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

April was a slow month for our garden. We didn’t do much. Part of this is because we’ve become more efficient. But another part is because we did some of our chores earlier this year.

Kris has been antsy to get plants in the ground. I always tell her that May 1st is our target date, but she’d plant out on the first of April if she could. Last year she put her tomato starts out a few days early, and that was a mistake. They were pummeled by a freak hailstorm and never did produce much. This year, she decided to wait.

She did, however, do a little bit of work. She planted beets, radishes, and lettuce. She transplanted her tomatoes into bigger pots. And she produced a garden map that outlines where she intends to plant things.

Kris has mapped out where she’ll plant tomatoes and chili peppers

My only garden work was a frustrating hour spent rototilling the compost and leaves and horse manure into the soil. It was frustrating because we have a large, willful rototiller that seems to have a mind of its own. Our actual garden isn’t very large, and we currently have created a sort of maze around the asparagus and onions. That makes it difficult to maneuver. I did manage to get the ground worked up, but it didn’t happen without cursing!

Speaking of cursing: Last year, our gooseberries were mauled by a sawfly infestation. This year, the sawfly larvae are back, and they’re not only devouring the gooseberries, but the currants as well. The gooseberries we can live without, but not the currants. Kris is researching organic pest controls.

Note: Like to garden? That’s the topic of our show this week on The Personal Finance Hour. Join me and Jim from Bargaineering on Monday at 3pm Pacific (6pm Eastern) as we discuss gardening hints and tips. We’d love to have you on the show!

Garden tour
We may not have much to share about our garden this month, but we do have some photos. The last few days have been sunny, so we’ve had a chance to photograph our garden in its early stages. Here, for example, is the (mostly) blank canvas:

As a reminder, the area of our vegetable garden space is roughly 15 ft by 34 ft (4.57 m x 10.37 m), or 510 square feet (47.4 sq. m.). This actually isn’t very big, and we’ve considered enlarging it. As I mentioned before, Kris planted out her tomatoes yesterday, so this space is no longer empty. Before she planted them, however, Kris set her tomatoes outside to “harden off”. I know this photo doesn’t really show it, but these things are enormous after only six weeks of growth:

Meanwhile, we do have some crops up. We’ve recruited help to maintain them. Meatball has been tasked with patrolling the beets, radishes, and peas, and Simon has been given charge of the onions:

The peas and onions aren’t the only things growing. This is the time of year that berries begin to go berserk. They’re not producing fruit, of course, but they’re beginning to show promise. The blueberries are laden with blossoms (especially the Toro, which are our favorite). So too are the strawberries:

Our caneberries have begun their vigorous growth. No blossoms yet, but lots of new shoots:

Though I don’t have photos, our fruit trees have also begun to bloom. We have two apples, three plums, a cherry, and a pear. We’ve set out pest control in a few of these, and that’s all we’ll really have to do until harvest.

Finally, here’s a salad that we made from herbs and lettuce greens that Kris grew indoors. This is a perfect example of how you can harvest home-grown food in a small amount of space. (You can’t harvest a lot of it, but you an harvest some.)

The edibles garden took little time this month — just 3 hours. We didn’t spend a dime. We harvested a single asparagus spear (which Kris consumed raw), but we won’t count that in our totals.

Here’s the monthly summary for April, 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
Apr 09 3.0 hrs    Apr 08 5.5 hrs $28.51
Total 09 22.0 hrs $168.82 $15.00    Total 08 15.5 hrs $183.51

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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