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.

Year in Review

Plot in late July

It is January and time to review 2018 in the garden. The growing season in New England started late because of a very long winter. I did not start planting my peas until April and my potatoes until May, a month later than usual. We had a wet and cool spring followed by a hot and wet summer.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers: I had three tomato plants that were heavily producing (one Brandywine and two Momotaros). That was plenty of fresh tomatoes for my family. Next season, I would have the same amount of plants but maybe add one or two early varieties to spread out the harvest period. Also, the Momotaros were not as flavorful as the Brandywine, so I will go back to heirlooms only (and hopefully find out what soil amendments the tomato research bed at City Natives used – tons of huge tomatoes there). I had one set of cucumber plants (I think three or four seedlings together) and could hardly keep up with the amount of fruit it produced. Definitely will not need more next season. The eggplant produced very late in the season. It was one of those smaller variegated type, tasty, but not a great producer. I had a hot pepper plant, which did not thrive, it might have been shaded out by some other plants. I got a handful of tasty very hot peppers though (do not remember the variety, it was a Thai pepper).

Pole bean vines early in the season

Legumes: I did not have as many peas as expected, many of the seeds were not growing into plants. I blame the birds. I should grow more next season and perhaps in succession. I planted the bush beans and the pole beans on the same day (June 1), but since they have different germination/maturation times, the harvests were staggered nicely (bush beans first, pole beans later). This worked very well and I will do the same again next season.

Potato seedling

Potatoes: Not a successful year. I think it was the wet summer. Lots of potatoes were rotted once I harvested them. I will do two hills next season, but fingerlings only and remember to be very careful NOT to water them too much. (One of my plot neighbors was gone for the entire month of August and neglected her plot. She dug huge amounts of beautiful and big potatoes out of the ground in September). The ones I harvested though were delicious.

Garlic: Not a great harvest for the softnecks. Could have been the long and cold winter (I read that softnecks do not do well under these conditions). I had a good amount of volunteer hardnecks, even though they were small. Next season, I will do a mix again of softnecks and hardnecks. I planted seed garlic again in late fall (softneck). I also saved a few nice heads of the hard neck (Red Russian) and planted the cloves.

Greens: The Swiss chard did very well despite the leaf miner damage. As usual, I just snipped the affected leaves and discarded them in the trash. Kale had growing pains, I grew it from seed and the first leaves were mangled by woodlice, flea beetles and slugs. But those are fighters. Spring greens were decimated by flea beetles despite the row cover. I should just stop trying. The fall greens did so much better, as usual. I planted fall green mix (lettuces, red kale, mustard greens) from Sand Hill Preservation and also arugula. The mache was a no-show again. I have never had success growing it in the plot. Ever.

Root crops: Radishes did well, but had some chewing damage. Carrots were a mixed bag. The first crop did great, the second not so much, probably because I neglected to water them well in the beginning. I need to take care to become better at grouping vegetables with similar watering needs. I also need to be more diligent thinning the radishes and carrots. Beets did well, I want to plant more interesting varieties and maybe succession plant those, so I can enjoy them all year.

Herbs: I had planted a parsley plant and a sage plant. Both I bought as seedlings. Both died over the course of the season, they just rotted away. I am not sure why, very strange. The dying sage is visible in the first picture of this post, in the right bottom corner. The basil did great as usual.

Plans for next year:

More: flowers, heirloom tomatoes (maybe 3 early and 3 late), rainbow carrots, pickling cucumber, beets (golden and Chiogga), head lettuce, hot peppers (different varieties), eggplant

Same: cucumbers ( 1 plant), pole beans (one tripod), bush beans (two rows), Swiss chard (1 row), basil (3 or 4 plantings), one squash plant (butternut), radishes, greens, leeks, potatoes (fingerlings or specialties only)

Less: kale (2 to 3 plants will be enough, seedlings), Thai basil (did not really use any)

Maybe: melon, tomatillos

Back porch plans: all the herbs, rainbow chard (so pretty), hot peppers, container eggplant, flowers

Also: Find a way to control the woodlice that eat my seedlings and strawberries and low-hanging tomatoes.