Thursday, March 29, 2012

Container Gardening: The Costs

Previously, we discussed our seeds and space, and our containers and soil.

So how much is all of this gardening costing us? Of course prices will vary, depending on where you live, but hopefully our experience can help you know what to expect. 

The thing that I didn’t think too much about before we started was how much more it costs to grow things in containers. You must provide every space and all of the soil for the plants, which can add up! Also, because this is our first year gardening, we had to buy nearly everything new. As you will see, we tried to be thrifty where possible, while making a few splurges to get the maximum use out of our space.

Shelving unit: $59.99 (Target)
8 large buckets and drip trays: $2.78 per bucket + $0.84 per tray, total $28.96 (Menards)
2 self-watering planters (10 inch): $7.98 (Menards)
4 self-watering planters (8 inch): $8.97 (Menards)
Trough planter: $10.98 (Strader’s)
6” ceramic pot: $4.99 (Strader’s)
We already had a few other small pots that we are using.
2 railing planters: $29.98 (Strader’s)
Seeds: $42.24 (Some from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the rest from Strader’s.)
This was MUCH more than I expected, but we’re growing a lot of different things. The average cost was $1.83 per seed packet. We will be saving seeds from as many of the plants as possible to grow again next year.
Organic potting soil: $58.63 (6 32-quart bags of Miracle Grow Organic Choice – Home Depot)      
2 grow lights: $21.94 (Walmart)
These are for seed starting, probably optional if you have a very sunny windowsill
Odds and ends:
$2.09 for wooden plant labels (Strader’s)
$1.98 for hooks to hang grow lights (Home Depot)
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $278.72 (not including sales tax)

Costs we expect to be one-time: all containers/planters, many seeds, shelving, lights.
Costs we expect to have next year: more soil (although we’ll be looking into re-using some), some seeds, odds and ends.

So our investment this year is pretty substantial, but the cost should diminish significantly in the following years, even if some items must be replaced. I’m sure there will be a few more costs as the season goes on, but these are the big ones.

Our two big splurges were the shelving unit and the railing planters – those set us back about $90 total. But the shelves will let us use a lot of vertical space, and ditto for the railing planters. Since we have such a small area to work with, using vertical space is really important. They are also things that we can re-use in the future.  I think these will be worth the investment.
Comparing this to the CSA I joined last year, the CSA cost a little more than $400, and I got a few pounds of vegetables most weeks of the summer. This garden will cost us a little less than $300, but we don’t know what kind of output we will get. The CSA and garden both carry the risk of crop failure due to any number of causes (although the CSA is in the hands of a professional, not my inexperienced hands). The garden requires more work – I just picked up the CSA once a week. The nice thing about our garden is that we totally control what we plant, and how we grow things, so there is more choice involved. And I’m hoping that growing some of our own food will be very rewarding.

A few things we haven’t spent money on:
1.       Dedicated gardening tools. I’m planning on doing most of the work with my hands, scissors, or a large spoon. This is one of the advantages of container gardening – no back-breaking work to turn up soil!
2.       A watering can or garden hose. The hose was an easy decision – we don’t have an outdoor hook-up for one. I’ll try using an old laundry detergent container (cleaned out well!) as a watering can - it's a pretty simple DIY project. 
3.       Seed starting kits. We are using empty toilet paper rolls (which we’ve been setting aside for a few months now) instead of buying seed starting kits from the store. The cardboard will decompose when we plant the seedlings. 
4.       Fertilizers or pesticides. We’re planning on using a little counter top compost mix to fertilize plants, and I’ll address pest issues as they arise. Some of these natural remedies will be an additional cost, but I don't know which we will need or use yet!

Do you have a garden? How much would you estimate it costs you to keep? 
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