FAIRBANKS — Two weeks ago, I explained why it cost us $854.32 to set up a flower and vegetable garden that had about 216 square feet of space protected from the moose and devoted exclusively to vegetables, herbs and berries. This week, I’m going to tell you how much I harvested; the grocery store price is in parentheses after each item.
To calculate how much it would have cost me to buy this amount of produce, I sent the husband off to the store to price every vegetable; he could not find any pumpkins, chickweed or rhubarb, so they were not included in the figures. The final price for the vegetables might have been a bit less if I had calculated everything by a sale price, but that is not the reality of my grocery shopping — some of the things I buy are on sale but others are not.
When I sat down and looked at the totals Ted calculated, even I was impressed. However, there were a few things that made a huge difference. First, my raised beds allow for planting that is much more intensive than ground level gardens. Second, the greens were replaced with new starts right after I pulled the mature ones. This means that every inch of the space dedicated to greens was used at least three times over during the season — so, it is as if I had three times the garden area dedicated to greens. Ditto for scallions.
Third, the mint, basil and chives are cut and come again herbs, meaning that a small patch of each yielded big harvests over the course of the summer. Fourth, I grow any crop that I can upwards, instead of having it take up space by sprawling on the ground; as a result, my peas and cukes were trellised and there was a leek or scallion or carrot between each plant.
Finally, even the smallest available bits of soil are put to use: it takes a long time for my tomatoes to spread out and fill up their designated spaces. However, before that happened, some scallions and Thumbelina carrots planted between the tomatoes were grown and gone. Same for the strawberries — by the time they had filled out, a crop of scallions had come in and been eaten.
Between mid-May, when we harvested our first greens and scallions, and Sept. 6, when the pumpkins were pulled in, my garden produced: 90 scallions ($17.85 to purchase), 2.7 pounds of peas ($9.45), 6 pounds of English cukes ($13.41), 5.2 pounds of cauliflower ($11.91), and 80 pounds of greens. (That is enough kale, chard, butter head and purple romaine to fill 112 of those 11.5 ounce bags of precut greens you find at the grocery store. With a bag averaging $2.50, it would have cost $280 to buy that many greens at the grocery.)
And that’s not all. I picked 32 pounds of zucchini ($63.68), 63 pounds of potatoes ($112.77), 1.3 pounds of green beans ($9.09), 4 pounds of leeks ($15.96), 2.3 pounds of basil (at $4.99 for 4 ounces, my two plus pounds would have cost $45.91), 1 ounce of dill (a failure), 3 ounces of bell peppers (another failure), 32 pounds of carrots ($41.28), 4.2 pounds of strawberries ($16.76), 2.3 pounds of raspberries ($26.22), 2 large and 4 small artichokes ($11.97), and 22 pounds of purple cabbage ($39.38).
Then there were the tomatoes, which started this whole project. I used up 15 pounds of green tomatoes in the 57 half pints of relish that I canned. We ate 9 pounds red, and as I write this, there are 6.1 pounds worth of green ones sitting on my kitchen counter. That is 30.1 pounds total ($90.00).
And, finally, the other herbs: 3 pounds total of four kinds of mint, and 3.4 pounds of chives. If you have ever bought herbs at the grocery store, you know they come in those small plastic packages holding a little over half an ounce each (.66 to be exact) and carrying a hefty price tag. The day Ted checked, it would have cost $72.93 for a pound of mint and the same for a pound of chives. (It makes basil, at $19.96 a pound, look positively economical!) So, it would have cost $466.75 to buy those 3 pounds of mint and 3.4 pounds of chives.
Add the $280 for the greens to that $466.75 for mint and chives, and it means my garden yielded $746.75 worth of produce in just those three things. The rest of the edibles came to a total of $525.63, so the output of my 216 square foot vegetable garden space was worth $1272.38.
Now, subtract the $854.32 I spent setting up the garden, and my net profit was $418.06. Next year, when all I would have to buy would be seeds and starts, plus extra water, the net profit would be much greater. (Alas, I will be in a new house by then.)
The numbers are more than theoretical, they were reflected in my wallet. In May, I spent $100 less than our average on groceries, $220 less in June, and more than $300 less each in July and August. And the savings will continue for a few months: we still have a freezer loaded with basil pesto and chive pesto, grated zucchini for latkes, pumpkin puree, and containers of cabbage soup. We have potatoes, carrots and jars of relish and chow-chow filling up our cupboards.
It was, as Ted put it, “Vegetable hell” at our house. These savings come to more than the $1278.38 produced by the garden because we had (and will continue to have) a number of weeks where we bought very little (expensive) meat because we had to eat more (cheap) vegetable pasta dishes.
So, despite Ted’s claims, my tomatoes do not cost $10 each. And, yes, gardening does save money.
This is my last column for this gardening season. Have a great winter planning your 2011 garden and I hope to see you here next February.
Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at email@example.com.