Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Monetary Value of This Year's Vegetable Garden

Yesterday I pulled up the slowly fading pole beans, bell pepper plants and tomato plants, so I was able to crunch some numbers and tally up what my vegetable garden yielded this summer based on its monetary value.

To calculate prices for my organic produce, I used prices for organic produce at the grocery store I shop at most regularly...Shop Rite.  In three cases (string beans, spaghetti squash and raspberries) I could not find an organic equivalent, so I used non-organic prices.

As for the raspberries, what I harvested on my property in July are actually wineberries, but they're very similar to raspberries, so I used Shop Rite's price for raspberries to calculate their value. I've never seen wineberries for sale, anyway.

And although I picked enough basil to make 12 servings of pesto sauce, I ddn't bother to estimate a price for this. Nor did I bother to price the 9 miniature ornamental gourds I grew, just for fun.

But here's what I did count, ranked by order of greatest dollar value first:

Wineberries: These grow in wild profusion in the backyard. Last year, I only picked 2 3/4 cups of berries, enough to enjoy on my breakfast cereal for a few weeks.This year, I got more serious, picking nearly every day during the month of July. (One benefit of unemployment is time.)Those I didn't use immediately, I froze for winter use.

This year, I picked 39.5 cups, or 316 oz., of berries. Shop Rite charges a pricey $3 for a teeny 6 oz. container of non-organic raspberries, so at a value of $157, the wineberries proved to be my most valuable "crop." Ironically, it's the only one I didn't actually plant.

Tomatoes: If you grow your own food, you'll remember that last year was a bad one for tomatoes. Last year, I got just 45 cherry tomatoes and 25 regular tomatoes at an estimated value of $20. This year, my 5 plants did much better, yielding 152 tomatoes weighing 48.35 pounds with a value of $144.56 ($2.99 a lb, organic).

Zucchini: Last year, I picked just 5 zucchini, perhaps because I didn't try hand-pollinating the blossoms. This year, I did hand-pollinate and I was rewarded for my effort with 26 zucchinis weighing about 55 pounds and worth $109 ($1.99 a lb, organic).

So to recap, wineberies, tomatoes and zucchini were my most valuable crops. After that, the monetary value of my produce drops considerably.

Cucumber: After being completely overwhelmed by too many cucumbers last year (50), I limited myself to just 2 vines this year and ended up picking 13 cukes worth a total of $25, based on organic prices ($2 ea, organic).

Spaghetti squash: These take up a lot of room; I picked just 4 squash weighing nearly 15 pounds in total with a non-organic value of $22.

Salad greens: There was some guesswork involved here, but I ate 17 large bowls of salad greens worth about $20 based on organic prices, conservatively ($6 a lb, organic).

String beans: I tried growing pole beans this year instead of last year's bush beans. I picked 11 pounds of beans with an estimated non-organic value of $14.19.

Acorn squash: I picked 5 acorn squash weighing in at 6.5 pounds, with an organic value of $13.

Red and russet potatoes: I had only enough room for 2 6-foot long rows of potatoes. My disappointing harvest of just 6 pounds of potatoes, compared to last year's 11-pound harvest, convinced me that with an organic value of just $7, it really wasn't worth it to devote so much space to this veggie. (However, potatoes are among the most heavily sprayed vegetables, so avoiding pesticide residue bears some consideration.) Some of the potatoes had to be thrown away as moles, which devastated my lawn, apparently also liked to nibble on tubers.

Bell pepper: I have yet to have a bumper crop of bell peppers, but I did manage to pick 6 this year (5 last year) from 4 plants (!) for a total value of $2.38.

Grand total: $515.13

After subtracting $86.01 in expenses (primarily for seeds, seedlings, horse manure and a few more metal fence posts), my net profit is in the neighborhood of $429.

Compare that to last year's negative net profit of $222, primarily due to the cost of my 6-foot-high deer fencing  and fence posts ($288). I also picked far fewer wineberries last year, and this is my most valuable crop.

Thoughts for next year:

Vining squashes take up a lot of valuable room in my small garden, so I'll ditch the spaghetti squash (though they were fun to prepare and eat) but keep the acorn squash. I'll go with 3 cucumber vines for a happy medium and ongoing supply (but not too much) of cucumbers for my salads. I'll skip potatoes entirely (don't eat much of 'em anyway) and think about trying corn and sunflowers.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Waning Days of Summer

I haven't posted much in the way of gardening news in the last few weeks. That's partly because my vegetable garden has been on auto pilot for the most part, aside for my periodically running the soaker hose during the really hot spells.

The vegetable garden is winding down now; I pulled out all the squash plants, overwhelmed with squash vine borers and powdery mildew, a week or so ago. The tomatoes and string beans are still coming, and I have three or four green bell peppers ready for the picking. The freezer is packed with blanched zucchini, string beans, spaghetti squash and tomato sauce.

In a few weeks, I'll be posting my final tally for the estimated market value of all my vegetable produce. I've done a preliminary calculation and I must say it's pretty impressive for a small garden-for-one.

There have been two other things distracting me from my gardening for the past month. First, during the past 6 weeks, I've been helping a neighbor prepare for a garage sale, and this weekend was the sale.  She did pretty well, taking in about $300; I brought a few of my things over as well and was perfectly pleased to earn about $27. Two of my neighbor's other friends came by for a time, along with the guy who cuts her lawn, who happens to be a friend of mine.I hadn't talked to him in about three years, so we spent most of today catching up while we sat in at the garage sale.

All I can say is, it was a tremendous amount of work, sorting, organizing and pricing items, dragging items out of the house, tending to the sale both days this weekend, and then repacking unsold items for Good Will, the local senior center and the landfill. I also dragged a few things down to the roadside and was pleased that most of it was scooped up by passer-bys.

The other item demanding my attention was my job search. After a long hiatus of nothing shaking on the job front, I interviewed for two different job in the past two weeks and believe it's possible I could get an offer from either or both of them. I hope to have some definitive news in the next week and am crossing my fingers after many months of total inactivity.

The waning days of summer and cooler weather are always a bittersweet time for me. Perhaps it's the signal of the end of one season nearing and another, less welcome, one approaching that often makes me feel a little melancholy this time of year.

I am already preparing for the winter season. I had my furnace tuned up and filled up the oil tank last month. Last week, I had a very worthwhile home energy audit done for just $50. It was amazing to me how effectively the blower door test revealed invisible air leaks throughout my home. Where was the biggest leak? The door that leads to my walk-up attic. All leaks found were addressed before retesting so as to gauge the degree of improvement achieved by caulking and weatherstripping. I'd highly recommend a home energy audit to anyone considering one.