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

It was a miserable June for gardeners in northwest Oregon. The first two weeks weren’t just wet — we’re used to that — they were cold, too. The local media dubbed the month “June-uary”. Residents were quick to embrace the term. The cool weather pushed back a number of crops. Strawberry farmers groused. Blueberries and raspberries are three weeks late.

But now the sun has arrived. We’ve been harvesting strawberries and peas all month, and I picked the first blueberry this morning. (Not very good — it wasn’t quite ripe.) Raspberries should be on in a week or so, I think, and judging from the copious blossoms, we’re going to have a bumper crop. Meanwhile, the pear, plum, and apple trees have set loads of fruit. By the end of the July we may even have some vegetables.

In short, though the month got off to a slow start, we should be rolling in produce before long.

Time in the garden
Our gardening chores have become more routine. Now that all of the crops have been planted, all we do is:

  • Weed
  • Fertilize
  • Harvest

Between us, Kris and I spent about seven hours this month performing these tasks. I’ll admit that Kris is the weeder and the fertilizer. We both harvest, which is a chore I enjoy. There’s something zen-like about moving among the strawberries. (And just wait until I pick blueberries — I find that highly meditative.)

First harvest
We harvested our first strawberries on May 31st, though we’ll count them in June’s totals. (Likewise, we harvested our first currants today, but will count them for July.) During the past few weeks, our harvest has comprised:

  • 11.74 pounds (5.325kg) strawberries
  • 2.35 pounds (1.067kg) snow peas

This will seem like a bounty to some of you, and like a pittance to others, but it’s what our garden produces. It’s what we have space for. Actually, I believe both crops were substantially reduced this year due to the weather. Even the peas struggled. (Peas don’t usually struggle in Portland.)

Snow peas at the local grocery store were $5.99 per pound throughout this month, so our harvest was worth $14.08. The strawberries are more difficult to price. Purchased from Safeway in two- or four-pound containers, they could be had for $2.50 per pound. Kris picked twelve pounds at a local farm for 85 cents per pound. But I’m going to use the grocery store’s one-pound price ($3.99) because our harvest came in roughly one pound increments. That’s another $46.84 worth of food. (I welcome advice and debate over this methodology, by the way — I don’t actually know the best way to compare prices.)

In total, we harvested $60.92 of food from our garden this month.

Conclusion
During June we spent 79 cents on the garden (for a packet of lettuce seeds at Winco). We spent seven hours working on our crops. Here’s the running total so far:

Month Time Cost Harvest
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
June 7.0 hours $0.79 $60.92
Totals 28.0 hours $297.49 $60.92

Last month I wrote that I doubted we could recover our expenses on the garden. This month, after only small harvests of peas and strawberries, it seems like there’s no question that the garden will save us money. I’ll bet we harvest $300 in tomatoes alone!

After six months, we are $236.57 in the hole on this project.

Earlier I mentioned that Kris picked twelve pounds of strawberries at a local farm. U-Pick produce is an excellent deal if you don’t have a garden of your own. A family trip to pick berries can be an excellent outing for children, and it can yield some delicious jams and syrups.

Final word
Last month, some readers questioned our methodology. This isn’t a formal experiment. We’re not trying to be 100% organic (though we are mostly organic through our normal practices). Nor are we trying to be 100% frugal. Instead, we’re trying to see just what our garden costs and produces based on our normal habits. We hope the results of this experiment will help us find new ways to economize and to improve our crops.

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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