In times like these can you afford not to garden?
The other day I was thinking about the actual value of a garden. What do you get out of it? Not just the sense of satisfaction of eating the greatest tomato ever grown. That's pretty valuable in itself. Not just the pleasure of being able to boast to friends and neighbors about how well your garden has grown, and more importantly how much better it did than theirs. What I'm talking about is money. The bottom line. It's no secret that the world is in a state of depression, an economic one, and maybe the other kind of depression too. With the media always telling us about the new unemployment rates and how dismal our future is, it's easy to get a little down. One easy thing you can do is to start considering your garden as an asset. Something positive and uplifting that actually saves you money because it can.
My favorite way to garden is through raised beds. That's no great mystery if you've looked at my garden layouts or the pictures from past posts of my vegetable garden. Raised beds are simply the easiest way for people to garden. If you want to know about the benefits of a raised bed garden take a look back at this post I wrote last year. You don't have to do much to make a raised bed garden. It can be made from wood, stone, pots, or even just mounds of earth. The last method is the simplest and the cheapest. Raised mounds made from compost and soil can do great but let's look at the kind in my garden for purposes of an in depth analysis. Construction materials for building one 4'x8' raised bed out of wood including a few screws to hold it together and dirt won't run above $25. It would be even less if you have an available supply of compost and soil. You could even do what I did to fill my beds, use layering. I gathered grass clippings, newspaper, composted manure, and topsoil and layered them to fill each bed. You can call it "Lasagna Gardening" if you like but that's just another name for layering materials. Before you begin designing your raised beds may want to read this post.
To continue our analysis we need to pick some seeds for our subject and what better garden plant is there than the tomato? A packet of 30 tomato seeds will run under $2. Not all the seeds may germinate and you might lose a few to fungal diseases or critters (darn rabbits) but you can't fit 30 tomato plants into a 4'x8' bed anyway. What you can fit is somewhere between 6-8 plants. I managed to fit 13 plants that produced very well into two beds, one 4'x4' and a 4'x8'. The indeterminate kinds ended up rambling over the borders of the garden, kind of like my typing right now but did very well in the end. Now back to the subject at hand! Other expenses for the garden include watering and time. I looked back at our water bills last year and they were about $10 per month higher between May and October. We were watering 6 raised beds (2-4'x8',2 4'x4', and 2 4'x6') with a total area of 144 square feet and tolerating a leaking toilet that I was too lazy to fix until recently. The 4'x8' bed is 32 square feet. When you adjust the cost of water for that one bed proportionally you get a watering cost of about $2.22 cents per month or $.56 per week.
How the garden compares to the store.
When you go to the store to buy tomatoes you are generally looking at a $1.99 per pound amount for tomatoes. Once the tomatoes begin to produce you could easily be bringing in 5-10 pounds of tomatoes a week. Assuming we have 6 oz. varieties we are talking about 13-27 tomatoes each week. That is pretty reasonable for a garden with 6-8 tomato plants. Each plant would be responsible for making 2.16-3.75 tomatoes per week. If anything my estimate on the yield is low and would go much higher.
Have I lost you yet?
Hopefully you're still with me. If you take that $1.99 pound rate from your friendly neighborhood grocery store and apply it to your tomatoes (5-10 pounds) you end up with $9.95-$19.90 in value. You may not buy 5-10 pounds of tomatoes at the store each week but the the value of your produce equals the store's. As we found this past year that having fresh tomatoes replaced other items from the grocery store.
When you back again at the expenses you see that the total cost of your raised beds is around $22 and watering will cost you about $.56 a week (By the way we did have drought conditions last year so water costs could vary). After three weeks of produce you have paid off your initial investment in the garden and have begun to make a profit.
The only problem with this analysis is that it most people won't be buying 10 lbs of tomatoes a week, but if you are fond of tomato sauce and like to save tomatoes through freezing or canning you will see a cost savings benefit from that large tomato yield throughout the year and not just over the summer. You can apply nearly any vegetable to a similar analysis if you wish. I didn't include any fertilization or pest control prices because I really didn't need to use much. The compost fertilized our garden very well and when I had bug problems I used insecticidal soap.
You may decide you don't want 6-8 tomato plants in you garden bed and that's OK, you can plant all sorts of vegetables that will save you money over the course of the season. A raised bed is a very cost efficient way to garden and in these economic times we are all looking for a way to save a few bucks!
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Saturday, January 31, 2009
Can You Afford Not To Garden?
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Dave is the author of Growing The Home Garden and runs a small nursery business growing vegetables and herbs for local customers in Spring Hill, TN. (Blue Shed Gardens or FB page). He has written for gardening publications, Troy-Bilt and Lowe's and is available for edible garden consulting. Dave gardens organically and when he isn't writing, collecting seeds, or propagating plants he's parenting his 4 children as a stay at home dad.