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

It was a berry, berry good month at Rosings Park (as we call our happy half acre). Gloomy June faded into memory, the sun came out, and the berries ripened. This is the time of year when there’s little to do in the garden but water the plants and harvest the produce. There’s plenty of work to preserve the food, however: canning, freezing, and drying.


Raspberry disaster
At the beginning of July, we discovered we had no raspberries. We usually get several pounds from our over-zealous canes, but this year we only got a few nibbles — they weren’t even worth weighing.

We’re still not sure what went wrong, but the most likely cause of our raspberry disaster is poor pruning on my part. Our guess is that I either pruned the canes back too hard, or, more likely, pruned them too late. We do expect to see a fall crop (and probably a good one), but our summer crop of raspberries never materialized.

Sharing food
This project is interesting because it has forced us to decide how to classify certain costs and “profits”. For example, we don’t actually grow cherries on our property, but the neighbors let us harvest 12.5 pounds (5.649kg) of fruit. Should we count that in our totals? At about $2.99/pound, that’s $37.38 of cherries!

We’ve decided instead to keep a separate tally for produce received through other methods. There’s certainly a cost savings involved, but we didn’t actually grow it ourselves.

Meanwhile, we’ve found a way to deal with our excess berries while also compensating for our inability to grow carrots and lettuce. We’re trading berries for greens grown by one of Kris’ co-workers. This is a great deal for both parties. For accounting purposes, we’re ignoring this deal, however. After we harvest the berries and weigh them, it doesn’t matter what happens after that.

The fruits of our labor
Here’s the complete tally for this month’s garden production.

  • 0.79 pounds (0.360kg or about 1 pint) strawberries @ $3.13/pound = $2.47
  • 2.92 pounds (1.326kg) snow peas @ $5.99/pound = $17.49
  • 5.91 pounds (2.681kg or about 8.5 pints) red currants @ $3.99/pint (~300g) = $35.66
  • 5.23 pounds (2.376kg or about 8 pints) blueberries @ $2.99/pint (~300g) = $23.68
  • 1.52 pounds (0.689kg or about 3.5 pints) gooseberries @ $3.99/pint (~200g) = $13.75
  • 6.52 pounds (2.965kg or about 10 pints) caneberries (blackberries, boysenberries, and marionberries) @ $2.49/pint (~300g) = $24.61
  • 1.27 pounds (0.575kg) of string beans @ 1.99/pound = $2.52
  • 5 zucchini @ $0.50/each = $2.50
  • 2 cucumbers @ $0.50/each = $1.00

For the purposes of this project, we’re using “best match” pricing. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re obtaining typical pricing from our local farmers market. In some cases, we use pricing from a local organic produce stand. In all cases, we’re trying to be fair, but this is more art than science.

Our total harvest in July yielded $123.68 in produce, including 31 pints of berries.

Time in the garden
This month Kris spent about an hour each weekend fertilizing and keeping tabs on the garden. Together, we spent one hour this month tying up the tomatoes, spreading mulch, and other chores. But most of our time was spent picking berries. We combined for about six hours harvesting our produce. We spent eleven hours total working on our crops this month.

During July we spent $20.94 on the garden for three bags of soil to go around the roots of the blueberries. (The bases of the blueberries are mounded, and the soil tends to erode, exposing the roots.) Here are the running totals 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 $50.83
July 11.0 hours $20.94 $123.68
Totals 39.0 hours $318.43 $174.51

We also harvested $37.38 in fruit from the neighbors.

As July draws to a close, the tomato plants have reached the top of their cages and are loaded with green fruit. The Sungold cherry tomato will be first to ripen (we’ve nibbled a few already), followed by Stupice. The cucumber and zucchini are beginning to produce regularly and the corn is thriving. In the herb bed, the elderberries are growing dark and gleaming, and the nearby fruit trees each bear a load we’ll enjoy late in the summer.

Kris has put away snowpeas and grated zucchini in the freezer, along with several batches of freezer jam (my favorite). She’s also put up several varieties of cooked jams and jellies, canned cherries in light syrup, pickled green beans with dill, garlic and ginger, and has dried cherries, blueberries and currants for future use. (One of her co-workers came over on Wednesday to learn how to can pickled beans.) We’ll be glad to have this summer’s bounty during the long rainy winter.

Final word
Just to be clear on the purpose of this project: This isn’t a formal experiment. Kris and I are long-time hobby gardeners, and we have set ways that we do things. This year, we are not trying to do anything different than we have for more than a decade. 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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