“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

During 2008, my wife and I are tracking how much time and money we spend growing food in our garden. April finally saw some action in the yard, but not the sort we’d hoped for.

The hail you say!
Most of the month was quiet. Our vegetable starts continued to thrive under the growlights. By the end of the month, the tomatoes had been transplanted into gallon-sized pots and were over two feet tall! Kris was itching to get them into the ground.

Average last frost is about April 15th, but this year, especially, has been strange, with snow in the Portland area in mid-April. Kris checked the weather forecast for night time lows and decided that it was worth the risk. Keeping the plants indoors any longer was also a risk; left inside, they would grow spindly as they stretched for real light.

Kris had the day off last Monday, and the weather was sunny and warm; she couldn’t resist. She spent two hours planting her tomatoes out in the vegetable garden. She dug a deep hole for each, mixed in a bit of fertilizer, gently patted the plants in, and placed the tomato cages around them.

On Tuesday, things took a turn for the worse. As I was leaving to drive to my presentation at Western Oregon University, it began to hail. The hail wasn’t big, but it fell heavily for ten or fifteen minutes. A fierce, cold wind battered the garden. “Yikes,” I thought. “Kris’s tomatoes are in trouble.” To make matters worse, Kris came home sick with a nasty head cold that kept her in bed the rest of Tuesday and all day Wednesday. Her defenseless plants were left to the elements.

Sure enough — the plants have been shredded. Most of the branches are broken and drooping on the ground. The slugs, sensing their weakness, have moved in to finish the job. Kris still holds out hope that a few days of sun (which we’re slated to receive) will help the plants pull through, but the truth is we may have to pay cash to buy new starts. And if we do, they won’t be the heirloom varieties she’s nursed from seedlings. (Kris’s note: I’m playing nursemaid for a week or two before I decide what to do. Today I sprayed the ailing tomatoes with a foliar fertilizer to see if that will help revive them. Nine of the ten plants still have their growing tips in fairly good condition, but all the side branches are sad. Woe is me!)

Meanwhile, the slugs have devoured her cucumber seedlings, too. Kris is not happy. (In fact, distraught may be a better word.) The peppers and acorn squash look okay, and the beets are sprouting nicely. The potatoes we started from the end of last year’s harvest are doing well. Ironically, most of the flower transplants look like they coped well with the hail and wind. Still, tomatoes are hardy things, to a point, so they may just make it afterall.

What started as an excellent month for the Get Rich Slowly Garden Project ended in relative disaster. Still, it’s early enough to still make an investment in nursery tomato plants, if necessary, to have a productive harvest later on.

Other chores
Aside from the setback with the vegetable garden, we spent some more time in the yard during April, preparing our food-producing plants for summer. I spent half an hour hanging pest traps on the fruit trees, and Kris and I combined for an hour of work tying up the berry canes. (The raspberries and blackberries have gone berserk, by the way. They love the moderately warm, very wet weather we’ve been having. Wow.)

We did make a few small purchases during the month. We spent $25.98 for a new hose, as well as $2.53 on a couple of herb seed packets. (We spent $21.50 at the annual plant show yesterday, but that’s an expense for May. If you hope to grow a garden this year, now is the time to check for plant sales in your area. They’re an excellent way to find quality vegetable starts and expert advice.)

Also, our strawberry plants have begun to blossom. Some of them are enormous. In just a month, we’ll be harvesting our first produce!

During April we spent $28.51 on garden-related expenses. We spent 5-1/2 hours working on our crops. Here’s the running total so far:

Month Time Money
January 4.0 hours $27.30
February 2.5 hours $0.00
March 3.5 hours $130.00
April 5.5 hours $28.51
Totals 15.5 hours $185.81

We have a lot of yardwork ahead of us in the next few weeks, including much that is food-related. I’ve learned that I didn’t prune my grapes properly, so will have to repeat that task. I need to plant my corn (possibly this afternoon). We may need to replace the tomatoes. And with luck, we’ll harvest our first strawberries before the end of May!

You can read about my goals for this series in The year-long GRS project: How much does a garden really save?

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