Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gardening to save money

The Frau asked me how much I think I save on food by gardening. It's hard to say, really! I have been tracking my gardening expenses, but it's accurately measuring what I get back that's more difficult. Someday I might be on par with the folks at the Urban Homestead who track their produce in pounds (in terms of record keeping, not growing...not sure I have the ovaries for their operation, or at least not yet, anyway!). As of yet I don't even own a kitchen scale (note to self...).

It might be best to try to look at how much I spend on produce, which is a lot, I think, compared to most people. (Maybe? Perhaps I'm not sure about that statement...And I'm not referring to vegetarians or people who shop exclusively at Whole Foods, which I can't afford...Have you met Sallie Mae? She's my corporate sponsor.) I'm estimating $80-$110/month for two.

My expenditures have been reducing in a rolling sort of way since early April. First I replaced greens and lettuces and radishes, then came kohlrabi, turnips, turnip greens, arugula, cabbage, carrots, green beans, etc. Soon it will be more peppers, eggplant, and loads and loads of get the picture.

I think it would be fair to say that my produce expenditure are now cut by at least half. At least. Maybe more. I'm still spending money on potatoes and tomatoes until my ripen up, and of course we don't have any fruit planted at our rental, so we shell out for that (Frau, you lucky lady, I know all about your peaches and pears!). Once we land somewhere permanent that will be our next landscaping investment. Fruit trees, bushes, etc. and maybe also a small greenhouse... (I can dream, can't I?)

I'm also spending on supplemental salad materials since I eat a salad every day for lunch - bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, etc. I have a feeling that I'll be buying salad greens again soon, too, once the arugula quits for the summer. The NZ spinach hasn't exactly taken off yet and the last of the lettuces are now approaching two feet high! Luckily, the peppers and cucumbers I planted are waiting in the wings to offset that. I also tried to plant enough tomatoes to can some for the fall/winter. I plan to do as big a fall garden as I can to get some extra stuff out of it for storage.

All of our dinner vegetables have been provided by our produce for a while now, with the exception of garlic and mushrooms (and are mushrooms really a vegetable?). We've had greens and rice in numerous ways; carrot, kohlrabi, and turnips with meat; spring onion soups; lamb's quarter and basil risotto... Last night I baked Asian style pork chops with kohlrabi greens and okra, romano beans, garlic, onions, and a Hungarian wax pepper. With the exception of the garlic, all of the vegetables were from the garden. Tonight we're having green bean and eggplant pesto with wild rice (which, unfortunately, I can't grow!). Tomorrow it'll be that big butternut squash and a salad and whole wheat bulgur. This weekend we'll probably have some cabbage one night and a homemade pizza with Hungarian wax peppers and basil and onions.

Counting seeds, soil amendments, bamboo stakes, and a few plants here and there, I've probably spent around $125, give or take, for this season. I still have tons of seeds left and the stakes will remain viable for at least a few years. Plus, every year I learn a little bit more about seed-saving and save a little bit more over time. My largest expense was on soil amendments, which I probably wouldn't do every year, given that our homemade compost has been supplementing everything and is a continual process in and of itself. So is it a viable operation? Yes. And knowing where and how my food was grown, and being able to harvest it immediately before I eat it, makes that a resounding "definitely!"

If I were trying to turn this into a city program for low income folks, I would first try to get some sort of grant/donation money to help pay for seeds and compost. I'd try to get farmers to donate manure. I'd try to organize digging teams and present a brief workshop on watering, weeding, etc. using the local knowledge as team leads. Then I'd recommend high yield seed/plant varieties such as greens (turnip, mustard, collards), beets, turnips, tomatoes, beans, summer squash, zucchini, and peppers. Teaching composting, canning (not me, I'm a newbie!), and cover cropping would be important, too.

Man, that would be cool! And it will probably trend in that direction given the price of groceries and gas and energy bills and the diminishing returns on oil...

Lawns are for wusses. Give me a trowel and some dirt any day.


anajz said...

I have not been keeping tabs on what I have spent thus far...and I probably do not want to know either. I didn't have much luck with the seedlings, so I ended up buying most of my garden...and as I have mentioned already...:( I haven't harvested much of anything.
I did cut some of my brocolli leaves off and some of my larger spinach leaves and dehydrated them for future use. I also dehydrated some jalapeno peppers that acccidentally froze in the fridge. Thanks for the heads up on that info.
We are traveling a lot the next two weeks so that is when the veggies will all start coming in...when I have someone else taking care of

Hausfrau said...

So... did you say you were starting a low income gardening program? :) Thanks for the post - for a while I was tracking my gardening expenses but then I got lazy. Hey, I will bring you some peaches if we come up there when they are coming off the tree - whoa! Don't know what I am going to do with all of them! I have an experiment in mind involving a Sun Oven, though.

Lewru said...

How about canning them? Drying them? Freezing them? You lucky gal!

Lewru said...

Anajz, I'm sorry to hear about your gardening woes! Is it the weather? The soil? I dumped tons of stuff into mine (at least the tomato/pepper beds)... And it is relatively well protected from wind...and we've had oodles of water...And did I mention I dance naked at midnight to incite the garden fairies to riot?? (Just kidding.)


anajz said...

Oh, now you tell me...I forgot about the dancing! :)

I took some photos today and hope to get them posted before we leave town tomorrow.

Verde said...

Oh reading about all that made me hungry!

I think I've spent more on flowers than vegitable seed and I'm gardening a 1/2 acre (with others). Now, I havn't harvested much.

Lewru said...

I would kill for 1/2 an acre. :)