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

As those of you who follow me on Twitter already know, it’s been a l-o-n-g Saturday filled with all sorts of misadventures. Murphy’s Law has been in full effect this Halloween. I’d meant to post this month-end garden summary around noon, but now will have to do. In fact, there wouldn’t be a summary at all except that my wife sat down and wrote it for me. Here’s what Kris has to say about the month of October…

October arrived with the typical cold and damp, bringing Portland’s garden season to a close. During the fall and winter we’ll enjoy the hearty foods we’ve packed away from this year’s crops, until by early spring we’re ready to begin anew. We’ve been eating fresh fruit and vegetables from our garden patches since May’s first strawberries. Not bad!

Last of the Tomatoes

The last of the tomatoes
We harvested the last of the garden produce this month. Rain and wind don’t mix well with ripening tomatoes, so I picked 15 pounds of semi-ripened tomatoes to take inside. Stored in a cool place between layers of newspaper, some of these will turn out to be fairly delicious. The rest will rot.

The cucumber plants coughed up enough for another month’s worth of salads, and the beets were ready for roasting. (In fact, I’m roasting some in the oven even as I write this.) In addition, I tore out the jalapeno plants and dried the peppers in slices in the dehydrator. Some went to our neighbor who loves spicy foods; the rest will go into winter cornbread and soups. 

Usually I collect the fallen English walnuts in our front yard, but the squirrels have been especially voracious this year! And my volunteer vine turned out to be a birdhouse gourd that gave me two mature gourds for fall decorating.

Gourds and Beans

The fruits of autumn
I spent time in the mud ripping out cucumber and squash vines, then the beans and tomato plants, and tidying up the apple trees.  We also dug out the beleaguered gooseberry plants and three poorly-producing 25-year-old blueberries. We invested $84 in five new blueberry bushes of various types and sizes. (We’re trying to stagger the berry harvest so it lasts as long as possible.) As we rake leaves in our yard, we’ll spread them onto the garden bed to mulch the asparagus and keep down the weeds over the winter.

In the waning hours of sunshine, early October in our neighborhood smells of Concord grapes. We wait until the scent tells us they’re ready, then head over to the generous neighbor’s yard to pick all we can use. Our own young vines produced a good crop as well. This year, J.D. gathered about 30 gallons of mixed purple and green Concords. I made juice (22 quarts) and grape jelly. It’s a long day but so worth it every time we open a jar. We also made another batch of applesauce from twenty pounds of fruit brought back from an orchard by a friend and fellow canner.

This summer’s total for canned food: 140 quarts of assorted pickles, apple/pear sauce, juices, jams & jellies, salsa and fruit. My pantry is full to bursting! I love being able to eat this local bounty during our winter, rather than buying produce that’s been shipped from far away. 

In addition to the canned food, the freezer is stacked with berries and assorted sauces, and dried fruits and herbs are stored in a dark and dry place. All this “free food” keeps my grocery spending in check even when we’re not eating directly from the garden. (It’s like a savings account for food!)

Monthly totals
The fall is when I tally the herbs for the year. Our herb garden provides me with sprigs and snips all year. The annual herbs are finished (basil, stevia, cilantro) and others die back until spring (lemon balm, oregano, mint, lavender) but the perennials will keep going for our winter kitchen use (rosemary, chives, bay leaf, sage & thyme). Throughout the summer, I’ve dried lavender flowers, mint and lemon balm, stevia and raspberry leaves for making tea infusions.  Altogether, I estimate that the herb garden has produced at least $50 of harvest.

Here’s the tally for October’s harvest:

  • 56 jalapeno peppers @ $0.29 = $16.24
  • 18 cucumbers @ $1.29/pound (about 5 cukes)  = $4.64
  • 5 bunches mixed beets @$2.99/bunch = $14.95
  • ~9.64 pounds of tomatoes @$1.99/pound = $19.18
  • 8 pounds grapes from our vines @$3/pound = $24.00
  • Assorted herbs, all season $50.00
  • Costs: 5 blueberry bushes ($84)

Yearly Totals

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

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
Sep 09 2.5 hrs $151.97    Sep 08 2.0 hrs $152.75
Oct 09 8.0 hrs $84.00 $129.01    Oct 08 5.0 hrs $152.77
Total 09 63.5 hrs $351.37 $809.75    Total 08 54.0 hrs $318.43 $603.97

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?

p.s. Happy Halloween!

This article is about Food, Frugality, House and Home