The number of U.S. households that are involved in gardening has shown a dramatic increase each year since 2018.
It’s no surprise that during COVID the number of gardeners increased. It makes sense. People were stuck at home and bored — and the garden beckoned us. It seems that upward trend will continue in 2023 as we see the cost of groceries getting more expensive.
There are many reasons to garden: exercise, enjoyment, healthier food among them. But as the economy has worsened and inflation increases, 76% of gardeners say they plan to enlarge their food gardens this year to save on food costs. This is a normal response when people are worrying about food insecurity or struggling with their household budgets.
Will a food garden produce enough food to feed a family?
In uncertain times, many folks say, “I’ll plant a garden to feed my family.” That’s probably not realistic. A vegetable garden simply cannot provide all the food you need.
Adults need about 2,000 calories per day, but the body can only process 6 pounds of food each day, so on average you need 335 calories per pound of food. However, most vegetables provide only around 50-100 calories a pound. The average food garden in America only produces about 20% of the calories people need.
There are some higher calorie vegetables — potatoes, parsnips, leeks, kale, winter squash and garlic — that have 250-350 calories a pound. But let’s face it, no one wants to eat those veggies for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. People still need carbs, protein and fat in their diet, which can’t usually be grown in a home garden.
You can produce more food for your family if you learn to can, freeze or dry some of your summer harvest. You also can grow and store some long-keeping varieties like winter squash. This allows you to have stored food during the winter months.
You can also grow a winter garden to have fresh lettuce and other salad greens, radishes, kale, mustard, carrots, beets and turnips. It’s a treat to have fresh vegetables in cold weather. That’s also when store-bought produce is most expensive, so you can save a lot at the register during the cold months.
But what if you don’t like vegetables?
If you hated vegetables as a kid, maybe you just hated the way your mom cooked them! My mom made the worst, slimy, most disgusting eggplant, squash and rhubarb. Yet today I like them all. Not surprisingly, I don’t use any of Mom’s recipes.
You can also try growing one new vegetable each year. Get on the internet and look for interesting recipes. You might come to love some of those long-hated veggies. Then again, you may hate them forever. In that case, admit defeat and grow the things you do like. Anything else is just a waste of time and garden space.
Still, will a food garden really save money?
The average household with a food garden will spend $70 a year for seeds and garden supplies, but will reap $600 worth of food. That’s a $530 return on your investment. With food costs skyrocketing, you can expect even greater returns in 2023. If you decide to expand your garden, since you’ve already paid the initial costs for tools, irrigation and other supplies, your return will be even higher. Generally, the more years you garden, the more money you’ll save.
• Contact WSU Extension Master Gardeners by phone at 509-574-1604 or email [email protected].