Mini-Recession Gardening: Growing Our Own Herbs

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During World War II, victory gardens were small gardens in civilian homes started in order to support the war effort. Now it looks like the new term is “recession gardens”, as people try to reduce costs and increase their green factor. So many trendy names for a backyard garden!

We started out with rosemary, oregano, and thyme growing in a little planter that came with the house, which basically grows wild without any help from us. In addition, my wife started a little container garden on the back porch, and we’ve been eating the tasty results for the last month.

According to this CNN article on recession gardens, we are not alone:

W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the largest seed and gardening supply store in the country, says it has seen a 25 to 30 percent spike in vegetable seed and plant sales this spring compared with last.

The National Gardening Association expects 43 million American households to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs and berries this year. That’s up 19 percent over last year, according to a 2,559-household survey the group conducted in January.

How much money can you really save with a garden?

Last year, Burpee released a report saying a family will get an average 25-to-1 return on its investment in a garden. So, by that count, a family that spends about $200 on a medium-to-large garden, as Michelle Obama reportedly did, will save $5,000 in grocery bills over the course of a year.

That statistic is inflated, said Mike Metallo, spokesman for the National Gardening Association. Metallo’s group says a $70 investment in a garden will yield $600 in produce for the year. To get those savings, a gardener has to know what to plant, when to plant it, where to plant it, how to deal with different soil types and how to care for the garden.

Keeping It Simple: Basil and Tomatoes
I don’t know about all that, but we started small by only devoting one old medium-sized pot to this effort. We thought about our favorite vegetables, and I figured that the most expensive ones were always tomatoes and fresh sweet basil. We love making our own pesto, caprese salad, and bruschetta topped with olive oil, tomato, and fresh basil.

At the supermarket, one tiny little packet of fresh basil (0.66 ounces) cost $2. Instead, we went to a local nursery and bought an entire basil plant for $2. Add another $10 for some potting soil and some recommended chicken manure as “organic” fertilizer that may last us years, and we were all set. A few months later, and I was amazed at the results. We just ate most of our (small) tomatoes, but here is our basil plant:

The neat thing is that this could be done inside, or on the patio of a small apartment. The savings won’t be enormous, but neither was our effort. Most importantly, the basil is both fresher and better tasting. Now we can expand our garden-inspired menu beyond rosemary roasted chicken and potatoes. All the credit goes to Mrs. MMB, who did all the work and also discovered that you can crumble in some egg shells for added nutrients and to keep out slugs (that’s the white stuff).

Update: also has an article on recession gardens.

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  1. Its true, people are doing whatever they can to save a few bucks, which happens to be benefiting some businesses.

    The ceramic pottery store in my town is doing really well as there are a lot of people doing vegetable container gardening.

    I was somewhat surprised when I heard about it, but it appears to be a huge hit right now.

  2. After I moved into my own house a few years ago, I decided to dedicate a small strip to a vegetable garden. Nothing huge, a few tomato plants along with some peppers, zucchini, beans, etc. I’m not getting all my produce from my garden, but it’s a great feeling to just pluck something from the back yard to eat for dinner. I’m not even sure I’m saving money or breaking even, but that’s not the point….. It’s that whole notion of eating something you had a direct hand in raising, I guess….

  3. I bought a used food dehydrator years ago to do something with the excess herbs and vegetables we always end up with. Freezing works pretty well with most herbs too.

  4. I’ve been doing this for years. I love using fresh herbs in cooking, but you can never use a large bunch you get from grocery stores before they go bad and the small packets are just way too expensive. Well, the solution is to plant your own. It’s really easy to plant herbs that they aren’t bothered by pests, half of what I plant are also known pest repellent plants: basil, mint, thyme, sage, etc. The others like chives, scallions, coriander, rosemary and oregano are seem to have any problems with pests either.

  5. Maybe I’m just immature… but did anyone think of another type of “herb” when they read the title?

  6. The biggest savings I have found is lettuce. I can grow it year round in southern California and at $1.69 to $1.99 a head, I am saving about $150 a year in just lettuce!

    Also, clip your herbss and hang them upsidedown in bunches to dry. All the energy and flavor goes into the leaves of the herbs and makes them stronger flavored. I do this year round and never have to buy herbs from the store. And my neighbors love it too.

  7. I’m wondering what happens when my squash and other veggies really start producing. If I donate them to a local soup kitchen, can I take a tax deduction at fair market value?

  8. I always wonder what is the true saving by growing your own produce.
    Overall, veg. is pretty inexpensive unless you shop at Whole Foods or buy organic produce. With all the time and effort you put in growing your own veg., is it a big saving at the end? I find using coupons would save more.

  9. Justjoeguy says:

    What about the time? Time is money. If it’s 10 hours a week is it worth it? But 4 or 5 maybe worth it?

  10. If gardening is a hobby you enjoy it is definitely worth your time. You can’t put a price on doing something you enjoy, the fact that it saves a few bucks and provides you with healthier/tastier food is an extra bonus.

    If you hate it, or all that matters to you is maximizing your $$$/hour, then getting a part-time job might be a better use of your time

  11. If you donate money or property to a “qualified organization,” your donation can be deducted by filing Form 1040 and itemizing the deduction on Schedule A. If you do not itemize your deduction using Schedule A, you cannot deduct your charitable contribution.

  12. It’s a good idea. Be very affraid of what they spray on produce to fertilize, keep critters and disease away.

    At the very least, when you grow your own you know what you’ve put on, in or around it…

    A little tip…avoid buying produce from out of country…there is often little to no regulation as to what they put on it, or grow it in…and they often douse it with more chemicals when it hits US ports (yes, even the organic stuff…it may have been grown organically, but they often mess with it at the ports to prevent loss to critters, rot and disease).

  13. Jonathan,

    You should plant your favorite fruit tree in your backyard. Orange, lemon, lime, avacado, apple. Very sustainable, which seems to be your ultimate goal, and you have the perfect climate for it. We’re moving to Phoenix and our new rental house has a lemon tree! Life is giving us Lemons!

  14. Other than watering, there is really little time spent on this. Not even weeding with a container garden.

  15. @teeej – Welcome to Phoenix. You’ll like it here. You can grow a garden year round.

    Don’t forget, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. 😉

  16. Green beans are about the easiest thing in the world to grow (they grow like bean stalks)… we have a planter on our condo porch cranking beans out

  17. Off this thread’s topic: Jonathan, did you get your $500 from optionsexpress? I got money, woo hoo! Let’s see a post about this. =)

  18. Coffee grinds is also great compost.

  19. This makes me miss my house.
    I enjoyed having the garden and most of all the fresh veggies..
    I live in a condo now, no porch. I wonder if I could get someone to let me use there yard and they can eat from it also..

  20. Greling says:

    If you’re really serious about this, you should consider growing a Moringa tree, also called the “Miracle Tree”. They’re very hardy and grow very fast. Details about this can be found on my website.

  21. Margaret says:

    Basil cuttings root very quickly in water in a warm place. It can be a quick source of tons of basil if you buy what you need at the store. use most of the leaves and root the rest. I also save the sprigs of mint used to garnish restaurant dishes when we eat out as these too root quickly. After your basil flowers, gather the seeds and store in folded paper towels to dry out to use next spring or maybe earlier. I keep trying to grow tomatoes but something always gets to them here in Texas.

  22. Not for nothing one of the best quotes is “Necessity is mother of all inventions” . This is because when pushed to wall , men are capable of doing strange things to pull them out of trouble. This is justa nother way of doing things in order to get the finances right with minimu investment. I would love to see everyone doing it at all times. Is a good idea to save some extra dollars.

  23. Being a city dweller, I cannot grow any of my own food, but wish that I could. We need to open more rooftops in the city to communal gardening.

  24. @AMH – you could consider finding a community garden somewhere and getting a plot. Maybe your neighborhood has one and you could bike to it. Just make sure you are keeping up on weeding or the angry gnome might end up in your in your plot. public shaming

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