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

This month’s garden update is small. As winter approaches, there’s less for us to do, and all that we harvest are herbs (and those only occasionally). Our major garden task this month was raking leaves. For most people, this is simply yardwork, but for us it’s a chance to work on the vegetable garden.

Last year, we bought a used chipper-shredder. We use it to grind up the many twigs and branches that fall on our property, but in mid-November, we also use it to shred the fallen leaves. With just a few hours work, we were able to create a thick layer of mulch for the vegetable garden, which we placed atop the horse manure our neighbor gave us last month. In late April, I will till all of this stuff into the earth just before we plant.

Speaking of next year, Kris and I have decided that we will do this project again in 2009, continuing to provide monthly updates. We enjoyed it more than we had expected, and believe a second year of data would be instructive.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, here are the final totals for our garden harvest this year.

Berries ($225.74)
We don’t have a lot of berry plants, but those that we do have are good producers. They’re low maintenance and provide a lot of fruit for the space they occupy. I’m actually tempted to remove the 25-year-old blueberries to replace them with younger plants of a different variety.

  • 12.53 pounds (5.688 kg) strawberries = $49.31
  • 1.52 pounds (0.689 kg) gooseberries = $13.75
  • 5.91 pounds (2.681 kg) red currants = $35.66
  • 5.99 pounds (2.719 kg) blueberries = $27.14
  • 26.51 (12.035 kg) caneberries (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) = $99.88
  • 6 pints elderberries, for which we still have no value

Vegetables ($294.59)
Our vegetable crop was stunted this year by the lousy weather in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. We’re not the only ones who suffered. Nearly every gardener we know moaned about the poor yields, especially with tomatoes and peppers.

  • 5.27 pounds (2.392 kg) snow peas = $26.87
  • 2.50 pounds (1.135 kg) green beans = $5.58
  • 11.03 pounds (5.008 kg) cherry tomatoes = $41.52
  • 14 zucchini = $6.91
  • 10 chili peppers = $3.00
  • 7.44 pounds (3.378 kg) fancy potatoes = $7.40
  • a couple of pounds of beets = $5.97
  • 0.31 pounds (0.140 kg) red sweet peppers = $0.93
  • one huge volunteer carrot = $0.50
  • 18 ears of corn = $9.00
  • 16 cucumbers = $7.86
  • 9 acorn squash = $4.50
  • 2 small pumpkins = $1.10
  • 91.85 pounds (41.700 kg) tomatoes = $173.45

Fruits ($66.63)
Our fruit trees are young. We planted them four years ago, and they’re only just beginning to produce substantial crops. This was also the first year that the grapes produced a harvest. I’m tempted to pull out some of the grape vines to replace them with Concords, which I love. But as long as our neighbor across the street will let us pick his fruit, I don’t need to do this.

  • 26.52 pounds (12.038 kg) apples = $26.25
  • 5.64 pounds (2.560 kg) pears = $5.58
  • 3.32 pounds (1.507 kg) Italian plums = $5.04
  • 10.44 pounds (4.740 kg) grapes = $29.76

We also harvested at least $25 worth from our herb garden during the year.

And so we come to winter, that time of year when gardeners sit forlorn, gazing at the cold, frozen ground. Only the lingonberries remain to harvest. This year, Kris has started herbs from seed indoors, which gives her some sense of gardening. She’s talking about adding an Asian Pear tree to our small orchard. But mostly, now is a time to leaf through seed catalogs and think about the crops we’d like to grow next summer. Our dreams of August’s bounty pull us through the dark rainy days ahead. Here’s our year-to-date garden 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
November 6.0 hours
Totals 60.0 hours $318.43 $606.97

Next year our costs will be lower, as one type of pest-trap for the apple trees can be reused. Just to be clear on the purpose of this project: This hasn’t been 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? Look for a year-end roundup of this project at the end of December.