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

The berry harvest continued this month at Rosings Park, our happy half acre south of Portland. Blackberry time is my favorite time of the year. And though August is often too hot for me, I’m willing to suffer the heat because I know it means the start of canning season. Sure enough, Kris has been putting up salsa and applesauce and all sorts of pickles and jams. Yum.

Also, much to Kris’ delight, we finally harvested tomatoes this week, an entire month behind schedule.

The dark side of gardening
Here’s one of the sad secrets of gardening: mid-summer can be frustrating. If you don’t stay on top of things, the garden can get away from you. Here’s an actual quote from Kris mid-month. We were on the couch watching Olympic diving when I transcribed the following lament:

I didn’t pick the blueberries. The beans need to be picked so they’ll keep producing. The cucumbers are coming on. I need to water things because it’s going to be hot this week. I need to get our extra zucchini over to the neighbors. I didn’t even pick Patrice’s apples. She offered me three times, but I’ve been too busy, and now they’re done.

Remember: we have a modest garden. We grow food for fun. This project will determine whether there’s a cost benefit as well. But even a modest garden can produce a lot of food. With my mother in the hospital and Kris’ parents in town, we didn’t have much gardening time during the first two weeks of August. For a while, there was a danger that we’d lose control, but we managed to persevere!

Supplementing our harvest
We spent nothing on the garden this month except our time. Between us, we spent about eight hours picking berries and veggies. (Kris also did a bit of fertilizing early in the month.)

We did, however, supplement our harvest in a number of ways:

  • We visited a nearby farm for U-pick beans.
  • We picked up some tomatoes and other vegetables for canning from our favorite produce stand.
  • Best of all, friends and neighbors gave us apples (or allowed us to pick them).

We’ll continue to exchange produce with other people, giving away our surplus and enjoying the bounty of other gardens. In about a month, I’ll be able to harvest Concord grapes from the neighbor across the street. The juice from these is fantastic.

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

  • 0.76 pounds (0.347kg or just over one pint) blueberries @ $2.99/pint = $3.46
  • 18.04 pounds (8.184kg or 27-1/4 pints) caneberries (blackberries, boysenberries, and marionberries) @ $2.49/pint (~300g) = $67.92
  • 3 pints elderberries, for which I can find no cost comparison
  • 2 plums @ $0.42/each = $0.84
  • 4 beets @ $1.99/bunch = $1.99 (approx.)
  • 4 Anaheim chili peppers @ $0.30/each = $1.20
  • 6 zucchini @ $0.49/each = $2.94
  • 11 cucumbers @ $0.49/each = $5.39
  • 1.23 pounds (0.560kg) of green beans @ $2.49/pound = $3.06
  • 3.48 pounds (1.580kg) of fancy potatoes @ $1.00/pound (approx.) = $3.48
  • 4.53 pounds (2.053kg or nearly 7 pints) cherry tomatoes @ $2.49/pint = $17.03
  • 8.35 pounds (3.789kg) tomatoes @ $1.99/pound = $16.63

Our total harvest in August yielded $123.94 in produce, mostly from berries and tomatoes. Note that for grins and giggles, we’re tracking the yield (in pounds) of each tomato plant. I’ve been dying to know how much a single tomato plant can produce in a year.

Note: 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.

Summary
We spent no money on the garden this month! We’re now within $20 of our expenses for the year. By the middle of this week, we’ll be clearing “profit”. We’ll be able to begin computing how much our labor is valued at. (Though we do this because we love it, not just to save money.)

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
August 8.0 hours $0.00 $123.94
Totals 47.0 hours $318.43 $298.45

This month, we didn’t keep track of the apples and cherries and other produce we obtained through other methods than our own garden.

As the summer wends its course, food production will remain high, especially among tomatoes. We’ll also begin harvesting fruit before long: pears, plums, grapes, and apples. As usual, we won’t have copious amounts of any of these (except tomatoes), but just enough to relish the pleasures of gardening.

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?