend a lot more than the value of what I harvest: seeds, starts, potting soil, sluggo, and the biggest cost driver: water. Despite rain barrels, mulch, and other techniques, I pay hundreds of dollars over the course of a summer.
It's still worthwhile to me because I enjoy the garden so much - but it's not a money-maker.

The cost of a garden depends tremendously on what you pay for water.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 13 Jul 2012 #permalink

My super frugal Grandma might have only spent $70 or less back in the day, but that seems like a totally unrealistic number today. I started everything from seed this year and spent money on soil, fertilizer, seed flats, seeds, pots, and some minor tools. And I;ve been gardening for 20 years. The total was way more than $70. Have not had to water with anything other than rainwater so far this year, thanks to timely rainshowers.

I would also have to agreed...rainbarrels provide most of my watering but I still spend a great deal in mulch, compost (I can't make nearly enough), plants purchased when my seedlings didn't make it, tools, peat moss, seed starter, vermiculite, hoses, fencing to keep the dogs and bunnies out, and timbers or cinder block for new beds all eat up any value I may get from what actually makes it to the table. I do love the taste and health benefits, so it's worth it to me. But not a money saver, no way.

By Roslyn McNeill (not verified) on 13 Jul 2012 #permalink

Our total costs this year:
Seeds -$10.00
Starts -$32.00
Soil Plugs -$3.00
Mulch -$5
Water -? At $0.02 per 100 gallons, it's pretty much negligible.

Grand Total: $50.00

We've gotten way more out of it than that.

As pointed out it very much depends on what water costs. Where I live we have had several years of drought and at $2.00/ thousand gallons watering mounts up. If you think about it gardening really only makes sense east of about 99W. (the historical limit of Ag) In particular doing Ag in the desert using imported water makes no sense.

I live in the rainy Pacific northwest, and water costs us 2 cents per GALLON once you factor in sewer costs. And yes, you pay for sewer costs even on water you use to water your garden, because they only measure inflow not outflow.

I have no idea why water is so ungodly expensive here, since we have a lot of it. But it does add a lot to the cost of gardening if you can't harvest and store enough rainwater to get you through the growing season.

By West Coast Girl (not verified) on 13 Jul 2012 #permalink

I think there's definitely value in home gardens, but those numbers don't match my experience or knowledge of statistics. Home gardens tend to vary hugely in scale, and I suspect don't become profitable unless they're pretty large. Consider, for instance, 3 home gardens. The first two are small, just a few tomato plants - they cost $10 and produce $5 of produce. The second is much more substantial, almost a hobby farm - it costs $400 and brings in $500. Among these 3 farms, the average cost is $140, and the average proceeds are $170. Displaying the averages suggests the average ROI for a garden is 21%. Yet, if you actually average the ROI's for those 3 gardens, on average they suffer a 25% loss. Displaying averages for this type of distribution is incredibly misleading.

Further, the 5 - 7% figure includes the degree to which a nearby garden also increases a home's value - there's no link to where these numbers come from, so it's impossible to see if that value controls for affluence of the community (which would tend to correlate with community gardens and higher home prices).

And then consider this quote:
"Nearly half the people who garden have a college education (who knew?) and gardening is spread equally across the country and income groups. "
Since I'm pretty sure that college educations are (a) not held by 50% of the population and (b) not spread equally across all income groups, I'm highly suspicious of that claim - it has a similar lack of sourcing to the rest of the article.

I'd expect more rigor from something linked to from scienceblogs - I think it would actually be really interesting to see some evidence-based numbers for these claims, but I can't take the linked-to article seriously.

I might challenge the math. It seems to include only successful, fruitful vegetable gardens.

Flower gardens have a higher cost (since fewer gardeners save seeds, and many purchase starts or adult annuals).

And not all gardens succeed. There are floods, grasshoppers, droughts and water rationing, potato bugs and slugs, etc. Not to mention sloth, bad timing, and poor followup to good intentions.

Plus there is the American phenomenon of relying on gasoline powered and other expensive implements, and never accumulating enough experience to plan out two years ahead, to make planting dates, more or less, to keep up with regular maintenance.

Factor in all the rototillers that rust away when a hoe and some time would have served better, the pesticides used incorrectly or not at all, and the cost-benefit looks a lot different. It sure does for me this year. And that was before a mouse nailed the tomatoes in my kitchen window.

With respect to using city water for your garden, the problem is that most cities calculate sewage charges based on water use. If you have a "deduct meter" installed, you can use water without paying sewage, which dramatically lowers your cost. A deduct meter is a meter installed in front of the house meter, and is only used to measure outside usage. The regular meter measures total usage, and the outside usage is deducted from the total before calculating sewage and other charges. It costs about $400 to have one installed, and will pay for itself in a few years.

When you live in the midwest in the middle of the worst drought I've seen in several years, you have no choice but to use city water for your garden. Rain barrels wouldn't provide anywhere near enough water, even if I had a dozen of them.

We have a well, and catch rainwater. Our primary watering cost is the electricity for the well and pressure pumps. The limit is what our well can produce each day (approx. 2000 gal.). Our garden encloses about 3200 square feet, of which 1000 is in beds, the rest paths, fruit trees and a few oddballs not in beds like the jerusalem artichokes and the mint patch. We haven't done the numbers, but most of our cost has been hardware related; fencing wire, block for raised beds, greenhouse glass, gardening tools etc. Spent possibly $50 for seed this year plus a sack of lime, and a sack of bone meal. There's poultry feed and straw for the ducks, both of which come back into the garden as mulch. We're by no means "self-sufficient", but we don't buy eggs, garlic or potatoes, and grow over 90% of our own produce and fruit. We buy dairy products, sugars, oil and some meat (local beef from a neighbor). We are also a small, but net exporter of dungeness crab (nothing to do with the garden, except we bury the shells under the beds). I also bring home any seaweed that tangles in our crab pot lines and add it to the compost pile.

Marrowstone Island

Meanwhile, regarding an old subject we're all too familiar with, Maine's largest electric utility recently disclosed that it has disconnected a record number of customers for non-payment:

PORTLAND, Maine — Statistics show Maine’s largest electric utility is shutting off the power to a record number of customers who haven’t paid their bills.

Last year Central Maine Power disconnected 29,554 homes of residents, an apparent record number.

That figure is up 60 percent over the 2007.…

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 15 Jul 2012 #permalink

I think that what is being lost here is the fact that a garden can cost about as much as you want it to.

You can buy transplants for everything, till the garden every spring, use commercial soil amendments and commercial mulch, and water everything too much and you'll be spending way more money than you'll ever get back.

On the other end of the scale, you can start everything from seed, use compost for fertilizer, make plant starting cells or buy Jiffy pellets (they're $4 for 4 dozen and the only other thing you need is a shallow pan), deep mulch with something that's cheap like straw to keep down the weeds and need for water, and only water when you have to.

There are many more points on this scale. We try to keep ours on the less-expensive end. Most years, I start our seeds in a casserole dish with either peat pellets or compost. We deep mulch everything with straw at $3.50 a bale; our 200 square foot garden just finished going through the first bale. Until this past week we were in the middle of a horrid drought with 110 degree temps and I only had to water the garden a couple of times.

The tomatoes and the greens alone add up to more than we've invested, plus we've got tomatillos, squash, cucumbers and other veggies coming out our ears. Our eggplants and our melons are about to be ready as well.

I want to echo Rebecca's post. I try to grow a years worth of food in our garden - preserving potatoes, onions, garlic, homemade tomato products, etc. Our garden is worth much more to me than $600, certainly cost less than $70 to plant and mulch.
By practicing no-till methods and using local resources for deep mulch, our garden is not labor or water intensive, plus it's chemical free.

There is a lot of information on the internet for gardening in every area, plus forums and blogs to address different problems without spending a ton of cash.

I disagree that gardens must be large to be profitable. Size may matter, but not when it comes to a gardens' profitability. At my farmers' market, people will pay $3.00 to $5.00 for 3 or 4 organic tomatoes. One tomato plant costs between $1.99 and $5.00 (depending on where you buy it) but will produce many, many organic tomatoes as long as you stick it in some soil and water it if it starts to dry out. Starting plants from a packet of seeds would give you hundreds of organic tomatoes from one $2.00 packet. How is that NOT profit? The cost of things like a pretty picket fence, stone garden path, statuary, and koi pond does not count!

Well I haven't done the numbers but I have some anecdotal data to provide.

I have an abundance of peas this year. I planted pod peas to get the most from my efforts. To hedge my crop and food perservation I bought a peck of shelling peas. After shelling the peas I ended up with 2 quarts frozen. That peck was ..16.00!. yup 8.00 a quart. I won't be doing that again. Meanwhile I have frozen 7 quarts of pod peas for 4.00 for the seed I bought. I make my own compost from lawn clippings, food waste, fall leaves and manure from my animals. All free. I amend my soil with a little lime and wood ash from wood stove. The lime is 5.00 a 5 pound bag.

I won't count the gas saved from running to the local farm stand. I support my local farmer as much as I can but I also have to feed my family affordably. The garden is producing more than ever before. I can see only savings ahead.

I'm 64 and no longer garden for self sufficiency- but I did it for years, when my boys were young. First on a large city lot, and after a move to the country, in a large garden and small orchard. My most useful source of information and inspiration was John Seymour's book The Self Sufficient Gardener. I kept careful records of the garden and the money- and had no trouble turning a profit, especially after the move - gorgeous tomatoes, eggplants, squashes, eggs- all found ready buyers. But even before the move I was able to freeze and pickle and can plenty for a family of four- and to make cases of jam, jelly and apple butter for our use and for Xmas gifts. Not every vegetable was a success every year- there was always some failure- but there was always enough to make up for it. And a surplus of something often financed a "luxury" food we all enjoyed- mangoes or avocados. Even a small garden will add a lot to your table in freshness and savor. Growing food and flowers is a good thing to do.

By nancy brownlee (not verified) on 16 Jul 2012 #permalink

The outputs are squishy, too. Gardening creates a surplus, which is shared with my extended family. I probably would not be going out and buying a sack of vegetables to dump on my mother's kitchen counter every week if I had to earn every dime to pay for it. According to the USDA, I am spending less than half of the cost of the "moderate" food plan on food, but that's for conventionally grown food and without the surplus for sharing. If I added in the cost of the organic premium and the fact that I grow vegetables that I am too cheap to buy (shallots and cippolini onions instead of occupying the same space with Spanish onions), the value of my harvest is upwards of many thousands of dollars which I don't have to go out and earn.

The numbers are squishy, both inputs and outputs. Last year's gardening cost me $240 in seed, seed potatoes, and onion sets, $215 in tools and $100 rent and irrigation for the land. But, how does the time and gas to pick up a load of free horse poop get counted?

I kept track of the market value of the harvest the first year in my current house, and one raised bed (48 square feet) plus a bunch of tomatoes and herbs in pot generated over $1000 in value over 10 months in 2006.