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 May 2011. (Here are the results for 2008 and the results for 2009. We rested in 2010.)

In my mind, Oregon has mild springs: plenty of rain, sure, but also lots of sunshine and hints of the summer to come. Since we started the garden project, though, that just hasn’t been the case. Our springs have mostly been cool and moist — just like our winters.

May was again — surprise! — cool and moist. There were some sunny days, and our rainfall was around average, but the temperature was much cooler than normal. (Well, long-term normal, not recent normal.) Still, our garden isn’t as stunted as it has been in years past.

The state of the garden
Despite the weather, our garden is thriving. As you’ll recall, Kris bought lots of “starts” at the garden show on the last day of April. She set out the tomatoes to harden off (allowing them to become acclimated to the great outdoors), and eventually moved them to the garden. From seed, she planted green beans, cilantro, cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkins. She also planted nasturtiums — edible flowers — from seed. And sunflowers (though we don’t plan to eat those!)

Indoors, we’ve been growing lettuce, which is rare for us. We’ve tried lettuce (and carrots) before, but for some reason, we never have success. But our friend Craig, who is a fantastic gardener, gave us some lettuce seeds saved from last year’s crop. We planted them indoors and now have quite a crop.

Our lettuce, growing inside

For the first time, we’ve grown lettuce that actually tastes okay. It’s not great, but at least it’s not bitter. Meanwhile, some of the cucumbers are still under cloches (made from two-liter soda bottles) because it’s been too cold.

Kris has been hoeing her garden and performing routine maintenance. I haven’t had time to tend to my berries (the blueberries are overrun with weeds!), though I did find time to trim the tall grass in the caneberries and grapes. And last weekend, Kris and I spent half an hour working together to tie up the blackberry canes.

While working on the berry canes last week, we disturbed a nest of baby spiders. “Holy cats!” I said. “Look at those guys. There must be a hundred of baby spiders.”

“They’re not really babies,” Kris said. “They’re more like teenagers.”

“I wonder what they eat,” I said. And then I had a thought. I ran inside to grab my camera so that I could shoot the following short video.

I went outside this morning to look at the spiders again, but they were gone — every single one of them. I don’t know enough about spider life to know if they were eaten, washed away by rain, or simply grew up and moved off of their mother’s fencepost.

Monthly totals
Our costs in May were relatively low when compared to past years. Kris spent about six hours working on the food crops this month. “I’d love to spend more,” she tells me, “if the weather would cooperate.” It looks like she’ll get her wish. The forecast for this weekend is sun, sun, sun — and the long-range forecast looks promising, too. I spent about an hour in the garden, giving us a total of seven hours worked this month.

Our only monetary cost was $10 that Kris spent on a large rhubarb plant, which she’s installed in a corner of the garden. (I’ll never know why, though!)

During the month of May, we harvested three things:

  • 1.95 pounds (0.886kg) of asparagus at $2.99/pound = $5.84
  • lettuce for two salads (we’re not going to track the “profit” from our lettuce, though we’ll write about how much we use)
  • some chive blossoms for chive blossom vinegar, which Kris will use for marinades and salad dressings

June’s harvest will be our first of any size for the year, as we begin to pick the ripening berries. And, of course, July and August will bring us a bounty of fruits, vegetables, berries and herbs!

Yearly Totals
Here are this year’s totals through the end of May. (Note that I’ve started a Google spreadsheet to keep track of this data. Posting a screenshot of this is much easier than updating an HTML table by hand.)

Our Garden Costs (through May 2011)

As you can see, we’ve spent a lot less on the garden this year than in past years. That’s because we haven’t spent anything on infrastructure. In 2008 and 2009, we had some major expenses for hoses and tomato cages and so on. We’ve had none of those costs this year. In theory, our infrastructure costs should be minimal now that we own most of the things we need to grow our garden.

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 more than 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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