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For the last Farm Women Exchange meeting, Kathleen did a talk and demonstration on starting from seed. She had some really great ideas as far as starting containers, including a plastic strawberry container – the kind you get when you buy them in the store. It has holes already in it, and a lid to close to keep the moisture in. Once you’ve added a layer of gravel, a layer of soil, planted your seeds, watered and closed the lids, it creates a terrarium-like effect for your seeds to germinate in. I love that idea!

My part of the program was discussing the cost savings to growing your own vegetables. Since there are quite a few who don’t have large gardens, and are limited to growing plants in pots, I decided to use tomatoes as my subject. Even I was surprised to see just how much you can save. Here are my calculations*:

Tomatoes purchased in a grocery store right now are around $.65 / lb. It took 1.25 tomatoes to make up that pound. So:

$.65/lb. = 1.25 tomatoes

The cost of a package of tomato seeds is roughly $2.00. In each package, you get approximately 20 seeds. That brings your cost per seed to $.10

2.00/20 = $.10

Let’s just say you plant all twenty seeds, and all of them grow and produce. With any producing tomato plant, you can be guaranteed (just about) with no less than 10 tomatoes, but for our project, we are going to say that each one produced 10 tomatoes.

20 x 10 = 200

If you figure that each plant cost you $.10 to grow, and you ended up with 10 tomatoes, then each tomato cost you $.01. If you also figure in the cost of water and fertilizer, you could add that in and determine that each tomato cost you roughly $.05 each. After the dust settles, and you add all your costs per tomato together:

$.05 x 200 = $10.00

Now, let’s go back to the grocery store. You want to purchase the same amount of tomatoes that you could have grown:

$.65/lb. for 200 tomatoes = $104.00

$104.00 – 10.00 = $94.00

In some cases, you can get your seeds a little cheaper – the Dollar Store often offers their seeds for $1.00 per package, and sometimes 2 for $1.00. And to me, no matter how you slice that tomato, you have saved a considerable amount of money. If you use compost instead of fertilizer, you’ve saved a bit more. If you have plenty of rain, you save even more with less watering. Considering that most healthy tomato plants produce way more than 10 tomatoes, in reality, you are saving probably every bit of that $104.00 and even more, but you also will have a much tastier tomato.

The idea of having even the 200 tomatoes sitting in your kitchen might be a bit overwhelming. But if you learn to can, you can turn those beautiful, juicy red orbs into other tomato based creations like spaghetti sauce and salsa, and tuck them on a shelf to use throughout the year. Last I checked, an 8 ounce bottle of salsa was around $4.00, so with the cost savings of canning your own, you can have plenty of salsa for a year at half or less the cost of a store-brand. If you grow your own jalapenos, bell peppers, onions and garlic, your savings are even greater.

As far as the cost of canning jars goes, brand new each jar will cost you around $.75 each, but if you shop at garage sales, you can get them for around $.10 each. And if you ask around, most people will gladly give you the ones they have sitting in their cabinets, which means not only are they free, but they can be used again and again. You do have to purchase the flats and rings, but they usually end up costing around $.16 for both, and if you have plenty of rings, a box of 12 flats only costs around $1.00. Even with that added expense, you are still saving a lot of money.

I don’t know about you, but after looking at the numbers, I am even more delighted that we grow our own vegetables. In our cellar right now, we still have about 12 jars of Creole Sauce, which is a cross between salsa and seasoned tomato sauce. We use that in just about everything – from as a dip for chips, to adding to meatloaf and as a topping for an omelet.

If you don’t grow your own vegetables, now might be the time to start. You don’t have to plow up your entire yard – just tuck in a few tomato and pepper plants in a sunny flowerbed, or start a collection of fun pots to put on your patio. Try companion planting to increase your yield. Plant Basil and Oregano around those tomatoes, and you have a great start on making and canning your own spaghetti sauce. Then, when you sit down at the table in the middle of December with a plate full of spaghetti, you will love it twice as much because you not only made it, but you also grew most of the ingredients and canned it yourself!