What is a Survival Garden and Can It Save You Money? – USA TODAY | Directory Mayhem

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With inflation a priority for many, you may be wondering if it’s most cost-effective to grow your own food rather than grocery shopping.

When you consider that food prices rose 10 percent in 2022 — and in 2020, the average U.S. household spent nearly $1,000 on produce — a survival garden might be just what you need to help cover the grocery bill reduce.

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It’s tempting to leave the supermarket behind and start a garden to grow patio tomatoes and backyard beans, but will you end up spending more money on seeds and supplies than if you just bought your vegetables at the store?

We spoke to several experts to find out if a survival garden can help you save on groceries. Here’s what they had to say.

What is a survival garden?

A survival garden doesn't need a huge lush backyard to thrive—a patio or balcony will do.

A survival garden is grown in a backyard or in pots on a balcony or patio and ideally contains enough food to support everyone living in the household.

“Gardening is most cost-effective and pays off when you can use every inch of space to grow multiple things for as long as possible to make it as productive as possible,” says Cynthia Haynes, associate professor of consumer horticulture at Iowa State University . “This may mean planting four crops of lettuce in the same area or sequentially.” (This means planting another crop in the same area once the first crop has been harvested.)

Haynes also notes that most food plants need full, direct sunlight to thrive, and advises choosing plants that grow well together in tight spaces, with options for succession and intermediate planting.

You may not have the right amount of space to grow everything you want in your garden, but don’t forget that plants can grow. Tomato trellis and stakes can help you grow more produce by growing plants vertically instead of letting them grow on the ground.

What should I plant in a survival garden?

You can grow anything from eggplants to pumpkins with the Survival Vegetable Seeds Garden Kit, which comes loaded with 16,000 seeds.

Think about what you like to eat and are easy to harvest.

“Radish, lettuce, and greens are good,” says Selena Ligrano, project manager at the Seattle-based Tilth Alliance. “You can continue to harvest vegetables [that grow back] and fresh salad, even if there is only room for one pot in the apartment.”

You can grow all the foods your family loves to eat by purchasing seed packs or starter plants individually. Alternatively, you can purchase a survival seed kit like the Gardeners Basics Store 16,000-Seed Survival Garden Kit, which is filled with a variety of seeds like watermelon, pumpkin, celery, corn, and basil. {{ email_cta id=’1′ }}

When it comes to seeds, Ligrano says, “I don’t think people know how many seeds are in a seed packet,” explaining that a packet of 100 lettuce seeds can yield 100 lettuce plants. (You can use your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to “purchase seeds and plants that produce food for the home,” according to the USDA.)

Choosing vegetables that are easy to store can save you money over the winter. Onions, potatoes, and winter squash are all candidates for long-term storage.

Vegetables and fruit that are harvested from your garden the same day you eat them are far fresher than supermarket varieties that may have been picked, shipped and displayed days or weeks before they arrive in your kitchen.

“Supermarket varieties are grown because they are easy to transport, not because of the variety,” says Ligrano. Home growers can gain access to seeds for edible and medicinal plants and herbs that simply aren’t available commercially.

For all the details on starting a garden, check out our guide to gardening for beginners.

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Can a Survival Garden Save You Money?

Depending on how good your green fingers are, your survival garden can be inexpensive and even taste fresher than what you buy at the grocery store.

Whether you can save money by growing food in your survival garden depends on a few factors, according to Kevin Athearn, a regional consultant at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

How much will it cost to set up and grow your garden?

Do you already have a garden you are gardening in or a set of large patio pots with an irrigation system? It costs less money than starting a garden from scratch.

Remember to consider materials such as gardening tools, raised beds, seedlings, soil, soil conditioner, stakes and trellis, garden hoses, sprinklers and hose nozzle heads, and processing materials such as mason jars or dehydrators.

How much do you get from the garden?

New gardeners tend to have lower yields than experienced growers. Some plants, like zucchini, produce large yields with little skill and effort, but that doesn’t mean much if you don’t like zucchini (or if you have hungry woodchucks around).

What would you have paid for the same vegetables in a store?

In general, Athearn says, crops that need to be hand-harvested, like baby spinach, cost a lot more per pound than machine-harvested crops like carrots and potatoes. If you’re already buying organic baby spinach and are willing to put in the work of growing your veggies, you’ll absolutely save money.

In Athearn’s test garden, he managed to save about $0.50 a pound by growing tomatoes and $4.67 a pound of baby spinach, but he lost $0.50 a pound growing carrots at home because they were grown in industrial plants Farms are cheaper to grow.

Decide early on whether you will factor your time and labor into the cost of your garden. Athearn cites a study showing that not counting labor costs saves home gardeners money. If you’d rather watch TV or roll pancakes indoors than out in your yard, then gardening is work, and your unpaid hours count toward your savings.

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