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 startup 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.
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.
Other Costs and Benefits 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 many 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.