Welcome to the GRS Garden Project. Every month, my wife and I track how much time and money we spend growing food. This is the report for February 2011. (Here are the results for 2008 and the results for 2009. We rested in 2010.)

Spring is around the corner. I think. After spending three weeks basking in sunny skies and temperatures of 20-30 degrees (yes, I’ve taught myself to think in centigrade!), it’s something of a shock to return to Oregon’s five degrees and rain. Still, I know warmer weather is just around the corner — and that means it’s time to garden.

Seed catalogs!

Ordering Seeds
Kris has already started to think of the garden, of course. Her mind makes the leap just after Christmas, when the first of the seed catalogs starts to arrive.

In January, she went through her seed supply — her leftover seeds and seeds saved from last year’s crops — to determine what she needed to order. In the end, she chose:

  • Green beans
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Peas
  • Pickling cucumbers
  • Pumpkin
  • Zucchini

She spent a total of $24.15 on seeds, ordering mostly from Territorial Seed Company, which sells seeds specifically targeted at “the maritime Pacific Northwest”. (If you can buy your seeds from a regional company, do so. You’ll get plants better suited for your growing conditions.)

Kris has a system for buying seeds. If it’s a new variety she’s trying, she buys the smallest package possible. If it’s a kind she knows she likes, she buys enough to plant for the next two to four years. She saves the extra seeds in the fridge (in an air-tight container).

We’ll plant more in the garden, of course. As usual, we’ll pick up tomatoes, basil, and peppers at the Master Gardener sale at the end of April. These plants will have a good head start, and will let us try a few new varieties.

Kris estimates the seed-buying process took about two hours.

Early work
While Kris was buying seeds, I spent some time getting the garden ready. With the help of the boy we hired for a weekend, I tore out some of the old plants, weeded some patches, and — gasp! — cut our blackberry canes to the ground. (This won’t kill them. It’s like pressing the reset switch. They were out of control, and this will give us a chance to guide their growth. But it does mean we won’t get many berries this year.) We spent maybe two hours total doing this. (Meaning, I spent two hours on this, and I paid Ian $20 to help.)

This weekend, Kris intends to plant the peas — if the weather cooperates. The ground is very wet, and there seems to be more rain on the way. (What is this? Oregon?). She’ll also start seeds indoors for her flower garden (nicotiana, zinnia, cosmos, marigolds, and so on). The flowers are mostly from seeds saved in previous years, though the flower-garden costs aren’t included in this project. (Flower gardening is one of Kris’ favorite hobbies.)

Next month, Kris will start seeds indoors for food crops: cucumbers, pumpkin, and zucchini. She times when she plants the seeds based on when she intends to plant them outside (which is May 1st), and counting backwards to get the weeks needed according to the seed-packet instructions.

Bio Dome

At the end of April, we’ll attend a “garden exchange”. This is the third year our friend Rhonda has organized a plant swap. Everyone brings their extra plants and seeds, sets them out for others to see, and then takes home what they want or need. In anticipation of this event, Kris will plant extra flowers and vegetables for trading. (She’ll also dig out some perennials to share.)

A garden exchange is a fantastic, frugal way to share plants, but now is the time to organize this if you live in a cool climate. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Favorite Fruit Smoothie

It’ll be a while before we have fresh berries, but we’re still able to enjoy the fruits of last year’s harvest. In fact, Kris has been using our supply of berries in yogurt smoothies. Here’s her recipe:

  • 1.5 – 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt (homemade, if you have it)
  • 1 banana
  • 1-2 cups assorted berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or a mix)
  • juice from one orange
  • 2 Tablespoons of berry jam (or honey)

We don’t grow the bananas or oranges, of course, and we don’t harvest the honey. But we grow the berries, make the jelly, and, thanks to Jolie Guillebeau, we make our own yogurt. And in just a few months, we’ll have fresh berries to use in the smoothies.

Monthly totals
With the cold weather and our trip to Africa, the 2011 garden project is off to a slow start. (It’ll pick up over the next few weeks, though.) We’ve spent a total of 4.0 hours and $44.15 on this year’s food-producing garden ($24.15 for seeds and $20 for hired labor).

For reference, here are the totals for the previous two years we did this project:

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
Nov 09 0.0 hrs    Nov 08 0.0 hrs
Dec 09 0.0 hrs    Dec 08 0.0 hrs
Total 09 63.5 hrs $351.37 $809.75    Total 08 54.0 hrs $318.43 $603.97

It’s interesting to note that there’s really no “typical” year so far.

  • In the first two months of 2008, we spent $27.30 and 6.5 hours on our garden.
  • In the first two months of 2009, we spent $167.82 and 15.0 hours on our graden.
  • In the first two months of 2011, we’ve spent $44.15 and 4.0 hours on our garden.

If you had ask me to guess before I started this project, I would have thought that each year would be much like the year before. Apparently, that’s not the case. I’m eager to see how this year’s costs and harvest unfold…

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.

An actual weekend harvest from August 2006.

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. We’re constantly incorporating new ideas from GRS readers, but most of the time we’ll do things the way we have for nearly 20 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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