Mendota, IL

Gardening Against the Grain: From Fertile Illinois to Sandy Florida Costs and Profits When Growing Your Own Food

Kathy LaFollett
Produce prices will go up as grow zones throughout the world contend with changing climate pressures.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Growing up in Illinois, private gardens were everywhere. In the town of Mendota, circa 1960s, family gardens ran the length of property lines. Border gardens produced flowers and food. Walking to school in the Spring and Summer was a tour de force of colors and fresh smells. The lesson learned; you don’t need a green thumb to grow food and flowers. You need good soil, an accommodating sun, proper rain, and a bit of tending time.
Gardening starts at the soil and the soil meets the Hardiness Zone equalizing to a specific harvest.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

We harvested the food in our garden for freezing and canning. Rows of green beans, snap peas, tomatoes, carrots, squash, lettuces, onion, and what fancied dad’s experimental side. Marigolds of yellow surrounded the entire plot. Nature’s own insect repellant. You could park our big station wagon on the plot. It was that large. Family gardening served a goodly portion of the food needs for a family of five. So did our cherry tree. It also took the entire family of five to keep it all healthy and producing. Gardening is work. Good work. Work that returns a profit of healthy food and a healthy mind.
Knowing where food comes from will create understanding for conservation and our environmental health.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Family gardening is different for every location, and different again for every family. It costs a bit of money to get one started properly. And it takes investments of time, water, replanting, soil care, harvesting, food storage, and more time to keep it going for the next year’s harvest cycle.

Good soil, accommodating sun, proper rain, a bit of tending along with a Hardiness Zone Map, and you’ve got the ingredients to grow food and flower. A Hardiness Zone map is a decoder ring for plants. Shop seeds or live plantings and you’ll find a Hardiness Zone number. That number shows where the plant grows best. Florida’s Hardiness Zones are 8 through 10. Illinois’ Hardiness Zone numbers are 5 through 6. That’s the Goldilocks Zones for gardening. 8 through 10 is the Good Luck with That Zones for gardening.

Hardiness Zones are changing. Planting Zones are moving North. Goldilocks Zones are being squeezed, while Good Luck with That Zones expand.
Community gardens grow awareness of where food comes from, and from there our children will flourish.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

If you’re new to gardening, the best place to start is your local community garden, not the big box store. You’ll learn how to succeed as a gardener without wasting money or time. Find your nearest garden on the American Public Gardens Association’s interactive map.

Building then cultivating an active, thriving garden is not the be all answer to lowering food costs. There’s a transfer of costs to a different way to gather your plant food. Your Hardiness Zone may lower or raise these time and money costs.

What’s does a vegetable garden cost, and how much is a pound of your own carrots?

  • You’ll need a plot. A portion of your yard. Raised beds include the cost of the structure, and the soil mixtures you fill them with. Raised beds on average cost $10.00 a square foot for the structure and placement alone. ($20.00 if you are building your own without a kit). Digging up a portion of your yard costs your time. Soils, on average, cost $10.00 a cubic foot. A 6-foot by 4-foot dug garden will cost roughly $240.00 to create a healthy soil mix throughout the plot. A suggested two foot deep 6-foot by 4-foot raised bed will cost $240.00 not including the amount of new soil you need to add.
  • Seeds, seedlings, and plants. Designing a garden requires harvest timing as well as preferred plants. Also, knowing what plants grow best together gives you an edge against insects and plant health. Companion Planting is important to a successful harvest. Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company is a great place to start online planning and purchasing for your new garden. You can set your Hardiness Zone and browse the best for your food and flower options. A packet of 1500 loose carrot seeds will average $3.00. A tomato plant will average $7.00.
  • Your time is valuable. And you can put a price on it. What’s your hourly pay at work? You’ll need at least an hour a day for your garden as it grows. You’ll need to add hours as your garden grows more. Weeding, fertilizing, sowing, watering, and plant tending (a mental health gold mine) adds up as your garden grows up. Harvesting is time management as each vegetable hits their use by date.
  • A great garden produces well. Have an idea what you’ll do with all your food success. Canning. Freezing. Drying. Dehydrating. These options all have costs as well. Gardening ends in a new cycle of harvest care and storage not discussed in garden articles.

What’s the actual cost of a bag of carrots from your backyard garden?

  • A single seed will yield one carrot. Planting properly, and tending as prescribed a carrot seed, will germinate to plant within 3 weeks, and takes 50-60 days to grow to harvest.
  • Add up plot, soil, water, time, time to harvest (waiting is a gardener’s pastime while working hard), and 15% thinning loss. Thinning is creating enough space between germinated carrot plants for healthy growth. Seeds invariably shift in the ground during watering and rains. You’ll find plant sprouts too close, and you’ll need to triage the weaker germinated plant for the stronger to harvest. Hardiness, soils, plot choice, garden plant design and care all come into play. It’s up to your fortitude to keep your garden growing. Depending on where you are, the average yearly cost of a year’s maintenance on an established plot or raised bed garden is around $65 dollars.
  • A pound of carrots retail is around $1.50. A pound of your garden carrots is the time to pull them, plus the cost of your garden. All things being equal, a pound of garden carrots costs under a dollar the first year. And that is the trick of gardening. The first year of gardens is a zero-sum game. You’ll break even on the replacement costs. The investment pays off financially in the second year.
  • The benefits of gardening aren’t just the food and flowers, though. Gardening is a physical and mental health bonus.
  • Start small. Build on your successes. Start with a container garden of sweet potatoes. That simple step will give you info about the location and time commitment. There is no autopilot for gardening. Start with one pot and expand to two, or a raised bed. Consider your time and local climate.
Friendships grow from gardens as well as food.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Hardiness Zones are the Starting point. Your time and attention will define the rest.

A Florida gardener now, I’ve come to terms with sandy soil, salty soil, grit and limestone. Raised beds and potted planting is the answer. Urban, community, and farmer’s markets are also a solid answer. You will work harder to vegetable garden in Florida. Florida is a giant oyster bar with its own ideas.

As an Illinois gardener before, I’m aware soils have changed. Hardiness Zones are malleable, and memories are based on the best of what happened. Recently helping my father plant his garden while visiting, I watched him plop tomato plants into Illinois’ rich black soil without a care. He just dropped them into a hole and covered them. Watered them. Dusted off his hands, and walked away with a grin, confident his Beefeater and Roma plants were destined for greatness.

I could never do that here in Florida.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 0

Published by

Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

More from Kathy LaFollett

Comments / 0