2009 Overview Yearly Tally
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.