| A non-gardener's cost analyst of tomato growing. |
WSJ, April 2, 2015
Ah, the life of a gentleman farmer. Fresh air, fresh food, the feel of the earth between your fingers—and not having to worry about small budgets. Growing your own food, it turns out, can be expensive.
WSJ Spread Sheet took a look at the costs involved in one homeowner pleasure—a vine-ripened tomato. So how much does it cost to grow your own?
The short answer: Financially speaking, you’d be better off buying from the store. Good taste is another matter.
Those just starting out will need to invest in gloves ($10), a spading fork ($25) and a hand trowel ($10). Then there is fertilizer ($6 per plant) and, of course, the tomato plant itself ($5 per plant).
Gardening expert Melinda Myers also recommends buying wire cages ($8 apiece) to help support your plants as they grow, which can increase their yield. That totals an estimated $64 in supplies.
Should you need to hire help, figure an hour to plant your tomatoes. After that, Ms. Myers says, 15 minutes a week—primarily spent weeding and watering—should do it for the duration of the growing season, which runs roughly 20 weeks, from the beginning of June to the end of October.
Six hours of work at about $10 an hour is $60 in labor costs. (The average wage for gardeners is $10.01 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) So, supplies and labor costs total $124. An average plant, says Ms. Myers, yields about 20 pounds of tomatoes, making for a per-pound cost of $6.20—not exactly a bargain given that high-end, grocery-store tomatoes typically top out at about $5 a pound.
The good news is the bulk of the cost is from one-time startup expenses, so your per-tomato prices should drop significantly in subsequent years. They also drop if you add more plants to your garden, spreading your tool costs. And, Ms. Myers says, “there are a lot of ways you can reuse items and borrow tools” to cut costs.
But saving money isn’t really the point, adds Patricia Curran, horticulture educator at Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Tompkins County office. “It’s recreation, something you can do with your family.”
As Doris Fons of Wisconsin, who has been growing tomatoes for more than 50 years, puts it, “The best thing in the world is when you get that first tomato of the season.”