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

We spent a lot of time in our garden this month, which was unusual considering that it’s February. In fact, the twelve hours we spent working on our food crops was the most we’ve worked in a month since I began tracking the numbers in January of 2008. We don’t mind. A little effort now will pay off big in the months and years ahead.

New trees
Much of our time was spent prepping for and planting three new trees. A small fruit tree can be an excellent addition to the suburban yard. A mature fruit tree is an attractive piece of landscaping that can offer a summertime bounty with minimal effort. (The downside is that they can be messy.)

The cost of a fruit tree is mostly up front. A sapling generally runs about $20 and takes a little work to plant. Young trees produce no fruit for the first few years, but eventually patience and effort are rewarded. Our existing fruit trees — two apples, a pear, and a plum — are entering their fifth year, and will yield fine crops this summer.

On Valentine’s weekend, we planted three new trees. We added two Asian pears (chojuro and ya li) in the “orchard” area of our property, which was originally a filbert orchard, became an expanse of grass, and now has six fruit trees. We planted a cherry (lapins) near the road. (Cherries can be invasive; we reasoned that by putting the tree near the street, it would be less of a hassle.)

After planting the young fruit trees, we took time to prune their mature siblings, and to prune the berry vines and the grapes. Pruning the berries is labor-intensive. For one thing, they’re thorny. For another, they’re a twisted mess. Kris’ sister helped us untangle the brambles, cut out the old wood, and tie the good branches to our berry trellis.

Sowing seeds
We also began our vegetable garden this month. Two weekends ago, I double-dug (double-digged?) a bed for the sweet peas. (When you double-dig, you’re essentially loosening two layers of soil, which helps the plants to grow.) We installed three pea trellises, and we’ve been planting one batch of peas each weekend. I’ll put in the last batch tomorrow. I may have to re-plant some of the earlier peas, though, because the blue jays have discovered they make a tasty snack.

You may recall that Kris is unhappy with the current performance of our four-year-old asparagus plants. Last weekend I double-dug a second area of the vegetable patch to act as a new asparagus bed. This spot should have better drainage. Here we planted 15 crowns of asparagus (Jersey knight and Mary Washington jumbo) and several dozen red onion sets. We won’t be able to harvest the asparagus for a couple of years (the plants need time to develop), but we’ll use the onions in salsa this summer.

In the herb garden, Kris pruned the rosemary and the lavender. She’s quite pleased because her chives are peeking up. Very soon now, she will begin her vegetable seeds indoors. Many people have requested that Kris document the process, so I think we plan to have a mid-month update on how to start plants from seed. Stay tuned!

“Our expenditures in time and money are way up this year,” I told Kris after I finished compiling this month’s numbers. I was Very Concerned. But all Kris said was, “Yay!”

To her, more time and money spent on the garden now means bigger harvests in the future. I’m not convinced. Still, Kris assures me that we won’t have many other garden expenditures until May. (Which would bring our costs back in line with last year’s pace.)

Note that this month we harvested and used some of the herbs that Kris has been growing indoors all winter. In fact, we just had a mess of basil in our baked ziti last night!

Here’s the monthly summary for February, including comparison data from 2008.

Month Time Cost Harvest    Month Time Cost Harvest
Jan 09 3.0 hrs $131.15    Jan 08 4.0 hrs $27.30
Feb 09 12.0 hrs $36.67 $10.00    Feb 08 2.5 hrs
Total 09 15.0 hrs $167.82 $10.00    Total 08 6.5 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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