Gardening by Numbers


Growing your own vegetables provides you with healthy, fresh produce. Not to mention the joy it brings to get your hands dirty, smell the freshly turned soil and to see your plants grow and bear fruit. But does growing your own vegetables also make economic sense? After all, you do have expenses as you need to buy seeds and/or seedlings, compost, mulch, tools etc. And then there is the manual labor, even if for most gardeners it is a “labor of love”. Every year, I have the best intention to try to answer this question but every year I fail to record the weight and amount of produce harvested in order to assess the monetary value of my garden. This past season was no different.

I do have numbers for the input though. In 2018, I spent a total of $ 114.07 on seeds, seedlings, seed garlic, seed potatoes and supplies. In detail, I spent the following:

  • Sand Hill Preservation Center (seeds) 18.00
  • Fedco (seed potatoes) 18.00
  • Johnny’s (seeds) 9.45
  • Home Depot (manure etc., herb seedlings) 29.83
  • Agricultural Hall Jamaica Plain (2 x hay) 26.00
  • Burpee (seed garlic) 12.79

I believe I definitely got my money’s worth growing my own vegetables even though I can’t say precisely how much money I saved. In 2018, I bought only one single head of garlic in between the last harvested head of 2017 and the first cured head of 2018 (and we use a lot of garlic, sometimes 6 to 8 cloves in one dish). I did not buy any chard, green beans or cucumbers (or many other vegetables) all through the summer. I make a home-cooked dinner for my family of four almost every night, we rarely eat out (maybe once a month) and order take-out maybe once or twice a year, so there is a lot of cooking in my kitchen. I grew almost all the herbs I used all summer and fall — even though the sage and flat parsley in my plot mysteriously died over the summer (I had potted parsley and sage on the back porch).

I have a few “hard” numbers from my harvests though: I harvested a total of about 25 pounds of cucumbers (from a set of 3-4 plants), a disappointing amount of only about 4 lbs. of fingerling potatoes, about 20 lbs. of tomatoes. My garlic harvest was much smaller this season (about 25 heads) and as of right now (mid-January), I have only 3 full heads left. I harvested about 2 dozen leeks. I have no numbers for the beans (but there sure was a ton of them), beets, salad greens, squash, eggplant, carrots, radishes, asparagus, rhubarb, Brussels sprouts, chard, kale or hot peppers.

Harvest September 5, 2018

I produced about $60 worth of tomatoes alone (again from three plants) , assuming a price of $3 per pound. So, even with a small plot like mine you can grow the variety and the amount of organic, super-tasty vegetables needed to truly supplement your family’s diet over the summer and fall, saving you money.

Soil

Mar23_16_progress1Every garden is only as successful as its soil. Healthy, rich soil is the foundation of a productive garden. Today, I prepared part of my garden plot for spring planting. The city provides its community gardens with free compost in the spring, but the compost it typically delivered in April, which is still a few weeks away. That compost comes from leaf collections in the fall and spring and therefore is almost entirely “brown matter”, so it lacks organic components, which I dug in today in the form of, yes, aged chicken poop. I like to use chicken “stuff”, as it is easy to use, cheap and organic. But, yes, it smells a little. At least according to my husband, who likes to complain about the smell when he fixes his bikes in the basement next to our garden supplies. I dug the matter under my soil and was careful to turn only about 6-8 inches of the top soil, which is plenty for my crops. I garden in the city and when our community garden was established, it was all filled up with new top soil. Since I amend it year after year and have a lot of help in the form of tons of earthworms, I can be sure that my top soil is in good shape. But I am not sure what lies underneath and do not care to find out. I have my soil tested from time to time, every three to four years, to make sure it is free of heavy metals and also to see if it lacks any nutrients. Ready to plant peas!

Seeds

P1140985As I was planning this year’s garden a couple of weeks ago I took inventory of my my seeds and threw out all that are old. I placed my seed order with Sand Hill Preservation Center , Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Renees Garden Seeds, some of my favorite sources for vegetable and flower seeds. If you are taking inventory, here is a useful chart that shows how long seeds are viable when stored properly. Some of my seeds already got a start indoors under grow lights: leeks, kale, lettuce and parsley.

Beginnings

frost on rhubarbWelcome to my blog! Nine by eighteen (feet) are the dimensions of my community plot in Boston, Massachusetts. I have been tending to my small organic kitchen garden for 14 years now and in this blog I will share my successes and failures, growing techniques, methods to maximize space, my battles with garden pests, ideas for gardening with kids and just thoughts on trying to live sustainably in general. I will also post about the gardening and urban farming community in Boston. Thanks for checking in!