Monday, September 28, 2009

Garden Economics

Most folks we know are having to scale back on their purchases and watch their wallets a bit more closely. Across the country, people have turned to gardening to supplement, or even replace, their grocery bills. When you consider the return on investment, the choice to grow a garden is really a no-brainer.

Consider this, a pound of organic grape tomatoes (the only organic tomatoes our local Stop & Shop carries) costs about $5/lb. They are not sauce tomatoes, and we would need two pounds to handle our family's salad needs each week. That comes to $10/week, or $40/month on tomatoes that only have one use.

Certainly, if one were eating non-organic tomatoes, then the price does go down a little. But not by much. We priced some salad and plum tomatoes at the grocery store over the past couple of months and found prices ranging from $1.70/lb to $2.20/lb. If I were to purchase these tomatoes to make sauce, it would be more expensive than buying prepared sauce. Please note, our wholesale club did have them for less, but their shelf life was minimal at best. Walmart also had them for less, but for many reasons, we try to avoid purchasing at Walmart whenever possible. In the past, when we have purchased produce from Walmart, the shelf life was also minimal.

We purchased two packages of tomato seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds. We purchased the smallest size seed packets for a total of $6.10. The packets had 40 seeds each, though we were only able to use a few of both types. That was a potential of 80 tomato plants, each with the potential of producing several pounds of tomatoes.

Our efforts were minimal. I spent a couple of hours on a weekend planting the seeds indoors, and my husband spent a few hours outside preparing the vegetable beds for transplants. When the plants were ready, it only took me a couple of hours to get the tomatoes in the ground, and the process was rather enjoyable. We did stake them. It was functional, but it did look rather messy, and I'm sure we could do a better job next year. We'd check the plants on occasion to see if they needed water, which this year, there wasn't much need for watering. But that's about it. We didn't do anything else except pick tomatoes off the plants.

While we didn't get a proper weight each time we picked tomatoes, judging from the amount we used, I would guess we took in about 25-30 pounds of tomatoes from the 5 tomato plants that produced in the garden. I was able to make sauce and use some of the tomatoes in salads. The extra seeds will find their way into holiday gifts. Next year, however, we will order fresh seeds, and plant several more (and other veggies) to sell at farmers' markets along with our honey.

Of course, this holds true for each of the veggies we planted. In the first two weeks of production, a single cucumber plant produced enough cucumbers to cover the minimal cost of a packet of cucumber seeds ($3.30). That was just from one plant! That packet came with 240 seeds.

It is clearly more cost effective to grow your own food. But gardening has more benefits than being wallet-friendly. You get to pick the varieties that you want. You get a superior product that anything you could buy at the store. You get outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight. You get to enjoy a new hobby that brings you both pleasure and pride. You can't buy that at the grocery store.

Live better, a little every day.

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