During 2008, my wife and I are tracking how much time and money we spend growing food. This is the report for May.

Today I picked the first two strawberries from our garden. They weren’t particularly good strawberries — there’s been plenty of Oregon rain lately, and they were rather flavorless — but they were strawberries, the harbingers of summer. They signify the start of five months of food harvest from our yard.

Final orders
As you’ll recall from last month’s update, April ended with a bang. A late-season hailstorm damaged Kris’ tomatoes. We were worried that they all might have been destroyed, but in the end only two needed to be replaced.

During the first weekend of May, we visited the Oregon Master Gardeners plant sale. Though Kris starts most of her vegetables from seed, she cannot resist a chance to wander the stalls looking at other options. This year she spent $21.50 on jalapeños, zucchini, basil, oregano, and thyme.

We also placed two garden-related orders online this month. We spent $23.59 at Park Seed on supplies for next year. (We’re counting this as a cost for 2008 in order to compensate for the material we purchased in 2007 but used this year.)

We also placed a $65.80 order with Spray-N-Grow to purchase a variety of fertilizers, as well as a product called Sluggo. Unfortunately, the Sluggo isn’t working very well so far.

In Oregon, slugs are a nuisance. (They’re our unofficial state animal!) We can’t use the ever-popular beer traps because the rain renders them ineffective. Our garden is too big to use copper tape — it doesn’t seem to do much good. Nothing organic seems to work either, when it’s raining daily. The slugs have been chomping Kris’ cucumbers as fast as she can plant them. My corn is beginning to sprout, but the slimey beasts are licking their chops over that, too. (And then the corn has to make it past the blue jays.)

Time in the garden
Kris and I both spent time in the vegetable garden this month, but not as much as I had expected. She spent about four hours planting things and applying a foliar fertilizer. I spent an hour spading the soil (no rototiller for me this year) in order to prepare it for the corn, after which I planted the seeds themselves. I also spent half an hour weeding the grapes. Combined, we spent only 5-1/2 hours working on fruits and vegetables in May. (Kris says she would have spent more time if it hadn’t rained so much!)

I keep expecting the time we spend on this project to explode, but so far it hasn’t. Just wait until blueberry season arrives, though. It takes forever to pick those things…

Interlude
Sally Herigstad at MSN Money highlighted our garden project in her recent article listing five foods it’s cheaper to grow. The foods? Fruit trees, lettuce, herbs, vine vegetables, and bell peppers. She also lists five to leave to experts: potatoes, carrots, celery, asparagus, and wheat. Thanks for pointing to our project, Sally!

Garden tour
While Kris and I may not be putting a lot of work into the garden yet, the plants have shifted their efforts into overdrive. They loved the warm, wet Oregon May. The berries are bearing, the fruit trees are fruiting, and the vegetables are growing like gangbusters.

Last week, Kris took the camera outside to photograph some of her favorite plants. First up is one of the tomatoes:

Tomato

“This picture is sad,” Kris told me. “Look at how the plant is still missing most of its lower leaves!” I’d like to point out the tomato paraphernalia: the sturdy tomato cage and the two-liter bottle staked next to it (for watering during the summer). In the background, you can see an acorn squash beneath a plastic cloche.

The second photo shows my beloved caneberries: blackberries, raspberries, and marionberries. This probably looks like a wall of green to you; that’s what it looks like in person, too.

Caneberries

If you could see through that wall of green, you’d spy a twenty-foot row of grapes. Around the corner, we have four fruit trees: two apples, a pear, and a prune. This looks like the first year we’ll get a sizable fruit crop.

Baby Pears

Finally, here’s a photo of Kris’ pride and joy, her red currant bush. The berries are green now, of course. That’s okay. We can wait.

Currants

There are many other plants we could show you: the herbs, the potatoes, the peas. Ah well — maybe next month.

Conclusion
During May we spent $110.89 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
May 5.5 hours $110.89
Totals 21.0 hours $296.70

“I don’t know,” I said after tabulating the numbers tonight. “We’ve spent $300 on the garden already — there’s no way that’s going to pay off.”

“But most of the monetary expense is done now,” Kris said. “All that’s left is caring for the plants. From now on, it’s all about the harvest. I think you’ll be surprised.”

I hope so. To date, we’ve spent 21 hours and $296.70 on our garden, and all we have to show for it are two watery strawberries!

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