Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is Growing Vegetables Worth It From a Cost Perspective?

Last spring, I decided to track how much produce my garden generated and to try to assign a dollar value to the vegetables based on prices at my local supermarket. Whenever possible, I tried to find organic equivalents at the supermarket, although that wasn't always possible.

This year I grew (or attempted to grow) garlic, cucumber, red potatoes, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, yellow and green string beans, basil, lettuce, radishes, green pepper, acorn squash and zucchini.

My successes included garlic (17 small heads harvested) cucumbers (50 cukes from 3 plants, compared to 33 harvested from just 2 vines last summer), red potatoes (11 lbs., and so much fun to dig up), string beans and yellow wax beans (6 lbs.), basil (6 cups of leaves picked for homemade pesto sauce) and lettuce, which made a strong comeback late in the spring after a cold and rainy start.

I got mediocre results from my tomato plants before they succumbed to blight but did manage to get 25 tomatoes from 3 plants. (Compare that last year, when I harvested 108 tomatoes from 6 plants.) I also got 47 grape tomatoes.

This year's disappointments included spinach (dismal), snap peas (dismal), zucchini (2 picked at the tail end of the season), acorn squash (4 small ones picked) and green peppers (4 picked, compared to 7 picked last year). I believe the unproductive squashes simply weren't pollinated; I should have been more on the ball and ready to pollinate the squash blossoms myself, but I was too busy.

The total estimated value of produce I grew this year came to about $147. However, my expenses came to $371; most of that was the $288 I spent on6-foot-high wire deer fencing, which came in rolls of 50 feet; of course, my 11 x 17 foot garden required 56 feet of fencing, so I had to spring for 2 rolls. I expect my cost analysis will be much more favorable next year as I won't be factoring in the cost of that fence.

Interestingly, the most valuable food item I grew was something I had no hand in at all: the wild raspberries and blackberries that appear in profusion here each year. Based on Shop Rite's pricey $3.99 for a 4 oz. container of organic raspberries, I estimate the value of the 2 3/4 cups of berries I picked was $44. I could have easily picked 20 times that amount of berries, but after having Lyme Disease for two consecutive years, I reluctantly chose to pick only those berries within easy reach of my mowed yard. Most ended up on top of my morning breakfast cereal.

It's nice to think I'm saving money as I grow my vegetables, but for me, vegetable gardening is simply an enjoyable, relaxing activity that offers great satisfaction and wholesome food. Most people understand how much more flavorful a homegrown tomato is than store-bought, and the same goes for homegrown peppers (ever so crunchy), creamy soft squashes and crispy cucumbers. It's nice to think that I'm reducing my lifetime load of pesticide sprays and residue. And there's nothing that gives me a greater kick than strolling down to my garden to pick something that will land on the dinner plate that night.

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