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

October can be something of a relief for gardeners. The bulk of the harvest is finished, and all that remains is to pick the last straggling fruits and vegetables, and to begin cleaning up. While it’s sad that the harvest is winding to a close, it’s comforting to know there’ll be a respite from the work for several months. Plus it’s a chance to start dreaming about next year, all of the changes and improvements to be made.

And, believe it or not, the success of next summer’s garden begins today.

A pile of crap
Last weekend, Kris and I received an unexpected windfall of sorts. John, our neighbor across the street, hooked us up with some free shit: He brought us a trailer-load of horse manure.

We had been planning to use some sort of soil amendment in the garden next spring, but hadn’t yet worked out the cost or the kind. John knows somebody who boards horses, and when she sweeps their stalls, she’s left with piles of hay and sawdust — and horse manure. Apparently she has so much of this stuff that she’s just giving it away. (We offered to pay John for his trouble, but he refused. We’ll bake him some home-made bread instead.)

On Sunday morning, John wheeled in a trailer containing about three cubic yards of this stuff, so Kris and I spent an hour spreading it over the vegetable garden. We’re happy to have finished this task already, especially in such a frugal fashion.

Shoveling Shit
I shoveled while Kris wheeled and spread.

Sizing things up
“How big is your garden?” e-mailed one reader during the middle of the month.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I can find out.” I went outside with a tape measure to discover:

  • Our main vegetable bed is roughly 15 ft by 34 ft (4.57 m x 10.37 m), or 510 square feet (47.4 sq. m.)
  • Our herbs occupy an irregular space of about 50 square feet (4.65 sq. m.)
  • Our berry patch is in 126 square feet of space (11.71 sq. m.)
  • Our caneberries have their own space, about 24 linear feet about 4 feet wide, for a total of 96 square feet (8.92 sq. m.)
  • Our grapes are in a similar space parallel to the caneberries
  • Our four fruit trees are spaced throughout the lawn

Not counting the fruit trees, that’s a total of 878 square feet (81.61 sq. m.) devoted to gardening. Those of you in the country might think this garden is small; those on city lots (or in apartments) might think it’s huge. For us, it’s just right.

Final harvest
Our total harvest in October yielded $130.77 in produce, most of which was tomatoes and grapes. (Our grape vines are just beginning to mature. The yield from the plants should increase markedly in the future.) Here’s the complete tally for this month’s garden production:

  • 32.41 pounds (14.716 kg) tomatoes @ $2.49/pound = $80.70
  • 2 small pumpkins @ $0.50/each = $1.00
  • 9 acorn squash @ $0.50/each = $4.50
  • 2 cucumbers @ $0.49/each = $0.98
  • 14 ears of corn @ $0.50/each = $7.00
  • 0.58 pounds (0.264 kg) carrots (volunteers from last year) = $0.50
  • 0.31 pounds (0.140 kg) red sweet peppers @ $2.99/pound = $0.93
  • 0.72 pounds (0.325 kg) golden beets @ $1.99/bunch = $3.98
  • 8.92 pounds (4.048 kg) Niagara grapes @ 3.00/pound = $26.76
  • 3.96 pounds (1.800 kg) fancy potatoes @ $0.99/pound = $3.92

Note that this does not include the 40+ pounds of Concord grapes we picked from one neighbor, nor the 5+ pounds of high-bush cranberries we picked from another.

I should also mention that we had pretty much given up on the corn. The poor weather in the spring stunted its start, and then it was battered by a summer storm. Plus we didn’t plant a lot of it. Ultimately, however, we were able to harvest almost 20 ears total (between September and October), which isn’t a lot, but the stuff was good. Instead of giving up, we think we might actually try to grow more of it next 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.

We spent a little more time in the garden this month, but again had no monetary expenses. The numbers for this month’s harvest also include $25 for the fresh herbs that we’ve harvested throughout the year (chives, basil, cilantro, sage, thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, oregano). Here’s the year-to-date summary:

Month Time Cost Harvest
January 4.0 hours $27.30
February 2.5 hours
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 $123.94
September 2.0 hours $152.75
October 5.0 hours $155.77
Totals 54.0 hours $318.43 $606.97

All that’s left now, really, is to perform garden clean-up. We’ll probably have several hours into the garden in November, but I doubt we’ll have much time in December at all. That’ll give me a chance to write a summary of the lessons we’ve learned, and to provide some tips for others who would like to try this!

Though we’ll spend more time in the garden this year, we’re unlikely to spend more money, and we’re unlikely to harvest anything else. We’re fairly certain that the numbers above are close to the final numbers for the year. We’ve spent $318.43 on our food and harvested $606.97 worth of produce. Roughly, we doubled our financial investment in this project.

Kris has already started one project for next year: She’s begun to grow herbs from seed to have a winter indoor garden (with grow light). The basil, cilantro, dwarf dill, thyme and oregano are off to a good start. Herbs are some of the most cost-effective plants to grow in a home garden. Even if you have limited space, a window-box herb garden can be an easy and economical way to dabble in the hobby.

Simon in the Grass
Simon likes to help in the garden.

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 just trying to see 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?