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

In Oregon, the month of March is unpredictable. Every gardener is itching to get outside, but it’s wet and cold with a few precious — and fleeting — moments of sunshine. In those sunny moments, you can bet you’ll hear a lawnmower going!

I’ve spent a lot of semi-productive time in the flower beds this month, checking on the progress of my perennial flowers, most of which seem to have come through our extremely cold December just fine. While they’re just peeking up from winter, it’s a good time for me to assess which plants are getting invasive and where the bare patches are that will be filled by the plants I have started from seed indoors.

Indoor gardening
On March 1st, I started seeds for basil and eight types of flowers. Four weeks later, some of them are ready to be moved into 4″ pots. I also started some mesclun salad mix in our indoor herb container, and harvested the end of the winter’s basil and dill (leaving the oregano, which looks great).


On March 15th, the day arrived that I look forward to all winter: tomato planting day! I plan to have twelve tomato plants this year (nine varieties in all). By the last day in March, each seedling was happily growing under fluorescent lights in the windowsill. Just a few days ago, I began seeds for two types of squash and some cosmos flowers.

Outdoor gardening
The peas and onions we planted in February have sprouted. Mid-month, into the vegetable patch went seeds for three kinds of beets and more salad greens, and among the roses I planted an additional 25 strawberry plants. Neither the beets or the lettuce have sprouted (it’s been cold!) but I am confident that they’re on their way.

New Strawberry Plant!

Plant swap
When J.D. writes about our gardening endeavors, he typically concentrates on the herbs, fruits, and vegetables. He loves to eat! But much of my time is devoted to the flower garden. The expansive flowerbeds on our property were filled with 125 rose bushes when we arrived. After giving many away, relocating others and accidentally killing a few, we’re down to about 60. In their place, I have gradually added perennials, bulbs and self-sowing annuals.

Plant SwapNow that many of these established plants have been growing for several years, they are ready for clump division or have provided volunteer offspring that can be moved elsewhere.

In April, my friend Rhonda is hosting a plant swap. Each participant will bring plants dug from her own garden, and take home others. A few guests are coming empty-handed because they are in new homes without gardens, but I am sure there will be plenty to share.

This month, I spent a couple of hours digging and dividing, and now have about 30 pots to swap. This is a fun way to frugally multiply your landscaping! Since most of the plants that people bring to swap are “vigorous growers”, you can bet that it will only be a few years before they’re ready to be swapped again with someone new.

The edibles garden took little time this month — about 4 hours — especially if you don’t count the many trips I took outside just to squat and peer at the soil where I had planted seeds.

Based on last year’s tests, we estimate that we spent just $1 in March to run two fluorescent shop lights. We anticipate an inexpensive April as well. J.D. had a minor freak-out when he saw our February expenditures, but looking back at last year’s totals, by now we’ve only spent $10 more, gotten $15-worth of herbs from the winter window box and planted three new fruit trees. That’s a bargain!

Here’s the monthly summary for March, 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
Mar 09 4.0 hrs $1.00 $5.00    Mar 08 3.5 hrs $130.00
Total 09 19.0 hrs $168.82 $15.00    Total 08 10.0 hrs $157.00

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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