Monday, December 14, 2009

Harvest Monday - 14 December 2009

2009 Overview Yearly Tally

Memory of garden past

It is sad to have the first Harvest Monday without a harvest. But since I picked five pounds last week, I still have plenty to eat in the fridge. And since I have no harvest it seems like a good time to do the tally overview for the year. But if you have a harvest, join in. I would still love to believe that somewhere in the world it is still green and unfrozen. Right now it is really hard since we had two days in a row with the highs not getting above freezing.

I started to do this tally in January because there was such hype about growing thousands of dollars of food for just a pittance. I had guessed that I spent about $300+ per year on my vegetable garden, not the small sums everyone else claimed. On the other side of the coin there was the book $64 Tomato in which William Alexander spent a fortune on his garden. I wanted to know where my garden stood.


I had a couple of issues. My first was spending money. You know when you are trying to lose weight and the diet books all tell you to keep track of everything you put in your mouth because if you do that you won't eat as much? Well that happened in my garden spending. Since I had to account for every penny, I found myself not buying things I would normally would have. For instance in the fall I would buy some kind of salt marsh hay or straw mulch for my garden paths. That way I could put the mulch down early in the spring (salt marsh hay is not harvested in spring and hard to find, but easy in the fall). Three bales at $12-$14 per bale adds up. This year I shredded enough leaves and decided I would use them as a mulch. I also would have bought new gloves at the beginning of the season, but I used last year's gloves with holes in them. I made do. The resistance to putting something on that sheet was pretty high.

Gifts were another issue. My MIL gave me a $100 gift to spend as I liked. I chose Fedco and bought two things that I really wanted to try, but might not have bought otherwise. I bought Azomite and a soil block maker and appropriate soil to try it out. My husband bought me a garden fork for my birthday. I desperately needed to replace mine as the handle was broken and I would have spent money on it. This was not just any garden fork. My husband got the one from Johnny's which is a whopping $75. None of these gifts were counted in the tally. But at least the last one was necessary for my continued gardening.

  • Seeds and Plants $46.28
  • Soil and amendments $53.24
  • Light setup $67.84
  • Tools $13.95
  • Supports $42.49
  • Shipping $16.13
  • Amortized Fence $60

For a total of $299.96 spent this year without gifts (290.22 in the vegetable garden,2.99 in the herb garden, and 6.75 in the flower garden). If I add in my gifts I get $475.

I'm splitting up my tally overview into four parts. Three small ones are my herb garden, my flower garden, and my fruit garden which I'll do first.

Herb Garden

Herb garden in the foreground in spring

My herb garden consists of a lot of perennial herbs or self sowing annuals. I grow many of my favorite herbs for cooking and in addition I have chamomile and three kinds of peppermint that I dry for winter tea. The herb garden is irregular in shape and has a couple of small beds. In addition it has ornamentals scattered through it. I have no idea how big it is, but an herb garden will never be very productive in poundage so I just don't worry. I harvested 4.5lbs of herbs and spent a total of $3 on a rosemary plant. The herb garden produced $55.93 worth of herbs which is really nice for a garden that mostly takes care of itself. I don't do a lot of digging, fertilizing, or planting in the garden.

Fruit Garden

Fruit garden this past week

My fruit garden is 24' long and about 5 feet wide (though I've not measured it so not sure). The year before I ripped out some raspberries that didn't produce and two grapes that I wasn't eating. I replaced them with six blueberry plants. They didn't produce this year, but next year will be the first harvest. The one spot that is producing are my Heritage raspberries that I planted 18 years ago. The occupy 6' of the fruit garden and produced 13.64lbs of berries over the summer and fall which comes out to $158. or about $5/sqft which is the best best monetary value for the square foot in all the gardens. How I love these raspberries. They required no inputs so no money was spent.


A tithonia in my cutting garden

I have the flowers in with my tally on the sidebar and hated how much money they were adding to my tally. Frankly if I didn't grow flowers I would never buy them at the store. So putting bouquets in the tally bothered me. Especially since they added so much so quickly. Flowers are expensive. So after mid June I quit picking. It was probably the wrong response, but it is what I did. I probably just should have kept track but kept them out of the tally. I pick flowers from three areas. I have a small flower section at the end of one of my vegetable rows. I have my perennial border. And I have my weeds (oxeyed daisys). I picked 252 flowers and they were worth $112.35. I spent $6.75 on seed.

Vegetable Garden

I've read many times that you can get about a pound per square foot of growing space in your garden if you try really hard. Did I? I didn't want to use the herb or fruit garden. I just wanted to try for the vegetable garden which is the reason I wanted to separate the different gardens.

I recently went out and measured my garden. You would think I would have that in hand but I didn't. Even with a fence defining the perimeter the garden does change from year to year. And I haven't had measurements for ages. You might wonder how I plan my garden. Well I've done it in my head for years. Now I have a measurement. This year I had 233 sqft of growing space and six five gallon pails. I'm going to overview each bed.

Top Bed The top bed is the smallest of the 4' wide beds at 42 sqft and I always combine it with the 2' wide bed (all the way at the bottom of the garden along the fence) in my rotation. Together they have 65 sqft of growing space. (BTW the lower bed was expanded this fall by 23 sqft and next year the rotation will have 86 sqft)

The following was harvested from these beds:

  • Alliums 15.14 lbs
  • Broccoli 2.58 lbs
  • Greens 37.66
  • Peas 10.80 lbs
  • Radish 0.80 lbs

For a total of 66.98 lbs. So the greens bed really pulls its weight and does get to the 1lb/sqft goal. Go greens! Money wise they produced $219.13 or $3.37/sqft. Not bad. But then again it was cold and wet which is really good weather for greens, so I'm not too surprised.

Middle Bed The middle bed will be the smallest next year but this year it was number two in size at 74sqft. This was my failed Three Sisters Garden.

  • Corn 0 lbs
  • Cucurbits 18.22 lbs
  • Beans 8.3 lbs

For a total of 21.52 lbs. Yup the corn failed. The winter squash mostly failed. Even the zucchini and cucumbers had issues this year. Most of my beans are dried beans that don't produce much weight per unit space. I'm hoping next year the beans and cucurbits do better (corn is getting tossed next year), but this year the bed just didn't produce. I got just under a third of a pound per square foot. Or $1.38/sqft.

West side of bottom bed in June

Bottom Bed Ah my favorite bed - the solanaceae bed. This was the largest of all the beds. It is 94sqft and gets the most sun. If any bed can produce it is this one.

  • Carrot 11.12 lbs
  • Eggplant 1.26 lbs
  • Pepper 5.52 lbs
  • Potato 16.5 lbs
  • Tomatillo 2.63 lbs
  • Sungold F2 Tomatoes 38.28 lbs

For a total of 75.31 lbs in 94sqft. Or $2.54/sqft. Things that went wrong: the Eggplant had 12sqft of growing space and were a bust because of the cold wet weather; we had late blight in the potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant; and the chipmunks ate half the tomatillos. So considering I think this bed did pretty well.

Pails I had six five gallon pails that I got off of freecycle. They contained a variety of tomatoes. I harvested 32.18lbs from them or $21.39 per pot. I was worried going in that I would be spending more on potting material than I would get back, but I spent very little, probably $25. They produced $128 which much more than that, but if you don't reuse your soil (and you can't if you grow tomatoes every year) it can add up over time.

Was growing vegetables worth it?

  • Harvested: 205 lbs in 233 sqft and 6 pails
  • Spent $290.22 (plus $175 in gifts)
  • Produce worth for local organic $780.32
  • Produce worth guesstimate for conventional $520

So best case scenario is that I always buy local organic and I don't count my gifts. Then I'm up $490 for the year and it was so worth it. That is a big savings in produce and I don't even have a huge garden.

The worse case scenario is that I never buy local organic and I always buy conventionally produced vegetables. In addition I count all my gifts. Then my total is only $55 or an order of magnitude different. Sigh. So you pick the number you like better. You can make numbers say anything if you count them right.

The other gardens are so worth it in time and money. They don't produce as much per square foot, but since they require little input and only planting once, you really don't need much gardening equipment. For a fruit garden you could borrow a shovel from a friend for the year you plant. For an herb garden a trowel is probably sufficient. Just thrown on mulch every year and you're good.

Vegetable gardens require more time and monetary input as they are replanted every year. You need seedlings which require even more money than seed or a light set up to grow your own. To get the most out of your space it requires good timing with successions. So it takes a lot more effort and knowledge.

I think a lot of the people that say you can grow your own on very little because they don't add in things like fences, tools, soil amendments and garden supports. They only look at seeds. You can do it with very little if you want to, but most gardeners don't. I could get by in the garden with pruners, a trowel, and a shovel, but I have a lot of tools. I could plant my transplants in old plastic clam shells from the recycle bin, but I have a snazzy soil blocker (and want more sizes) before that I used six packs. I could let my tomatoes sprawl, but I cage them. I could let the bunnies eat my carrot tops, but I have a fence. I have poles and buy twine every year to string up peas instead of using pea brush. I think most gardeners are like me and choose to spend on certain things to make our life easier and to get more of a harvest out of a small spot. So to the $25 garden that produces $1000 worth of food in a year, I say bullshit. (Though I'm going to give kudos to Joe Lamp'l who grew 78 lbs in a new garden on $15.05 this year. Though to be realistic he was given all his seed and used tools he already had.) And to the $64 tomato all I can say is, "You've got to be kidding!" (Not to mention that big things like my fence should be amortized over its life.)

The one thing this didn't show was how healthy it is to grow you own food which is of course priceless. I'm not just talking about getting outside and getting some exercise. And I'm not just talking about the mental benefits of finding peace in the garden. I find when I'm growing my own food I want to use it more. I hate throwing it away since it was such an investment in my time - a fun investment, but still an investment. So I eat better over the summer and fall when my harvests are coming in than I do in the winter and spring. Some days it is a struggle to eat well. It is so much easier to throw together lunch of bread and cheese than to make a salad or cook up a stir fry. The reality is they don't take long, but when I'm feeling rushed or really hungry I can cut corners. I do it less with produce from my garden.

If you would like to help me believe that harvest still exist, put your name and URL into Mr. Linky below. It doesn't matter how big or small your harvest is. You don't have to count the pounds like I do. If you have had a harvest this last week, show us and join in! Really I'm dying here under the snow and ice. I need visions of tomatoes and spinach to dance in my head for the holidays.


  1. That's an awesome tally for this year. Next year, I'm going to keep track of my expenses and savings as well.

  2. You have kept so detail track on your garden. I guess I could never do that, especially not comparing it to what is worth on the market... perhaps I could next year just keep track on volumes only.

    My vegetable garden would never be profitable, as I have bought a plot next to mine, just so I could have a garden. That’s investment that I can’t pay off with veggies... but it makes me happy, and that’s what’s important!

    One additional element could be counted and valued: time spent on gardening...

  3. You keep such wonderful records. I wish I was as good at keeping track. Next year's garden is already in the hole from garden expansions and equipment. By spring I will have spent about $1500, but most of that will be on things that will be in use for many years to come.

    I figure it all comes out in the wash. How many other people can say that their hobbies pay for themselves? As time goes on it will cost me less to garden.

  4. Hi Daphne, we have no harvest here, but did eat raspberries almost daily from the vine until just recently. Let me help you from an accounting point of view. The tools, fencing, and other long term usuable items should be amortized over the life of their usefulness including depreciation. At least twenty years for shovels and forks, five years for hand trowels. Gloves barely make it a year. See where I am going? You divide the cost of the tools by the number of years of use you will get. The light set up too. That might help your bottom line. As for the store bought, absolute use organic prices and don't forget that carbon footprint of shipping, overhead at the grocer's, labor. Your own cost savings will spike! :-)

  5. Excellent. Keeping track is so important to dispel the gardening myths on both sides, as you did. Although you conclude (and I agree) that gardening provides far more value than you can add up on a calculator, it's still very important to keep records, to be able to show a quantitative value as well as a qualitative one.

    The only "crop" which I weighed last year was my tomatoes. For a variety of reasons (lack of sun, drought, squirrels) my harvest was small. However, since I already had the tools, and well-amended soil from years of gardening and growing non-edible plant, my outlay was not too high.

  6. Now that I have a kitchen scale, I think I will start keeping track of my harvests starting January 1st. I am curious myself as to whether or not growing your own veggies is economically advantageous. But then again, you're right, it has a lot to do with how you spin the numbers and ultimately, the value you place on knowing where your food comes from.

    I think you also have to discount some of your start up if only we can get the federal government to deduct dollars spent on growing your own food, then it would be a no brainer...maybe that should be our next cause!

  7. Good analysis. Thanks for your work!

    This year, I was establishing a new garden on terribly horribly neglected/abused land. Plus the hottest driest summer in recorded history. So I can just about count my yield on one hand. However, I'm a pretty good scavenger for materials, tools, and seeds, so the cash balance wasn't too bad.

    Another cost that could need to be included is irrigation. Either paying for utility water, or capital investment for a rainwater system.

    Another benefit is what goes onto corporate books as "goodwill" - the non-monetary value that somehow makes the enterprise worth more than its total. For example, you stopped cutting flowers. You could have also been giving them away to random neighbors, who will someday come jump your car battery, or such.

    Looking forward to next year...

  8. Oh dang, I only have time to skim through your post at the moment. I'm going to come back and leave you a proper comment when I get back from the dentist!

  9. Wow, very impressive bookkeeping. I love seeing the photos of your garden in summer. So nice to remember at this time of year.

    I've been inspired by your blog to start weighing my harvests, and harvested about 6 lbs this week. Next year, I plan to keep better records and a running tally like you're doing. Do you use a computer program? How do you determine the value of your harvests?

    But I'm not sure that I want to tell everyone how much I really spend on my garden, especially this year when we invested in raised beds and bought compost, or last year and the year before when we were buying our fruit trees. Those are all investments in happiness!

  10. Daphne - your garden did very well this year, and it's cool that it put some money back in your pocket, too. BTW, i'm gonna use your instructions from an earlier post about making apple butter this weekend, as it's the only one that I've seen that makes sense! Thanks for posting about it!

  11. Kalena Michele, Thanks.

    vrtlarica, I'm contemplating just keeping track of volumes too. But I keep changing my mind. And yes I don't add in the cost of land to garden. That would be way too much.

    The Mom, well you could amortize that start up cost like I did with my fence (as long as you intend to be there for a while). My fence cost me $1200 originally and I amortized it over 20 years which means it cost just $60 a year.

    fairegarden, I did amortize my fencing which was put in 18 years ago which was my major start up cost of the garden. If I did amortize everything I would have to know what I spent in the past to get an accurate measure. I just figured I'd replace what needed replacing and buy what I needed to buy for the year. It would all average out. Trust me next year I'll probably spend even more (more soil blockers and more lights).

    mss @ Zanthan Gardens, I just try to keep those overhead costs low. It is an effort not to spend money on the garden, but I try. Well to a certain extent.

    Thomas, start up costs ought to be amortized as Frances was saying. If your start up cost was $1000 and you expect to garden there for 20 years (and the stuff you bought will last that long) then for the next twenty years you add $50 to the record of the cost of your gardening. Interesting idea of having gardening cost deductible. That might get people to garden more. Maybe.

    Anonymous, I scavenge a lot of materials too, but probably not enough. My raised bed garden uses down trees from the backyard instead of boards to build some of the beds. I like the rustic look. I didn't think about adding in irrigation costs. If I go that far I ought to add in electricity costs for raising my transplants too. And I did give away flowers and vegetalbes. I still counted them though.

    Michelle, it was a rather long post. I wonder when I write the really long ones if people love them or hate them. They do take a long investment in time to read.

    Lou, I print out sheets that I made that have columns for variety, date, and weight. I keep the sheet in the kitchen so I'll remember to write it down. Then once a week before harvest monday I copy it into excel - well now open office (I switched computers recently). I set up the spreadsheet to calculate everything automatically I just have to plug in the numbers for that week. I started in the winter by looking online for organic produce prices. So I started off with estimates. Then as the farmers market opened the numbers were refined for my local price. If I could find it that is. Otherwise I used the online price. If I couldn't find either for my crop (like Komatsuna) I guesstimated what the price should be based on similar items at the market. And yes buying the big things adds a lot, but those are the things you should amortize over their life. The only really big thing in my garden is the fence, put in 18 years ago. It is amortized and I put a cost of $60 for it in this year.

    EG, I hope your applebutter works well. I've been enjoying mine for quite some time.

  12. Daphne,

    Thanks for your thorough post. Your spreadsheet inspired me to keep track this year of my harvest weights and I think I used your estimates for prices.

    I haven't been posting total weights and values because it is quite sad in comparison, but from my 48 square feet of garden, I got 34.5 lbs of produce. So I guess I didn't make one pound per square foot. I blame the zucchini. I planted 3 and only got one zucchini the whole summer.

    I'm hoping I may have another harvest next week. We'll see if the temp in the cold frame warms up so I can pick something.

  13. Love all your record keeping. I am a bit of a financial nut and really have to resist doing a similar system. I spend to much time on the laptop as it is :-) I think it makes sense to base the system on organic produce as home grown is even fresher and more valuable in my opinion. But I do agree on the toughness of trying to save compared to conventional produce. Food is so cheap, even after the last bout of food inflation that it is hard to beat.

    My garden came close to 1lb/sf this year, 121lbs (so far) on 163sf. If it was not for blight I bet I would have had a pound or more per square foot.

  14. Fantastic post, Daphne, and your garden photos are so abundant and beautiful! You did a fabulous job, both of growing produce and of telling it like it is. I'm already looking forward to your garden posts chronicling next year's efforts!!!

  15. I'm really impressed with all the detail in your analysis and breakdown. There's really a book called the $64 Tomato? Could be the story of the season for many of us.

    As you know, I did make a tally though not as accurate as yours. I too found myself resisting the temptation to purchase items I would have in years when I wasn't keeping track. My husband came home with some great salt hay and I actually cringed...I still had Mainely Mulch from the year before (salt hay was rare in 2008), but in the end salt hay is much easier to move around. And my father allowed me to help myself to some of his rabbit fence so I could make a new pea trellis, that was a bonus.

  16. Such a detailed post! It is amazing to see the spring pictures then that snow one, such a contrast (I have only ever seen snow in real life once so it is hard to imagine without the contrasting pictures for guidance) Thanks for keeping the harvests posts going over this cold and wintery time!

  17. Yes! I harvested a bowl of lettuce 6 days ago ;-)

    Very good article, Daphne. I had good intentions on keeping track of my costs, but that soon petered out. I know my cost was low though, compared to the amount I harvested, although I never would have bought that much food.

  18. I don't mind long posts when they're full of good information and interesting insights like your current one!

    You've made one excellent point that I think most new gardeners are not aware of - growing your own vegetables is not necessarily inexpensive or easy. There's far more costs and effort required to start a successful vegetable garden than most people realize (or admit to). I feel sorry for new gardeners that are misled into believing that all they have to do is plunk some seeds into the ground, stand back, and then harvest pounds of produce. It's just not that simple. Which leads to another sore point for me - people, (friends, neighbors, family, etc.) who have no clue how much effort and expense goes into the free vegetables that they like to get from me... Maybe I'm just selfish.

  19. Emily, I blame the zucchinis too :> They really didn't produce this year and I had four plants in the garden. Which is lucky because I usually only have two, so at least I got enough to make zucchini bread this winter. You still seemed to get a decent amount from the garden.

    Dan, lol it really doesn't take me a long time. At least after I set up the spreadsheet and worked out the bugs. The hard part was remembering to weigh before I ate something. And I do think the pound per square foot is doable in a really good year if all the successions are well planned. Next year though I'm going for a lot of dried beans which won't help, but they will let me eat from the garden in winter more which is what I'm going for.

    OFB, now you are going to make me do this all again? ;> I am thinking about it right now.

    Sally, Yes there really is a book with that title. It is so easy to get carried away and spend a fortune on the garden. And I agree, counting what you spend really makes you think about those purchases. BTW I used Mainely Mulch this year because I couldn't get salt hay last year either. Now I see it all over.

    prue, the garden really changes over the months. I'll do a post at the end of the year that does overview photos from all the different seasons.

    Granny, yay! Well you harvested so much. You were buried in produce. It wouldn't be hard to come out positive.

    Michelle, it is a lot of work. I didn't even go into how many hours I spent. I do confess to spending a lot more time in the garden than necessary though because I like it. I enjoy puttering. If I'm stressed out, I either go for a walk or go to the garden. So it is good therapy to me even if it is a lot of work. As to giving away food, I have a hard time both ways. I like to give people things I know they will like. What I hate is when I've slaved over something (like my jams) and the gift isn't very appreciated. I don't want to give up my hard won produce without it being as loved by them as it is by me.

  20. Great analysis Daphne. I opt for the organic produce as the equivalent value of product cost avoided. It's the only thing that could be considered remotely comparable in my opinion - and even that is a stretch unless it is local and super fresh.

    I am not quite finished with my financial tally for 2009 because I am still harvesting items from the garden - but I intend to wrap it up and summarize after the start of the new year.