Every month, my wife and I track how much time and money we spend growing food. This is the report for January 2009. (Here are the results for 2008.)

Even with the other stuff going on in our lives, Kris and I found time to begin planning our summer garden this month. Soon the winter days will warm, teasing us with thoughts of working in the yard. But true gardening weather won’t arrive for about three months.

The fruit of our labor
There may not be much gardening to do during the winter, but we still eat plenty of food we’ve grown ourselves. Last week, Kris made several fruit smoothies and a fantastic berry cobbler from blackberries she froze in August. (Just thinking about this cobbler again makes me drool!) We’ve also been consuming canned pasta sauce and salsa, cream of tomato soup, pickles and applesauce.

Meanwhile, we’ve also made use of the herb garden we’re growing indoors this winter. We have a container filled with basil, cilantro, dill, and oregano. This is an easy (and cheap!) way to add a touch of freshness to our cooking.

Seed order
The real highlight of the month, of course, is placing the orders for seeds and supplies. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re trying Seed Savers Exchange for the first time this year, along with our other normal sources.

As in 2008, Kris created a spreadsheet to track her purchases (and the seeds she saved from last year). Our seeds have arrived, and now must wait patiently for the beginning of March. That’s when many of them will be started under our grow-lights.

January was an expensive month for our garden. We spent $25.75 on vegetable seeds (and 25 strawberry starts). Kris spent $42 on flower seeds (which we do not track for this project). And, finally, we spent $105.40 for fruit trees and supplies (such as lures for pests).

New trees!
After some debate, Kris and I have decided to add three more fruit trees to our yard. Our happy half acre already contains two apples, a pear, and a plum. Next week, we’ll drive out to One Green World (a fantastic source for fruit trees — they ship everywhere) to pick up two different varieties of Asian pear and a self-fertile semi-dwarf sweet cherry (as opposed to a pie cherry).

To us, cherry trees are problematic. We love the fruit, but the trees are a hassle for a couple of reasons:

  1. Most cherry trees need another nearby that blossoms at about the same time in order to pollenate correctly. Because ours self-pollinates, we avoid this problem.
  2. Cherries can be invasive. At our old house, the neighbors had a 50-foot cherry on the corner of their property. The damn thing sent deep into our yard, which meant we had volunteer cherry saplings all over our lawn. The worst part: the tree was so tall that only the birds harvested the fruit. We’re going to cope with this by placing our cherry tree near the street, and choosing a semi-dwarf size that will max out at 15 feet.

Kris and I have also discussed expanding our vegetable garden by tearing out more of the lawn. I don’t think we’ll do that this year, but it’s an option for the future. Our unusual extended snowstorm may have done damage to our crops, so we’ll keep a close eye on how the berry bushes, asparagus, and perennial herbs emerge this Spring.

One of our goals for 2009 was to try to reduce costs, but it’s possible we’ll end up spending more than in 2008. Already, we’ve spent nearly half what we spent last year. We’re okay with that. Our $66 expenditure on three fruit trees is a one-time thing. Once these trees are established, they’ll cost almost nothing to maintain, and they’ll produce fruit for decades.

Here’s our first monthly summary for the year, including comparison data for 2008.

Month Time Cost Harvest    Month Time Cost Harvest
Jan 09 3.0 hrs $131.15    Jan 08 4.0 hrs $27.30
Total 09 3.0 hrs $131.15    Total 08 4.0 hrs $27.30

Share your progress! I’d love to hear about other people’s gardens. Especially if this is your first time growing your own food, please chime in with what you’re doing and what you’re learning.

Final word
This garden project is not a formal experiment. Kris and I are long-time hobby gardeners, and we have set ways that we do things. This year, we’re trying to incorporate some new ideas from GRS readers, but most of the time we’ll do things the way we have for nearly 15 years.

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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