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

After late July’s blistering heat, August has been relatively cool around Portland. Our fruits and vegetables have been producing excellent crops. Kris is constantly busy in the kitchen, canning and preserving food. We’re eating fresh salsa all the time. And hard as it is to believe, I’m almost sick of blackberries.

Fresh berries in a bowl of cereal == a great breakfast! Photo by Kris.

This is actually the best year we’ve had for blackberries. They started producing at the end of July, and there’s been a non-stop flood ever since. Sometimes — in mid-winter — I think I want to plant more blackberries. But during the month of August, I’m reminded that this is a silly idea.

The blackberries aren’t the only prolific producers this year. Our young plum tree is going gangbusters. It yielded its first small crop last summer, but this year it’s really loaded. And Kris’s cucumbers are the most eager growers of all. She has more cucumbers than she knows what to do with and has been taking the excess to share with co-workers.

Also, our tomatoes are doing much better than last year. The cool June in 2008 stunted the crop. We only had 12.88 pounds of tomatoes in August. This year we picked 31.39 pounds of the fruit — and even then we felt this was a little low.

Not everything has produced well, though. July’s heat ended our blueberries early. In fact, we’re unhappy with the blueberry/gooseberry/currant patch, so we’re going to rip out most of the plants and replace them with new ones. Our current blueberry plants are transplants from the neighbors, and they’re 25 years old. They’re weak producers. Time to put in something that will produce fruit worth picking.

Summer harvests can be beautiful. Photo by Kris.

Still, harvest season is in full swing. Here’s the complete tally from our garden in August:

  • 19.34 pounds (8.780kg or 29-1/4 pints) blackberries @ $2.49/pint (~300g) = $72.87
  • 3.00 pounds (1.361kg) elderberries, for which we have no value
  • 1.61 pounds (0.729kg) plums @ $1.49/pound = $2.40
  • 4.20 pounds (1.906kg) pears @ $0.99/pound = $4.16
  • 0.44 pounds (0.200kg) apples @ $0.99/pound = $0.44
  • 2.15 pounds (0.975kg) new potatoes @ $0.99/pound = $2.13
  • 2.06 pounds (0.937kg) beets (~3 bunches) @ $1.99/bunch = $5.97 approx.
  • 6 zucchini @ $0.49/each = $2.94
  • 93 cucumbers @ $1.29/pound (about 5 cukes) = $23.99
  • 0.56 pounds (0.256kg) green beans @ $2.49/pound = $1.39
  • 31 chili peppers @ $0.29/each = $8.99
  • 1.63 pounds (0.738kg) cherry tomatoes @ $2.49/pound = $1.84
  • 29.76 pounds (13.509kg) tomatoes @ $1.99/pound = $59.21

Our harvest this month totaled $186.33 worth of produce — and that’s without some freak crop blowing the lid off the values. (Last month, we discovered that our red currants are worth quite a bit, which distorted the totals for July.)

This year, for the first time ever, Kris entered some of her produce at the county fair. Her dilly beans took first prize (out of ten entrants). When I picked them up after the fair was over, the woman who returned them to me raved about the beans. “They were so good,” she said. “I had to copy down the recipe.”

Dilly Beans
Kris’s prize-winning dilly beans. Photo by Amy Jo.

We continue to receive “free” produce from here-and-there. Friends and neighbors share their surplus, just as we share our surplus with them. Last weekend, for example, the old couple next door brought over a wheelbarrow load of pears. The seventy pounds of fruit they gave us kept Kris canning all day Saturday, and yielded 16 quarts of sliced pears in syrup, 7-1/2 quarts of pear sauce, and 5 quarts of dried pears. This “free” produce isn’t included in the totals below.

Here are this year’s totals through the end of August:

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
May 09 15.0 hrs $98.55 $5.97    May 08 5.5 hrs $110.89
Jun 09 7.0 hrs $78.37    Jun 08 7.0 hrs $0.79 $50.83
Jul 09 7.0 hrs $243.10    Jul 08 11.0 hrs $20.94 $123.68
Aug 09 12.0 hrs $186.33    Aug 08 8.0 hrs $123.94
Total 09 63.0 hrs $267.37 $528.77    Total 08 47.0 hrs $318.43 $298.45

Things are looking good! Better weather in 2009 combined with more effective efforts on our part has created a far more profitable garden project. And again, that’s even though we’re not particularly frugal gardeners.

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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