The GRS garden project: How much does a garden really save?

Kris and I are huge fans of gardening. We grow our own flowers, herbs, fruit, berries, and vegetables. We’re not able to supply all of our needs, but we do what we can. For the past two years, I’ve argued that this is an excellent way to save money if you have the time and the space. But is it really?

An actual weekend harvest from August 2006.

During the next year, Kris and I plan to track all of our work and expenses in the yard. I’m not going to tabulate how long it takes to trim the laurel or the boxwood, but I will track the following:

  • The cost of seeds and fertilizer.
  • Our approximate water usage.
  • The time we spend planting, weeding, and harvesting.
  • The amount of food we harvest.
  • The cost-equivalent from the local grocery store.

For example, when Kris places her seed order in the next week or two, I’ll note how much she spends for a packet of tomato seeds. I’ll keep track of how much she uses her grow lights (using my handy Kill-a-Watt electricity usage monitor), how much water and fertilizer we consume, how many tomatoes we harvest, and how much that would have cost us at the store.

I’m going to compile a whole lot of data.

On the last Saturday of each month, I hope to provide an update of our progress. At the end of the year, we’ll see our savings, and how much it cost us to save it. This isn’t going to be a precise experiment — there are too many variables involved. But our results should be able to tell us just how worthwhile our gardening hobby is.

Past entries on gardening include:

Our first step? Browsing the seed catalogs to decide what we want to grow this year!

January 2008 Update

January is always a slow month in the garden, but it’s also full of promise. It’s time for our first chores of the year!

Pruning and Staking

Early in January, Kris and I spent fifteen minutes together in the yard re-staking our fruit trees. We have two apples, a pear, and a prune. They’re inclined to grow a little crooked, so every spring we make sure they’re securely fastened to their stakes. It looks like we should also be doing this every autumn. Cost: $0. Time: 0.5 work-hours.

Last weekend, I pruned our grapes and caneberries. This is always a little scary — I don’t exactly know what I’m doing. But once I get started, I’m able to fake it. With the blackberries and raspberries, it’s obvious that last year’s canes are dead. With the grapes, I just make it up as I go along, pruning the vines back to the wire, leaving a couple buds on each spur. This is a fun job for me. I love to prune. Cost: $0. Time: 0.75 work-hours.

The Seed Order

In the middle of the month, Kris placed an order for seeds. As usual, she exchanged ideas with a couple fellow gardeners, and they pooled their resources. A packet of seeds contains more than we need, so it’s nice to be able to share the cost with friends. Kris says she won’t plant anything until March, but I know that as soon as we get a sunny day or two, she’ll be itching to get to work. Here’s a glimpse of her spreadsheet:

“How long did it take for you to order the seeds?” I asked Kris when I started writing this article.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe three hours.”

“Three hours?!?!?!” I was flabbergasted.

“It’s not like it’s hard work,” she said. “I’m just sitting there with the catalogs, dreaming.” That’s my wife: dreaming about seeds. For our purposes — and in order to get a nice round number at the end — we’re going to say that she spent 2.75 hours selecting and ordering seeds. Her cost was $27.30.

(Update: We use Totally Tomatoes for that fruit, and Territorial Seed for most everything else.)

Year-to-Date Total

January was quiet. We spent 4.0 hours working on our fruit and vegetable gardens, and spent $27.30 total. February will see more action. We need to fertilize certain plants, prepare our indoor planting material, and prune the fruit trees. Best of all, we’ll plant the peas. Things won’t get really time-consuming until March, however. (Well, there’ll be plenty of other yard-work — it just won’t be food-related.)

February 2008 Update

The Yardwork Begins

Like last month, there’s very little to do in February. It was still quite cold at the beginning of the month, but by Valentine’s Day, the bleak Oregon winter relented. We had some gorgeous sunny days with highs near 15c (59f). This was a cue to do our first serious yardwork.

We spent about 15 hours in the yard in February, mostly cutting back our 60+ rose bushes, pruning the boxwood, and picking up winter debris. But we did find some time to work on our food-producing plants, as well.

Preparing for Spring

First, we picked up the oak leaves that had buried our strawberry plants. The strawberries are allowed to run wild in the rose garden, sending their runners to-and-fro. A friend gave us 50 plants for free when we moved into this house in 2004, and now we have too many to count. We fertilized the berries last fall.

We also pruned our fruit trees — the plum, the pear, and both apples. Afterward, we weeded the potato patch and pulled ivy from around the blueberries. To finish up the weekend, we put up the pea trellis, and planted 72 seeds of Oregon Sugar Pod II. Come June, these will make a tasty snack, and at very little cost.

Last week, we took the time to test the pH of the soil around our blueberry plants. Blueberries like acid soil, so we’ll have to give them some special fertilizer in the next week or so.

Despite many hours spent in the yard, only 2.5 of them were devoted to our food-producing plants. We spent no money on this project in February.

Year-to-Date Totals

So far in 2008, we’ve spent $27.30 and 6.5 hours caring for our fruit and vegetable gardens. March will see more action. We need to fertilize certain plants, prepare our indoor planting material, and plan the vegetable garden. And any day now we’ll see our first peas poking through the earth:

Spring Sprout

March 2008 Update

In my mind, March is filled with gardening activities. Not so much, as it turns out. I think April will also be light.

Planting Seeds

Though we didn’t do much in March, we finally got to see some action from the plants. On March 1st, Kris planted the tomatoes and peppers (and some flowers). She spent 90 minutes sowing the seeds in special bio-domes. (“I don’t normally advocate one product over another,” she says, “but I really like these.”)

After the seedlings have made a good start, Kris hangs her grow lamp.

We placed two trays of seeds in our south-facing bay window. After they sprouted, Kris set up a grow-light to give the seedlings even more energy. (March is not exactly sunny in Oregon.) On March 24th, she transplanted the strongest seedling of each variety into a 4″ pot.

Can you believe they’ve grown so much in just three weeks? Amazing!

On March 15th, we fertilized the strawberries with Strawberries Alive. On the following weekend, Kris raked the leaves from the vegetable garden (we use them as a cover during the winter) and spaded one area. I’ll use the rototiller to work the earth in a couple weeks.

Through all of this, my peas have been growing slowly. (They’re so cute!)

I’m a little worried about the spotty germination, but I’m sure we’ll have plenty.

Also this month, we picked up a fully-functional upright freezer (the same form factor as a refrigerator) for free from one of Kris’ co-workers. This is a jackpot. It gives us a lot more room for food storage.


During March we spent $113 on organic pest controls and fertilizers for our fruit and vegetable crops. We also spent $16 to buy potting soil and a soaker hose. I used my Kill-a-Watt to measure the power consumption of the grow lamp, but it only uses a few pennies of electricity per day. Let’s call it a buck for the entire month, bringing our expenditures to $130 in March.

April 2008 Update

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

April finally saw some action in the yard, but not the sort we’d hoped for.

The Hail You Say!

Most of the month was quiet. Our vegetable starts continued to thrive under the growlights. By the end of the month, the tomatoes had been transplanted into gallon-sized pots and were over two feet tall! Kris was itching to get them into the ground.

Average last frost is about April 15th, but this year, especially, has been strange, with snow in the Portland area in mid-April. Kris checked the weather forecast for night time lows and decided that it was worth the risk. Keeping the plants indoors any longer was also a risk; left inside, they would grow spindly as they stretched for real light.

Kris had the day off last Monday, and the weather was sunny and warm; she couldn’t resist. She spent two hours planting her tomatoes out in the vegetable garden. She dug a deep hole for each, mixed in a bit of fertilizer, gently patted the plants in, and placed the tomato cages around them.

On Tuesday, things took a turn for the worse. As I was leaving to drive to my presentation at Western Oregon University, it began to hail. The hail wasn’t big, but it fell heavily for ten or fifteen minutes. A fierce, cold wind battered the garden. “Yikes,” I thought. “Kris’s tomatoes are in trouble.” To make matters worse, Kris came home sick with a nasty head cold that kept her in bed the rest of Tuesday and all day Wednesday. Her defenseless plants were left to the elements.

Sure enough — the plants have been shredded. Most of the branches are broken and drooping on the ground. The slugs, sensing their weakness, have moved in to finish the job. Kris still holds out hope that a few days of sun (which we’re slated to receive) will help the plants pull through, but the truth is we may have to pay cash to buy new starts. And if we do, they won’t be the heirloom varieties she’s nursed from seedlings. (Kris’s note: I’m playing nursemaid for a week or two before I decide what to do. Today I sprayed the ailing tomatoes with a foliar fertilizer to see if that will help revive them. Nine of the ten plants still have their growing tips in fairly good condition, but all the side branches are sad. Woe is me!)

Meanwhile, the slugs have devoured her cucumber seedlings, too. Kris is not happy. (In fact, distraught may be a better word.) The peppers and acorn squash look okay, and the beets are sprouting nicely. The potatoes we started from the end of last year’s harvest are doing well. Ironically, most of the flower transplants look like they coped well with the hail and wind. Still, tomatoes are hardy things, to a point, so they may just make it afterall.

What started as an excellent month for the Get Rich Slowly Garden Project ended in relative disaster. Still, it’s early enough to still make an investment in nursery tomato plants, if necessary, to have a productive harvest later on.

Other Chores

Aside from the setback with the vegetable garden, we spent some more time in the yard during April, preparing our food-producing plants for summer. I spent half an hour hanging pest traps on the fruit trees, and Kris and I combined for an hour of work tying up the berry canes. (The raspberries and blackberries have gone berserk, by the way. They love the moderately warm, very wet weather we’ve been having. Wow.)

We did make a few small purchases during the month. We spent $25.98 for a new hose, as well as $2.53 on a couple of herb seed packets. (We spent $21.50 at the annual plant show yesterday, but that’s an expense for May. If you hope to grow a garden this year, now is the time to check for plant sales in your area. They’re an excellent way to find quality vegetable starts and expert advice.)

Also, our strawberry plants have begun to blossom. Some of them are enormous. In just a month, we’ll be harvesting our first produce!


During April we spent $28.51 on garden-related expenses. We spent 5-1/2 hours working on our crops.

We have a lot of yardwork ahead of us in the next few weeks, including much that is food-related. I’ve learned that I didn’t prune my grapes properly, so will have to repeat that task. I need to plant my corn (possibly this afternoon). We may need to replace the tomatoes. And with luck, we’ll harvest our first strawberries before the end of May!

May 2008 Update

Today I picked the first two strawberries from our garden. They weren’t particularly good strawberries — there’s been plenty of Oregon rain lately, and they were rather flavorless — but they were strawberries, the harbingers of summer. They signify the start of five months of food harvest from our yard.

Final Orders

As you’ll recall from last month’s update, April ended with a bang. A late-season hailstorm damaged Kris’ tomatoes. We were worried that they all might have been destroyed, but in the end only two needed to be replaced.

During the first weekend of May, we visited the Oregon Master Gardeners plant sale. Though Kris starts most of her vegetables from seed, she cannot resist a chance to wander the stalls looking at other options. This year she spent $21.50 on jalapeños, zucchini, basil, oregano, and thyme.

We also placed two garden-related orders online this month. We spent $23.59 at Park Seed on supplies for next year. (We’re counting this as a cost for 2008 in order to compensate for the material we purchased in 2007 but used this year.)

We also placed a $65.80 order with Spray-N-Grow to purchase a variety of fertilizers, as well as a product called Sluggo. Unfortunately, the Sluggo isn’t working very well so far.

In Oregon, slugs are a nuisance. (They’re our unofficial state animal!) We can’t use the ever-popular beer traps because the rain renders them ineffective. Our garden is too big to use copper tape — it doesn’t seem to do much good. Nothing organic seems to work either, when it’s raining daily. The slugs have been chomping Kris’ cucumbers as fast as she can plant them. My corn is beginning to sprout, but the slimey beasts are licking their chops over that, too. (And then the corn has to make it past the blue jays.)

Time in the Garden

Kris and I both spent time in the vegetable garden this month, but not as much as I had expected. She spent about four hours planting things and applying a foliar fertilizer. I spent an hour spading the soil (no rototiller for me this year) in order to prepare it for the corn, after which I planted the seeds themselves. I also spent half an hour weeding the grapes. Combined, we spent only 5-1/2 hours working on fruits and vegetables in May. (Kris says she would have spent more time if it hadn’t rained so much!)

I keep expecting the time we spend on this project to explode, but so far it hasn’t. Just wait until blueberry season arrives, though. It takes forever to pick those things…


Sally Herigstad at MSN Money highlighted our garden project in her recent article listing five foods it’s cheaper to grow. The foods? Fruit trees, lettuce, herbs, vine vegetables, and bell peppers. She also lists five to leave to experts: potatoes, carrots, celery, asparagus, and wheat. Thanks for pointing to our project, Sally!

Garden Tour

While Kris and I may not be putting a lot of work into the garden yet, the plants have shifted their efforts into overdrive. They loved the warm, wet Oregon May. The berries are bearing, the fruit trees are fruiting, and the vegetables are growing like gangbusters.

Last week, Kris took the camera outside to photograph some of her favorite plants. First up is one of the tomatoes:


“This picture is sad,” Kris told me. “Look at how the plant is still missing most of its lower leaves!” I’d like to point out the tomato paraphernalia: the sturdy tomato cage and the two-liter bottle staked next to it (for watering during the summer). In the background, you can see an acorn squash beneath a plastic cloche.

The second photo shows my beloved caneberries: blackberries, raspberries, and marionberries. This probably looks like a wall of green to you; that’s what it looks like in person, too.


If you could see through that wall of green, you’d spy a twenty-foot row of grapes. Around the corner, we have four fruit trees: two apples, a pear, and a prune. This looks like the first year we’ll get a sizable fruit crop.

Baby Pears

Finally, here’s a photo of Kris’ pride and joy, her red currant bush. The berries are green now, of course. That’s okay. We can wait.


There are many other plants we could show you: the herbs, the potatoes, the peas. Ah well — maybe next month.


During May we spent $110.89 on garden-related expenses. We spent 5-1/2 hours working on our crops.

“I don’t know,” I said after tabulating the numbers tonight. “We’ve spent $300 on the garden already — there’s no way that’s going to pay off.”

“But most of the monetary expense is done now,” Kris said. “All that’s left is caring for the plants. From now on, it’s all about the harvest. I think you’ll be surprised.”

I hope so. To date, we’ve spent 21 hours and $296.70 on our garden, and all we have to show for it are two watery strawberries!

June 2008 Update

It was a miserable June for gardeners in northwest Oregon. The first two weeks weren’t just wet — we’re used to that — they were cold, too. The local media dubbed the month “June-uary”. Residents were quick to embrace the term. The cool weather pushed back a number of crops. Strawberry farmers groused. Blueberries and raspberries are three weeks late.

But now the sun has arrived. We’ve been harvesting strawberries and peas all month, and I picked the first blueberry this morning. (Not very good — it wasn’t quite ripe.) Raspberries should be on in a week or so, I think, and judging from the copious blossoms, we’re going to have a bumper crop. Meanwhile, the pear, plum, and apple trees have set loads of fruit. By the end of the July we may even have some vegetables.

In short, though the month got off to a slow start, we should be rolling in produce before long.

Time in the Garden

Our gardening chores have become more routine. Now that all of the crops have been planted, all we do is:

  • Weed
  • Fertilize
  • Harvest

Between us, Kris and I spent about seven hours this month performing these tasks. I’ll admit that Kris is the weeder and the fertilizer. We both harvest, which is a chore I enjoy. There’s something zen-like about moving among the strawberries. (And just wait until I pick blueberries — I find that highly meditative.)

First Harvest

We harvested our first strawberries on May 31st, though we’ll count them in June’s totals. (Likewise, we harvested our first currants today, but will count them for July.) During the past few weeks, our harvest has comprised:

  • 11.74 pounds (5.325kg) strawberries
  • 2.35 pounds (1.067kg) snow peas

This will seem like a bounty to some of you, and like a pittance to others, but it’s what our garden produces. It’s what we have space for. Actually, I believe both crops were substantially reduced this year due to the weather. Even the peas struggled. (Peas don’t usually struggle in Portland.)

Snow peas at the local grocery store were $5.99 per pound throughout this month, so our harvest was worth $14.08. The strawberries are more difficult to price. Purchased from Safeway in two- or four-pound containers, they could be had for $2.50 per pound. Kris picked twelve pounds at a local farm for 85 cents per pound. But I’m going to use the grocery store’s one-pound price ($3.99) because our harvest came in roughly one pound increments. That’s another $46.84 worth of food. (I welcome advice and debate over this methodology, by the way — I don’t actually know the best way to compare prices.)

In total, we harvested $60.92 of food from our garden this month.


During June we spent 79 cents on the garden (for a packet of lettuce seeds at Winco). We spent seven hours working on our crops.

Last month I wrote that I doubted we could recover our expenses on the garden. This month, after only small harvests of peas and strawberries, it seems like there’s no question that the garden will save us money. I’ll bet we harvest $300 in tomatoes alone!

After six months, we are $236.57 in the hole on this project.

Earlier I mentioned that Kris picked twelve pounds of strawberries at a local farm. U-Pick produce is an excellent deal if you don’t have a garden of your own. A family trip to pick berries can be an excellent outing for children, and it can yield some delicious jams and syrups.

July 2008 Update

It was a berry, berry good month at Rosings Park (as we call our happy half acre). Gloomy June faded into memory, the sun came out, and the berries ripened. This is the time of year when there’s little to do in the garden but water the plants and harvest the produce. There’s plenty of work to preserve the food, however: canning, freezing, and drying.

Raspberry Disaster

At the beginning of July, we discovered we had no raspberries. We usually get several pounds from our over-zealous canes, but this year we only got a few nibbles — they weren’t even worth weighing.

We’re still not sure what went wrong, but the most likely cause of our raspberry disaster is poor pruning on my part. Our guess is that I either pruned the canes back too hard, or, more likely, pruned them too late. We do expect to see a fall crop (and probably a good one), but our summer crop of raspberries never materialized.

Sharing Food

This project is interesting because it has forced us to decide how to classify certain costs and “profits”. For example, we don’t actually grow cherries on our property, but the neighbors let us harvest 12.5 pounds (5.649kg) of fruit. Should we count that in our totals? At about $2.99/pound, that’s $37.38 of cherries!

We’ve decided instead to keep a separate tally for produce received through other methods. There’s certainly a cost savings involved, but we didn’t actually grow it ourselves.

Meanwhile, we’ve found a way to deal with our excess berries while also compensating for our inability to grow carrots and lettuce. We’re trading berries for greens grown by one of Kris’ co-workers. This is a great deal for both parties. For accounting purposes, we’re ignoring this deal, however. After we harvest the berries and weigh them, it doesn’t matter what happens after that.

The Fruits of Our Labor

Here’s the complete tally for this month’s garden production.

  • 0.79 pounds (0.360kg or about 1 pint) strawberries @ $3.13/pound = $2.47
  • 2.92 pounds (1.326kg) snow peas @ $5.99/pound = $17.49
  • 5.91 pounds (2.681kg or about 8.5 pints) red currants @ $3.99/pint (~300g) = $35.66
  • 5.23 pounds (2.376kg or about 8 pints) blueberries @ $2.99/pint (~300g) = $23.68
  • 1.52 pounds (0.689kg or about 3.5 pints) gooseberries @ $3.99/pint (~200g) = $13.75
  • 6.52 pounds (2.965kg or about 10 pints) caneberries (blackberries, boysenberries, and marionberries) @ $2.49/pint (~300g) = $24.61
  • 1.27 pounds (0.575kg) of string beans @ 1.99/pound = $2.52
  • 5 zucchini @ $0.50/each = $2.50
  • 2 cucumbers @ $0.50/each = $1.00

For the purposes of this project, we’re using “best match” pricing. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re obtaining typical pricing from our local farmers market. In some cases, we use pricing from a local organic produce stand. In all cases, we’re trying to be fair, but this is more art than science.

Our total harvest in July yielded $123.68 in produce, including 31 pints of berries.

Time in the Garden

This month Kris spent about an hour each weekend fertilizing and keeping tabs on the garden. Together, we spent one hour this month tying up the tomatoes, spreading mulch, and other chores. But most of our time was spent picking berries. We combined for about six hours harvesting our produce. We spent eleven hours total working on our crops this month.


During July we spent $20.94 on the garden for three bags of soil to go around the roots of the blueberries. (The bases of the blueberries are mounded, and the soil tends to erode, exposing the roots.)

As July draws to a close, the tomato plants have reached the top of their cages and are loaded with green fruit. The Sungold cherry tomato will be first to ripen (we’ve nibbled a few already), followed by Stupice. The cucumber and zucchini are beginning to produce regularly and the corn is thriving. In the herb bed, the elderberries are growing dark and gleaming, and the nearby fruit trees each bear a load we’ll enjoy late in the summer.

Kris has put away snowpeas and grated zucchini in the freezer, along with several batches of freezer jam (my favorite). She’s also put up several varieties of cooked jams and jellies, canned cherries in light syrup, pickled green beans with dill, garlic and ginger, and has dried cherries, blueberries and currants for future use. (One of her co-workers came over on Wednesday to learn how to can pickled beans.) We’ll be glad to have this summer’s bounty during the long rainy winter.

August 2008 Update

The berry harvest continued this month at Rosings Park, our happy half acre south of Portland. Blackberry time is my favorite time of the year. And though August is often too hot for me, I’m willing to suffer the heat because I know it means the start of canning season. Sure enough, Kris has been putting up salsa and applesauce and all sorts of pickles and jams. Yum.

Also, much to Kris’ delight, we finally harvested tomatoes this week, an entire month behind schedule.

The Dark Side of Gardening

Here’s one of the sad secrets of gardening: mid-summer can be frustrating. If you don’t stay on top of things, the garden can get away from you. Here’s an actual quote from Kris mid-month. We were on the couch watching Olympic diving when I transcribed the following lament:

I didn’t pick the blueberries. The beans need to be picked so they’ll keep producing. The cucumbers are coming on. I need to water things because it’s going to be hot this week. I need to get our extra zucchini over to the neighbors. I didn’t even pick Patrice’s apples. She offered me three times, but I’ve been too busy, and now they’re done.

Remember: we have a modest garden. We grow food for fun. This project will determine whether there’s a cost benefit as well. But even a modest garden can produce a lot of food. With my mother in the hospital and Kris’ parents in town, we didn’t have much gardening time during the first two weeks of August. For a while, there was a danger that we’d lose control, but we managed to persevere!

Supplementing Our Harvest

We spent nothing on the garden this month except our time. Between us, we spent about eight hours picking berries and veggies. (Kris also did a bit of fertilizing early in the month.)

We did, however, supplement our harvest in a number of ways:

  • We visited a nearby farm for U-pick beans.
  • We picked up some tomatoes and other vegetables for canning from our favorite produce stand.
  • Best of all, friends and neighbors gave us apples (or allowed us to pick them).

We’ll continue to exchange produce with other people, giving away our surplus and enjoying the bounty of other gardens. In about a month, I’ll be able to harvest Concord grapes from the neighbor across the street. The juice from these is fantastic.

The Fruits of Our Labor

Here’s the complete tally for this month’s garden production.

  • 0.76 pounds (0.347kg or just over one pint) blueberries @ $2.99/pint = $3.46
  • 18.04 pounds (8.184kg or 27-1/4 pints) caneberries (blackberries, boysenberries, and marionberries) @ $2.49/pint (~300g) = $67.92
  • 3 pints elderberries, for which I can find no cost comparison
  • 2 plums @ $0.42/each = $0.84
  • 4 beets @ $1.99/bunch = $1.99 (approx.)
  • 4 Anaheim chili peppers @ $0.30/each = $1.20
  • 6 zucchini @ $0.49/each = $2.94
  • 11 cucumbers @ $0.49/each = $5.39
  • 1.23 pounds (0.560kg) of green beans @ $2.49/pound = $3.06
  • 3.48 pounds (1.580kg) of fancy potatoes @ $1.00/pound (approx.) = $3.48
  • 4.53 pounds (2.053kg or nearly 7 pints) cherry tomatoes @ $2.49/pint = $17.03
  • 8.35 pounds (3.789kg) tomatoes @ $1.99/pound = $16.63

Our total harvest in August yielded $123.94 in produce, mostly from berries and tomatoes. Note that for grins and giggles, we’re tracking the yield (in pounds) of each tomato plant. I’ve been dying to know how much a single tomato plant can produce in a year.

Note: For the purposes of this project, we’re using “best match” pricing. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re obtaining typical pricing from our local farmers market. In some cases, we use pricing from a local organic produce stand. In all cases, we’re trying to be fair, but this is more art than science.


We spent no money on the garden this month! We’re now within $20 of our expenses for the year. By the middle of this week, we’ll be clearing “profit”. We’ll be able to begin computing how much our labor is valued at. (Though we do this because we love it, not just to save money.)

This month, we didn’t keep track of the apples and cherries and other produce we obtained through other methods than our own garden.

As the summer wends its course, food production will remain high, especially among tomatoes. We’ll also begin harvesting fruit before long: pears, plums, grapes, and apples. As usual, we won’t have copious amounts of any of these (except tomatoes), but just enough to relish the pleasures of gardening.

September 2008 Update

September generally brings the largest harvests for our garden. That was true again this year, but not by as much as we hoped. The bad weather at the beginning of the season means that things just aren’t ripe yet. Kris has been encouraging her tomatoes for weeks. I’m dying for the grapes to be ready. (They’re almost there!)

Kris gives orders to her garden elves. Photo by Lisa.

We did harvest a lot last month, the bulk of which was tomatoes and tree fruit. We had so many tomatoes, in fact, that Kris was able to enlist the help of five-year-olds Albert and Annika to help harvest. They did an amazing job picking cherry tomatoes.

Like Investing in Fruit

September’s nice because there’s almost no garden maintenance. All we have to do is stroll out to pick the food we want. During the middle of the month, Kris and I had a mild misunderstanding. I thought she told me to go pick all of the apples from our trees, but she really told me to pick a few for some jam. I came back into the house with 19 pounds of apples, which was far more than she needed. We made a spontaneous batch of applesauce.

Actually, Kris did a lot of canning this month: marinara sauce, applesauce, salsa, pickled plums, and more. As usual, we supplemented our own harvest with free food from friends and neighbors (25 pound of pears here, 15 pounds of plums there), as well as things like onions and garlic from the produce stand.

Now, as the rains begin and the harvest draws to a close, our pantry and freezer are both packed full. When we make a blackberry cobbler in February, take pickled “dilly beans” to a potluck or pop open a jar of spicy salsa on a chilly afternoon, we’ll be extending the benefits of our garden year-round. Our home-canned goods will help defray food costs over the next eight months until we can expect another strawberry crop to kick off 2009’s garden bounty.

The Fruits of Our Labor

Our total harvest in September yielded $152.75 in produce, largely from tomatoes. Here’s the complete tally for this month’s garden production.

  • about 3 pints elderberries, for which I still have no value
  • 1.95 pounds (0.886 kg, or 2.95 pints) caneberries (blackberries, boysenberries, and marionberries) @ $2.49/pint (~300g) = $7.35
  • 2.82 pounds (1.276 kg) Italian plums @ $1.49/pound = $4.20
  • 5.64 pounds (2.560 kg) pears @ $0.99/pound = $5.58
  • 26.52 pounds (12.038 kg) apples @ $0.99/pound = $26.25
  • 6 Anaheim chili peppers @ $0.30/each = $1.80
  • 3 zucchini @ $0.49/each = $1.47
  • 1 cucumbers @ $0.49/each = $0.49
  • 4 measly ears of corn @ $0.50/each = $2.00
  • 692 grams of Interlaken seedless grapes, which would sell for about $3 at the local farmers market
  • 6.50 pounds (2.951 kg or nearly 10 pints) cherry tomatoes @ $2.49/pint = $24.49
  • 51.09 pounds (23.195 kg) tomatoes @ 1.49/pound = $76.12

Note: For the purposes of this project, we’re using “best match” pricing. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re obtaining typical pricing from our local farmers market. In some cases, we use pricing from a local organic produce stand. In all cases, we’re trying to be fair, but this is more art than science.

A Little Bit of Whining

I’ll be honest. I’m a little disappointed. Once it became clear that this garden was going to “make money”, I wanted it to kick ass. It hasn’t done that. Don’t get me wrong — we love having fresh produce outside our front door, and we enjoy the work with the plants, but I was hoping for more.

I think there are a few ways we can improve.

  • For one, we can focus on plants that are more productive in our climate. (Look for a complete exploration of this topic in December or January.)
  • For another, we can begin refining our gardening methods to emphasize frugality. As I noted at the start, we haven’t altered any of our normal habits for this project. In the future, it might be worth doing so.
  • Finally, we can have better weather. Oregon’s Willamette Valley had a short summer this year. The rainy grey skies lingered an extra month, and now they seem to have arrived two weeks early. That loss of six weeks (and especially those first four weeks) has a huge impact. That means our tomato harvest is stunted, and that we only had four ears of corn come to maturity.

This year, we initially made a large financial outlay for two types of organic pest traps for the apple trees. They proved successful; our apples were practically worm-free! As the two trees mature and bear larger crops, the number and value of the apples will increase as the cost of the traps will drop (because some parts are reusable from year-to-year).

I almost want to repeat this entire project next year to see if we can spend less and harvest more! (Maybe we’ll do it behind the scenes, providing totals at the end of the summer.)


We spent nothing on the garden this month, and very little time. It doesn’t take long to harvest 19 pounds of apples or five pounds of tomatoes. September is the closest our garden will ever come to “pure profit”.

There is still food left to harvest. Though the rains have set in, we may have more tomatoes. (There are plenty on the plants, but the cool weather is likely to prevent them from ripening.) There are potatoes left to dig, and the acorn squash is ready to pick and dry for winter storage (to be tallied in October).

Most importantly, we have grapes to pick. We only have 20 feet of young grape vines, so we won’t have many from our yard. But the neighbor has vast swaths of Concords growing wild. I wanted to pick them last weekend, but he insisted they were two weeks away. I plan to pick them next Saturday. I just hope these rains don’t ruin the flavor. (Will rain do that to grapes?) There are few things I love more than fresh Concord grapes. (Especially fresh free Concord grapes.) They make amazing grape juice and Kris wants to put up some grape jelly.

Kris has made notes on her garden plan to help her organize her seed order for next year. Only a few short months until the seed catalogs arrive! And she has begun an experiment to grow a few herbs indoors this winter. Stay tuned on whether that is worthwhile.

October 2008 Update

October can be something of a relief for gardeners. The bulk of the harvest is finished, and all that remains is to pick the last straggling fruits and vegetables, and to begin cleaning up. While it’s sad that the harvest is winding to a close, it’s comforting to know there’ll be a respite from the work for several months. Plus it’s a chance to start dreaming about next year, all of the changes and improvements to be made.

And, believe it or not, the success of next summer’s garden begins today.

A Pile of Crap

Last weekend, Kris and I received an unexpected windfall of sorts. John, our neighbor across the street, hooked us up with some free shit: He brought us a trailer-load of horse manure.

We had been planning to use some sort of soil amendment in the garden next spring, but hadn’t yet worked out the cost or the kind. John knows somebody who boards horses, and when she sweeps their stalls, she’s left with piles of hay and sawdust — and horse manure. Apparently she has so much of this stuff that she’s just giving it away. (We offered to pay John for his trouble, but he refused. We’ll bake him some home-made bread instead.)

On Sunday morning, John wheeled in a trailer containing about three cubic yards of this stuff, so Kris and I spent an hour spreading it over the vegetable garden. We’re happy to have finished this task already, especially in such a frugal fashion.

Shoveling Shit
I shoveled while Kris wheeled and spread.

Sizing Things Up

“How big is your garden?” e-mailed one reader during the middle of the month.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I can find out.” I went outside with a tape measure to discover:

  • Our main vegetable bed is roughly 15 ft by 34 ft (4.57 m x 10.37 m), or 510 square feet (47.4 sq. m.)
  • Our herbs occupy an irregular space of about 50 square feet (4.65 sq. m.)
  • Our berry patch is in 126 square feet of space (11.71 sq. m.)
  • Our caneberries have their own space, about 24 linear feet about 4 feet wide, for a total of 96 square feet (8.92 sq. m.)
  • Our grapes are in a similar space parallel to the caneberries
  • Our four fruit trees are spaced throughout the lawn

Not counting the fruit trees, that’s a total of 878 square feet (81.61 sq. m.) devoted to gardening. Those of you in the country might think this garden is small; those on city lots (or in apartments) might think it’s huge. For us, it’s just right.

Final Harvest

Our total harvest in October yielded $130.77 in produce, most of which was tomatoes and grapes. (Our grape vines are just beginning to mature. The yield from the plants should increase markedly in the future.) Here’s the complete tally for this month’s garden production:

  • 32.41 pounds (14.716 kg) tomatoes @ $2.49/pound = $80.70
  • 2 small pumpkins @ $0.50/each = $1.00
  • 9 acorn squash @ $0.50/each = $4.50
  • 2 cucumbers @ $0.49/each = $0.98
  • 14 ears of corn @ $0.50/each = $7.00
  • 0.58 pounds (0.264 kg) carrots (volunteers from last year) = $0.50
  • 0.31 pounds (0.140 kg) red sweet peppers @ $2.99/pound = $0.93
  • 0.72 pounds (0.325 kg) golden beets @ $1.99/bunch = $3.98
  • 8.92 pounds (4.048 kg) Niagara grapes @ 3.00/pound = $26.76
  • 3.96 pounds (1.800 kg) fancy potatoes @ $0.99/pound = $3.92

Note that this does not include the 40+ pounds of Concord grapes we picked from one neighbor, nor the 5+ pounds of high-bush cranberries we picked from another.

I should also mention that we had pretty much given up on the corn. The poor weather in the spring stunted its start, and then it was battered by a summer storm. Plus we didn’t plant a lot of it. Ultimately, however, we were able to harvest almost 20 ears total (between September and October), which isn’t a lot, but the stuff was good. Instead of giving up, we think we might actually try to grow more of it next year.

Note: For the purposes of this project, we’re using “best match” pricing. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re obtaining typical pricing from our local farmers market. In some cases, we use pricing from a local organic produce stand. In all cases, we’re trying to be fair, but this is more art than science.


We spent a little more time in the garden this month, but again had no monetary expenses. The numbers for this month’s harvest also include $25 for the fresh herbs that we’ve harvested throughout the year (chives, basil, cilantro, sage, thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, oregano).

All that’s left now, really, is to perform garden clean-up. We’ll probably have several hours into the garden in November, but I doubt we’ll have much time in December at all. That’ll give me a chance to write a summary of the lessons we’ve learned, and to provide some tips for others who would like to try this!

Though we’ll spend more time in the garden this year, we’re unlikely to spend more money, and we’re unlikely to harvest anything else. We’re fairly certain that the numbers above are close to the final numbers for the year. We’ve spent $318.43 on our food and harvested $606.97 worth of produce. Roughly, we doubled our financial investment in this project.

Kris has already started one project for next year: She’s begun to grow herbs from seed to have a winter indoor garden (with grow light). The basil, cilantro, dwarf dill, thyme and oregano are off to a good start. Herbs are some of the most cost-effective plants to grow in a home garden. Even if you have limited space, a window-box herb garden can be an easy and economical way to dabble in the hobby.

November 2008 Update

This month’s garden update is small. As winter approaches, there’s less for us to do, and all that we harvest are herbs (and those only occasionally). Our major garden task this month was raking leaves. For most people, this is simply yardwork, but for us it’s a chance to work on the vegetable garden.

Last year, we bought a used chipper-shredder. We use it to grind up the many twigs and branches that fall on our property, but in mid-November, we also use it to shred the fallen leaves. With just a few hours work, we were able to create a thick layer of mulch for the vegetable garden, which we placed atop the horse manure our neighbor gave us last month. In late April, I will till all of this stuff into the earth just before we plant.

Speaking of next year, Kris and I have decided that we will do this project again in 2009, continuing to provide monthly updates. We enjoyed it more than we had expected, and believe a second year of data would be instructive.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, here are the final totals for our garden harvest this year.

Berries ($225.74)
We don’t have a lot of berry plants, but those that we do have are good producers. They’re low maintenance and provide a lot of fruit for the space they occupy. I’m actually tempted to remove the 25-year-old blueberries to replace them with younger plants of a different variety.

  • 12.53 pounds (5.688 kg) strawberries = $49.31
  • 1.52 pounds (0.689 kg) gooseberries = $13.75
  • 5.91 pounds (2.681 kg) red currants = $35.66
  • 5.99 pounds (2.719 kg) blueberries = $27.14
  • 26.51 (12.035 kg) caneberries (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) = $99.88
  • 6 pints elderberries, for which we still have no value

Vegetables ($294.59)
Our vegetable crop was stunted this year by the lousy weather in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. We’re not the only ones who suffered. Nearly every gardener we know moaned about the poor yields, especially with tomatoes and peppers.

  • 5.27 pounds (2.392 kg) snow peas = $26.87
  • 2.50 pounds (1.135 kg) green beans = $5.58
  • 11.03 pounds (5.008 kg) cherry tomatoes = $41.52
  • 14 zucchini = $6.91
  • 10 chili peppers = $3.00
  • 7.44 pounds (3.378 kg) fancy potatoes = $7.40
  • a couple of pounds of beets = $5.97
  • 0.31 pounds (0.140 kg) red sweet peppers = $0.93
  • one huge volunteer carrot = $0.50
  • 18 ears of corn = $9.00
  • 16 cucumbers = $7.86
  • 9 acorn squash = $4.50
  • 2 small pumpkins = $1.10
  • 91.85 pounds (41.700 kg) tomatoes = $173.45

Fruits ($66.63)
Our fruit trees are young. We planted them four years ago, and they’re only just beginning to produce substantial crops. This was also the first year that the grapes produced a harvest. I’m tempted to pull out some of the grape vines to replace them with Concords, which I love. But as long as our neighbor across the street will let us pick his fruit, I don’t need to do this.

  • 26.52 pounds (12.038 kg) apples = $26.25
  • 5.64 pounds (2.560 kg) pears = $5.58
  • 3.32 pounds (1.507 kg) Italian plums = $5.04
  • 10.44 pounds (4.740 kg) grapes = $29.76

We also harvested at least $25 worth from our herb garden during the year.


And so we come to winter, that time of year when gardeners sit forlorn, gazing at the cold, frozen ground. Only the lingonberries remain to harvest. This year, Kris has started herbs from seed indoors, which gives her some sense of gardening. She’s talking about adding an Asian Pear tree to our small orchard. But mostly, now is a time to leaf through seed catalogs and think about the crops we’d like to grow next summer. Our dreams of August’s bounty pull us through the dark rainy days ahead.

2008 garden summary:

Month Time Cost Harvest
January 4.0 hours $27.30
February 2.5 hours
March 3.5 hours $130.00
April 5.5 hours $28.51
May 5.5 hours $110.89
June 7.0 hours $0.79 $50.83
July 11.0 hours $20.94 $123.68
August 8.0 hours $123.94
September 2.0 hours $152.75
October 5.0 hours $155.77
November 6.0 hours
Totals 60.0 hours $318.43 $606.97

Next year our costs will be lower, as one type of pest-trap for the apple trees can be reused.

January 2009 Update

Even with the other stuff going on in our lives, Kris and I found time to begin planning our summer garden this month. Soon the winter days will warm, teasing us with thoughts of working in the yard. But true gardening weather won’t arrive for about three months.

The Fruit of Our Labor

There may not be much gardening to do during the winter, but we still eat plenty of food we’ve grown ourselves. Last week, Kris made several fruit smoothies and a fantastic berry cobbler from blackberries she froze in August. (Just thinking about this cobbler again makes me drool!) We’ve also been consuming canned pasta sauce and salsa, cream of tomato soup, pickles and applesauce.

Meanwhile, we’ve also made use of the herb garden we’re growing indoors this winter. We have a container filled with basil, cilantro, dill, and oregano. This is an easy (and cheap!) way to add a touch of freshness to our cooking.

Seed Order

The real highlight of the month, of course, is placing the orders for seeds and supplies. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re trying Seed Savers Exchange for the first time this year, along with our other normal sources.

As in 2008, Kris created a spreadsheet to track her purchases (and the seeds she saved from last year). Our seeds have arrived, and now must wait patiently for the beginning of March. That’s when many of them will be started under our grow-lights.

January was an expensive month for our garden. We spent $25.75 on vegetable seeds (and 25 strawberry starts). Kris spent $42 on flower seeds (which we do not track for this project). And, finally, we spent $105.40 for fruit trees and supplies (such as lures for pests).

New Trees!

After some debate, Kris and I have decided to add three more fruit trees to our yard. Our happy half acre already contains two apples, a pear, and a plum. Next week, we’ll drive out to One Green World (a fantastic source for fruit trees — they ship everywhere) to pick up two different varieties of Asian pear and a self-fertile semi-dwarf sweet cherry (as opposed to a pie cherry).

To us, cherry trees are problematic. We love the fruit, but the trees are a hassle for a couple of reasons:

  1. Most cherry trees need another nearby that blossoms at about the same time in order to pollenate correctly. Because ours self-pollinates, we avoid this problem.
  2. Cherries can be invasive. At our old house, the neighbors had a 50-foot cherry on the corner of their property. The damn thing sent deep into our yard, which meant we had volunteer cherry saplings all over our lawn. The worst part: the tree was so tall that only the birds harvested the fruit. We’re going to cope with this by placing our cherry tree near the street, and choosing a semi-dwarf size that will max out at 15 feet.

Kris and I have also discussed expanding our vegetable garden by tearing out more of the lawn. I don’t think we’ll do that this year, but it’s an option for the future. Our unusual extended snowstorm may have done damage to our crops, so we’ll keep a close eye on how the berry bushes, asparagus, and perennial herbs emerge this Spring.


One of our goals for 2009 was to try to reduce costs, but it’s possible we’ll end up spending more than in 2008. Already, we’ve spent nearly half what we spent last year. We’re okay with that. Our $66 expenditure on three fruit trees is a one-time thing. Once these trees are established, they’ll cost almost nothing to maintain, and they’ll produce fruit for decades.

February 2009 Update

We spent a lot of time in our garden this month, which was unusual considering that it’s February. In fact, the twelve hours we spent working on our food crops was the most we’ve worked in a month since I began tracking the numbers in January of 2008. We don’t mind. A little effort now will pay off big in the months and years ahead.

New Trees

Much of our time was spent prepping for and planting three new trees. A small fruit tree can be an excellent addition to the suburban yard. A mature fruit tree is an attractive piece of landscaping that can offer a summertime bounty with minimal effort. (The downside is that they can be messy.)

The cost of a fruit tree is mostly up front. A sapling generally runs about $20 and takes a little work to plant. Young trees produce no fruit for the first few years, but eventually patience and effort are rewarded. Our existing fruit trees — two apples, a pear, and a plum — are entering their fifth year, and will yield fine crops this summer.

On Valentine’s weekend, we planted three new trees. We added two Asian pears (chojuro and ya li) in the “orchard” area of our property, which was originally a filbert orchard, became an expanse of grass, and now has six fruit trees. We planted a cherry (lapins) near the road. (Cherries can be invasive; we reasoned that by putting the tree near the street, it would be less of a hassle.)

After planting the young fruit trees, we took time to prune their mature siblings, and to prune the berry vines and the grapes. Pruning the berries is labor-intensive. For one thing, they’re thorny. For another, they’re a twisted mess. Kris’ sister helped us untangle the brambles, cut out the old wood, and tie the good branches to our berry trellis.

Sowing Seeds

We also began our vegetable garden this month. Two weekends ago, I double-dug (double-digged?) a bed for the sweet peas. (When you double-dig, you’re essentially loosening two layers of soil, which helps the plants to grow.) We installed three pea trellises, and we’ve been planting one batch of peas each weekend. I’ll put in the last batch tomorrow. I may have to re-plant some of the earlier peas, though, because the blue jays have discovered they make a tasty snack.

You may recall that Kris is unhappy with the current performance of our four-year-old asparagus plants. Last weekend I double-dug a second area of the vegetable patch to act as a new asparagus bed. This spot should have better drainage. Here we planted 15 crowns of asparagus (Jersey knight and Mary Washington jumbo) and several dozen red onion sets. We won’t be able to harvest the asparagus for a couple of years (the plants need time to develop), but we’ll use the onions in salsa this summer.

In the herb garden, Kris pruned the rosemary and the lavender. She’s quite pleased because her chives are peeking up. Very soon now, she will begin her vegetable seeds indoors. Many people have requested that Kris document the process, so I think we plan to have a mid-month update on how to start plants from seed. Stay tuned!


“Our expenditures in time and money are way up this year,” I told Kris after I finished compiling this month’s numbers. I was Very Concerned. But all Kris said was, “Yay!”

To her, more time and money spent on the garden now means bigger harvests in the future. I’m not convinced. Still, Kris assures me that we won’t have many other garden expenditures until May. (Which would bring our costs back in line with last year’s pace.)

Note that this month we harvested and used some of the herbs that Kris has been growing indoors all winter. In fact, we just had a mess of basil in our baked ziti last night!

March 2009 Update

In Oregon, the month of March is unpredictable. Every gardener is itching to get outside, but it’s wet and cold with a few precious — and fleeting — moments of sunshine. In those sunny moments, you can bet you’ll hear a lawnmower going!

I’ve spent a lot of semi-productive time in the flower beds this month, checking on the progress of my perennial flowers, most of which seem to have come through our extremely cold December just fine. While they’re just peeking up from winter, it’s a good time for me to assess which plants are getting invasive and where the bare patches are that will be filled by the plants I have started from seed indoors.

Indoor Gardening

On March 1st, I started seeds for basil and eight types of flowers. Four weeks later, some of them are ready to be moved into 4″ pots. I also started some mesclun salad mix in our indoor herb container, and harvested the end of the winter’s basil and dill (leaving the oregano, which looks great).


On March 15th, the day arrived that I look forward to all winter: tomato planting day! I plan to have twelve tomato plants this year (nine varieties in all). By the last day in March, each seedling was happily growing under fluorescent lights in the windowsill. Just a few days ago, I began seeds for two types of squash and some cosmos flowers.

Outdoor Gardening

The peas and onions we planted in February have sprouted. Mid-month, into the vegetable patch went seeds for three kinds of beets and more salad greens, and among the roses I planted an additional 25 strawberry plants. Neither the beets or the lettuce have sprouted (it’s been cold!) but I am confident that they’re on their way.

New Strawberry Plant!

Plant Swap

When J.D. writes about our gardening endeavors, he typically concentrates on the herbs, fruits, and vegetables. He loves to eat! But much of my time is devoted to the flower garden. The expansive flowerbeds on our property were filled with 125 rose bushes when we arrived. After giving many away, relocating others and accidentally killing a few, we’re down to about 60. In their place, I have gradually added perennials, bulbs and self-sowing annuals.

Plant Swap Now that many of these established plants have been growing for several years, they are ready for clump division or have provided volunteer offspring that can be moved elsewhere.

In April, my friend Rhonda is hosting a plant swap. Each participant will bring plants dug from her own garden, and take home others. A few guests are coming empty-handed because they are in new homes without gardens, but I am sure there will be plenty to share.

This month, I spent a couple of hours digging and dividing, and now have about 30 pots to swap. This is a fun way to frugally multiply your landscaping! Since most of the plants that people bring to swap are “vigorous growers”, you can bet that it will only be a few years before they’re ready to be swapped again with someone new.


The edibles garden took little time this month — about 4 hours — especially if you don’t count the many trips I took outside just to squat and peer at the soil where I had planted seeds.

Based on last year’s tests, we estimate that we spent just $1 in March to run two fluorescent shop lights. We anticipate an inexpensive April as well. J.D. had a minor freak-out when he saw our February expenditures, but looking back at last year’s totals, by now we’ve only spent $10 more, gotten $15-worth of herbs from the winter window box and planted three new fruit trees. That’s a bargain!

April 2009 Update

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.

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.

May 2009 Update

What a difference a year makes! Our fruits, berries, and vegetables had a slow start last year (and then were further slowed by a cold, cold June). This May was warm — very warm. Our food crops loved the weather, and they’ve shown explosive growth.

First Harvest

The sunny weather produced lots of growth. The peas and raspberries and blueberries and fruit trees all look amazing. We’re going to have huge crops. We have a couple of small snow peas on the vine, and the tomatoes are blossoming. But only three crops have yielded fruit through the end of May:

  • In its fourth year, our asparagus finally produced a crop. It wasn’t much of a crop, but it was a crop. We harvested 31 spears (about 520 grams). I went to the grocery store last night and measured five bunches of asparagus. They averaged 20 spears, about 500 grams, and cost $2.99 each. I figured that our asparagus was worth $3.11.
  • Kris added some strawberry plants to our patch. (Our strawberries live intermingled with the roses.) They’ve been producing fruit for several days, which means they’re a week earlier than last year. So far, we’ve harvested 325 grams (0.72 pounds) of strawberries worth about $2.86.
  • We’ve also begun to harvest radishes. “The radishes are a failed experiment,” Kris told me today. “They’re easy to grow, but we don’t like them, so we can’t count them for the project. In fact, I hate the radishes so much that I have to spit them out in the sink whenever I try them.” So, we won’t count this third crop as worth anything.

That puts our May harvest at $5.97, which isn’t much, but it is still $5.97 more than we harvested in May last year.


Though our garden is going well this year, we’ve experienced some minor annoyances:

  • For the second year, the gooseberry sawfly larvae stripped the leaves from the gooseberries. Kris is cutting her losses. She says the gooseberries can come out, which makes me happy. Those things have nasty thorns. Besides, I can now plant two more blueberry bushes! (I love my Toro blueberries — very productive in a small space.)
  • Kris is still waging a war against the slugs. This is an annual battle, one in which she’s tried nearly every recommended remedy. The slugs are threatening her precious cucumbers, marigolds, and sunflowers. But this year she’s trying a new strategy: she’s losing the battle to win the war. She planted more of each variety than usual, and is just accepting that she’ll lose a certain number.
  • Finally, we’ve had some equipment failures. Our spray nozzle broke. Kris tried to fix it, but it was beyond repair. The same is true of the soaker hose, which sprung a gusher at the connector.

These aren’t major problems, obviously — they’re just minor annoyances. We try to take care of our equipment, but there are a few failures every year. Partly because of this, May was an expensive month. (It was also expensive in 2008.) We spent $98.55 on garden supplies, including herbs and vegetable starts.


I spent zero hours in the garden this month. I did a few quick tasks, but no major work. Kris made up for that. She tells me she spent 15 hours on food-producing activities last month. I’m skeptical. That’s 40% more than our busiest month in 2008 (July). On the other hand, she did do a lot of work out there. (She tells me that just as some GRS readers warned, the horse manure we spread last fall has produced a fine carpet of weeds, which she hoes daily.)

June 2009 Update

It’s the beginning of summer, and that means our garden is lush and green and growing. It also means there’s nothing exciting to write about. We’ve begun to harvest a couple of things, but mostly our chores have become routine. We weed and fertilize while we wait for the crops to ripen.

One problem we’ve encountered this year is weeds. There are always some weeds to be pulled, but as many GRS readers warned, spreading horse manure on our vegetable garden caused more weeds to sprout. Kris is the weed-puller (and plant-fertilizer), so she puts the most hours into the garden. She spent four hours working on food crops this month, while I spent three, all of which were harvest-related.


As our harvests begin, I want to remind you of our methodology. For the purposes of this project, we’re using “best match” pricing. Based on GRS reader suggestions, we’re obtaining typical pricing from our local farmers market. In some cases, we use pricing from a local organic produce stand. In all cases, we’re trying to be fair, but this is more art than science.

Also, last year we established through repeated measurements that a pint of berries weighs roughly 300 grams. I’ll use this approximation frequently throughout the summer.

Those ground rules established, here’s our harvest for the month of June:

  • 13.55 pounds (6.151 kg or about 20.5 pints) strawberries @ $2.99 per pint = $61.30
  • 5.17 pounds (2.344 kg) snow peas @ $2.99/pound = $15.45
  • 0.31 pounds (0.139 kg) raspberries $3.49/pint = $1.62

Our harvest this month was worth a total of $78.37. In June 2008, we harvested $50.83 worth of food. That’s a 54% increase in the value of our crops!

Despite the correct pruning we gave them this year, our raspberry harvest looks as though it’s going to be pitiful. The culprit? They’re overcome by the monstrous marionberry vine that has taken over the entire trellis. We may relocate the raspberry canes, so will evaluate the yard for a suitable spot and decide later this summer. However, there is a silver lining; we love marionberries (a type of blackberry-boysenberry cross).


And so the profit portion of our project has begun! July, August, September, and October will be even more productive as we begin to pick our caneberries, our tree fruit, and, especially, our tomatoes.

As always, we’ve been supplementing our own produce with food picked elsewhere. Last weekend, our friend Jolie joined us for a trip to the strawberry patch. Kris and I picked 24 pounds of berries (about two flats), for which we paid just over $20.

On Friday, our neighbor came over to let us know that her cherries were ready to harvest. We’ve decided not to preserve any cherries this year, but we picked about 10 pounds just for snacking.

July 2009 Update

Welcome to Oregon, where for the past week it’s been hot. How hot? Here’s the temperature graph from the National Weather Service for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday:


The heat hasn’t prevented us from working in the garden. We’ve been watering the thirsty plants, and we’ve begun harvesting their fruit. It’s hard to believe that just three months ago, this was a bare patch of earth. Now it’s grown so lush that it’s difficult to photograph:


But how have our harvests been? Let’s find out.

Currently Currants

Remember how last year Kris and I couldn’t find a price for our currants or gooseberries? They’re just not available here in Oregon, so we used the same figures for them as we did for our other berries. But earlier this month we stopped at an Asian supermarket, and they had both gooseberries ($2.99 for 6oz.) and red currants ($3.49 for 6oz.).

So what?

Well, in July we harvested 8.362kg of red currants from our two bushes, which is 18.42 pounds. That’s a lot of currants. Look again at that price in the last paragraph. $3.49 for 6oz. translates to about $9.30 per pound. In other words, we harvested $171.43 worth of red currants this year.

Holy cats!

I have new advice for how to make a garden profitable: Plant red currants — and lots of them!

But what can you do with eighteen pounds of red currants? Kris made two batches of red currant jelly with the most beautiful ruby red color you’ve ever seen. She’s going to enter some in the county fair in mid-August. We also had two friends come glean the extras. Plus there were currants left over to freeze!

More Harvest

While the currants gave us a bumper crop, other plants were less productive. The gooseberries didn’t produce much. And for the second year, they fell victim to the gooseberry sawfly. Kris and I agree: Those things are out of here! I’m going to dig them up and we’ll replace them with more blueberries.

Speaking of blueberries, they weren’t very productive this year either. I’m not sure exactly what the problem is, but we’ve harvested less than half the blueberries we did last year. Our raspberries were pathetic for the second year running; they just can’t compete with the vigorous marionberry canes.

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

  • 18.42 pounds (8.362kg) red currants @ $3.49 for six ounces = $171.43
  • 0.95 pounds (0.430kg) gooseberries @ $2.99 for six ounces = $7.55
  • 4.91 pounds (2.229kg) snow peas @ $2.99/pound = $14.58
  • 1.09 pounds (0.494kg) green beans @ $1.29/pound = $1.41
  • 5.91 pounds (2.681kg) caneberries (blackberries, etc.) @ 2.49/pint (~300g) = $22.25
  • 79 cucumbers @ $1.29/pound (about 5 cukes) = $20.38
  • 11 zucchini @ $0.50/each = $5.50
  • 6 red onions (negligible value)

Our harvest totaled $243.10, but most of that was from the red currants. Without those to salvage our stats, we would have finished behind last July. That’s okay, though. The tomatoes are just about to come on, and we’re going to have a lot more of them than we did last year. The fruit trees will also give us bigger crops than last year since they’re a year more mature.


As we often do, we also picked fruit from friends this month. We picked cherries from the neighbor across the street, and on July 3rd we drove out to raid the cherries belonging to our friends Ron and Kara, coming home with thirty pounds of mixed Queen Annes, Bings and sour pie cherries. Yum! We also made use of some early apples for a juicing experiment. This “free” produce isn’t included in the numbers below.

August 2009 Update

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.

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.

September 2009 Update

After a long productive summer, our September in the garden was kind of anticlimactic. Sure, we continued to harvest our home-grown food, but neither of us was particularly “in” to the garden this month. It was a chore instead of an obsession. September can be that way sometimes.

Still, there’s always something happening with our home food production. This month:

  • We’ve been harvesting lots of apples and plums. It took four or five years, but our Jonathan apple tree has finally turned productive. We pulled down nearly 40 pounds of apples this year! And the plum tree was loaded.
  • The blackberries are still producing, but we’re sick of them. I can hardly believe I’m saying that (blackberries are my favorite), but I’ve had enough berries. And besides, they’re not very good this late in the season. We stopped harvesting them long ago.
  • Kris has been using her food dehydrator to preserve lots of dried pears and plums. This is a great way to extend the harvest and to provide fruit for snacking during the winter. (We also canned lots of applesauce and pickles.)
  • As threatened, we tore out the old blueberry plants. They’re over 25 and their production has slowed tremendously. I’ll tear out the gooseberries next weekend. We’ll buy some new blueberries to replace these plants.

Now we’re just waiting for the grapes to ripen (soon, very soon) and the harvest season is done. Kris and I are both disappointed that, for us, this has been the Summer of No Corn. We didn’t grow any ourselves, and we didn’t have another convenient source. When people did give us corn, it was terrible. Ah well — there’s always next year.

Kris' cucumbers

But what you really want to know is how much we “earned” from our garden in September, right? Here’s this month’s tally:

  • 37.00 pounds (16.798kg) apples @ $0.99/pound = $36.63
  • 2.51 pounds (1.140kg) pears @ $0.99/pound = $2.48
  • 5.57 pounds (2.528kg) Italian plums @ $1.49/pound = $8.30
  • 0.69 pounds (0.315kg) caneberries (blackberries, etc.) @ $2.49/pint = $2.61
  • 1.01 pounds (0.460kg) grapes @ $3.00/pound = $3.04
  • 0.61 pounds (0.278kg) green beans @ $2.49/pound = $1.52
  • 64 cucumbers @ $1.29/pound (about 5 cukes) = $16.51
  • 29 chili peppers @ $0.29/each = $8.41
  • 18 squash @ $0.99/each = $17.82
  • 27.46 pounds (12.468kg) tomatoes @ $1.99/pound = $54.65

As always, we also enjoyed some of the harvest from our friends and neighbors. We obtained 28 pounds of plums from other folks, a bunch of onions from my cousin, and about 30 pounds of fresh-caught salmon and halibut from the millionaire next door when he returned from Alaska. (And Tina offered us as much corn as we wanted, but we weren’t able to pick it.)

I’m a little worried about October. Last year, we harvested over $150 in produce because the tomato season lingered. This year, though, tomatoes are essentially over. Kris and I don’t expect to harvest much more than we already have. Who knows, though…maybe we’ll be surprised. Still, our harvest total for the year is already greater than our total for all of 2008, so we’ve made improvements!

October 2009 Update

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.

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)

2009 Totals

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

February 2011 Update

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).

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…

March 2011 Update

March is usually a time for Kris and me to get back to work in the garden. The weather warms, and we get to watch as our first sprouts poke through the soil. This year? Not so much. It was a cool, wet month.

The average temperature in March was about 46 degrees Fahrenheit — which is below normal for this time of year. In fact, Portland just had a record stretch between 60-degree days. The last such day came in early December. We usually get a couple of 60-degree days in February, but if the clouds hadn’t parted on the afternoon of March 31st, this year we wouldn’t have had a warm day until April.

Meanwhile, rainfall was nearly 75% above normal for the month. If that rain had all been concentrated over a few days, we might have done some work in the garden. But it wasn’t. It rained 28 days in March. Twenty of those days saw 1/10th of an inch of rain or more. It was so wet last month that the peas we planted after returning from Africa simply rotted in the ground. And now it’s too late to plant replacements. So, we probably won’t have peas this year. (Which is sad, because I love peas!)

No peas!

As you’ve probably deduced, between the cool weather and the heavy rainfall, Kris and I did nothing on our garden in March. In fact, we did nothing in the yard. The lawn did get mowed — but not by us. It’s been far too wet for my mower. But we were making dinner last Monday night, when Kris asked, “Is somebody mowing the yard?”

Sure enough. There was the Real Millionaire Next Door on his riding lawnmower. I went outside to chat with him. He just got back from his winter in New Zealand (where it was summer, of course), and he’ll be here a month before heading north to Alaska. He’s like a migrating goose. But he’s a goose who mows our lawn and brings us salmon, so it’s always good to see him.

This garden update is pretty lame, I know. Trust me: There’ll be more to report for April. And May’s installment will be packed!

How’s the weather where you are? How does your garden grow?

April 2011 Update

After a long vacation in February and a wet, dreary March, Kris and I finally were able to do a little work on our vegetable garden in April. Sort of. The weather remained chilly and damp throughout the month, so we didn’t get as much yardwork done as we’d like. (The average high temperature for April 2011 was 4.5 degrees below normal. The average low was 2.1 degrees below normal. Rainfall was 5.04 inches, almost twice the average for the month.)

Waiting for the Sun

Though we couldn’t really plant anything until the last day of the month, Kris has been itching to get in the garden, so she’s been doing a lot of maintenance and clean-up. She and I put a total of twelve hours into our food-producing gardens in April (though eleven of those hours were hers). Most of these hours were spent pulling weeds, digging out old overgrown herbs, and getting the gardens ready for planting. (We opted against using the rototiller this year, so it took longer to prepare the plots.)

Chives (and Weed)
A big, furry weed in the middle of the chives.

In mid-April, we attended the neighborhood plant swap, where we were able to pass along plants we no longer need (or want) while picking up others that might be more useful. Kris brought home parsley, tomatoes, and lovage (a celery-tasting herb). She also scored lots of perennial flowers. (But we don’t track flowers in our garden project, thank goodness. That’s purely for fun.)

Plant Swap
At the plant swap, Mike and J.D. enjoy some fleeting moments of sunshine.

At the plant swap, our friend Craig gave us three kinds of lettuce seeds and some plant-marker stakes made out of old mini blinds. (What an awesome idea!) Though we never have success with lettuce, Kris planted some indoors, and we’re giving it a go. She also has some basil started in a window box.

Blossoms and Sprouts

Meanwhile, most of our fruits and berries have begun to blossom, and our early crops are finally starting to show some life. The apple trees, for instance, are in full bloom, as my allergies can attest:

Apple Blossoms

In January, we cut back our blackberries and raspberries hard. (“You’re not going to get any fruit on those this year, you know,” my real millionaire next door told me. “I know,” I told him. “It’s a price I’m willing to pay.”) Now, though, the caneberries are sending up lots of new growth.


The grapes and blueberries currants are blooming, too. The peas are up, though they’re behind, and we’ve harvested a few spears of asparagus.


The peppers are in a container this year so that they can have warmer soil than the rest of the garden will get. We’re hoping this will make them more productive.

Pepper Pot
Kris’ frugal greenhouse: A garbage bag over the pepper pot

The tomatoes are currently in Kris’ mini greenhouse. They’ll stay there until the garden soil warms — our night-time temperatures are still in the low forties, about five degrees below normal — or until they get too big, whichever comes first.


In short, we’re being patient. When the weather turns warm, we’ll be ready to plant things out. If we’re lucky, by the end of June, we’ll be writing about sunny days and sweet, delicious berries.

Monthly Totals

At the Oregon Master Gardeners plant sale, Kris spent $28.25 on plants for the vegetable garden. She bought:

  • nine tomato plants
  • one cucumber
  • four chili peppers (I picked out two of the plants)

Kris also bought some herbs. “But they’re decorative herbs,” she tells me. “They’re for the flower garden, not for the herb bed.”

I also spent $15.98 on a bag each of potting soil and compost, bringing our total expenses to $43.23.

All we harvested in April was about 263 grams of asparagus. Asparagus goes for $2.99 a pound at the local natural-food store, which means we’ve reaped about $1.73 in “revenue” from our garden so far this year. We won’t really start getting our money’s worth until June, when the strawberries begin to ripen. (I can hardly wait!)

May 2011 Update

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!

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.

June 2011 Update

Summer is finally here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest: The birds are chirping, the insects are humming and the garden is producing.

June started cold and wet but has gradually warmed enough to make Kris think this year’s garden is going to be successful. And she needs a successful summer after two straight years of poor tomato harvests — our pantry needs restocking! But those tomato crops are a long way off. At the moment, we’re enjoying our strawberries, peas (both snow and snap), and the lettuce from the window box we keep inside under a fluorescent shop light.

Blackberry blossoms
The tomatoes have burst into blossom, promising heavy harvests in late summer

The strawberries have been a morning staple this month (mixed into yogurt with homemade granola), and the peas are delicious straight from the vines or cut for a crispy addition to our salads. But as much as we like these early crops, the best is yet to come. The zucchini are almost big enough to harvest — maybe this weekend — and the currants are ripening to a gorgeous ruby red. The promises inherent in blossoming crops are making our mouths water: cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, blackberries, raspberries and elderberries, as well as peppers and pumpkins are all blooming like mad. (Do your job, bumble bees!)

Pumpkin and cat
Simon stands guard by the pumpkin plant

From the herb garden, we’re harvesting basil and oregano. The oregano gets dried in the sun, and the basil is added fresh to pasta and pizza. Meanwhile, the apple, pear, and plum trees show potential for sizable crops — if the weather cooperates.

Drying oregano
Drying oregano in the sun (between two window screens)

You may remember that we cut the berry canes back hard this year. Well, you’d never know it to look at them! They’re out of control! We’re expecting a small berry crop this year, but I need to get out there and tie up the canes before they take over the neighborhood. And we spent some time this month weeding our patch of young blueberry bushes and adding bark mulch. The mulch was our only garden-related expense for June ($36), but I think we’ll need to actually add another layer in July.

Blackberry blossoms
Despite being cut back hard, the blackberries are eager to produce.

Based in part on GRS reader feedback, we’re looking for some help with the yard and shrub maintenance since I’ll be traveling more. That will leave Kris able to focus her energies on the food and flowers as the summer continues. Altogether, she estimates we had about eight hours of garden-related labor this month.

Potato patch
Our potato patch is enthusiastic this year

Our harvest for June included:

  • Romaine-type lettuce for six big salads, roughly equivalent to one head = $1.49
  • 3.38 pounds (1.535kg or about 4 pints) @ $2.99/pint for local organic at our farm stand = $11.96
  • 1.10 pounds (0.501kg) peas (snow and snap) @ $1.69/pound = $1.86
  • Oregano and basil = roughly $0.75

That’s a total of $16.06 worth of food harvested from our garden in June, but it’s barely getting started. The next few months should see a bounty of tasty, low-cost food. Yum!

Herb garden
Simon patrols the herb garden to keep it free of squirrels

July 2011 Update

We had a strange July in our garden. First, the cool weather lingered longer than it ought to have. It wasn’t cold and wet, but the days were cool. Then we were gone for much of the month: Alberta, Colorado, Washington. Finally, our harvest was much smaller than in previous summers.

Part of this was because gave most of our currants to a friend, and our new blueberry plants (we replaced the old ones last year) produced fruit, but it went unharvested. (Translation: I wasn’t around/didn’t remember to pick the fruit, so we got none. This is a dumb way to garden.)

Our garden

July Totals

The low production, the donated fruit, and the wasted berries meant our numbers for the month were pretty pitiful. Our harvest for July included:

  • Strawberries: 310 grams at $2.99/pint = $2.42
  • Peas: 1474 grams at $1.69/lb = $5.49
  • 12 pickling cucumbers (1403 grams) at $1.99/lb = $6.15
  • Red currants: 990 grams $3.49 per 6 oz. = $20.32
  • 12 zucchini at 50 cents apiece = $6.00
  • Green beans: 1446 grams at $2.99/lb = $9.52

That’s a total “profit” of just $49.90, which is way behind the previous two years we’ve tracked the numbers. (This total doesn’t include the cherries we picked from neighbors and friends. That 13 pounds of fruit was worth roughly $32.)

We also had some minor expenses in July:

  • Garden sprayer for fertilizer = $12.99
  • Liquid calcium supplement = $5.99

The good news? August has been awesome so far. We’ve harvested a lot of beans, peas, cucumbers, and more. If the sun continues to shine, we’ll have a great tomato harvest. And the fruit treas are loaded! In three weeks, we hope to be sharing some big numbers with you.

Zucchini-Basil Pesto

This section was written completely by Kris.

I don’t know about your garden, but mine produces way more zucchini than I can ever eat. And although my basil is thriving, it’s put to shame by the zucchini. How happy was I to find a frugal pesto recipe in our local paper that uses plentiful zucchini as an extender in a Zucchini-Basil Pesto? It replaces expensive pine nuts with more affordable almonds, but don’t skimp on a good quality cheese—it really kicks up the flavor of this mild summer pesto.

Zucchini-Basil Pesto
(makes two cups)

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and sliced (2/3 cup)
  • 3 to 6 medium garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons almond slivers or chopped almonds
  • 1 medium raw zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice (7-9 ounces)
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice (preferably fresh)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make the pesto: Melt butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the almonds and shallot and cook until the shallot is softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 45 seconds. Transfer the almonds, shallots and garlic to a blender and add the zucchini, basil, lemon juice, and cheese. Pulse until finely chopped. With the blender running, slowly add the 1/4 cup olive oil, stopping to stir the ingredients occasionally. Blend until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

I’ve adapted the recipe slightly to my taste and I use the lesser amount of garlic because I can find it overpowering. Feel free to make changes of your own and play around with it! This pesto would be good with pasta, grilled chicken, or as a dip or sandwich spread. This recipe makes about two cups — a pesto recipe using only basil would need about four cups of basil leaves instead of the one cup required here — and freezes well in small portions.

August 2011 Update

August finally felt like summer here in Portland. The entire month was sunny and warm, and there was very little rain. The garden rewarded us with productivity. Our harvest in August wasn’t huge, but we expect to pick a lot of fruits and vegetables in September.

Bean Harvest
A harvest of beans

Still, we did begin to harvest many favorites, including nearly four kilograms (or nine pounds) of green beans! Our harvest for August included:

  • Zucchini: 29 at $0.50 each = $14.50 (plus nearly as many donated to friends)
  • Tomatoes: 9.01lbs (4.090kg) at $1.99/lb = $17.93
  • Green beans: 8.68lbs (3.959kg) at $0.99/lb = $8.59
  • Peas: 2.88lbs (1.309kg) at $1.69/lb = $4.87
  • Cucumbers: 22.25lbs (10.102kg) at $1.49/lb = $33.15
  • Yellow onions: 2.52lbs (1.144kg) at $0.99/lb = $2.49
  • Jalapeño peppers: 14 at $0.50 each = $2.80
  • Elderberries: 3.52lbs (1.599kg) at $2.99 per pint = $16.45
  • Blackberries: 2.60lbs (1.182kg) at $1.99 per pint = $5.97

That’s a total of $89.45 worth of food harvested from our yard, and that doesn’t include the stuff we gave to others or that we harvested from elsewhere.

For instance, Kris and her friends picked apples at the house next door. We ended up with about 50 pounds of fruit, enough to can three gallons of juice and four pints of apple butter. Plus, Kris picked enough roadside blackberries to make two batches of jam. Yum!

Speaking of canning, Kris has been hard at work storing up the food from our yard (and from the local produce stand). She’s canned zucchini bread-and-butter pickles, dill pickles, ginger pickled beans, and a variety of jams. She entered some of last year’s goods in the county fair, and came away with prizes for her plum jam, bread-and-butter pickles, and pickled carrots. Plus, her sour cherry jam won a special award. (It’s just that good!)

Canned Goods
The products of a single canning session

We’re looking forward to a big harvest in September. The forecast is for hot, clear days, which should keep our garden producing. Our fruit trees are laden with apples, plums, and pears, and there are still blackberries to be picked. Plus, by the end of the month (or perhaps early in October), we’ll start to harvest grapes.

It’s a wonderful time of year to be a gardener.


This month, the cats weeds got out of control. As you’ll recall, we used to have four cats weeds but one died last February. We were doing fine with three, but when my mother had to move out of her home, we adopted her two cats weeds, giving us five. That’s a lot of weeds.

To make things more interesting, if you follow my personal blog, you know that we’re dealing with a new weed over the past ten days. A rabbit appeared in our yard one morning and adopted us (and our cats) as his own.

Silver and His Rabbit Friend
Two new weeds in our garden: Silver and Blackberry

Nobody in the neighborhood claims this rabbit weed, nor have our attempts to find his owners on-line come to fruition, so Blackberry (as we call him) is living on our property for now. He’s a cute little sucker, as this video demonstrates:

That’s enough weeds for now, though. We don’t have room for any others!

We had no expenses during August, and we worked very little in the garden. Our only time was spent harvesting.

September 2011 Update

Our late summer this year meant that our crops were delayed, but when the sunshine came, it came on strong! I was very busy in the kitchen in September, but not so busy in the garden itself.

An almond-pear tart
An almond-pear tart

My records show that since the beginning of the month, I’ve preserved 126 pints of food for pantry and freezer, bringing my year-to-date total to over 263 pints (131 quarts). Not included in those numbers are the dried pears and plums I’ve been able to make from this year’s bumper plum crop from our tree and some of the 50 pounds of Bartletts shared by our neighbor, Roberta. And the fresh fruits and vegetables have meant I’ve purchased only lemons, limes, and onions at the store over the last month; of course, we all know J.D. has purchased pineapple, blueberries, and watermelon!

My pantry is now stocked with jars of applesauce, spiced pear sauce, and apple juice, apple butter, pear butter, pear-vanilla preserves, and plum-anise jam. The freezer has nine quarts of herbed tomato and onion pasta sauce and four pints of oven-roasted tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt. Added to the many pickled items and jams from earlier in the summer, we’re in good shape for the cold and gloomy Oregon winter months ahead! I’ve also made a good number of jams to give to friends for this year’s holiday gifts.

Plums from our tree
Italian prune plums from our tree

Starting to Clean Up for the Season

On one of our last sunny September days, I tore out the bean bushes and cucumber vines. They probably would have produced a bit more (the beans were still flowering), but I was in a mood to clean. Out came the smaller of the two zucchini plants, the dried pea vines, and the gourd vine once I had harvested this year’s gourd crop. Other than that work, the only labor for the month was the time spent harvesting — about 5 hours total.

Potatoes from our garden
Potatoes from our garden

What’s Left to Come

I’ve only collected about half the potatoes and will dig the rest in October. There are still tomatoes on the vines, but our recent rains may make them split and rot before they ripen. And time will tell about the Concord grape crop as well. I’d love to make some Concord grape juice and jelly — we’re out of both — but without J.D.’s help to harvest it, it will be quite a project. And there are still a number of jalapenos and habaneros turning bright colors on my plants—waiting to be picked and turned in to something much too spicy for me to eat myself!

Tomato sauce, step one
Tomato sauce, step one

After spending so many hours over a hot canning pot in September, I’m ready for the gardening season to end and the enjoying season to begin. Here’s our total harvest for the month:

  • Bartlett pears: 5513 grams, 12.14 pounds @ $1.69/pound = $20.52
  • Cucumbers: 3465 grams, 7.63 pounds @1.49/pound = $11.37
  • New Potatoes: 3405 grams, 7.5 pounds @ 1.49/pound = $11.18
  • Jonathan apples: 48 pounds @ $1.49/pound = $71.52
  • Italian Prune plums: 16662 grams, 36.7 pounds @ $1.49/pound = $54.68
  • Jalapeno peppers: 680 grams, 1.5 pounds @ $1.99/pound = $2.99
  • Tomatoes: 32742 grams, 72.12 pounds @$1.99/pound = $143.52
  • Zucchini: 12 at 50 cents apiece = $6.00
  • Interlaken seedless green grapes: 2274 grams, 5.0 pounds @2.99/pound = $14.95
  • Five decorative gourds: $2.50

That’s a grand total of $332.68 worth of produce in September! That’s a record harvest for any single month, and doesn’t include the 20 pounds of apples and 50 pounds of pears we picked up from friends. Maybe that’ll help make up for the slow year we’ve had so far. Let’s look at the annual totals.

Lunch - a bacon-tomato salad
Lunch – a bacon-tomato salad

October 2011 Update

Our gardening season is complete for 2011. After an initial burst of cold and rain, our October weather was surprisingly pleasant. The garden plot has been cleared and is ready for us to rake leaves over it for the winter. The birds are enjoying the dried sunflower heads, and I’m waiting for a hard frost to cut back the asparagus ferns.

Habaneros and jalapenos—made a garlic chili relish for the people who like things HOT!

October means grapes around here, as well as the end of the apples and tomatoes. I made final harvests of our chili peppers and potatoes, and I’ve been carefully meting out my precious remaining plums and last batch of fresh salsa from the fridge. It will be many long months before we have any fresh produce from our own yard.

Final tally for food put-up to date: 333.5 pints! That’s a lot of jars, and the pantry under the stairs is stacked high — more boxes are stored in the basement. That also includes the preserves that will be part of this year’s holiday gifts to our friends — we love our tradition of exchanging homemade treasures. I look forward each year to planning what I will make to share. As my friends are increasingly good at humoring me by returning my jars, and the fruits/vegetables are generally free, the cost of these gifts “boil down” to sugar and pectin! (Ha — that’s a canning pun!)

The pantry under the stairs

Oregon’s many wineries are worried about a poor harvest this year, but our grapes had their best year ever. In addition to harvesting from our own vines, I was able to pick about 30 pounds of Concord grapes from our neighbor (the millionaire next door) and made J.D.’s favorite juice and jelly to welcome him home.

One part of the grape harvest—that’s about 10 pounds

Garden clean-up and harvesting totaled about six hours of labor for the month. Here are the numbers:

  • Tomatoes: 4726 grams (10.41 pounds) @ $1.99/pound = $20.72
  • Seedless and seeded grapes: 24 pounds @ $2.49/pound = $59.76
  • Jalapeno and habanero peppers: 1151 grams (2.54 pounds) @ $1.99/pound = $5.05
  • Zucchini: one! = $0.50
  • Apples: 7.7 pounds @ $1.49/pound = $11.47
  • Potatoes: 9.5 pounds @ $1.49/pound = $14.16
  • Herbs (all summer’s worth: rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, & chives): $50

That’s a total harvest worth $161.66 in October with no out-of-pocket expenses.

Lessons for the year

Some of our crops this year were small (currants, blackberries), bringing our annual harvest value down. But despite that, this year’s overall profit is higher than for the other years we’ve tracked our progress. Why? First of all, our costs were very low this year — we’ve got the main garden infrastructure established and didn’t need to purchase many items. In addition, I was very selective in my choice of seeds and plant starts this spring. And perhaps even more importantly, our maturing plants are producing substantial crops of asparagus, apples, plums, and grapes.

I look forward to next year’s crops from these perennial plants, as J.D. and I have been discussing taking a year off from the vegetable garden of annuals in 2012. I’ll turn my attention to the somewhat neglected flower beds instead and we’ll enjoy eating the pantry down. I think I may have enough jam to last us until 2018!

2011 Totals

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

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.

More about...Home & Garden, Food, Frugality

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There are 1254 comments to "The GRS garden project: How much does a garden really save?".

  1. Tom says 06 January 2008 at 11:22

    I think a garden is a great hobby. If you enjoy it you should do it but I think you’re right – there are lots of variable that might not make it cost effective.

    Farms are efficient and can produce goods much less expensively than we can at home.

  2. DJ says 06 January 2008 at 11:50

    I think where gardening really saves is in hidden costs that eventually trickle down.

    1. You reduce the cost of transporting your food to your house, whether done commercially (farm to grocery store) or on a personal level (grocery store to home).
    2. You reduce (eliminate) the amount of chemicals used to create your food. Depending on what you believe, this could have health benefits in the future that would otherwise be paid in high insurance premiums. One could argue that if enough people avoided items with pesticides, preservatives, etc. the general health of Americans would rise and insurance premiums would lower nationally.
    3. You reduce the amount of fuel put into food production, including the machinery to move, grow, harvest, and the machinery to make the chemicals put into that food, as well as the machinery that makes all that farming equipment. This also burns less fuel, and means better things for the environment.

    I think even if you break even on gardening, you will have improved your quality of life because you’ll have better tasting food that hasn’t used as much fossil fuel or chemicals, and you’ve done something you enjoy that’s out of doors and provides for your family.

  3. Annie J says 06 January 2008 at 11:53

    This is one of those areas where I’d rather cut back somewhere else so I don’t have to garden. I think a lot of money can be saved, and a lot of great food had for cheap, but it’s simply not something I enjoy. I always have good intentions and enjoy the planning and planting, but when it comes to caring for the garden and harvesting, I fail miserably. To the point I’ve vowed not to try again.

    I am, however, thinking of signing up for shares from a CSA grower this year. And I’m looking forward to reading about your progress.

  4. Jeremy says 06 January 2008 at 11:53

    That photo is making my mouth water. One of the only reasons we garden is for the amazing taste of fresh tomatoes. You simply can’t get good tomatoes in the supermarket, and the ones that occasionally are good during the late summer cost a fortune.

  5. starfire says 06 January 2008 at 12:50

    It will be interesting to see the results but even if it costs more if you like gardening who cares? The connection to food you grow is worth any extra cost there might be. There is nothing better than eating a veggie that you just picked! Man I wish it was summer right now!

  6. Blaine says 06 January 2008 at 12:53

    For what it’s worth, to negate any potential health costs that might be avoided by growing your own food (avoiding dangerous chemicals, etc.), perhaps you should compare the cost of gardening to the cost of buying organic food and versus non-organic food (just in case you have too much time on your hands!).

  7. Matt says 06 January 2008 at 13:04

    You should also track how much you actually consume, because harvested food doesn’t save you money if it rots on the shelf. I find this is an issue when 100 tomatoes all become ripe at the same time. Also harvested food that is given away can only be counted as a cost saver if it replaces a gift you would have bought. Plus you don’t know how much of what you gave away rots on the shelf (and I have often failed to consume all of the giant bag of vegetables my neighbor brings by each year). Of course you should track total harvest, but you should also track total consumed and total given away and report the three different numbers.

    • Michael says 07 September 2011 at 07:43

      Compost, recycle nutrients.

  8. jack says 06 January 2008 at 13:18

    Great Post! I will enjoy seeing how it comes out. I imagine there will be ebbs and flows. Winter not being cost effective but summer exceeding. Although it sounds like you grow indoors as well so it will be neat to see a month to month.

    I dont think that gardening is anything that someone can be made to do. You end up failing. Personally I love it. Cant wait to do more and although I am a novice I am learning every season.

    I have the same reasons to garden as the above posts, but also would like to include one other. I garden because I want to teach my children(a two year and 4month old twins) where their food comes. How do you put a value on that?

    Anyway, great post I will continue to read it.

    Thank You…Good Luck !

  9. isaac says 06 January 2008 at 13:28

    I would just say that not all of the value of gardening can be quantified in saving money, much of the value of doing things on your own comes from a much less quantifiable “rich” quality of life.

  10. SLH says 06 January 2008 at 13:34

    Take a look at what can be accomplished on 1/10 of an acre if you try. The Path To Freedom journal is about a family homestead in Pasadena:
    This family of 5 just posted their year’s veggie tally–over 5700 lbs!

  11. BillinDetroit says 06 January 2008 at 13:39

    I know what I get out of my garden. A few years ago I ‘did the math’ for a couple years and the garden was worth roughly $14.50 per square foot to me. I make extensive use of [TALL] trellises and trellising varieties (climbing beans, indeterminate tomatoes, vine-forming [as opposed to bush-forming] versions of cucurbits. Each is planted directly beneath the trellis with companion plants surrounding them. (PS, for a great slicer tomato, try “Mortgage Lifter” … but only if you have an outlet for the excess!)

    There are, as others are noting, just a ton of things to consider. I’ve done enough math to convince myself that my time in the garden is actually worth more per hour than my time at my former job.

  12. Trish says 06 January 2008 at 13:48

    I’ve always found herbs to be the best bang for buck and time invested. Most store bought cut herbs also have a very short shelf-life, especially when compared to just leaving them in the ground and snipping when needed.

    With other foods, some of the not-so-great savings growing your own is mitigated by the value that comes from fresh taste, lack of pesticides, gardener satisfaction and the convenience of proximity. It’s much more difficult to attribute a dollar value to that mix of variables.

    For example, my garden grown peas never beat the prices at the markets, but when I grow them myself, there are a few weeks of backyard grazing that I can’t get at any store.

  13. Ed says 06 January 2008 at 13:49

    Just wanted to comment on one variable

    ¨The cost-equivalent from the local grocery store.¨

    Like the comment about organic food, i think it would be hard to get the same quality from the store as you can from your garden, the tomatoes that are picked green and then rail roaded across the country to your house in new york are not nearly as good for you or as good tasting as what you can grow.

  14. indio says 06 January 2008 at 14:03

    I’ve had a garden for many years. I’m so “spoiled” that I refuse to eat tomatoes when they are not in season. The taste of store bought tomatoes and other vegetables isn’t even close to what I can grow. Every Fall I enhance the soil with manure so don’t forget to include that in your costs if you do that. The initial set up costs makes the first yr costs higher, but the following years the cost declines. When I include reusable canning supplies and time the costs rise, but I know definitely that the strawberries or peppers (store bought food that has a high pesticide content) I feed my kids is definitely pesticide free and not just labeled that way.

  15. plonkee says 06 January 2008 at 14:05

    I’m another person happy to live vicariously through your gardening and enjoy the indoors for the rest of the year. It’ll be interesting to see how you get on.

  16. Tnrkitect says 06 January 2008 at 14:18

    One thing to remember.

    Don’t compare apples to oranges, so to speak.

    Don’t compare your average Wal-mart tomato (or what ever else you grow) to your home-grown tomatoes. Their tomatoes are grown with who knows what pesticides and fertilizers. You need to compare your tomatoes to certified organic tomatoes to gain an true equivalent comparison.

  17. Julia says 06 January 2008 at 14:30

    I just remember the price I paid to get heirloom tomatoes at a farmer’s market for a recipe, then not having enough, so I had to make an additional trip to Whole Foods and boy were they expensive, too!

    One of my goals this year is to cook from my currently non-existant garden, so keep up the gardening posts! I would love to see a monthly tally.

    In a class I took last summer, it was a delight to get fresh vegetables from a classmate who is determined to primarily eat food raised on his land. He raises and eats a lot of rabbit, and has a huge garden. He was such an impressive role model!

  18. Sam says 06 January 2008 at 15:12

    Ooooh, fun. Are you also going to calculate the improved taste from home grown and the calories burned from doing your own gardening?

    I look forward to the upcoming posts.

  19. Rose says 06 January 2008 at 15:21

    What a great idea! I look forward to hearing the progress. One thing to consider is the added quality you will get with your garden. Even if there isn’t much cost saving compared to a supermarket there might be compared to equivalent organic, fresh food. I’m actually in the process of starting a “Gardening with Kids” series on my parenting blog in the coming weeks. That’s another area where it’s not just about cost savings. It’s about teaching kids a lesson about what’s actually involved on getting food on their plate and giving them a life skill. Everyone should know how to feed them self from start to finish.. even if they choose not to use the skill.

  20. J.D. says 06 January 2008 at 15:32

    “Time? Time?” Kris said when she saw this post. “We never discussed time. We only talked about money. You have no idea how difficult it’s going to be to track time.”

    Hm. She may be right. Still, I’m going to give it a shot. I mean, there’s 4-5 months of the year in which we do and spend nothing on the garden, right? Right?

  21. dan says 06 January 2008 at 15:47

    another way to check out is square foot gardening. The website is pretty much to just get you to buy the book but the book itself was an interesting and informative read. Try the library for it.

    While I haven’t tried it in practice (or any gardening since I was a kid), I’ve heard good things about it from quite a few people and intend to try it on a small scale this year.

  22. Angie says 06 January 2008 at 16:24

    You know, JD, there are only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.

    I have heard it argued that it doesn’t make financial sense to garden, because when your produce is ripe and ready, the same crop is available at the lowest price of the season at the store, because it’s harvest time for professional growers, too. There’s some merit in that argument.

    But for people who’re really into gardening as a hobby, it’s not just about how many pounds of produce (or, forget-we-not, bouquets of flowers) that are harvested.

    I get so much pleasure over the course of the year in watching stuff grow, and in watching my kids learn about plants and bugs and food fresh out of the garden. Carrots and radishes are *absolute magic* to toddlers and preschoolers–poof! food! right outta the ground! Oh, and what great pride for a mama when my oldest declared she wanted her *own* garden last summer. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all…

    In the past decade I’ve carved a few gardens out of derelict and neglected dirt, and that gives me a huge sense of accomplishment and positive change in the world. For those inclined solely to the bottom line, the major improvements in landscaping I put in around my old house–a little at a time and at little cumulative cost over several years–are a big part of its attractiveness as a rental property. Worth it!

    Finally, it does my pagan heart good to have a direct engagement with the turning of the seasons, above and beyond picking my wardrobe and paying my heating bill. *Now’s* the time to plant, *now’s* the time to harvest, *now’s* the time to put the garden to bed, *now’s* the time to rest and plan for the next season. It’s a big part of my spiritual grounding and practice… I can’t put a dollar value on that.

  23. Frugal Dad says 06 January 2008 at 16:37

    Any ideas on keeping dogs out of the garden? My wife and I would love to start a little vegetable garden, but unfortunately our dog refuses to stay out of the area and would trample/eat anything that managed to survive.

  24. reinkefj says 06 January 2008 at 16:39

    NOW don’t forget to include the cost of record keeping in the calculation (i.e., hours spent tracking times an hourly opportunity wage).


    Sometimes it is not about how much you save; there are intangibles.


  25. Four Pillars says 06 January 2008 at 16:46

    Great idea.

    I’d say forget the time. On materials alone the “savings” are not going to be overly impressive. If you add in time as well then it won’t be worth it.

    Look at it as an enjoyable hobby that pays you a little bit of money (like my blog).


  26. db says 06 January 2008 at 16:47

    JD — you are an inspiration! I am an apartment dweller, which is mostly alright. Except I really want a patch of earth to call my own and grow some flowers and veggies (no, going to a community garden wouldn’t work)

    My parents garden every year — this year they had bumper crops of squash and carrots — they have been giving away carrots for months and practically had to buy a new freezer for all the carrots they put aside. Not to mention eating their carrots daily. I keep telling them they are starting to turn orange.

    I think you’re not only engaging in a great garden but keeping alive a valuable skill. Fresh produce just keeps getting more expensive.

    P.S. — I’ve tinkered off and on with container/patio/indoor gardening. I’m getting organized to give it another go with herbs and tomatoes for the spring. And I keep improving my indoor plant green-thumbness. It really helps me connect with nature to be around plants.

  27. db says 06 January 2008 at 16:50

    @Frugal Dad

    When my parents and their neighbors did to keep the dogs out of the garden area was they enclosed it with wire fencing (the normal 4″ heighth of backyard fencing) and a gate. Both of their garden plots already were bounded by the yard’s perimeter fencing on two sides so it just meant putting up the other two remaining sides.

    It was worth it to know the garden produce wasn’t accidentally “watered” with something less desireable than water.

  28. Cormac says 06 January 2008 at 17:24

    Remember to convert your kitchen waste into Compost … and believe it or not, you can put the “leavings” you pet may leave on your lawn too … the composting process leaves that fine – what do you think manure is?
    This saves money (waste disposal is typically on a “per-bin” charge, at least where I live), and reduces cost (less requirement to buy in manure/compost).

  29. Cormac says 06 January 2008 at 17:29

    Remember to convert your kitchen waste into Compost … and believe it or not, you can put the “leavings” you pet may leave on your lawn too … the composting process leaves that fine – what do you think manure is?

    This saves money (waste disposal is typically on a “per-bin” charge, at least where I live), and reduces cost (less requirement to buy in manure/compost).

  30. Adam Boettiger says 06 January 2008 at 17:39

    1. Great idea. There is more than just cost benefits as others have said.

    2. If you plan on NOT keeping track of the time you put into it, multiplied by what your time is worth per hour (gross salary/12/160), and do not include that as a cost, then you may as well not make the comparison at all between what you would have spent at the grocery store as time is likely to be your biggest expense. Not saying a garden is not a worthwhile investment of your time, just that you can’t tell us that you’re comparing costs unless you include the cost of your time, which is a very real expense.

  31. Mike says 06 January 2008 at 17:59

    Fantastic idea! I can’t wait to see how it goes. A veggie garden is something I’ve thought about starting off and on for a while now.

    Good luck!

  32. Laura says 06 January 2008 at 18:28

    Great idea, I look forward to reading future posts about this topic. This past summer we grew vegetables in a community garden plot within walking distance of our apartment. It was a great experience, it encouraged us to be physically active (in both walking to and from the garden daily as well as the actual garden work) and enjoy the outdoors. Although I didn’t keep detailed records of expenses, we did decrease our monthly grocery bills by 50-75% in July-September.

  33. Bobby says 06 January 2008 at 18:39


    Realizing this is WAY premature, I just wanted to pose this question…

    Is there a point at which you would determine your efforts are not worth it to you?

    Obviously, if you break even or come out ahead you will probably be THRILLED. But, if you find out this is costing considerably more than you save, will you instead put your money into local farmers’ pockets? You know, the whole “frugal thing” you write about so much. =)

    Good luck to you and yours. I will be watching avidly.

  34. bluntmoney says 06 January 2008 at 18:53

    Oh my gosh, you can’t even GET food like what you show in the photo here (our vegetables are awful, and even the organic stuff that’s shipped in is only so-so) so if I were doing this, gardening would win hands down. (Since I’d have to factor in the cost of plane tickets to places where things actually grow…)

  35. Mike Panic says 06 January 2008 at 19:26

    I didn’t see this posted in the replies… but you should consider installing / using a rain barrel to collect water for the garden. A quick google search yielded 50-60 gallon buckets for around $100 – I’m sure you can get them cheaper locally or modify something to fit your needs. While that $100 may cost more than this year’s water bill allocation for the garden, the bucket should last more than 10 years and will, in the long run pay off – and it’s a very “green” thing to do.

  36. Anjjol says 06 January 2008 at 19:36

    I love gardening and think this is a fabulous idea. I hope the fertilizers you mention are organic. I recommend reading “Organic Gardening” magazine for lots of great tips and inspiration.

    Composting is a must but I would disagree with Cormac about pet manure – unless your pets are rabbits, chickens, goats, horses or cows. Dog and cat waste is NOT safe for composting, nor that of tigers or hyenas. Rule of thumb is if the animal eats a plant-based diet, you’re safe composting their waste. If they are meat-eaters, don’t do it. If you have a fresh water aquarium, the waste water is Great for gardens, or even to pour it into your compost. All the beneficial bacteria will Love it!

    Best of luck to you!

    • Ryan says 05 June 2011 at 13:02

      This is the whole idea behind aquaponics!

  37. Jonathan says 07 January 2008 at 00:16

    Tracking all of that data sounds like a lot of work, but I’m glad you’re doing it and I can just read the results!

    Your veggies look fabulous, as always. Ripe tomatoes are the best. I miss Portland – everything seems to grow there. 🙂

  38. SMLR says 07 January 2008 at 06:27

    You and your readers might be interested in learning about winter sowing — the short explanation is that it’s the practice of sowing seeds outside in the winter, even in places like Minnesota, using free containers (like 64 oz soda bottles) and Mother Nature. It’s really easy to do, produces *much* hardier plants than any seeds I’ve sown indoors. And the folks at GardenWeb are wonderful sources of wisdom if you have questions.

    A great way to save money too!

  39. April Dykman says 07 January 2008 at 06:39

    This sounds very interesting. I have to agree with the others, though, who said that the best reason for gardening is homegrown tomatoes…even if growing your own turns out to be more expensive.

    My dad grew TONS of tomatoes last season, so many that he had to start canning or they’d go bad. Now, in January, we’re eating pizzas with tomato sauce from his garden tomatoes, and last week I made a delicious Italian soup called papa al pomodoro–and the “pomodori” were all homegrown. Mmm…I’m making myself hungry.

  40. martin says 07 January 2008 at 07:21

    Rain barrels are for sale for $5 at the corner of Boones Ferry and Crosby Road in the Woodburn area. Or really, any large farm will have a lot of extra food-grade plastic barrels.
    Also, there are a ton of seed-exchanges in Portland.
    And, of course, canning. To insure nothing goes to waste.

  41. Eric Nagel says 07 January 2008 at 07:59

    Thanks for keeping tabs on this! My wife and I are planning a garden this year, hopefully save a couple of bucks on veggies. We don’t have much space, so we’ll be using some alternate techniques, like growing as much as we can vertically, and hanging plants like tomatoes.

    Hopefully our compost bin (only $20 – the rest local government subsidized) and rain barrel will cut back on fertilizer and watering costs. It only takes .16 inches of water to fill my 58-gallon barrel.

  42. Jeff says 07 January 2008 at 09:02

    Have you read “The $64 Tomato”? Its basically following the same idea. See:

  43. BillinDetroit says 07 January 2008 at 10:40

    @Anjjol … you are repeating myth about not composting pet waste. Even applying it directly (as a side-dressing) is a low-risk activity if done properly.

    Simply put, there is nearly ZERO risk of getting a disease from diseased manure IF that manure was composted and aged properly, or even close to properly. (Not all that difficult.) It takes gross mis-handling of compost for diseases and parasites to survive. If the manure wasn’t diseased to begin with, the risk simply never existed to begin with.

    Suggested reference is:

    Simply put, the more manure of any sort in a pile, the healthier it is (up to a certain point, being roughly 15% to 30% by volume, depending on other variables such as the form of available carbon material and the amount of water and oxygen available).

    @Adam Boettiger: That’s the wrong approach to accounting for a garden.

    Time spent in a garden is not time removed from higher value income producing work, but occupies time not ordinarily scheduled for income-producing activities at all. Thus it cannot be expensed, having at the same time elements of healthy recreation, relationship building (with spouse, friends, family and neighbors), income production (food matter and writing matter) and health enhancement.

    If he was taking time off from work to trim his bushes, that would be a different matter.

    Additionally, home gardens are the most productive acres in America. Always have been, likely always will be. Organic management is frosting on that cake. Not only does it put tons of material back into use, it keeps those same tons OUT of municipal dumps and open waters. Have you ever considered how absurd it is to pee a few ounces into a toilet and rinse it away with gallons of potable water? That waste is then partially treated and dumped back into the public water supply.

    The link I gave above is a good one. Joe Jenkins has got his head screwed on straight, it’s the rest of us who don’t.

  44. elisabeth says 07 January 2008 at 12:23

    I agree that the time involved isn’t a cost but a kind of benefit (bound to be helpful in the “get fit slowly” direction).
    Also want to second the person who suggested growing flowers as well as vegetables — easy to compare costs, and great to have as quick gifts and for your own enjoyment…

  45. BillinDetroit says 07 January 2008 at 14:09

    JD … here in Michigan, gardening is roughly a 10 month operation. Harvest begins again in March with lettuces. Didn’t stop this year until mid-December (kale). I just went outside an hour ago and noticed that some of the kale is showing fresh vigor. If we can get global warming up another 5 degrees or so, I’ll have a 12-month garden (never ending tomatoes!!!!!!)

    @ Frugal Dad — keep dogs out of the garden with a ring of mothballs around it. The fumes offend their sense of smell and they tend (short of electrified barbed wire nothing is certain) to give it a wide berth.

  46. BillinDetroit says 07 January 2008 at 14:18

    @ db … I’ve seen gardens hanging from buckets at about the 30th floor level in Mew York. Tomatoes will grow upside down from suspended bags. Keep looking … you CAN grow something (and something is better than nothing!).

    Lot of responses to this post … I’m wondering how many of the commenters can actually look out their window at last years garden?

    Any regrets? I have one … I had to be out of state during a terribly hot & dry spell and my garden suffered because I got lazy and didn’t install my weep irrigation last year. I’ll have to be out of town at roughly the same time this year so I am determined to get the irrigation in place as soon as the plants & seeds are in this year.

  47. annab says 07 January 2008 at 20:37

    You could probably do lettuces, tomatoes and herbs and potatoes really cheaply. And garlic too. They’re easy to grow, and they cost a lot in stores. But they don’t take up too much space. And if you have a surplus, you can make friends with your neighbors, or donate to the local food pantry.

  48. Robert says 08 January 2008 at 07:50

    Since you mentioned tracking the energy spent with grow lights, i wondered what kind you are using? I found a lot of stuff online about using red/blue led grow lights that use a lot less power, don’t heat up and don’t used wasted spectrum of light for the plants, but i have yet to play with them.

  49. Cheap Like Me says 08 January 2008 at 13:47

    Great idea! I can’t wait to see the outcome.

  50. Garden Commando says 08 January 2008 at 15:10

    To me, it’s less about saving money, than about taste. If you’ve ever eaten a tomato from a walmart or grocery store, you know how incredibly bland and tasteless they can be. That’s because most store-bought fruits and veggies are picked BEFORE they are ripe (especially tomatoes, bananas, etc.) This is to give them maximum shelf life, etc. Unfortunately, it also makes them taste like crap. At the very least, grow your own tomatoes – you’ll really see a difference!

  51. Sam MacDonald says 13 January 2008 at 11:29

    As an avid gardener, who has just moved to a new location out of town so I can start gardening again, it has definite health benefits. I also love having pickled vegetables and other things from the garden. I will definetly be keeping up on this series of posts and let you know of my own gardening exploits this coming growing season.

  52. Jeri says 24 January 2008 at 18:59

    I find this post very interesting, in fact I offer to provide you the equal set of info from my Oakland, CA garden. We have been at this for four years now, blog is out of date, but we continue.

    We’ve been canning and making our own cider, wines, etc. for four years and I FINALLY feel like we’ve got the hang of it. I swear by the same cookbook Kris uses for canning and I think that’s important to remember…sure you can only consume soo much….

    …But there’s really no limit to what you can preserve. We no longer buy gifts at Christmas or holidays. We make our own gifts and we endeavor provide as much as we can from own our garden or purchase locally.

    I know some people aren’t interested in the care, but don’t forget to talk to neighbors. We have many who aren’t interested in picking the fruits and nuts that are growing in their yards. It’s fun to process them and share, and if you like to cook it can be addictive :-).

    J.D., I admire what you guys are doing, and as a gardener I’m not certain that I ‘save’ a large sum of money, but I gain much more:

    -working in the yard exercise
    -something to tackle as a team with my husband
    -good quality food that I can control
    -interaction with my environment

    This is something I had planned to track this year too, so I look forward to reading more.


  53. Eric Nagel says 02 February 2008 at 05:29

    Hey JD – where are you that you can be planting in February? I’ve seen snow on Memorial Day, so I’ve got a bit longer to wait.

    I plan on placing my seed order (from Burpee – where did you get yours?) in early March, start them inside in April 1, and move them outside early to mid-May. We also don’t have much room for a garden, so we’re looking at alternative techniques, like hanging tomato plants and growing as much as we can vertically.

  54. The Happy Housewife says 02 February 2008 at 05:42

    I have been reading your blog for a while and love it. I am especially interested in your garden project as it falls in line with one of our future goals of growing most of our food. I have always wondered if it will be cheaper, or just healthier.

  55. Ron@TheWisdomJournal says 02 February 2008 at 06:29

    It will be interesting to see how much you spend, but how do you quantify “enjoyment?” I really enjoy working in our little vegetable garden.

    Also, you didn’t show us the full list, I know, but I would encourage you to order some seed that is out of character for you. I’ve raised brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, mesclun mixes, and several off the wall vegetables. It really adds to the fun 🙂

  56. Diatryma says 02 February 2008 at 06:37

    My little container garden is going to be more involved this year than last. I have a worm bin in the kitchen (they came yesterday! Worms! Yay!) and plan to have mostly peppers, because that’s what I’ll eat consistently. I’m starting them from seed inside (yay grow light!) and we’ll see if I impulse buy anything more interesting. Maybe I’ll actually go for herbs this year, too.

  57. Rob Madrid says 02 February 2008 at 06:45

    We just “ordered” some tomato seeds from my mother in law. For what ever reason tomatoes here (Spain) are just crap, the only good ones are from Holland. My in-laws have the best tomatoes so we’re planning on growing some on our balcony.

  58. Dividends4Life says 02 February 2008 at 07:20

    This is something I will watch with great interest. My father has tried to get me to grow my own vegetables for years. My retort has always been that they are too cheap for me to waste my time growing them.

    Best Wishes,

  59. vh says 02 February 2008 at 07:45

    Great idea! Your project could confirm or de-confirm a suspicion I’ve harbored for a long time: I’ve begun to think it costs more to have a garden than it does to buy produce in the store. Well…nonorganic produce, anyway.

    Prices on organic have come down enough, though, that even if that’s all you buy, gardening may still be higher, by the time you’ve bought seeds and small plants, soil amendments, fertilizers, mesh to deflect insects, shade coverings, frost coverings, fake owl to scare off hungry birds, dog to scare off the neighbor’s toilet-seeking cats, edging to keep the grass out (sort of), chicken wire to keep the dog from digging, stakes and trellises, a shovel or two, a wheelbarrow, trowels, a rake, small nippers, large nippers…gaaaah!

    The satisfaction of growing your own is pretty priceless, though. Assuming you can figure out what to do with 500 pounds of zucchini! 🙂

  60. JBM says 02 February 2008 at 08:04

    It will be interesting to see what the final breakout is but I do know that you get MUCH better tasting fruits and vegetables, growing them yourselves!!
    I lived in apartment and did some container gardening. We lived right by the playground, therefore kids and adults picked my tomatoes clean last year! I have since moved and don’t have as much space, but I’m looking into hanging tomatoes? We’ll see how they turn out!

  61. donna jean says 02 February 2008 at 08:08

    Thanks for sharing, I love the spreadsheet idea and I don’t know why I didn’t think of splitting my seed order too. I’ll be working up what we plan to buy, and some items that’d be nice if others wanted to go in on them, and post that to my local social list to see if anyone else wants to go in on the order.

    As for vh, I guess I just don’t see the garden even coming close to being as much or more than in store produce. But then again, we buy a TON of produce, and don’t the majority of the stuff you listed to plan our garden. I’d suggest checking out the Square Foot Garden book, it really focuses on how gardening doesn’t need to cost so much.

  62. J.D. says 02 February 2008 at 08:15

    We live in Portland, Oregon. There’s nothing (besides peas, perhaps) that we can plant outside right now. But Kris has an elaborate grow-light setup, including little mini-greenhouses. She takes over the living room every spring! I’ll post photos once she gets this set up, which I’m betting is the end of this month

    We get our seeds from a variety of sources. Kris swears by Totally Tomatoes for tomatoes, and we use Territorial for most of everything else. They’re a local company that specializes in varieties for “the maritime Pacific Northwest”…

  63. Daniel says 02 February 2008 at 08:23


    I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while and I love it! My wife and I will be moving into our first house in May and we are excited to try Square Foot Gardening (thanks to you!).

    Thanks for all the great info!


  64. rhbee says 02 February 2008 at 08:53

    All I can tell you is I’m with Kris on this one. And I understand you can get great grow-lights from Amsterdam if you’re into dreaming that is.

  65. J.D. says 02 February 2008 at 08:56

    Kris, who is standing at the window, staring at the miserable mix of rain and snow, dreaming of spring, wants for me to share a link to this post about her tomatoes. It’s from my personal site in late April 2006 (right around the time I started GRS). This is what she’s wishing for right now, but she has three months to go!

  66. Ryan S. says 02 February 2008 at 10:11

    While I think it’s great to look at how this could be a real frugal opportunity, it also appears to me you folks really like working in the garden. If that’s the case, it’s not just about money; it’s about your personal fulfillment, which is one area I’d like to spend more, not less, time 🙂


  67. Sherry says 02 February 2008 at 11:30

    My husband and I are planning to begin a vegetable garden this year and am very much looking forward to your future comments on how you fare in terms of costs.

    Frankly, the cost is only an incidental factor in our opinion, since we (like many others in this posting) love real tomatoes.

    I’ve grown flowers for years, but I’ve been unsure of my ability to properly handle a veggie garden. However, there’s so much great info available now through postings of this type, I’m inspired to take the plunge.

    Looking forward to more of your postings on this subject.

    Thank you!

  68. Sybbis says 02 February 2008 at 11:59

    I can’t wait until we can have a garden. I think of it as frugality on two fronts. One, the very tasty results. But two… it’s also really cheap entertainment, if you enjoy gardening. So you’ve killed two birds with one stone, there. It’s sort of like knitting. If you count the time as labor, the cost of a hand-knit sweater is astronomical. If you count it as entertainment, it’s quite frugal. There’s a certain lesson in learning to have fun doing things which are productive.

  69. zach says 02 February 2008 at 12:01

    Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” quantifies her savings from her garden at somewhere around $7,000/year in not spending money at the grocery store, and $4,000+ profit after the cost of garden accessories are factored in.

    If you’re smart about it, and start seeing yourself as A MEMBER OF A COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE and work those connections, as opposed to always thinking about buying what the catalog tells you you need to, you’ll save thousands.

  70. James says 02 February 2008 at 13:08

    This is a great idea! I look forward to reading about your findings. I don’t have much land and have to grow everything in pots, so I just keep a salsa garden 🙂

  71. Matt says 02 February 2008 at 13:23

    I am very interested in this as well it would be nice to know that all my hard work I put into my vegetable garden also is saving me money.

  72. BillinDetroit says 02 February 2008 at 17:15

    Let me recommend that you avoid the hybrid tomatoes. If you have BAD disease problems this year, then do it next year, but this year go to and grab some of their heirloom varieties. The local greenhouse will only have a half-dozen comparatively bland tomatoes with much of the sugars and acids that make a tomato GREAT bred out of them in the interests of disease and pest resistance.

    You can also get some FAR BETTER garlic online than you can simply by planting the “California White” cloves from the supermarket. The CA White is just bred for size, not flavor. Try a Leningrad or Ojo Roja if what you want is GARLIC that makes no apologies, takes no hostages. ISTR thatyou live in a warm area, so find a long-season onion and a long season garlic. I am in a cold area, so I need to use different varieties.

  73. Diatryma says 02 February 2008 at 18:14

    I’m not sure how much my few peppers from last year cost. Pots and dirt, stakes, plants, I already had the rope to tie them up but count that anyway, water’s included in rent. Still, everything but the plants is reusable. Once it’s warm enough, I’ll be outside dumping out the pots, breaking them up, mixing in worm compost (okay, that’s an additional fifty dollars, but it’s one-time), and getting ready for another year.

    It does count as fun for me, though. I’m not willing to do anything not fun to save money.

  74. vh says 02 February 2008 at 19:54

    Okay, okay, I exaggerated about the fake owl! And yup, I cruise yard sales and estate sales for gardening tools. Definitely I’ll look up the Square Foot Garden book — thanks, Donna Jean.

    A friend recently gave me a special issue of _GreenPrints_ journal called _The Weeder’s Reader_. It’s very mellow, makes you laugh and cry, sometimes at once. Don’t know if you can get it on But GreenPrints is at Box 1355, Fairview, NC 28730. If you enjoy gardening (and cats, dogs, & people), this strange & sweet little book is worth sending away for.

  75. Nez says 03 February 2008 at 00:31

    Hi J.D.

    Gardening is quite time consuming, but the satisfaction of see the literal fruits of one’s labor is quite nice.

    Are you two practicing any composting at all? That would save in a couple of ways:

    1) less fertilizer need$ to be bought
    2) less waste go into our landfills, instead the food scraps will go back into our yards

  76. Bekah says 03 February 2008 at 05:07

    I have a small city garden and was never able too use all the seeds in a pack before they became too old to be viable. Also, all those $2.50 packets really added up and limited the number of varieties I could try. Sharing seeds with neighbors (as you are doing) is one option, but wasn’t practical for me.

    I couple years back I discovered a seed company that sells herb and vegetable seed packets for only 35 cents each. There are always plenty of seeds for my small garden, and usually still enough to share.

  77. Jeff says 03 February 2008 at 08:55


    If you really want to measure every last cost associated with your garden, you should measure the amount of power those grow lights consume. I would suggest using a Kill-A-Watt or a similar usage meter. I would be curious as to to how much money you’re spending on running the grow lights, as I also have a (very small) grow light setup in my home.

  78. Newcastle74 says 04 February 2008 at 05:30

    Great website. Here in South Carolina I can have quite a good winter garden and two plantings in the summer. Right now I have some garlic and cabbage growing and will be planting most of the summer garden the Friday after Easter. One of the ways I like to save money on my garden is by seed saving. Usually there are some left over tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers ect… that never quite get picked. Dry the seeds out dand plant them again next year. This also works great with herbs. I usually just plant the whole seed head and the next spring they sprout back up. Also great to share with fellow gardeners. Also I save on soil and fertlizer buy getting some compost at the county composting center. For $20 I can fill up the back of the pick up truck and will have a supply of soil an compost for the summer. This year I’m working on drip irrigation and a rain collection barrel to cut the biggest expense, the water bill. It gets hot and dry here in the south and my veggies get a bit thirsty.

  79. MVP says 04 February 2008 at 11:44

    Cool post, and timely. I love the idea of pooling seeds. Duh, we always get way too many seeds, so this is a great idea. I giggled at your grape-pruning follies. We also have grapes and just wing it when it comes time to prune. It helps that we live in wine country, so we can get advice from the pros, but until you’ve done it yourself…Also, one of my most joyous garden moments was discovering eggplant grows beautifully in our garden. Yay! So, I second the idea of trying something new each year.

  80. SusanO says 05 February 2008 at 09:06

    I don’t get the idea that gardening is time consuming. Last year I built 3 raised beds – total time to build and fill was about 6 hours. I watered every morning for about 10 minutes – turn on the sprinkler, make coffee, turn off sprinkler. Come home in the evening, and while I let the dog out I pull a few weeds. That’s it. In exchange, I got fresh produce, full of flavour, and only as much as I wanted – as a single person I get tired of wasting produce because I can’t eat it in time.

    Buying local is important to me, so I was saddened read that Territorial Seeds is supplied by Monsanto. I’m ordering from Abundant Life this year.

  81. donna jean says 11 February 2008 at 14:15

    I wanted to give a big thanks to Bekah’s comment about — we used them to help reduce our initial seed purchase and saved $68, thanks so much for sharing that site. For someone just getting started, it’s a big plus to shave some off the cost.

  82. elizabeth says 18 February 2008 at 13:54

    Totally Tomatoes has outrageous shipping rates, depending on where you live in the country. (I’m in Alaska.) I found was a lot more reasonable.

  83. Steve says 01 March 2008 at 12:48

    This is a great project. I am eagerly following the results.

  84. Amy says 01 March 2008 at 13:27

    I am very, very interested in your garden project. We would like to get to the point where we’re growing more fruits and veggies, but we have a lot of work to do getting it all set up, and we’ll need to bring in soil. All of this costs money 🙁

  85. Red Zinnia says 01 March 2008 at 13:49

    I’ll look forward to those updates. My husband and I are big gardeners, but not so much for cost savings. In our case it’s for the love of working in the soil, and because garden grown produce is the most delicious food around. You can’t get that fresh-harvested flavor in the produce aisle at any price, so cost-wise it’s almost impossible to compare apples to apples.

  86. Tana says 01 March 2008 at 15:12

    How much time do you spend cooking food from scratch? Do you factor that into how much you save when you eat at home vs. eating out? Sometimes cash flow is all that really matters.

    If it’s something you enjoy doing, how much time you spend on a hobby that saves you money (even though you have to invest a little up front) shouldn’t matter.

  87. Graham Lutz says 01 March 2008 at 15:42

    I just spend like $500 on landscaping materials. Not quite the frugal path, but it’s better than paying someone to cut my grass all summer!

  88. Frugal Dad says 01 March 2008 at 15:50

    Like others, I am very interested in your progress. You inspired us to start a Square Foot Garden ourselves, and initially it will be a small project that I’ll use to teach the kids a little about gardening, frugal living, etc. I was excited to get the vegetables up and running, they wanted to devote all 16 squares to strawberries!

    Amy: If you see this comment – check out the Square Foot Gardening post (it’s under Popular Posts in the sidebar) by J.D. here at GRS. It involves using raised beds, and is a great alternative to scraping, digging and replacing tons of soil.

  89. RacerX says 01 March 2008 at 16:04

    THis is going to be neat to track and see if it is break-even, profitable or just fun!

  90. Lisa says 01 March 2008 at 16:06

    It sounds like you have a lovely garden. Keep us posted on your progress. We have a very small garden here in Massachusetts. It could be bigger,but we just don’t have the time. This year, we decided to join a local CSA.


  91. Maria says 01 March 2008 at 16:31

    I am interested in following your progress. A kind friend gave me her extra seeds this year — she only used about 1/2 of each packet — so my cost is practically zil. I should keep track of my hours, though.

  92. Heather McClure says 01 March 2008 at 17:49

    OOOH man, I’m glad you are doing this. I hope it proves that gardening is a good venture, but I’ll wait and see.


  93. Maggie Liz says 02 March 2008 at 05:31

    Protip: if you want to increase soil acidity, you can go with several cheap options.

    Best, easiest, and fastest is to mulch with pine needles. (I’m origionally from South Jersey – we have pine trees *everywhere*)

    Not only do they leech acidity into the soil, but there are there compounds in the pine needles that retard new growth (weeds). They can also look quite pretty – or at least I think so.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how you do this, and what your results are. I hope things work well for you!

    Enriching soil can be inexpensive, as well- I’m composting the rabbit poo from my rabbitry. It’s black and crumbly, and will improve the soil immensely.

    Best of luck to you!

  94. Master Your Card says 02 March 2008 at 05:34

    Hi JD, I too have started my own Square Foot Gardening project since reading your post. Hope things go well for both of us!


  95. leigh says 02 March 2008 at 07:35

    i decided to take on a small window box garden of my own! we live on the second floor of an apartment complex. my peas and lettuce sprouted a few days ago, they’re getting very tall. the others take longer to germinate. it’s still too cold at night to put the boxes outside.

    keep us updated!

  96. icup says 02 March 2008 at 08:45

    Your lucky! I still have a foot of snow in my yard with more on the way.

  97. ering says 02 March 2008 at 14:47

    FYI – we learned a blueberry fact yesterday and I thought I would share. Yesterday we were at Urban Grind in NE (we live in PDX, too) and there were some bags of coffee by the door when we left. I asked my man, “Should we take one?” He said, “Why?” And I replied that I thought they were good for blueberries. He did some research and indeed the high acidity is good for blueberries. Apparently you can work the coffee grounds right into the soil. We don’t drink coffee at home but will probably try to get a bag whenever we go to a coffee house. Cheers!

  98. Minimum Wage says 02 March 2008 at 20:13

    Alas, I share the yard with a neighbor and she takes it over every year.

    I’d move but I can’t find anything I can afford.

  99. Minimum Wage says 04 March 2008 at 21:56

    Perhaps boxing the boxwood would reduce maintenance. When I was a kid we had a shrub-lined driveway and boxed the shrubs every winter.

  100. Stephanie says 05 March 2008 at 07:07

    Hi – I was reading a few posts where people are concerned that they will have all of this produce and it won’t be economical because of not being able to consume it all. A few tips:
    -trade with friends who have produce YOU do not grow.
    -Can, can, can, can, can, and when your done can some more.
    -when your done canning – freeze, freeze, freeze, freeze, and freeze some more.
    – when your done freezing invest in a food dehydrator and use that – you can’t be dehydrated tomotoes in your soups or pasta.
    -there are many many ways to use your produce so as not to waste it – be thankful of your bounty and just think how delish it will be when it’s out of season in the middle of winter and you are reaping the benifits of your home grown nutrition!

  101. Dien says 31 March 2008 at 08:08

    I’m excited about your progress and can’t wait for the March 2008 post. I live in an NYC apartment and just started growing about 25 vegetables, fruits and herbs that I eat the most. The initial cost of supplies and equipment set me back about $500, and I suspect maintenance will be an additional $15 a month to run fluorescents. While I haven’t thoroughly compared how much I’ve spent or saved to weekly grocery shopping, it’s being in control of what I eat that’s important in keeping me healthy and helping reduce fossil fuel usage. Plus, it’s a great hobby.

  102. catlet says 05 April 2008 at 05:39

    I’m actually interested in seeing how much your new freezer saves/costs you: energy costs vs. the changes to your food costs. I found that my food costs spike and fall more dramatically with the freezer, rising when I purchase a quarter of a steer or half a pig, rising slightly when I double a recipe to freeze half, and then falling dramatically on weeks when I only buy fresh veggies (I’m in a CSA).

  103. stacey says 05 April 2008 at 05:51

    my husband has been gardening since he was about 8. He has a bean seed brought here from Italy from an uncle that he saves every year. He’s 48 now. I got into to gardening to spend time with him and it’s changed my life. We grow everything organically too. The act of gardening nourishes our souls, which is priceless. The food we get is a side-effect.

  104. Rob Madrid says 05 April 2008 at 06:23

    Bit of a stupid question but did the bio dome come with seeds? It’s not really clear on the website.

    Also got some tomato seeds from my in laws (Tomatoes in Spain are almost inedible) and planning on starting them in clean yogurt containers.

  105. TNRkitect says 05 April 2008 at 07:03

    sounds great! Though a word of caution. That upright freezer that you picked up for free may end up being worth a lot less to you than you imagine due to energy costs. I’d keep a close eye on it using your kill-a-watt.

    The main design flaw in the uprights is that every time you open the door, the cold air inside the freezer spills out onto the floor, resulting in the compressor having to kick on and drag the temperature back down. (Remember that hot air rises, cold air falls) Chest freezers are much better in this sense as they don’t have an escape path for the cold air. Be sure to minimize the times you open the door as much as possible.

    Also, a freezer is at its most efficient when it is full. If you only have a few items in there at the beginning of the season, you may want to bulk up the items by freezing water in old gallon milk jugs and using those to help. This is due to the frozen mass of the contents being much better at maintaining the temperature than the compressor.

    Just a few caveats to be aware of. I hope your harvest is more than enough to make it worthwhile.

    We will be getting a late start here, as we will not be able to start even prepping our garden until after we get into the new house the middle of May. Until then, we will live vicariously through your efforts. 🙂

  106. jim says 05 April 2008 at 08:00

    That’s good advice about the upright freeze, depending on its age it might be an energy sink for you.

    This is a very clever series, I’ve always wanted to do the garden thing but we don’t get enough sun (it’s the way our townhouse is laid out, nothing to do with geography).

  107. greenfamily says 05 April 2008 at 08:41

    I am also very excited about my garden this year. I grew up on a farm with eight siblings and we grew all our own veggies, plus we had cows for beef and milk and chickens for eggs. I am eager to reduce the chemical load in my food and get back to organic vegtables and fruits.

    I’d recommend that anyone with such passions and interests invest in a subscription to Mother Earth News. The spring issues are chock-full of awesome money-savers for creating and maintaining a small garden, composting, and advice about fertilizer.

    For example, I was going to rent a rototiller to turn up the soil on my 18 x 24 garden plot. But then I learned that that the better way is to cover the entire piece of land with newspapers for a couple weeks and let the newspapers kill the weeds for you.

    Then you choose where your rows will be and pile on some local (usually free) compost in the rows (right on top of the newspaper), while putting down wood ships (usually free from a local stump grinder) in the paths. This totally negates my need for a rototiller and helps control the weeds all summer long.

    What I didn’t realize is that when you till the entire plot, you turn up thousands of new weeds sprouts and give them exposure to the sun, thereby creating a virtual weed garden! I’m so excited that using this method will drastically cut down on my weeding time this year, plus I can use the established paths and rows for years to come. No more tilling for me!

    In addition, Mother Earth News comments that many people spend oodles of money on chemical fertilizers when one of the best fertilizers is one we usually throw away: pesticide-free grass clippings. Grass clippings are also awesomely effective for weed control when you put a thick layer all around your veggie plants.

    Check out…I think you’ll find that a $10 subscription will pay itself off with the first issue!

    Good luck to all you fellow gardeners out there! Enjoy the experience!

  108. J.D. says 05 April 2008 at 08:48

    @Rob #3:
    The bio-domes do not come with seeds. I often save seeds from my own garden (mostly flowers) or trade them with other gardeners. With crops like tomatoes, I grow one or two plants of many different types, so each seed package will last me several years, wrapped tightly in a ziploc bag in the fridge. Kris

  109. leigh says 05 April 2008 at 09:23

    i’m also excited to see my plants getting bigger. since i’m growing in boxes on our deck, i haven’t had to buy anything but the seeds (also broke down and got tomato seedlings) and potting soil. we have had the boxes for several years.

    good luck!

  110. Finally Frugal says 05 April 2008 at 09:35

    I’m also a PNW’er (transplanted from a warmer clime), and have been eagerly anticipating the day I can finally plant my veggies (last year, amazing tomatoes, basil and peppers, this year adding some squash to the mix). Last frost here is soooo much later than I’m used to. . .

    I’ve tried starting from seed before, but didn’t have much luck. However, I didn’t have a ‘grow lamp’. How much does this cost (other than the electricity)? Does the bio-dome eliminate the need for this?

    Are you planning on canning your extra vegetables? Or just tossing them in the freezer? You may have discussed this in an earlier post, and if so, please point me in that direction. . . .

  111. Ben @ Trees Full of Money says 05 April 2008 at 11:06

    My wife and I started a garden last year as an experiement in saving money. My grandfather always had a large vegetable garden and him and my grandmother would always can them for the winter.

    Well, after adding up the cost of our garden; tiller rental, fertilizer, garden hose, hoe, shovel, seeds and seedlings. We spent a total of $235 for a handful of tomatoes, and two bags of green beans!

    Not to mention all of the time we spent planting, and watering.

    Oh well, at least we got the itch to start a garden out of our system.

  112. Terra Andersen says 05 April 2008 at 11:24

    I’m sure the fruit and vegetables this will produce will more than pay itself off…. especially with the rising costs of produce these days.

    They look good so far!

  113. gwyneth says 05 April 2008 at 11:29

    this has inspired me to do a similar project. It’s a substatially smaller scale, I’ve spent $16 so far, and harvested $1 in parsely. How do you tally your water costs? I’m not going too this year, since watering the plants, the pavement, me and herself is my two year old’s favorite activity. Possibly the cost in oregon is negligable, but Texas is could be substantial. I was thinking I should try to figure that out for next year. I’m also considering how I should tally my savings. For instance since I am unlikely to pay for organic produce so my parsley saved at the non-organic rate. Since I always buy the cheaper items, should I tally a red pepper as saving the cost of a green pepper? Maybe two tallies- raw costs saved and added luxury benefit.

  114. db says 05 April 2008 at 11:57

    I’m a relative gardening idiot (also completely an indoor/patio gardener), but I tried out one of those bio-dome things to sprout herbs and it worked fabulously.

    Now I have more seedlings than I know what to do with.

  115. Anne says 05 April 2008 at 13:35

    Great idea for a story! I just live in an apartment with a North facing window and don’t feel like it would be worth my time to do veggies in containers on the patio. I have had luck with herbs last year. This year I do have 3 herbs started from seedlings. Seeds are definately a bargain, especially if you can get them on sale!

  116. Penelope @ Our Fourpence Worth says 05 April 2008 at 13:40

    Great series, I will be following this one closely. My sister and I have often contemplated starting our own vegetable garden. I drive a 30-mile round-trip once a month to go grocery shopping, and we could do with some fresher produce (we often use frozen vegetables near the end of the month).

    But, being dreadful gardeners, and our previous gardening attempts all having turned out quite futile, we often conclude that it might end up costing us more money.

  117. Lord Reptor says 05 April 2008 at 15:09

    Just got pointed to your blog – great stuff. I’m on the learning curve with food production myself – we recently fled to a deeply rural island, where I’m trying to transform my pile of rubble and overgrown ornamental shrubs into something useful.

    A previous poster mentioned the possible energy consumption issue around the upright freezer – would be very curious to hear about that. We’re on a solid grid but only wired for 70 amps, so we have to count watts (stereo+vacuum=boom, for example).

    If the freezer turns out to be a big pig, would laying it on its back work? I’ve heard of people doing that with their fridges in genny-dependent situations.

    I think food production is becoming critical for us peasantry. Local meat and dairy is being blocked by new inspection regulations, while big agribusiness puts on its Local(TM) Organic(TM) makeup.

    If I can raise carrots more impressive than last year’s rather, ahem, puny bitter stubs, I might even try out a chicken or two.

    Have to check out this bio-dome. Maybe I can make one myself (this year’s cash, if any, is reserved for flour, firewood, and dirt).

    Everyone’s expenses seem high on the dirt+shovels front. Last year I spent about sixty bucks for several hundred litres of dirt, plus the cost of some seeds.

    Water costs here are negligible (I live on the West Coast, up north, and it’s wet and forested here). I have a couple of hoses, some recycled buckets, some very cheap (sub-$10 each) light tools, and I’m getting along O.K. so far. I would advise people finding their overhead high to shop out of town, and buy soil and manure and the like in farm country if possible.

    Anyway, I digress, as usual. Looking forward to seeing how your garden grows. It seems you’re a bit ahead of us seasonally down there – I’ve still got frost every morning and only the most tentative little buds are poking forth here and there.

    Off to punch down my dough (it’s PIZZA NIGHT here hahahaaaarrrll drool slurp),
    Lord Reptor.

  118. J.D. says 05 April 2008 at 15:33

    Kris says–
    Well, some reader questions made me consult our utility bills for water costs last summer. Here in the great, wet, Northwest, we are lucky to have both cheap water and occasional rain showers during our growing season.

    During the months when we don’t water outside at all, our water use runs $10/month. During the five months (May-September) that we do outside watering, our water bill averages $22/month. Subtract the inside uses and that means our irrigation outside costs us $12/month. I’d love to hear what other areas of the country/world pay in comparison.

    Note: we choose not to water our lawn at all (meaning it’s crispy by August), so our outdoor water expenditures are split between the vegetable and herb beds, the fruit trees and berries and my flower beds. I’d attribute $8/month to edible crops of some kind. Our sewer provider is a separate utility and is a flat monthly fee.

    Second note: We do have a shallow irrigation well that I can use until about July 1 (when it dries up). This is used mainly on the herbs. I also have a rain barrel I use to collect water for hand-watering newly planted seedlings and bedding plants in the flower garden.

    I’m actually impressed our water costs are so low. When Jd & I bought our first house, we didn’t realize we had to pay for water. We watered that beautiful lawn every day the entire first month– May– until the first bill arrived. Surprise! Now we don’t prioritize a “perfect” lawn of grass, so it lets us spent our energy and money elsewhere.

  119. Joe says 05 April 2008 at 16:09

    My tomato starts are really starting to pop. For some reason, the pepper seeds have been really hesitant this year.
    I got too ambitious with the Portland weather in February, and put my pumpkin seedlings out, and they’re now no better than the compost.

    That does seem to be a lot of tomato plants, though. I had only 4 plants last year (that were worth anything, at least), and still had more fruit than the family and neighbors could handle.

  120. Jonathan @ Master Your Card says 05 April 2008 at 16:17

    Just thought I would add – if you’re going to give the gardening thing a shot, get biodegradable seedling trays that you can plant straight into the soil.

    I got the plastic, ice-cube tray style ones and completely butchered my seedlings when I transplanted them into the soil.


  121. Diatryma says 05 April 2008 at 18:43

    Is there a way to kick-start pepper seeds? I have been told that they like it warmer, so I keep a heater pointed at them while I’m home, but they’re not sprouting as readily as others in the tray. Note to self: pay attention to what comes up immediately and what takes a while.

  122. Paul says 05 April 2008 at 21:12

    Where did you get the 4 inch square pots for transplanting the tomatoes? I’ve looked everywhere — Home Depot, Lowe’s, all the local nurseries. Nobody has them. has them for $.29 each:

    but shipping is close to $7.


  123. debtdieter says 06 April 2008 at 18:26

    I really enjoy these posts, living in an apartment I get to garden vicariously through the photos and the explanations.

    Not to mention it’s free for me too! 🙂

  124. ChristianPF says 07 April 2008 at 08:46

    I am an apartment dweller as well – but don’t be fooled into believing that we can only do our gardening vicariously!! I am growing a huge (relatively speaking) “balcony garden” this year. I have tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, a bunch of herbs all which are going to be growing on my 6×8 balcony… You can do it too!!

  125. debtdieter says 07 April 2008 at 13:50

    I’d love to see your balcony efforts too then ChristianPF!

    We’re heading into Winter here in Australia, so I might be inspired to start my own come Spring!

  126. ~M says 09 April 2008 at 13:05

    This year my husband and I decided to start a garden. We moved from a city to a place with some land.

    We had a garden in the city; however, planted with plants that had already been started (and paid a pretty penny for them!). We had great luck with the zucchini, tomatoes, and strawberries that year.

    This year, we decided to start from seeds. I tried some seeds in a pot for a month and nothing happened. Went out and bought little greenhouses from WalMart (Jiffy brand: holds 72 peat moss pods: Cost $5.96/each), and planted my seeds, in 3 days our soybeans, greenbeans, and roma tomatoes sprouted. Today, a week and a half later, I had to take the lid off of the greenhouses because the seedlings grew so tall!

    I highly recommend a grow light. We bought ours at Home Depot for $5.00, and put it in the light socket in the hall closet. The greenhouses (2 of them) fit perfectly on the top shelf along with room for my other pot of red raspberry chutes that came from too early (in my opinion).

    One problem: I tried to transplant a couple of the soy & greenbeans after just 1 week in the greenhouses, and some of them did not do too well. I think I will have to take the advice from this website and wait until they are at least 3 weeks old. Thank goodness I didnt do all of my plants.

    Our garden will consist of potatoes, tomatoes (roma, beefstake & globe), soy beans, green beans, zucchini, hot peppers, and red raspberries.

    To save on room in our garden, I’ve made my own “topsy turvey” for the roma tomatoes (I have started many roma tomatoe plants because I am looking to make alot of spaghetti sauce this year). Not just one home-made “topsy turvey,” but 6 of them! The cost from TV: $9.99/2 of them. My cost: $1.25/each (containers from the dollar store, a yard of fabric from WalMart at $1.00, soil & rope to hang them). I am hoping to grow strawberries from them next year. Also, I am planning on planting my potatoes in mounds to save room.

    We will see how much fruit we get from our labor. 🙂


  127. Silverlegs says 22 April 2008 at 13:36

    I love your blog.

    I like the idea of calculating the cost of industrial food production Vs home food production.

    I don’t know how the farming subsidies work in the US, but here in the UK we pay a huge amount of subsidies to the EU for farming, funded though our taxes. This was to encourage post war food production. However as large numbers of farmers are also voters in the EU, there has been a general reluctance to scrap subsidies. Not helped by the supermarket chains being able to sell us “cheap” food.

    Subsidies have also had the effect of reducing the effectiveness of 3rd world markets as EU farmers are paid to overproduce, and the EU produce is dumped onto their markets. So we pay further taxes to provide aid to the 3rd world.

    If you have agricultral subsidies then the tax ( and any charatable donations) you pay for 3rd world aid and the subsidies themselves need to be taken into account.

  128. Sven says 23 April 2008 at 02:11

    There’s a great site in the UK about using perennial plants instead of anual ones – much easier to maintain! The link is:

    I liked it a lot and will follow some of their advice.

  129. BillinDetroit says 25 April 2008 at 19:48

    JD, the wife and I, pressed for time, resorted to buying sprouted tomato, pepper and herb plants today. We also got ‘extra’ asparagus roots from the same produce stand (they grow their own and the corn there is cheaper, fresher and better than anywhere else.

    We spent $39.11 including seeds, many of which will get planted alongside the freeway fence (climbing beans) as our contribution to Guerilla Gardening.

    We got a pretty good deal on the legume seeds at 99 cents for a heaping 1/2 cup full. A heaping tablespoon of black-seeded Simpson lettuce seed was also 99 cents.

    I only really need maybe 30-40 pole bean seeds this year (this year we will be planting mostly tomatoes) so the rest will go alongside the freeway fence.

    Although most seeds can be saved from year to year with good results, most garden plants will also provide more than enough seeds to replace themselves, so I would encourage your readers to consider urban gardening with any leftover seed and plants, particularly in areas where poverty has taken root.

  130. deRuiter says 26 April 2008 at 08:06

    Dear Friends, Gardening saves loads of money, and provides fresh, beautiful vegetables and fruit in season, and lots of canned food in winter. The secret is not to spend a lot of money, and strive for SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. Start composting right away, all kitchen waste including egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, peels, cores. Find a local stable for free manure, or ask around and find who has pet bunnies or guinea pigs, the manure laced shavings make great soil enrichment material for free and this keeps it out of the landfill. In autumn, heap leave on the garden and leave them to rot. If you don’t spray your lawn with chemicals, the clippings make great mulch, spread in thin layers so the clippings don’t overheat as they rot away. READ RUTH STOUT’S BOOKS, both sadly about of print, about the “no work” garden method which she pioneered, where you garden through a thick layer of mulch and eventually don’t have to till the garden. Don’t plant landscape trees and bushes which don’t produce. America is the only country in the world to develop A PEAR TREE WHICH FLOWERS BUT DOES NOT PRODUCE FRUIT: the Barltett ornamental pear! Plant sweet yellow cherry trees, quince trees, sour red pie cherry trees, bush plums, a big red plum tree, lady apple and chestnut trees. We get huge drifts of lovely flowers on all the fruit trees in spring, plus the lady apple trees have a heavenly scent. Then we get fruit during the season, and no, we don’t even spray. When the tomatoes come in we can all there are jars to fill, and eat them fresh. If there are more tomaotes, peppers, lettuce, whatever, we put out a sign on the front fence saying “tomatoes $1.00” and sell the surplus which pays for seeds and the occasional use of water. As soon as the glut is over the sign gets removed. Plant perennials which will yield food year after year: strawberries, both June bearers and everbearing, rhubarb, horse radish, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus. With a garden you’ll eat more seasonally, and enjoy fresh and tasty, pesticide free vegetables and fruit. Save money on seeds, buy an acorn squash and a butternut squash. Remove the seeds, dry them and plant, AND EAT THE ORIGINAL SQUASH! Plant a clump of sunflowers for the birds. The seeds which fall on the ground and don’t get eaten will grow next year and you’ll have goldfinishes visiting the garden every year. You can also sell the sunflowers for arrangements.

  131. Char says 04 May 2008 at 16:10

    Small dishes of beer work great for slugs. Just place them out in the garden and in the morning the dishes will be full of once drunk, now dead slugs, repeat until the dishes remain empty for days! Then you know they are all gone. Slugs LOVE beer and can’t resist the urge to climb up and drink but then they drown and boo hoo can’t get out!

  132. Jabster says 04 May 2008 at 16:20

    We had a very similar experience with our garden. Our last frost date is March 26th, and we put out tomatoes on April 1. They were doing fabulously and even had some fruit. Then, we had horrible hail and wind on April 26th. It looked like Edward Scissorshands had visited our garden. We bought and planted 3 tomato plants from Lowe’s while lamenting the seemingly inevitable loss of our heirloom tomatoes. But, you know, there is really something to be said for burying those stems deeply. 15 of the 16 tomatoes are doing well with new growth and even a few blooms! Our pumpkins came back, too. However our squash are, well, squashed. Don’t give up hope. Keep applying the foliar fertilizer and putting out pie pans of beer for the slugs. Those tomatoes just may surprise you!

  133. Lo. Price says 04 May 2008 at 16:28

    Just be sure to use cheap stuff, like PBR, if you use beer to kill your slugs.
    Bummer about the hail.
    I’m sure you’ve thought about this, but in addition to the savings that gardening provides, you need to add the pleasure factor, which might be a positive or negative.
    I have a similar stance on cooking. I enjoy cooking and generally believe that I save money over eating out, but I know sometimes it would be cheaper and quicker to eat out, but the psychological benefits from cooking outweigh other factors. Looking forward to the next update.

  134. Ian Hancock says 04 May 2008 at 16:28

    My wife has a great garden and she suggests that you line the plots with copper strips. Also, raised beds helps. Living in the same sort of climate as you (British Columbia), she has to deal with a lot of the same things. She always has a great harvest in the fall, though she is having a hard time getting out this year as it has been fairly cold and rainy.


  135. A says 04 May 2008 at 16:29

    Ditto on the beer suggestion.

    It works wonders in keeping the slugs off of my lettuce and cucumber plants.

  136. Jeremy says 04 May 2008 at 17:22

    Sorry about your garden troubles, I know what that is like. We lost almost everything to some early spring hail a few years ago. I still have the dents all over my car to prove it 🙁

    We finally moved all of our plants from pots to the garden this weekend, which SHOULD keep us out of frost danger, but we’ll see. I’m really excited to taste some of our heirloom varieties we planted this year, and the thought of some of our fresh basil and tomatoes with some mozzarella for some caprese is making my mouth water.

  137. Diatryma says 04 May 2008 at 18:56

    My peppers have not taken off. I’m hoping it’ll be safe to put them outside when they have two and four leaves per seedling– I think they’ll do better with real sun on them, even if the cold makes them miserable for a day or two. Next year, I’m starting vegetables at Valentine’s. Or possibly ordering plant hormones from the lab and *forcing* them to grow.

  138. zach says 04 May 2008 at 20:12

    freecycle also will get you some great starts.

    I’ve been talking to Dave Shonk at Bumblebee farms in Troutdale, he says that growing’s been tough this year.

    I hope this will not color your opinion of gardening for food. The most this should do is make all of us appreciate that getting food at a supermarket can be a convenient fallback to a failing crop. Realize, too, that if the cost of gardening is a lot for you this year, it’ll be less next year, and if it’s more than average then your groceries will also be more than average.

    Also, have you checked into cost of CSAs? Apparently it’s really cheap.

  139. Don says 04 May 2008 at 20:36

    If you are going to try and kill bugs with beer (as opposed to some chemical designed for that purpose–I assume they make such things), perhaps you should start setting your beer out (a week?) ahead of time to knock down the population before you put your tomatoes in the ground.

  140. Andrea >> Learn how to set your hourly rate says 04 May 2008 at 22:22

    Do you have an idea of how much of what your garden will yield?

  141. Mickey says 05 May 2008 at 01:19

    I would echo what the other commenters have said about beery slug traps. Also, if possible, make a barrier around your garden beds with something slugs don’t like to go across, like sand or gravel. Dry weather is probably not something you can count on in your neck of the woods, but slugs really don’t like to crawl over surfaces that suck out their moisture.

  142. James says 05 May 2008 at 05:02

    JD (& Kris),
    Thanks for a great website! I can relate a bit, last year I planted some nice heirloom green beans and a late freeze killed them. If you search around heirloom tomatoes are available. The Lowe’s here in South Carolina carry a few varieties like Brandywine and German Pink. Heirlooms are becoming more popular. Ditto on the beer for slugs. As for another bug repellant. I take a few hot peppers (habaneros), out them in a blender with some water and a splash of vinegar and puree. Strain and put in a $0.99 spray bottle. It keeps quite a few bugs away. BTW, I like to wear latex gloves when making and spraying this concoction, you’ll find it quite potent.

  143. Beth says 05 May 2008 at 05:46

    We are not experienced gardeners, but are trying several varieties of tomatoes this year with our 2 1/2 year old twin daughters. I’ve read about some organic fertilizer for tomatoes ( and I’m wondering if this is something we should use. I’d love to know what you think.

  144. Polly says 05 May 2008 at 06:04

    mmmMMMmmm…beer…(insert Homer Simpson gurgle).

    Here in Colorado, where our motto is “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute” our rule of thumb for gardening is that it is (finally) safe to plant on Mother’s Day.

    That being said, a couple of years ago we waited for Mother’s Day, planted everyone, and got a 6″ snow that night.

    You have to laugh or it just isn’t funny.

  145. Momma says 05 May 2008 at 08:10

    My tomatoes almost completely died out right before I transplanted them. I staked them up and gave them some extra TLC and they have taken off again. I’ll bet yours recover fairly quickly!

  146. Becky@FamilyandFinances says 05 May 2008 at 08:51

    I understand your frustration with the weather. It’s been a cold, wet spring here in Wisconsin, too. I’m nowhere near being able to plant anything yet!

    fyi: I’ve read that tomatoes get spindly indoors because the wind outside encourages them to stay low and strong. Next year, you might try wiggling the plants every day (sounds silly, I know) or maybe blow a fan on them for a little bit each day to keep them stout.

  147. David says 05 May 2008 at 11:01

    I’m interested in your results. You might come out way ahead with the way food prices are skyrocketing.

  148. Maria says 05 May 2008 at 13:08

    Slugs/snails love the moist environment of dark, wet dirt, keep the garden dry by using drip irrigation. Yes, it can be expensive to purchase all the supplies, but you’re only watering the plant, not the whole garden. You’ll use less water, and once purchased, they can be re-used in future gardens. Consider it a long-term garden investment that pays for itself year after year. I have a fairly good-sized garden, and use drip irrigation (am lucky enough to have had most of the hoses given to me by someone who no longer needed them) – only the plants are watered, leaving the rest of the garden dry. I’ve yet to see slugs/snails of any sort in the garden. Last year I was watering the whole garden the whole garden with a spray nozzle – slugs & snails would dine on my veggies, not this year.

    The thing about beer – slugs/snails are attracted to the yeast, that’s what gets them. I have a great month-by-month gardening book (Northern California Gardening by Katherine Grace Endicott, ISBN 0811853128, no connection to it, just have learned a lot from it) that has a recipe to make your own homemade concoction to repel snails, instead of using beer (although, I haven’t tried it, as I don’t have the snail/slug problem).

    Also, the copper tape can be expensive to purchase, because copper is not cheap. It does however pay well at the recycle center, so thieves love copper for their recycle value.

    Another tip of heard is to water the garden in the evening, then just after sunset go out with your flashlight and pick all the snails/slugs – this should be useful in the spring when the snails are laying all their eggs. Get them before they hatch.

    Happy gardening – nothing like garden fresh veggies 🙂 🙂

  149. Christine Row says 05 May 2008 at 13:53


    I have inherited some fruit trees when we moved last year, and was curious about your “pest traps” for fruit trees? What are you using & have you had success with them before?



  150. Taylor says 05 May 2008 at 14:44

    What about okra???? It is a lovely, stress-free plant to grow, produces way more okra pods than you can hope for from just a handful of plants, and is one of the most insect and disese resistant plants on earth.

    I live down here in Houston – basically the jungle – and have had good luck with MiracleGro tomato food (its bright pink; you mix with water) and Sevin Dust (for the bugs). My plants already have 6 or 7 fairly large tomatoes, with more blooms showing up every day (I also planted on Feb. 15) The beer/slug thing is useful…thanks!

  151. toes says 05 May 2008 at 17:29

    I am sorry for your loss. I bought a house late last year and planted my first garden ever a couple of months ago and I have really enjoyed your garden updates. It has really made me think about what I am spending on my garden and if I will re-coup that money spent. Thanks.

  152. Funny about Money says 05 May 2008 at 22:15

    Sigh! Sounds a lot like my gardening luck.

    Maria may have something with the drip irrigation. Plus it’s more water-thrifty, and some plants prefer not to get water on their leaves…drip helps a lot with those.

    Hail in April. Good grief.

    One thing that’s worked in past gardens here has been to build a little frame (I nailed together scrap slats from old trellises and junk pieces of lumber) and then cover it with that nylon meshy fabric that’s used to make wedding veils. The stuff is very cheap. You can baste lengths of it together–no need to use a sewing machine–and then secure it to the ground with U-shaped “stakes” cut from old wire coat-hangers.

    This lets light in and keeps most bugs out–around here, the plague is grasshoppers, followed by moths whose babes are voracious caterpillars. It also keeps out birds and the neighbor’s cat. I imagine slugs would wiggle underneath it, though. It might tear under the onslaught of a heavy hailstorm, but if the hail didn’t last too long and wasn’t too large, it could break the force of the falling ice so that some of the plants would be saved.

    I ran soaker hose under my covering, so I didn’t even have to sprinkle the garden. Just turn on the spigot for a few minutes, soak the ground around the rows or mounds, and turn it off. This is an inexpensive and very easy alternative to a drip irrigation system.

  153. Trish says 06 May 2008 at 15:00

    Cheap way to get slugs:
    crumble up egg shells around the base of your plants. The sharp edges deter slugs and snails from crawling towards your tasty and vulnerable plants. Won’t deter much else, but works great for slugs. And nearly free if you eat eggs anyway! (also, will need to be refreshed as rain and garden work wash away shells)

  154. Maria says 06 May 2008 at 15:14

    Funny about Money: Soaker hoses are excellent as well. We use a small amount of it, as we ran out of the drip hoses (and we got some w/the free drip irrigation hoses we received).

    I saw a small portion of a (green living) program on PBS where the person said that soaker hoses used about 3″ under the soil/mulch are extremely affective at keeping snails away – you’re watering below the soil, topsoil remains dry and the snails don’t find it an inviting environment. I personally haven’t tried it, but most of the drippers on our irrigation are also covered by mulch. This also helps with reducing/eliminating water loss (through evaporation) & maximizes the water for the plant.

  155. Pudellvr says 07 May 2008 at 21:34

    You will enjoy those strawberrys when your local ones start selling from the farms and they want 11-13 per gallon!?!?!?

    BTW I enjoy your bloging and have a sm ft2 garden myself.

  156. ajmartin says 10 May 2008 at 07:57

    Actually, tomatoes need eggshells to provide calcium which prevents blossom stem rot..(that weird brown/black spots on the fruit which ruins a lot of tomatoes)..Dig in as many eggshells as you can or just use bone meal.

  157. Kathleen says 11 May 2008 at 04:18

    Interesting discussion. On the positive side, don’t forget to subtract the gym fees and gasoline to get there. Add the cost of sunscreen. For us, avid gardeners, the biggest deterrence to gardening has been deer. For several years they didn’t come into the clearing where we built our house, but once they did, they became as bold as brass. One year the devastation was so bad I couldn’t bear to look at the yard. We discovered “Shotgun”, a solution that we dilute and spray on the deer’s taste treats. Now we have hosta, but don’t dare grow food crops.

  158. BillinDetroit says 16 May 2008 at 19:42

    How ya doing on that garden, JD?

    I’ve got $32.78 in my garden so far and have pole bean, pink shell bean and crowder pea seeds (an experiment) left over to share.

    I’ve already shared 1/2 flat of tomato plants. (a half flat was only about 98 cents less than a whole one … and we know a family on a tight budget with a good-sized garden … so, for 98 cents, we bought their tomatoes for them. And got a lot of ‘warm fuzzies’ for ourselves.)

    So, two families are going to be eating very well indeed from the original $31. (I bought broccoli plants afterward.) Others will benefit through the season from the excess.

    I already had grapes, three kinds of garlic, strawberries, mint(s), dill, sage, basil and chamomile in the garden (all either perennials or self-seeding).

    To that I have added 3 kinds of legumes, two kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of peppers, arugula, black seeded Simpson (both loose-leaf salad greens) and asparagus roots (got roots 2/$1.00 at a local farmers market).

    Basically, since I garden organically, my cash outlays are done. If I get nailed by fungal wilt in the fall beyond what my compost tea can combat, I’ll have to apply lime. That will set me back about $5. Since I use compost heavily, there is no need to lime the soil. If I get slugs, I’ll have to spring for a 5# can of cheap coffee.

    The compost heap has been perking along at a happy 130 deg. F. for about a week. I’d like to see 160-170 … but 130 is actually a good temp. if I can sustain it.

    Other than that, I’m down to just the expense of water until time to harvest & preserve.

    I’ve begun (just barely!) a blog on the topic of urban organic gardening. It’s at (oddly enough)

    It’s still -very- rough around the edges, but if you don’t mind a little saw dust, you’re welcome to stop by for a quick visit while I build it out.

  159. LongRow2Hoe says 30 May 2008 at 12:57

    Regardless of when you plant out tomatoes, peppers, eggplants etc. (all “tender species”), you should invest in “season extenders” that range from cheap painter’s plastic to glass greenhouses.
    It is critical that temperatures remain above 55 degrees or vegetative growth will stall, and plants will be stunted and may not even throw a crop.
    I’m trying “gro-therm” from Territorial Seed co. over half-hoops of berry wire. so far after 2 weeks my tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes and squash plants are thriving. They are showing way more vegetative growth in this colder spring than last year’s uncovered growth.
    I live in the “Puget Sound Lowlands” at 500′ elevation, about 45 miles east of Seattle.
    Warming the soil and temperature with plastic or glass will also dramatically increase the germination rate while decreasing germination time..

  160. Taylor says 31 May 2008 at 05:19

    It’s really neat reading about your garden and how it is so new and little. I am down here in Houston. I live in the city and have the tiniest garden ever. But it was warm enough to plant here in mid-February. I have been eating tomatoes for several weeks now (my plants are well over 5 feet high), my bean crop is almost finished, I don’t know what to do with all of my basil, and I am getting okra daily (from one plant; I had to replant the other plants, as they fell victim to the yard guys cutting the grass). Kepp up the postings! I will enjoy reading about them long after my garden is finished by the heat.

  161. Anne Keckler says 31 May 2008 at 05:52

    Leave carrots to the experts? You’ve got to be kidding me. My children love to grow carrots. We sprinkle seeds right onto the ground, and within days they’ve sprouted. The children get to thin them then, and again as they grow. Pretty soon we have “thinnings” big enough to eat (baby carrots!), and the children really enjoy the process.

    Maybe they don’t give you the biggest savings, but there is no reason to leave them to experts, as far as I can see. In fact, they are best left to the most novice of gardeners in your family. 😉

    ps. Have you tried D.E. for the slugs?

  162. G. Jules says 31 May 2008 at 05:52

    Slugs: If you’re willing to do it, and zoning laws allow, the best solution for ’em is to buy yourself a few ducks. Seriously. I grew up on a farmstead, and we always had a few ducks hanging around to chomp down on the slugs. I’ve seen them eat slugs larger than their own beaks.

    And they lay eggs, too. Turn your slugs into cheap protein!

  163. Jennifer says 31 May 2008 at 05:58

    That is interesting that potatoes are supposedly one of the hardest vegetables to grow. I have had much success over the past 3 seasons and it is probably the easiest thing I grow. I like this series you are doing.

  164. Frugal Dad says 31 May 2008 at 06:23

    J.D. – you inspired us to start our own square foot gardening project. It has since upsized to an in-ground garden with some smaller herbs, etc. still planted in an above ground table box.

    I wish we could grow some fruit trees here in the south, but I’m afraid outside of peaches few tree fruits are hearty enough to survive the summer heat.

  165. Kris says 31 May 2008 at 07:17

    Just to clarify, I think the recommendation to skip growing potatoes, carrots, celery, wheat and asparagus is based more on cost savings rather than crop difficulty. The article mentions that stores have reasonably priced, decent quality carrots, celery, potatoes and flour all year round, and that both potatoes and asparagus take a lot of garden space for what you get. However, like all home gardeners, we grow what we like! I love digging in the dirt to find my hidden treasure of new potatoes, then heading right to the kitchen to steam them. Add a bit of butter and chives and I’m in heaven!

  166. Nottheangel says 31 May 2008 at 07:22

    Potatoes can be grown by anyone. Maybe growing up on a farm made me an expert, who knows, but seriously, potatoes grow themselves. The only expert part is keeping them from taking over the garden (best to give them their own container).

  167. CC says 31 May 2008 at 07:41

    I guess you aren’t my neighbor since no one in my neighborhood has a yard that awesome! I started a square foot garden last year only to discover my backyard doesn’t get enough hours of sunlight. Too many trees. We couldn’t even grow zucchini. 🙁

  168. Diatryma says 31 May 2008 at 08:05

    My peppers, all sixteen of them, are… puny. Next year, I’m starting them earlier. Christmas, maybe. I’m glad I bought seedlings to augment the seeds I started; this means some of them are well ahead of the rest.
    The first couple days out burned them pretty badly, though. I think they’ll do a lot better now that they’ve adjusted.

    The only garden pests I really worry about are squirrels. My plants are in containers– I rent, and my backyard is the parking area– but last year, a squirrel put a walnut in my tomato. That was a surprise.

  169. Jethro says 31 May 2008 at 08:07

    I think she is suggesting to leave potatoes and carrots to the experts because of cost–they are very cheap.

    J.D., I love that you are doing this Garden Project series. I love reading the updates. We have a huge garden, but our landlord pays for everything, we just do the slave labor. I am sure it will pay off when the harvest comes.

  170. Andy says 31 May 2008 at 08:29

    Great job on the garden. I am just growing herbs, onions and garlic. Herbs have to be the best investment to grow on your own though. They only take up a little space and will provide you with fresh herbs for a long time. And they are very cheap compared to what fresh herbs cost in the store.

  171. sara says 31 May 2008 at 08:32

    This series is really helpful–thanks for posting it! I’m very on the fence about growing edibles in my current yard (not much room, would have to take out some good landscaping), so seeing how it really works is just what I’ve been looking for. And I would be shocked if you didn’t get your $300 back and then some–you’ve got so many exciting things to harvest!

  172. Liz says 31 May 2008 at 08:32

    J.D. the way toget rid of slugs is shallow containers and beer. We use tuna cans and emptied them on a daily basis. I haven’t had slugs in 2 yrs. CO State U did a study about 15 or 20 years ago to see if the brand of beer made a difference (it was written up in Organic Gardener). They found that non alcoholic beer had slightly better results but didn’t justify the cost. The next year they wanted to do the same study the didn’t have enough slugs to do it.

  173. Alan Cordle says 31 May 2008 at 08:43

    Based on the cost of berries and tomatoes at the farmers’ markets around here, I KNOW you’ll more than make the $300 back.

  174. Sara A. says 31 May 2008 at 08:48

    Try using diatomaceous earth on the slugs. It is non toxic to humans, you just have to be careful not to inhale it. It causes the bugs to dehydrate and die.

  175. yas says 31 May 2008 at 08:59

    If the rain is a problem for the shallow dish beer slug bait solution, can’t you make some sort of umbrella for the dish?

  176. zach says 31 May 2008 at 09:13

    obviously this MSN person has never set foot on dirt in their life! Potatoes are the easiest things to grow!

    With all due respect, JD, if you’re going to grow a garden to “represent the frugality of growing a garden” please don’t sabotage it to your thousands of readers by spending money where it shouldn’t be spent.

    I would also like to know, where are you getting your information and help? Gardening (even personal gardens) is a community effort. A neighbor that likes to garden is a necessity! If nothing else an internet chatroom where you can get help on problems should be included in your routine.

    Also, if the strawberries taste bland, I think it could be your soil. Did you “get the best money could buy” or did you develop it through care, time, and good composting? Soil development is very important.

    When I see $300 spent on a small garden I think immediately that you’re not committed to giving this project the fair shot it deserves. Why not apply the principles of frugal living that you have in every other area of your lives?

    Sluggo? Are you kidding? Ducks or geese are the best idea for you. Study up on them first, though– some species (like dogs) can be more agressive than others. Try covering the beer with a home-made “hooch”.

    I also take issue with the fact that you’re only looking at the price tag of the garden. Do you try to enjoy your time out there? Because it sounds like it’s just an experiment that your doing because a bunch of readers say it’s a good idea. In that case STOP NOW! You’ll just turn off thousands of people away from personal gardens.

    sorry to be so critical, but you can’t “buy” a garden and that’s what I see here. It’s a relationship that you have to build through time. It also gets cheaper over time (again, only if you do it right and try to garden sustainably!). To garden frugally you have to garden sustainably and with some creativity.

  177. David says 31 May 2008 at 09:18

    Thanks for the update. It is an interesting experiment. Perhaps composting some of those leaves in your garden might have offset some of your fertilizer costs.

  178. J.D. says 31 May 2008 at 09:53

    Zach, I can appreciate your concerns. However, this project isn’t an attempt to change our relationship with our garden. We’ve been gardening for 15 years (and I grew up in a family that gardened). I’m not sure what makes you think we’re only looking at the price tag of this project — we do enjoy gardening, and that’s the main reason we do it. The potential cost savings are an added benefit. This isn’t some project I started on a whim. We’ve changed nothing about how we approach gardening except now we’re trying to document the time and money we spend on it.

    To answer some of your questions and concerns:

    1. We have many friends who garden. This informal network exchanges plants, tips, and ideas all the time. One of our close friends is a Master Gardener. We have many great books devoted to the subject. And, of course, we tap into online resources when necessary. We’re not fumbling around here.

    2. We’re not trying to sabotage the project by “spending money where it shouldn’t be spent”. We’re trying to offer an accurate representation of what gardening costs are like for us. We’re trying to find a balance between spending money and spending time. If we buy certain things, it’s not because we’re trying to “buy” a garden. It’s because we’re doing what we think the garden needs.

    3. While the idea of ducks or geese sound intriguing, and we may eventually try that, it’s not really practical for this neighborhood or for our lifestyle. (Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe ducks and geese require no maintenance.) And what’s wrong with trying Sluggo? We know that the beer and copper tape don’t work, despite repeated suggestions from readers. Why not try something else to see if it does work?

    4. You’re right that the bland strawberries might be due to the soil. In this particular instance, I’m fairly certain it’s from the heavy rain over the past couple weeks, but the soil is a definite suspect, too. That’s okay. We grow them in our rose beds, scattered among the flowers. It’s a great use for space that otherwise would be empty.

    I like to think that Kris and I are very much into the sustainability thing. We might not approach it the way you would, but it is important to us. If you were to read all the garden-related posts on GRS from the very beginning, you’d know that our blueberries are 25+ year old plants which we transplanted from the neighbors. You’d know that some of the raspberries were transplanted from a friend. You’d know that the strawberries originated at our old house in the mid-1990s, were given to a friend, and then returned to us when we moved into this house. You’d know that the grapes are all from cuttings made around the neighborhood. You’d know that we dug the garden space ourselves, cut the sod and erected the berry trellises ourselves, that we compost our kitchen waste (and the leaves — though the oak leaves don’t readily break down). You’d know that we use organic fertilizers, and that we rarely turn to synthetic chemicals (Sluggo notwithstanding). We’re all about sustainable, natural gardening.

    In short, we’re not approaching this on a lark. We know how to garden. We may not choose to garden in the same way you choose to garden, but our method is perfectly viable. Gardening does cost money, and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. We’re not trying to sabotage this project, but neither are we trying to sugar-coat it.

  179. Walter says 31 May 2008 at 09:54

    Diatomaceous earth will aid in keeping the slugs at bay, and so will raking up some of those leaves that are so close to your tomatoes. Those leaves are no doubt keeping the ground more moist than it has to be, and slugs thrive in moist soil. In one of your pics, I see what appears to be an inverted plastic soda bottle, presumably to feed a water spike. Since you are watering the plants in this fashion, allowing the surrounding soil to *dry out* a bit might work wonders for reducing the slug population. Also, actively hunt down the little suckers in the places where they hole up for the day.

    How does that tomato cage work for you? Honestly, I have seen it offered in catalogs, but they are too expensive for me. I just use vinyl coated garden stakes and velcro ties. It allows me to get intimate with my plants and a more active participant in their growth and maintenance and health. Plus, I like the smell of tomato plant on my hands. 🙂

  180. J.D. says 31 May 2008 at 09:57

    Oh yeah — I should note that a certain percentage of our expenses (30%? 50%? 10%?) has been on infrastructure: hoses, multi-season fertilizers, tools, etc. In retrospect, I should have broken out these costs from the beginning. They are costs that ought to be amortized over several years. However, I don’t feel too bad because these sorts of costs occur every year, and probably balance out.

    Finally — and this is important — we are gardening in Portland, Oregon. I have no doubt that gardeners in other parts of the country can spend much less (or much more) and get different yields. These costs are representative of our climate and our approach…

    Also: because of where we are the ground has not yet dried out, and probably won’t for weeks. The rain will continue to fall. How we approach slugs here is different than how one might approach them in, say, Arizona.

  181. Mira says 31 May 2008 at 09:59

    I borrowed Bountiful Container from my library because of a previous post. I always wanted to start a garden but it always seemed intimidating. Anyway, I now have squash, red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, two types of lettuce, chives, and strawberries growing outside. On my windowsill, I have thyme and two types of mint.

    I planted the tomatoes from seeds but I think I planted them too late ’cause they are TINY. I think I’ll get some from the garden center that are larger.

    Anyway, keep up the garden updates, JD! I personnally can’t wait to make a salad from the veggies in my garden.

  182. Paul J. says 31 May 2008 at 10:02


    Can you turn it down a bit? Your know-it-all-vibe is spraying off the screen. It’s awfully easy for you to cast stones at a situation that you know very little about: re: strawberries in Oregon. While your comments about the importance of soil are accurate (if not a bit pedestrian) this has very little to do with what happens to the berries when it’s been so wet. They will be large and watery. What we need right now is a good shot of sun for a few weeks, then we’ll have juicy, sweet berries.

    Zach, these folks love gardening, it’s who they are, it’s not a “project”. I’m trying to imagine how your post could have been MORE insulting.

  183. J.D. says 31 May 2008 at 10:19

    From Kris:
    Hey fellow gardeners, I’d love your thoughts on the oak leaves. This is the first year I am trying using them as mulch/weed retardant between the tomatoes. What do you think? Good idea or bad idea?

    The victims of the slugs (cucumbers) are in a small raised bed (without oak leaves).

  184. Jane says 31 May 2008 at 10:24

    Seeing as eggshells hasn’t been mentioned as a slug-deterrent, I thought it might be worth suggesting. When I lived in a place that could handle a garden, I used to keep my egg shells (cleaned & dried out), then break them and scatter them around the plants I was growing, as we had slugs as well. Given that you have very moist soil, they may just end up sinking into the ground, but they cut up the slugs pretty good and it kills them since the slugs are so soft. The shells are good for the garden (eventually) as well. Just a thought.

  185. Ginger says 31 May 2008 at 10:30

    I am a gardening idiot! (ROFL) I know nothing pretty much except to enjoy whatever happens to grow. Here is what we have done….
    Last year we started a built-up bed about 4′ x 14’using supplies found on the property. We got the dirt in it and our backs (horrible as they are) didn’t allow for us to plant one thing. Cost – $20

    This year, we planted. We put that black fabric over the soil and pinned it down.
    Cost – $12

    – Cut holes in the fabric and planted some bedding tomatoes, squash and peppers. Additionally planted the following from seed: okra, corn, eggplant
    Cost – $15
    – Looked at my baking potatoes and found some healthy sprouts and cut them into quarters and planted those too.
    Cost – FREE (they were gonna be garbage or compost)

    – Next we added a soaker hose and ran a water hose to it since the garden is about 50′ from a water spigot and we have been in a horrible dought. Cost – Free since it was here when we purchased the house.

    – Said a prayer over it and low and behold, most things are waist high with about 75% of the growth literally in the last week.

    Speaking of the last week…I took our shredder and fed a stack of newspaper to it. I got a 5 gallon bucket (free) and dumped it in and we added water and Miracle Grow to the mix and made our own homemade fertilizer. We scooped out the newspaper and piled around each plant. This week, we’ll do some more of the same and top off with mulch to hold back weeds and keep the paper from drying and blowing away.
    Cost – newspapers free with a free subscription to WSJ. Miracle Grow for this instance of use? $2 approx. value

    Dirt, fabric, plants, Miracle Grow and anything else I can think of is about $50 max. The joy I am getting from watching this garden grow is PRICELESS. Time invested is about 5-7 hours.

    Next year we plan on making the garden larger but all of our gardening will be of the built-up variety since we are on a bed of rock.

    Personally I am amazed that I can grow a single thing. With our bad backs, we can’t be doing a lot of weeding or using tools because we can only manage a half hour or so before we are done. We did a long narrow garden so we could walk around it and easily reach halfway across it. -Using Miracle Grow because it is lightweight and we can manage it. We’d rather use something more natural, but you do what you can.


  186. Mydailydollars says 31 May 2008 at 10:41

    I’m really enjoying this series! As a newbie gardener, I’ve just got lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. It’s great to see how I can expand as I learn more. I’d love to do berries, especially because we seem to only get strawberries from our local market. Keep up the good work!

  187. Chris says 31 May 2008 at 11:15

    try using crushed eggshells for a slug deterrent (srinkle arund your beds). It works up here in Canada and it’s CHEAP!

  188. Walter says 31 May 2008 at 11:52

    If the oak leaves are not encouraging mold or rot or harboring those pesky slugs, they might be worth a try as a weed preventative. My tomatoes are usually more densely placed compared to what I see of yours, and the plants themselves tend to shade out most any weed growth. If the wind does not remove the leaves, it could be effective.

    Maybe for next year, you could consider a ground cover like clover or even dandelion, from which you can get more edibles. You can maximize the space apparently not being used for anything else while virtually eliminating the weed issue. Just something to think about.

  189. Elizabeth says 31 May 2008 at 17:45

    I love the idea for using two-liter bottles to keep your soil moist! Here in Phoenix, that’s a constant battle. Could you tell me a little more about how you use the bottles? Is there a hole punched at the bottom? How often do you fill them (I’m sure my Phoenix methods would have to be different, but I’m just curious). Thanks!

  190. Libby says 31 May 2008 at 19:59

    JD, have you and your wife started thinking about next year’s garden yet? There’s lots of things you can do to make things even cheaper next year, with a little planning this year. One is to plan which plants you want to harvest seeds from, and let them mature to the point of producing usable seeds to dry and save for next year. Also, if you save seeds you can participate in a seed swap, to try some new varieties.

    For starting seeds, I really like winter sowing – – all you need to do is save clear plastic containers from things like milk jugs, chinese take out, 2L bottles of soda, or even save used ziploc bags – you can start plants in them over the winter, and come spring you will have plants ready to put in the ground, that didn’t cost you anything. I tried it out this year for the first time and it worked beautifully – nearly every seed that I planted grew, and I actually had too many plants! I ended up giving about 1/3 of them to a neighbor to plant in her garden.

    Composting is another great way to save money, if you don’t already do it – who wants to spend money on something you can make yourself? The way I do my compost is in a big trash can with a tight fitting lid (bungee cord it on to be sure its secure). Drill holes in the bottom, add a few worms from the yard. No mess, no smells to attract animals, easy to keep somewhere in the sun but out of the way – and mixing it is as easy as rolling the can around on the yard for 30 seconds a day. Plus I love using more of the stuff I buy.. turning it into compost is so much more fulfilling than sending it to the landfill.

    One last tip, if you know a llama or an alpaca farmer ask if you can come pick up some of their poop. (they call it ‘beans’) Its a great fertilizer, doesn’t have to be composted, and won’t cost you any more than a little bit of labor with a shovel and bucket to collect it. It doesn’t even smell all that bad. has more info about it.

  191. Chris says 31 May 2008 at 21:53


    Would love at some point soon (future gardening review?) to get your projections on what your crop yield will be, and where that will fit with your costs. I am a gardening novice, so when I see $300 I too wonder if you’ll end up saving money on the effort.

    At what rate are you valuing/charging your time? $10? $15? I recall some info on this previously, but couldn’t find with a quick perusing.

    Might be worth allocating the infrastructure expenses (equivalent to depreciating them) on a 3 or 5 year scale.

  192. Funny about Money says 31 May 2008 at 22:44

    Your garden looks beautiful! Whatever it costs, maybe it’s worth it for the aesthetics. 🙂

    Come summertime, it surely will pay back your investment–not just in the grocery-store value of the veggies, but also in the deliciousness of fresh-picked and in the pleasure you’ll get in having made your produce grow in the backyard.

    Carrots…experts?? That’s a new one. Few things are easier to grow from seed than carrots–making them very cheap and very wonderful. Even the Depot has a wide selection of interesting varieties, all better than you can buy at the supermarket. Ditto beets. Yum! Wonderful garden beets!!!

  193. Bob says 31 May 2008 at 23:04

    Great job on growing your own food most people do not even think about edible landscaping anymore when doing landscaping design. Even better you can use passive solar design to help lower cooling bills.
    My home is shaded by plum and apple trees in the summer. Fresh fruit and shade just for planting a few trees years ago. My pecan tree should start to produce in the next few years. How about fresh chives for my baked potatoes or fresh rosemary when baking my chicken and there is always the peppermint and lemon balm for teas or seasoning.
    Last week I had homemade chili made with homegrown cayenne peppers, and tomatoes are growing that I started with 3 plants bought from Wal-Mart for $3 and I have 5 tomatoes I’m just waiting to get ripe. Cost $3 and 1 minute a day to water them.

  194. ctkenye says 01 June 2008 at 05:27

    Beer traps in rainy climates: use a salad dressing bottle–the large ones that are sort of flat and have a fairly wide mouth. Turn it so that the flat sides are vertical to the soil. Seat it into a little trench so that the bottle has the neck horizontal to the ground and make sure it is enough out of the soil that rain won’t flow into the mouth. Fill it with beer to just below the level of the neck. It will be deep enough inside to drown the slugs, after they are attracted down the neck of the bottle and into the liquid, and the rain will not be an issue.

  195. jack says 01 June 2008 at 05:29

    Great post and pics! Artichokes are great too!

    The $4 dollar plant that we bought in OCt is about 6 feet tall and producing about 20 artichokes. At $1-$2 a pop in the store, it is a great investment. I will plant more next year. They are great landscape plants too. I am told they are a perennial and will produce year after year.

    again great post!

  196. Matt says 01 June 2008 at 09:22

    I think the biggest benefit you’ll see from the garden is in the taste of the food. I find that a lot of store bought food is grown for durability and travel. Tomatoes from the store are often bland and tasteless but the ones picked fresh are so good. Another thing to consider is the fruit you’re growing – many of those items aren’t stocked in the store and when they are they’re very expensive. Great project JD

  197. Amy says 01 June 2008 at 11:48

    Thanks for taking the time to track your garden’s progress, both in terms of time and money. I have been considering whether starting a garden is right for me (I also live in the PDX area), and it helps to see how much time and money it could take, before I take the plunge. Thanks again.

  198. Kris says 01 June 2008 at 18:08

    To Elizabeth (#30):

    The watering spikes I use for tomatoes are similar to the ones shown here:

    Or, as the article suggests, you can just keep the screwcap lid, drill a drip hole in it, and invert the water-filled 2-L bottle in a hole dug next to each plant.

    Thanks for all the suggestions, everybody! I’m giving the slug trap suggested by ctkenye (#35) a try today– may it trap and drown the slimy monsters!

  199. Charlotte says 01 June 2008 at 22:19

    J.D., can you briefly explain how the plastic bottle for the tomatoes is set up? Did you punch a hole and inverted the bottle? Do you water only through the bottle?What is the purpose of this versus watering the soil directly? Thanks!

  200. Holocron says 02 June 2008 at 08:29

    We paid $25.00 for a 15’x25′ plot at out local community gardens. We spent another $20.00 on seeds and planted all the expensive produce we normally buy.

    Oh, and we usually bike over to check on it from our house. Unless there are other car oriented errands nearby.

  201. Green Thumb says 02 June 2008 at 09:29

    Your garden sounds like fun! You could try squirting slugs & surround the plants with 1 part ammonia to 5 parts water spray. Breaks dwon in the soil adn kills those pesky critters dead! Also – I grow carrots in a 4 parts sand to 1 part composted manure blend in containers -very successful! Finally, get REEMAY covers for those berries so you can improve the chance of getting some of your yield before the birds and bugs do! Good luck!

  202. lynne s of oz says 03 June 2008 at 11:10

    I see your $300 and raise you nearly $200. We’ve moved from Australia via Colorado and Canada and now live in a rental apartment with a 12’X12′ patio in San Jose. Buying pots and potting mix and associated infrastructure (watering cans, organic fertiliser, sluggo) is expensive! But we have our first tomato and have eaten a few leaves and peas out of about $100 investment in plants. And I get to potter in the “garden.” Which is priceless.

  203. Trish says 03 June 2008 at 14:31

    One way to keep slugs away: crushed egg shells (coarse crushed) around plants–the slugs cannot slither over the eggs without injuring themselves and the eggshells don’t damage the plants.

  204. alan cordle says 03 June 2008 at 15:21

    Slugs + eggshells = myth


  205. todd says 04 June 2008 at 09:37

    It makes me sad to think of all the things people might not ever do or try if the only yardstick used to measure “success” were money.

  206. Diana says 05 June 2008 at 12:27

    If you spread vaseline around the border of your vegetables, it’s supposed to keep the slugs away too. It would be rain proof… worth a try?

  207. NEL says 06 June 2008 at 11:54

    Best of luck to you in your gardening efforts. It will be rewarding in so many ways.

    I don’t think I saw a reply to the inquiry about using D.E. Have you tried it?

    Can’t wait to see thet results of your labor.

  208. schaef says 07 June 2008 at 08:55

    Although diatomaceous earth will definitely do the trick, you may want to try crushed oyster shells to thwart those pesky slugs. Seeing as Portland, Oregon, is reasonably close to the coast this shouldn’t be a huge problem for you.

  209. Eric F. says 11 June 2008 at 10:00

    Just to let you know:

    As you mentionned in a more recent post: gardening is becomming more and more popular.

  210. Nancy says 19 June 2008 at 14:34

    I didn’t read all of the replies, but when I was in Illinois I had a slug problem with my hostas. I had read somewhere, (Organic Gardening probably) to try needles from an old christmas tree. I piled up all the dead needles around the plants and I SWEAR there never was another slug to be found. Of course Oregon does have an extraordinary amount of slugs.

    I love this project. I’m very interested to see how it all adds up for you. I’m in Colorado now and have very different gardening issues.

  211. PAK says 23 June 2008 at 04:26

    The person who replied on 6 January 2008 at 2:18 pm is right on the money! You should be comparing ORGANIC prices, not the Wal-Mart ones! I tilled up by back yard last year and planted a 1,100 square foot garden and tracked it’s production last year. I harvested 1,170 pounds of organic produce and gave most of it to a homeless shelter since I hadn’t started canning.

    Keep up the good work. Even more important than your cost comparison is the fact that you are inspiring others to take the plunge into gardening, which subliminally benefits everyone by example.

  212. Bob says 27 June 2008 at 05:22

    Being a retired sailor, I found that I didn’t have a clue as to how to grow my own veggies. Fortunately, I found some old Victory Garden books from the 1940’s. Basically, gardening for dumies. Last year we spent a total of $30 on our garden. Results: enough vegetables to feed a family of 5 for a year. Excess food was donated to the local senior center. This book can be found at the It has saved us thousands in food costs.

  213. Ken says 27 June 2008 at 14:12

    Hi Enjoy your site.

    I have a thought for you about the slugs. Have you tried diatomaceous earth? It is sometimes used for pool filters, it is ground shells. Apparently it is very sharp on a microscopic level, and slugs do not like to cross a line of it poured on the ground. My wife used to pour a line around her marigolds to protect them and and seemed to work well.

    A quick google found this site:

    Good luck!


  214. Alex Shalman says 28 June 2008 at 05:28

    This is great. Even if you happen to only break even, I think a very important factor to consider is that you’re spending time outside in the fresh air, possibly including wife-time, and getting some exercise while gardening. It also comes with the satisfaction of know your living off the land (to some degree).

    Just a thought. Great job!

  215. Journeyer says 28 June 2008 at 05:49

    I think your methodology for calculating your savings is correct. What ever you would pay for the same amount of goods seems sensible to me.

    I’m not a seasoned food gardener, but I would assume you are coming into your prime growing season. You should see the gap between expenses and savings decrease.

    I’m interested to know what the what made up the costs in the more expensive months. Off to look at those now…

  216. deepali says 28 June 2008 at 06:35

    JD, If you took on more of the weeding duties, you might have something to add to Get Fit Slowly too…. weeding is an excellent weight control/loss activity!

    Keep up the good work! July and August should be abundant.

  217. cherie says 28 June 2008 at 07:20

    Well I know this is not a formal tracking but if it were ME doing the tracking I’d use:
    1. time only if it were doing something I’d prefer not to do – so I wouldn’t count harvesting time if you enjoy it kwim?
    2. I’d use the price that I’d pay if I were not being frugal and getting the same sort of fruit – is it organic in your garden? what’s the organic price?

    I agree that if you even break even it’s wortwhie though I’m betting you come out ahead – I *know* you’ve come out ahead in quality and in healthfulness of both experience and product kwim? So it’s a win win situation

    Good for you – I’m jealous of your space – I’m thinking about getting a couple of small apple trees if I can ind the time to learn enough to choose them. I’ve lost so much sun in my yard and hate to cut back our beautiful trees for more garden – but we’ll see ho my scrawny peppers and tomatoes do in their iny sunny spot 😉

  218. laura says 28 June 2008 at 07:36

    We’ve been up to our ears in strawberries as well 🙂 Been taking in about 1 gal every other day for a few weeks. Now starting to wane and down to 1/2 gal. But we lack freezer space to store it all for future use, so we’ve been making strawberry pies/sauces/whatnot.

    Any idea if a deep freeze would recoup its cost (for $ savings on storing garden crops and bulk meat, etc)?

  219. Gousalya says 28 June 2008 at 08:11


    Congrats….I bet they taste better than the store ones, just because it was home grown with love and tenderness!

  220. Funny about Money says 28 June 2008 at 08:17

    Absolutely–if you’re not spraying stuff on the garden, your price comparison should be to organic produce.

    Congratulations on starting to see some wonderful goodies! You can’t get truly delicious vine-ripened fruits and vegetables in the grocery store at any price.

  221. bleugeu says 28 June 2008 at 08:29

    I am also jealous of your space – have a balcony . I have been waning to try out U-pick farms.

    It’s hard to compare gauge the frugality of a garden. How do you quantify enjoyment? If you do it instead of something else that cost money it may save you more than the next person. If you wouldn’t normally buy the amount of produce that your garden grows (e.g nearly 12 pounds of strawberries), it becomes more complex. And compounds, since I believe I remember reading Kris makes strawberry jelly as gifts. Many factors would have to be examined to figure out the cost-benefit of a garden. You seem to have a good idea, just recording it out of interest more than anything.

  222. Matty says 28 June 2008 at 08:35

    Congrats on your first harvest!

    It sounds like you are indeed going to save more than you spent… but I’m betting the improved taste of the food will be worth the cost alone – Especially the tomatoes!

    Can you comment on any difference in taste from the store-bought strawberries vs. your home-grown ones?

  223. Mira says 28 June 2008 at 08:38

    Kris picked twelve pounds at a local farm for 85 cents per pound. But I’m going to use the grocery store’s one-pound price ($3.99) because our harvest came in roughly one pound increments.

    JD, I’m confused. Why not use the 85 cents per pound for comparison? Did you have to buy at least 12 pounds at the farm? Other than that bit of confusion, I would use basically the same method for comparison. At the time of my harvest, I would check the prices in all the stores I would have potentially bought the item of harvest from. Also, I agree with Funny About Money that you should compare the organic price.

    Question: Are all of your fruit trees in the ground or are any in containers?

  224. Kris says 28 June 2008 at 08:57

    We -are- having a difficult time deciding how to calculate the strawberry harvest value! The problem is that the stores are not carrying any local berries (only Californian) to compare and using the u-pick price doesn’t seem quite right, either, because that’s not how most people would get their fruit. I think we should be using a farmer’s market price for local organic ones– maybe we’ll check it out this Sunday morning.

    When I went strawberry-picking at the farm, I just picked until my box was full– which turned out to be twelve pounds. These became jam and syrup. Our own berries we are eating mostly on cereal, over ice cream, with shortcake, etc. I also made a refreshing chilled strawberry soup– yum!

    With our homegrown berries, their taste is very weather-dependent. Even a day or two of strong sun makes them very sweet. A rainy day makes them less so. Compared with the mammoth out-of-state berries in the store, our local berries are much better for jams and cooking. The texture of the fruit is much more delicate and they easily melt into a wonderful strawberry pulp.

    Oh, and our fruit trees are all in the ground, but we chose dwarf varieties so they should stay about 15-20 feet tall at maturity.

  225. Khürt Williams says 28 June 2008 at 09:03

    @Gousalya: It’ll taste better than the store produce because it is picked and eaten when it’s ready. Most store bought produce ( especially strawberries ) is picked before fully ripe.

  226. Di says 28 June 2008 at 09:56

    I’ve been waiting for this update! You harvested nearly 12lbs of strawberries in one month!!!! How many plants do you have? (I want to know for next year lol).
    I too am doing my own little experiment though I am trying to do it the cheap/frugal way, and organic. So far I have corn, cucumbers, tomato, radish, and beans. With lots more seed sown. I spied my first few little tomatoes yesterday!!! YAY!
    I agree that if you are organic (or almost) you should compare to the organic prices at the store or farmers market. And I agree with the comment above about weeding helping you get fit! I am doing everything myself and I have never slept so well in my life! lol!

    I will also say that the weather has been BRUTAL here. With temps in the triple digits (109 last weekend!) and I lost a few plants due to the excessive heat. Seems there is a sweet spot temperature wise for gardening.

    Are you planning for fall planting yet?

  227. Tina says 28 June 2008 at 09:57

    What exactly are you going to do with $300 worth of tomatoes? If you plan on canning them, I would like to see the cost of preserving your food included. I love to garden and preserve my own food but it might not be cost effective the first year. The more years you do it, the more experiance and tools you have, the more money you should save.

    I think you should use the average price of strawberries for comparison.

  228. Diatryma says 28 June 2008 at 10:13

    For price comparison on harvest: pick the lowest price you can find and the highest price. At the end of the summer, you’ll have a range of how much you saved/spent.

    My peppers are not pepperful. I’m in Iowa. We had rain here until mid-June. Of the nineteen plants I moved outside, I think I still have eight, most of which have not grown significantly larger. I didn’t know it was possible for a plant to be outside for a month and not add a single leaf! I’ve bought a lot of seedlings to replace dying my-planted-seeds, too. I’ll be surprised if I recoup my costs (pots and dirt got pricey and peppers are pretty cheap) but I won’t have to spend as much next year– a new bag of potting soil to mix in with the old, maybe another grow light to make things a little more vigorous in the kitchen.

    None of the peppers are more than eight inches tall right now. The one I bought last week at the farmer’s market had a blossom, but I pulled it off to encourage vegetative growth.

    Good luck with July weather!

  229. Chad @ Sentient Money says 28 June 2008 at 10:18

    A garden would be really nice. Especially for the fresh strawberries and tomatoes. Store bought just aren’t the same.

  230. Kendra says 28 June 2008 at 10:58

    We belong to a CSA, and I’m tracking our share to see if it’s cost-effective (ie, do we pay more for the same produce in the CSA than we would at other venues, or vice-versa). The way I do it is to list the price I would pay for the same item elsewhere. To use your strawberry example, I’d list the price you would pay for strawberries if you weren’t growing your own. In your case, that’d be 85 cents a pound. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you could pay, or what other people might pay — what matters is what you would be paying if you weren’t growing your own.

  231. Ryan says 28 June 2008 at 12:17

    I agree with Kendra. The price for comparison should reflect the most likely alternative to growing your own. I would also like to see your time quantified as an expense, although determining the cost could be very tricky and may not be worth the effort for this experiment.

  232. Cathy says 28 June 2008 at 12:25

    I agree with Tina. You should take the prices of the organic, farmer’s market, and u-pick and average them. That will give you a nice median since costs can vary so wildly depending on the method.

    I live in Washington, and I absolutely love u-pick farms. We currently live in an apartment, so u-pick farms are a great substitute for gardening. I never knew there could be so many different varieties of squash, herbs, and other goodies that the supermarket never sells!

    I have a calorie/cost tracking blog and I try to take account of things like this, much like you do. Recently I’ve needed to figure in cost of gas a little more, but the cost won’t stop me no matter what. There’s nothing like garden fresh food that hasn’t been packaged in a box in Mexico, chilled in a cooler, and sitting around on the produce aisle for who knows how long. There’s something incredibly natural about digging in the dirt and plants for food. I love it.

    When I retire, I need to get a house in a gentle, easy to grow climate like Oregon or Washington. Home gardening is a lot more challenging in a place like Colorado where I used to live. I was once told, if you can’t grow it in Washington, it can’t be grown!

  233. Dawn says 28 June 2008 at 16:22

    I garden in the Clearwater, FL area, and pretty much don’t save a dime, but I love my garden. It amuses me, I can eat beans and peas while I’m standing there, and my co-workers get to enjoy the bounty, too. Herbs grow much better than anything I can sink my teeth into, but I get such a kick out of watching things grow. My garden’s value is completely intangible, but that’s OK with me.

  234. Stacey says 28 June 2008 at 16:55

    I had to laugh about the blueberry – we did the same thing this morning. The berry was a lovely purple color, but not quite ripe yet. We had an awful time with our corn this year, thanks to the weird weather.

    These posts have been a real inspiration for us. I think we will track our expenses and profit next year, too. Good luck with the rest of your gardening season!

  235. kristy says 28 June 2008 at 19:30

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I also am keeping track of how much our garden cost – versus – produced. Sounds like yours will be bountiful. I think the sense of accomplishment also is worth a few bucks as well! Enjoy your crop.

  236. Tom says 29 June 2008 at 00:34

    Newly-released research bulletin examines food price trends and analyses effect of inflation and U.S. economic slowdown on China’s economy and Chinese stocks:

  237. 42 says 29 June 2008 at 08:34

    my little rooftop strawberry patch of six whole plants was shredded in last week’s hailstorm, and the damn raccoons keep eating the berries anyway. Oh well, it was worth getting the 2-3 impossibly-tasty berries that the raccoons missed before the storm 🙂

  238. Karawynn of pocketmint says 29 June 2008 at 09:24

    One vote for “local farmers’ market prices” here. I don’t think you should use the U-pick because you’re exchanging some of your time and labor for a reduced price.

    I’m watching your garden reports closely; I’m in Seattle so the weather is similar. Strawberries are one of the things I’m very interested in trying next year, because it makes such a difference in quality. The small locally farmed berries and the huge California grocery ones are miles apart in taste.

  239. J.D. says 29 June 2008 at 12:26

    After discussing it, Kris and I decided that the fairest way to compute the cost-equivalent of our produce is to use the prices from the local farmers’ market. This will give us similar fruit grown under similar conditions.

    A quick pass today revealed that strawberries go for $2.50/pint, raspberries go for $3.50/pint, and peas go for $3.00/pound. We bought a pint of strawberries and discovered they weigh about .80 pounds, so the cost is about $3.13 per pound. I’m not going to change the numbers for this entry, but when I post next month’s update, I’ll revise our harvest total. Make sense?

  240. Sara says 29 June 2008 at 20:25

    Calculate the costs and savings any way you please–I’m just relieved to see how little time it takes to grow a bountiful harvest. I really figured it would take hours upon hours, but I’m pleasantly surprised!

  241. DustinTWeir says 30 June 2008 at 05:32

    The U.S. Office of Citizen Services and Communications has a good article on their blog: , about where to find the u-pick and farmer’s markets.

  242. NGT says 30 June 2008 at 08:10

    I think in one of your earlier garden posts you had said the slugs were wrecking havoc…

    Here is a list of pest insects and what plants to plant to lure the predator insects to your garden, under the heading Gardening With Bugs.

    Not sure if it works or not, but I plan to use some of these plants in my next garden to see if it helps cut down on the pests.

  243. BD says 30 June 2008 at 09:06

    Wow, $0.85/lb for u-pick berries?? It’s $3.00/lb plus a $3.00 “admission” fee here in the San Francisco area.

  244. Ivy says 30 June 2008 at 11:19

    We’re in PDX as well and I’m wondering which U-pick you went to. I hear that some are better than others. Thanks!

  245. Michele says 01 July 2008 at 06:25

    Your crop sounds plentiful to me. We have plenty of room–we could grow corn if we wanted–but our soil is so poor that we’ve spent a fortune on peat and manure to get it into usable condition. We compost, too, but getting enough product from that alone would take years.

    I’d love to join a CSA, but there aren’t any close enough.

  246. Allison says 02 July 2008 at 09:17

    I went to a pick your own and picked strawberries for jam and pie and paid $1.95/lb for ones not sprayed. I live in the northeast with a short growing season and this might be the reason for the difference in price. I would be in jam heaven if it only cost $.85/lb.

  247. R Rosman says 02 July 2008 at 10:42

    A. diatomaceous earth (DE)used for insect control is NOT THE SAME STUFF AS USED IN POOL FILTERS. and it is worthless to us in the Pacific NW because the rains render it useless. I use DE only for indoor pests like ants, fleas, etc. I don’t use it in gardening because it kills indiscriminately. It will kill honey bees if they come into contact with it.

    B. I live in Portland Oregon. The only way to protect the plants you love is to go out at night and snip them in half. I do like the geese idea, but it’s not available to me.

    C. Your damage may be due to other bugs along with the slugs. Again if you go out at night with a flashlight you’ll see just what is really happening, then you can formulate your attack and be victorious.

    D. ANY TYPE OF MULCH must be kept 1″ to 2″ from the base of any plant or shrub.

    E. Oak leaves are valuable only if composted first, then the leaf mold used as the mulch.

    F. Keep in mind many pests do live in the mulch, so if you mulch, you will be forced to snip slugs.
    G. To be most frugal in your garden, you need a bonded pair of house rabbits. Very low cost rescued rabbits are plentiful: in Portland, for The House Rabbit Society all other states.
    Two buns will provide you with excellent return on your cost for feed, hay, & litterbox filler(ABM wood pellets cheap at farm supply stores-best for use later in compost) with plentiful litterboxes full of fertilizer. You can make tea from just the poops for foliar fertilizing, or dig it in as you plant, or compost all of it.

    Happy Gardening to all–
    and to all a good garden harvest!

    Don’t forget to use winter oil on all your cane berries. It is the best insect preventative there is. Also a summer oil application just before leaf break it valuable too. Neem oil with a touch of dish detergent is what most organic gardeners recommend. Use heavier dilution for winter application, lighter dilution for pre-leaf break. Ask your local supply store for organic winter or summer oils. Get a gallon pump up sprayer, you’ll be using it a lot!!

  248. Susan Och says 07 July 2008 at 09:46

    Farmer’s Market prices are the way to compare. Grocery store produce, usually shipped in from far away and many days old, is inferior in both taste and nutrition.

    When you consider the side benefits of growing the garden, you might consider the education you are getting. Food prices are sure to keep rising, as large-scale agriculture relies on fertilizer that is derived from fossil fuels. Frugality often involves making different choices, and by learning to garden you are giving yourself a new choice in the future, whether you decide you use it any one season or not.

    I use my food dryer extensively, drying strawberries, blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and morels if I find them. It uses less energy than canning and less freezer space than just freezing. Spices are expensive, but drying your own basil, oregano, thyme, etc is about free.

  249. Rachel says 08 July 2008 at 13:42

    Thank you for putting this series on your site. I have been gardening since childhood and never once figured out if it was a money pit or not. (Not that that would necessarily stop me.) Anyway, sounds like ya’ll are doing well, considering the odd spring (here is South Dakota too). Best of luck on the summer.

  250. Doug says 16 July 2008 at 17:11

    I was just considering that there are several ways to mitigate at least some of the cost of the fertilizers. Composting is a terrific way to do this and most of it is waste product from other stuff that you purchased for another reason. When I was growing up we always tilled the grass clippings from mowing the lawn into the garden area. Doing little things like this would not only be a potential cost savings, but would also be beneficial for the garden.

  251. melanie says 19 July 2008 at 18:43

    Something we use for slugs and snails is, sounds weird but, dried, crushed eggshells. Just dry them out for a day or 2 in the oven (no need to turn it on), then bag them, and step on them until they are the size of pepper flakes. Sprinkle around plants in continuous circle or lines. A lot of bugs will not cross it. Another thought, diatomaceous earth or dirt- it finely cuts the snails so they won’t cross either, and it’s organic as eggshells.

  252. melanie says 19 July 2008 at 18:48

    Geese are great!! I had them growing up. Goose eggs great for decorating at Easter and in cakes. I didn’t care for them used in a regular way. Not only do the eat up the bad bugs- love the snails, but they keep your grass trimmed and are excellent burglar alarms. Their poop is not as gross as ducks (which is a lot like chicken poop), it’s just like grass cuttings and doesn’t stink. Chickens are good too- clip their wings and you have garbage disposal, egg makers, fertilizer, bug eaters, and mini rototillers.

  253. Dave says 02 August 2008 at 05:15

    JD, why do you refer to your estate as “Rosings Park.” I’ve noticed you use that term often over at Folded Space, and I’ve been curious about it for quite some time.

  254. Lane says 02 August 2008 at 06:19

    Raspberry pruning: My technique.
    It sounds like you have the everbearing variety where you have two seasons of fruit (June/July and August/September). I have this as well.

    Late, late Fall/early winter: Cut back all canes to knee height…. all of them.

    Early Spring, before new growth: Pull out the two year old canes, leaving last year’s new growth. You’ll see what is old, because it will be very dead, brown and easy to remove. Thin as needed (maybe I’m lucky in this regard.

    Dave @1: I would assume Rosings Park is in reference to “Pride and Prejudice”.

  255. Lance says 02 August 2008 at 06:54

    Is there some way I can finnagle some of those red currants off you? I grew up with a bush of them, but haven’t been able to locate anyone since growing them.

    I’m not sure how to best transport them, but if Kris were to make a red currant jam I’d pay handsomely for a jar!

  256. J.D. says 02 August 2008 at 07:22

    Dave said: JD, why do you refer to your estate as “Rosings Park.” I’ve noticed you use that term often over at Folded Space, and I’ve been curious about it for quite some time.

    Two reasons, both of them silly:

    1. Rosings Park is a location in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book that Kris and I (as lit geeks) both love. it’s the home of the pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and treated with great reverence by the obsequious Mr. Collins.

    2. When we moved in, the property had over 125 rose bushes. (We’ve since given away about half of these plants.)

    I’m not sure who suggested it first, but “Rosings Park” seemed like the perfect name, and it’s stuck!

  257. jeffrey strain says 02 August 2008 at 07:25

    Very jealous … not a whole lot of room to garden in Japan. We have a few spices and tomato plants on our balcony, but that’s about the extent…

  258. Lin Ennis says 02 August 2008 at 07:37

    Your produce prices are MUCH lower than I pay here in Sedona at the supermarkets – except possibly for the string beans. And “pints” of blueberries have dropped to 12, 10, and even 6 ounces! Cukes are often $1 each; corn this year is cheap when 4/$1 rather than the usual 10/$1 during its peak. Strawberries are usually $3.99 on sale, though some sales are 2/1.

    Having an acre to play with is wonderful. I’m so happy for your bounty and the fresh air and back-to-nature lifestyle it offers you! And all the BERRIES! Yay!

  259. Kris says 02 August 2008 at 09:08

    Lance, my tiny currant jelly supply is already spoken for, but I have found that currants are a delightfully easy crop to grow. They take practically no work, are simple to harvest and bear heavily. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of currants to make much of anything.

    Where do you live? I know some areas have problems with a virus called “white pine blister rust”, which causes minor problems for currants but is lethal for 5-needle pines. Currants are banned where these pines are grown for lumber. I thought it was only black currants that were banned, but some sources say all currants are forbidden. I got my plants from “One Green World” nursery. I wonder if you could grow a currant bush in a half-barrel….

  260. Funny about Money says 02 August 2008 at 11:31

    This is the best series on the web, or at least the PF part of the blogosphere. It’s very interesting. And the pictures are to die for. You should attach a “deliciousness” value to each harvest, to show the true value of the wonderful produce you’re growing.

  261. kitty says 02 August 2008 at 11:49

    I’d buy red currants and gooseberries from you… They are such a deficit here in the US, much as sour cherry is. Anybody knows why it is so? They are all over European markets and stores, but in the US you cannot get them anywhere but on a rare farm or farm market.

    I used to drive for 2 hours to a farm to pick up sour cherries, red currant and gooseberries, but passed on it this year – given the prices at the farm and the cost of gas, they might as well be golden.

    So does anybody has an explanation why there is such a deficit of these berries in the US?

  262. Another Kitty (God help us all) says 02 August 2008 at 13:47

    I wonder if you are also “tracking” the other benefits of this project – the satisfaction of being at least partially self-sustaining, the time you and your wife spend together tending the garden, the peace that comes with having your hands in the soil. I travel a great deal for extended periods for business but when I can, even if it is a tomato plant in a container, I try to garden. I have never tracked the time taken and money saved but I know how much it means to my state of mind to tend a living thing and get my hands in the soil. One year for instance I had a tomato crop that I swore ended up costing me about $7 per tomato however the joy I got from the process was worth every cent!

  263. [email protected] says 02 August 2008 at 15:17

    Those berries look good!

  264. alia says 02 August 2008 at 17:52

    recipes? please?

  265. Kristen says 02 August 2008 at 18:28

    Has anyone ever read “The $64 Tomato”?

    Interesting book!

  266. CarrieK says 02 August 2008 at 21:05

    I am fascinated by your garden report. I am an obsessed novice, working on getting my garden beds in before winter. Every heard of Square Food Gardening? Seems to take less time with great results. I’ve been frequently the u-picks near me and canning like crazy. I love Pomona Pectin, and I use honey instead of sugar with great results. Thanks for sharing!

  267. liz says 02 August 2008 at 22:50

    The raspberries at my folks’ house actually didn’t winter very well this year – we got some temperatures into the -50 w/ windchill, and almost all the plants that are usually good for that ‘zone’ that were along one side of their house died and didn’t come back, or they came back poorly. unfortuantetly that also included their massive patch of raspberry bushes… the ones that did come up were bitter.

    i think what they usually do in the fall is to wait for the plants to dry up a bit, and then cut down to the point just before they see ‘life’ or green… then let them be until spring.
    they do the same with their clematis as well – and it sprung back this year with a vengeance.

  268. Rich says 03 August 2008 at 05:13

    “Freezing grated zucchini”? That sounds like a good way to get rid of the stuff. But what do you use it for once grated? I’ve never frozen zucchini (courgette) before.

  269. Patrick says 03 August 2008 at 07:05

    LOL. I caught the Rosings Park reference right away. My wife and I love to watch the mini-series that was produced by A&E. (The one starring Colin Firth). Excellent adaptation. I confess I haven’t read the book since high school though, and I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

    My wife and I don’t have space for a garden so we tend to visit farmer’s markets on the weekends. I much prefer to buy local.

  270. Cheap Like Me says 03 August 2008 at 16:25

    Wow! Great post. I am lazily following your tallying instead of tallying my own efforts — it’s such a great idea.

    For those craving currants, I’d suggest contacting local u-pick places — that’s where we found ours last year. Great for freezer jam. I make it in the bread machine – soooo easy and nothing to heat up the kitchen.

    I think one of the great satisfactions is growing food you wouldn’t buy. Would you pay $6 a pound for snow peas? Yikes! But with your own garden, you can snack on them to your heart’s content …

  271. budding gardener, aka sarah says 03 August 2008 at 18:46

    your writing about personal finance has helped inspire me to get out of debt, and now this year long series about your garden is inspiring as well. I don’t have a place to garden at present, but would absolutely love to. My goal is to find a patch of land somewhere over the next few months to try something similar to this next year… Thanks for taking the time to write!

  272. Millioniare Facilitator says 04 August 2008 at 11:05

    I commend you on documenting your activities so thoroughly! This is a very interesting project.

    I couldn’t help but notice, though, that you don’t seem to be getting much financial renumeration for your time. In fact, based on the numbers you posted, if you take just your gross harvest amount of $349 and divide by total hours spent, 78, this amounts to about $4.47 per hour. If you account for your costs, so far you are losing money for every hour worked. That may change over the next couple months as you continue to harvest.

    I know that this wasn’t the point of the original post. But I susupect ultimately you may find you wind up in the hole.

    Obviously you enjoy gardening and that plays a role too. But I’d like to pose the question…what if, say instead of working on your own garden, started a business tending other people’s gardens? If you charged $10/hour and spent the same amount of time you’d have gross income of $780 doing something you enjoy anyway….and the expenses would be paid by your clients also.

    Just a thought!

  273. Cheska says 04 August 2008 at 12:44

    Lovely fruit! The TipNut blog has links to some free printables for canning-jar labels: Thought you might like them for your preserving/jamming purposes.

  274. Scott says 04 August 2008 at 12:56

    Would you have honestly purchased all of the food you are consuming? You would have otherwise purchased? Our garden produced 8 lbs of green beans, I ate them all, but wouldn’t have otherwise purchased this many. Therefore in this analysis I would have only counted the 2 lbs I would have bought.

  275. liz says 04 August 2008 at 15:13

    Any possibility Kris might share her bean pickling secrets/methods? I’m on green bean overload…

  276. Kris says 04 August 2008 at 17:35

    I love the reader questions on our gardening project! To answer a few: the food we get from the garden during the harvest season replaces foods we might otherwise buy. So, for example, I probably wouldn’t have purchased 12 pounds of cherries, but since I have them, I’m going to be taking cherries for lunch instead of buying bananas at the store. And by preserving and drying cherries for later, I spread out the savings throughout the year. Likewise, I wouldn’t want to keep up with the bean, zucchini and tomato crops when they’re in high production, by eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so I can them, freeze them, dry them, etc. I think food preservation is a must once your garden gets to a certain size, otherwise too much food can go to waste.

    The suggestion (#20) to forgo our own garden and go into the garden-care business for other people sends shivers down my spine! That would make it work! At the moment, gardening is not a chore, it’s a labor of love, and the delicious food is all the payment I desire.

    Here’s the recipe for my pickled beans. They usually get rave reviews (alas, not from Jd, who won’t eat green beans– isn’t he picky!) If you like them spicy, you can put a small red chile in each jar.

    Pickled Green Beans

    2 pounds fresh thin green beans, trimmed
    4 large cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
    4 tsp. dill seed, or 8 heads fresh dill blossom
    4 inch-long pieces of peeled fresh ginger root
    4 tsp salt
    2 ½ cups white vinegar
    2 ½ cups water
    Cut green beans to fit inside pint canning jars. This recipe makes 4 pint jars.

    Steam the green beans for about 3-5 minutes, until tender but still firm. Plunge into ice water and drain well. (this makes them a bit pliable so they’re easier to work with and also stops enzymatic action so they stay crispier)

    Place 1 clove garlic, 1 piece of ginger, 1 tsp salt and dill into each hot, sterilized jar. Pack beans in, trimming any that are a bit too tall.

    Heat together vinegar and water until boiling. Pour over beans, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims, add lids and bands. Discard any extra vinegar/water or save up to a week in the refrigerator for your next batch.

    Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Allow at least 3 months for the flavor to develop.

  277. Michele says 05 August 2008 at 08:05

    So jealous! Our garden rarely amounts to more than a 24-hour buffet for the wildlife–even with fencing.

  278. Sally Parrott Ashbrook says 12 August 2008 at 12:36

    That Kris is one hard-working lady!

    I’m envious of all the berries.

  279. No Debt Plan says 12 August 2008 at 13:03

    An inspiring spread of berries you have there! You or Kris need to share some berry recipes.

    We’re going to try a garden next year. I fear our brown thumb abilities (rather than green thumb).

  280. Karen says 21 August 2008 at 15:04

    Just f.y.i. re: poor raspberry crop. I have recently read that raspberry canes are biennial. Which means that they grow one year and produce the next. The best way to prune them is to prune the canes that have recently produced. I just planted a couple of raspberry bushes this year, so I haven’t yet put this information to practice.

  281. JDW says 22 August 2008 at 05:33

    I’d like to put in my two cents. I think that $300 as of May is about right. After talking to some of my local farmers about what they charge for their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, I think $300 sounds good. One organic farmer quoted me $450 for 18 weeks of veggies. That doesn’t include eggs. We have also been looking at our grocery bill and have decided that next year, we might enroll in the CSA because it will be about half the cost of the veggies we buy at the market. We also get fairly good prices at the farmer’s market.

    Keep up the good work. It will be great to see what your final tally is!

  282. Audrey says 25 August 2008 at 15:07

    When we talk about the “cost” of our food at the grocery store, we tend to think in the actual amount of money we shell out for that tomato. However, that’s not the “true cost” of our food. Farm subsidies and exploitation of cheap food and labor from developing countries hide the true cost of our food from us- essentially, we pay less than it really costs. In the short term, this might save us money… but the system is neither ethical nor sustainable. The price you pay for slightly cheaper, conventional food today means higher prices and less humane practices in the future! Your garden is like your retirement plan- hurts a little now, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure your future savings.

  283. Rich says 26 August 2008 at 06:31

    [More on the zucchini thread…]

    Do you need to blanche the grated zucchini before you freeze it? Some veggies have enzymes that cause them to deteriorate, even when frozen, don’t they? Or is grated zucchini OK?

    [Karen – I’m not sure biennial is the right term, but some raspberries, along with quite a few other fruit trees/bushes, fruit on the previous year’s growth, so it’s important not to prune off the new growth. Except for shaping, etc., when you are prepared to accept some loss of fruit for a longer term strategy. Note that this depends to some extent on your type of raspberries as some late croppers fruit on the growth from earlier in the current year.]

  284. Eric Bronson says 28 August 2008 at 05:22

    Your a real inspiration. I think this is an awesome idea. I’m going to try and do the same with my fall veggies. Just to see how things turn out. Thanks a million for sharing!

  285. Ken says 30 August 2008 at 05:16

    Everything looks great and really tasty on your August ag report!

    Who’s that creature napping in the birdbath?

  286. seawallrunner says 30 August 2008 at 06:37

    I love this series of blog posts, as I miss my garden very much so I am enjoying your efforts by proxy. A question JD – is it fair to include ‘picking time’ in your spreadsheet? Wouldn’t that time be equivalent to ‘shopping time’ at the supermarket?

    Keep up the great work you guys!!

  287. A. Dawn says 30 August 2008 at 06:47

    It’s good to see you are enjoying outdoor activities. Also, it is giving you an opportunity to “know thy neighbor.” I live in a condo and this is something I can’t do. It’s good to see all these nature-grown products and you are enjoying them fresh from the garden.
    A Dawn Journal

  288. Jon says 30 August 2008 at 07:24

    I live in an apartment and I’m thinking about starting an indoor garden. The startup costs are a bit different since you have to buy the right lighting equipment. I suspect the payback time would be extended quite a bit. However, by keeping it small and by using newer technologies like LED lighting, I’m hoping it won’t be too bad. Plus I’ll have all this fresh stuff to eat in the winter. 🙂

  289. Diatryma says 30 August 2008 at 07:29

    My peppers! They are peppering! Later than last year, but then, June didn’t happen– rain, rain, rain. Nothing grows without sun. It makes me so happy.

    Next year, I may well take over the patio at my work– nothing but sun and heat. Easy to dry things out, but there is a spigot and hose off to one side. Away from bugs, mostly. I could grow so many peppers….

  290. kilroi says 30 August 2008 at 08:22

    That blueberry price is per pint, not per pound, right?

    Also, fabulous fabulous fabulous. It’s just fun to pick your own food, and really realize what it means to have a tomato or potato or berry.

    Tangentially, my parents when I was young had these tomato plants that tried to take over the house. Hilarity ensued.

  291. Carolyn Heacock says 30 August 2008 at 09:12

    After many years of not gardening, my husband and I decided to plant a few tomato plants this year. We were motivated by the fact that my husband quit his job last December and for fun, we wanted to see if this was an easy, enjoyable way for us to get inexpensive produce. It’s been wonderful! On top of providing tomatoes every day, we also sold some at our garage sale, so we’ve come out way ahead. I’m already thinking about what to plant next year. Thanks for the great post!

  292. Frugal Wench says 30 August 2008 at 09:32

    I guess I could find this if I searched, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t been keeping up, but I would like to know what you consider “expenses” in your garden. Do you pay yourself for your time, because I’m finding some of your expenses a bit high for the time involved.

    I love gardening, and would do it anyway, so I don’t consider the time spent growing vegetables as money lost.

  293. Rachel says 30 August 2008 at 09:41

    I think you need to water your cat plant. He looks a little wilted. 😉

  294. Shawn says 30 August 2008 at 09:49

    I also love the blackberries at this time of year. Here in Bremerton, Washington, we actually have a Blackberry Festival going on this Labor Day Weekend. I’m definitely going.

  295. Kris says 30 August 2008 at 10:11

    JD, this is my favorite running series here. Keep up the good gardening work!

  296. J.D. says 30 August 2008 at 11:02

    @Frugal Wench
    I’ll summarize all of the expenses in the year-end post, but I do know that most of our expense has been on organic fertilizers and pest controls. In fact, a quick pass through old entries reveals we’ve paid at least $179 on such measures this year.

  297. Jane says 30 August 2008 at 11:34

    Do you include water usage in your expenses?

  298. Sara A. says 30 August 2008 at 12:25

    I am so jealous of your tomato haul. I have nurtured my poor tomato plants since March but they have put off less than 5 tomatoes the whole season. They are green and lush and have little flowers, but no tomatoes for months.

  299. deepali says 30 August 2008 at 16:16

    I love this series. Can’t wait for the reflection posts. I do agree with the poster above who suggested you take into account “shopping time” too.

  300. KED says 30 August 2008 at 17:44

    Love the post. We are on our third year with a patio garden…..tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beans. No luck with any squash. We also planted two small beds with sunflowers. We are thinking of tackling a winter garden for the first time.

    Other than the obvious benefits of adding freshly grown produce to the table I am also teaching my 5 & 14 year old alot …plus we are spending some great quality together! There is nothing like seeing the youngest run out to see what we can pick each day.

  301. Dana says 30 August 2008 at 22:33

    Your prices seem low to me. I am in Gresham and zuccini’s, for example, are $0.75 each.

  302. RetiredAt47 says 30 August 2008 at 23:57

    I’m a long-time gardener, too, with a hobby vegetable garden. I just want to add one thing that is not quantifiable – the incredible, unmatched taste of home-grown veggies straight from the garden to your plate.

    And do let us know who the handsome guy in the birdbath is!

  303. Ryan @ Smarter Wealth says 31 August 2008 at 05:42

    Gardening is a great way to save money. However, sometimes I feel that the effort you put in to gardening to get your own food is not nearly worth the return you get back.
    I feel you have to have a love for gardening and growing your own food in order for it to be worthwhile

  304. Effortless Abundance says 31 August 2008 at 05:48

    Living in Hong Kong, I miss having a garden – I always love going back to the UK and eating fresh produce from my parents’ garden.

  305. Regina says 31 August 2008 at 07:19

    Your garden project has inspired me to plan my own project next year. Thanks and great job.

  306. Peggy says 31 August 2008 at 08:06

    You can cost compare elderberry against cough and cold syrups if you use them. Elderberry has a long, rich history in boosting the immune system just as flu season approaches, as well as in relieving symptoms if you get hit anyway. This site: has some helpful information.

  307. Spiritwealth says 31 August 2008 at 10:54

    I was thinking, if most of your costs were in pesticides and fertilizers, and you got that back with food, then why do we spend that on lawns and get nothing back? Hmmm….

  308. J.D. says 31 August 2008 at 11:03

    Actually, I have a story that I’ll tell someday about my relationship with lawns. Short version: I used to be one of those anal-retentive lawn people. Then I realized that I was spending money on a frickin’ weed. Now I don’t spend money on fertilizer or water — only on mowing. My lawn is brown, and I don’t care. (My neighbors also have brown lawns. It’s a brown-lawn community.)

  309. Spiritwealth says 31 August 2008 at 11:33

    Can you imagine, J.D.? From a metaphysical viewpoint, what you cultivate on the outside is what grows within your spirit inside. So, what does that say about our civilization that we are so intent on wasting time, money, and effort for weeds?

  310. Kris says 31 August 2008 at 12:28

    To Sara A. @#14
    I wonder if this is a pollination problem. Do you see any bees around your garden? It may be too late for this year, but next year you can try hand-pollinating your tomatoes with a small paintbrush, just going from flower to flower like a bee. Another source of your woes could be too much nitrogen, which can lead to lush foliage but few fruits. Use a balanced fertilizer with all three numbers the same (or similar), like 10-10-10. This means the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are equal. Tomatoes also need plenty of calcium. Good luck!

  311. J.D. says 31 August 2008 at 12:31

    The handsome fellow in the birdbath is Max, our youngest cat. He’s our fourth child. Max is a meatball. (In fact, Kris calls him “meatball” as if that’s his name.) He’s a good-natured playful guy, always willing to lend a paw in the garden…

  312. Martacus says 31 August 2008 at 13:10

    It’s good to see your garden starting to pay for itself. One thing I’ve always felt about gardening, and why so many people don’t keep up with it, is the initial outlay can be discouraging. You put in hundreds of dollars for what seems like little or no return for months, and then, the eventual returns may not seem worth it to a lot of people. Maybe if more people kept track of their gardening investments/returns as you have here, they would keep at it a little better.

    It’s too late in the season for us to get started, but I do look forward to starting up a garden next year.

  313. slinky says 02 September 2008 at 10:37

    Completely off topic, but where did you get that cat picture? It looks almost exactly like mine (who we got at a shelter.) The only visible difference is that the white mark on the face looks like it’s in a different place.

  314. Micah says 04 September 2008 at 08:07

    Glad to see you enjoying the “fruits of your labor.” (Cheesy, but couldn’t resist.)

    We even got lucky once, we moved into a house in the fall. It had a garden out back and they forgot to harvest the potatoes. We had fun digging up the long row of forgotten potatoes.

    And I was spoiled growing up, the family garden always supplied us with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.

    Here’s a question for you JD. Doesn’t a homegrown tomato taste soooo much better than a store bought one?

  315. natalie says 04 September 2008 at 17:37

    Here’s an interesting article:

    Burpee did a grocery garden — 4,000 sq ft — and valued the produce at $20,000 and said that it would cost $4,000 to do such a garden. But, you would still be $16,000 ahead on your grocery bill.

  316. Sven says 22 September 2008 at 23:51

    Hey guys,

    I was just wondering if it would make sense to also factor in the value of the real estate of the patch of land used to do the gardening on. Here in The Netherlands, space is at a premium – frankly I’d have to move to have much of a veggie patch. So how about using some sort of factor for the average price of land per square foot/meter into the equation (possibly spread out over time)?

    Just a thought – I love the project!

  317. Sarah says 04 October 2008 at 05:28

    Thank you for tracking your garden and expenses. I, too, am hoping our garden will yield savings. I don’t want to give up on the dream of the Victory Garden of the 1940’s. Please keep tracking your endeavor on your website! Also, I am NOT a great gardener, but I have discovered in my area (MD) the agricultural extension office has master gardeners who offer great advice at no charge. I have already learned so much from them about what I was doing wrong — using free horse manure as fertilizer (never use horse manure it has too many weed seeds!) and in our region we can plant lettuce in the autumn for an early spring harvest (the seeds are intrepid).
    Thank you!

  318. Kevin says 04 October 2008 at 05:55

    I know your food plots not that large, but if you ever have an excess of vegetables or fruit, I think your local food bank would gladly take the some of the surplus.

    Plus it would be a good lesson for your kids.

  319. guinness416 says 04 October 2008 at 06:41

    This series is so great. What do you do with the elderberries? My mum used to make a preety passable homemade wine with them when I was a kid.

  320. nonskanse says 04 October 2008 at 07:06

    I totally want to apprentice to you and learn canning now.

  321. Johnny says 04 October 2008 at 07:10

    I’d say your garden has had kick-ass results (monetary or otherwise) even if you may not feel like it. You’ve got a direct connection to your food, the food is as fresh and wholesome as it can possibly be, and working in the garden does the body and soul good. All of those things have value far beyond the immediate monetary value. The money savings you did achieve is just icing on the cake!

  322. plonkee says 04 October 2008 at 07:13

    Did you make elderflower or elderberry cordial? That stuff is great.

    Looks like the value of your gardening time is in the region of $2.50 an hour. Which is pretty good for something you enjoy, and it’s a whole lot better than the money you make from comic collecting.

  323. My Daily Dollars says 04 October 2008 at 07:17

    You may be a bit disappointed, but it still looks like a great harvest. Have you considered calculating the cost of your canned goods? It seems like you’ll have more accurate snapshot of the money you’re saving if you take in account the cost of the store versions of salsa, applesauce, etc.

  324. Jan says 04 October 2008 at 07:17

    Do you know about fried green tomatoes? They are delicious! Here is a recipe from Southern Living (I made it tiny):

    This dish is a real treat. We moved from the Southwest to a “Deep South” state, and I had never had them before.

    So don’t despair if you end up with some green tomatoes.

  325. Jane says 04 October 2008 at 07:23

    Reading this already makes me sad that I didn’t grow tomatoes this year (couldn’t take it on after having a baby in May), especially since I won’t have delicious fried green tomatoes from the leftover unripe ones left on the vine in the Fall. I guess I’ll have to raid someone else’s garden (with permission, of course!).

  326. Valerie says 04 October 2008 at 07:30

    Consider factoring in the money you have saved in your ‘recreation/entertainment’ and ‘health’ budget columns.

  327. living on little says 04 October 2008 at 07:35

    If the tomatoes aren’t ripe before a frost, pick them, wrap them, individually, in newspaper. They will ripen slowly. Keep checking them to see that they are going bad. Setting them in a sunny window will often bring them ahead quickly. This way, unripened tomatoes can be used well after the season. -smile

  328. Ken says 04 October 2008 at 07:35

    There’s something missing here. Blaring TV commercials and cars honking.

  329. Susy says 04 October 2008 at 07:41

    I would be interested in knowing what kinds of pest traps you used on your apples. My mom and I have a small orchard and we’re looking into organic pest control options for worm free apples. It’s always nice to buy somethine that someone else has had success with!

    Great job on the gardening. I am also a hobby gardener and I love growing my own food. You should also calculate into your savings the amount of gas you save by not running to the grocery store. I haven’t been the grocery store all summer (that’s a big saver nowadays!).

  330. Charles says 04 October 2008 at 07:49

    I did a little deck garden this year, I hadn’t done it in a few years. I usually grow green peppers, just a couple of plants and I’ve got more peppers than I can handle. And chopped peppers freeze OK for a few months and keep me happy through the winter.
    But this year’s yield was very poor. I got off to a great start, I bought a seedling for $1.29, it had 2 plants in the pot so I carefully teased them apart and got two plants for the price of 1. I had the pots from previous years, and dirt and potting mix for free (surplus from a gardener friend) so my total investment was $1.29. I planted them early and they were blooming profusely, promising an early harvest, and with early fruits I can leave some on the plant until they turn red. But then it went all to hell.
    My landlord decided to renovate my deck, so I had to take the plants inside. The work crew tore off my deck, but then didn’t show up to replace it for over a week. So my plants went without sun for a week, and all the early buds dropped off. Then when the great Iowa flood hit, the worst of it was mere blocks from my house. My whole town was covered in polluted mud and mold. Most of the fruits that budded during the flood were full of mold and had dead spots by the time they got halfway ripe. The prolonged rains during the flood caused the fruits to grow small and stunted. I picked off most of them, to let the other good fruits grow.
    So I got a very poor yield, maybe 5 or 6 good peppers, instead of the 2 to 3 dozen I expected. But I’m not disappointed, I’ve got a few really great red peppers left on the plant, they usually cost about $1 each at the supermarket, so I’m way ahead of my $1.29 investment. And nothing beats cutting into a freshly picked pepper and smelling the scent, and feeling the juices burst forth.

  331. Chris says 04 October 2008 at 08:08

    jd, my grandpa has always had a garden. he’s nearly 80 and is in great health. he still operates a full time barber shop. point being that he attributes a large portion of his longevity to having always eaten fresh food from his garden. i wonder if there’s a way you could calculate the potential money you save on healthcare expenses by eating healthier food from your garden versus a grocery store. just a thought and you may have already covered this somewhere.

  332. brooklynchick says 04 October 2008 at 08:12

    As one of your urban readers, I love these updates – I would love to read a month-by-month update next season as well!

    Thanks also for the picture – it brightened up a cloudy morning!

  333. Alexa says 04 October 2008 at 08:12

    This is fabulous. However, I think that you may have underestimated the value that your garden produces. For example, if I want nice vine-ripened tomatoes from the grocery store I have to spend almost $3.99 per pound. I can’t usually get them cheaper by going to a farmer’s market because where I live they only seem to happen during times when I am at work. So, anyway your price comparisons seem a little under what I have to spend to buy the types of fruits and vegetables you have been growing.

  334. Andy says 04 October 2008 at 08:13

    >I almost want to repeat this entire project next year to see if we can spend less and harvest more!

    JD and Kris, I’ve really appreciated this series – thanks!

    I, for one, would be very interested in seeing you journal this again next year, both to see what adjustments you make based on this year’s experience, and how your “spend less and harvest more” results might change with that experience and this year’s sunk costs.

  335. Sara A. says 04 October 2008 at 08:17

    I always love reading about y’alls garden 🙂

  336. Bether says 04 October 2008 at 08:31

    Count me as another person who’s really enjoyed reading about your garden!

    We’ve had a similar low yield from our plain ol’ green cucumber plant (5 total, one that’s still on there; giving it a couple more days). But the lemon cucumbers! They just went NUTS. If you haven’t grown them before, I highly suggest them. They’re delicious and pretty.

    I also wanted to second what another reader said about bringing the green tomatoes in to ripen. We started our garden late, so we have probably a hundred or more green tomatoes on the vine. A few of them are ripening, but most won’t. Our horticulturist friend suggested just leaving them on until just before the first frost, then picking whatever we can and letting them ripen. You can also pickle green tomatoes and can them; I haven’t had them, but they’re apparently delicious. (As are the fried green ones…)

  337. Kris says 04 October 2008 at 09:12

    I add the elderberries to some of my applesauce batches. It makes a beautiful purple color! Typically, about 2 cups of elderberries for each 8 pounds of apples, added when I put them through the food mill. This means I can add less sugar because the berries lend a sweetness and tartness that complements the apple flavor. The apples and elderberries are typically ripe at the same time in late summer.

    For Susy @#13
    Here are the apple pest controls we used this year.
    Codling Moth pheromone trap:

    Apple maggot lures (economy red balls, lure & sticky coating):
    A neighbor taught us to wrap the red balls in clingwrap so we can just peel it away at the end of the season and reuse the balls next year. This same neighbor made his own by spray-painting styrofoam balls to look like apples.

  338. maya says 04 October 2008 at 09:52

    I love this feature on your blog – it’s very inspiring. We rent, but I’m going to ask the landlord if we can have a small garden next year.

    I would like to hear more about the organic pest traps for the apple trees.

  339. Sarah says 04 October 2008 at 10:13

    I love canning. We live in KC now, and have tried to grow stuff, but the bunnies don’t leave it alone. It worked great in Utah.

  340. Charlotte says 04 October 2008 at 10:44

    I also live in Oregon but had a decent harvest despite the short summer. I used a combination of the and traditional gardening. Not bad for a first-time gardener 🙂

  341. whitney says 04 October 2008 at 11:06

    Jane’s comment (#9) reminds me, just an fyi: If you want to start a garden next year, but for some reason won’t be able to do heavy yardwork in the spring, you can do all your soil prep in the fall and just leave it alone, maybe with a layer of mulch, until planting season comes around. Then all you have to do is the planting, which is super easy–you can do it sitting down.

    I had a baby in March, but was able to plant a garden a few weeks later because a lady at our local nursery had given me this tip. (Local nurseries are the BEST.)

  342. Richard says 04 October 2008 at 11:39

    This was our first year with a serious garden (ie. we actually weeded and watered this time).

    Is there anything you’ll be doing before winter to prep it for next year? I’m considering trying to get a load of manure or something and tilling it in so it can sit over the winter.


  343. Peggy says 04 October 2008 at 17:03

    Ooooh! You’re in the Willamette? I used to live in Sisters (growing season averaged about 90 days there) and miss the high desert something fierce. Here in the deep south, I could garden if I could stand the heat, but 90° 90% humidity doesn’t lend itself to garden work.

  344. DW says 04 October 2008 at 17:26

    You’re a little upset that your garden didn’t “kick ass” and you want better weather to improve your yield … ya know, gardening isn’t exactly a competitive sport. And good luck on getting the weather to bend to your specifications 😉

  345. A Non says 04 October 2008 at 18:24

    Just three words:
    Green tomato chutney

  346. Mrs darling says 04 October 2008 at 21:15

    Ive never thought too see exactly how much money we save or make from our garden. This year I lost 3.4 of my corn patch to the wind and rain. It all blew down just as it was beginning to tassle. It went on to grow ears of corn but they arent any good. Some of them are full of aphids and I dont have any aphids in the rest of my garden. The corn has been severly traumatized.

    I planted 16 tomato plants of various kinds. I have gotten 21 pints of ketchup and 25 pints of salsa from it. I have a bunch of orange ones ripening on the table and gobs of green ones in the garden.

    We pruned our fruit trees to late in the year and as a result lost most of our crop. But the neighbor let me have her apples so this weekend I canned 45 quarts of applesauce.

    The cucumbers in my garden just went to town. Off of just two pickling cucumber plants I made 51 pints of sweet pickles and bread and butter pickles. The rest I let go to seed.

    I have had 7 wonderful watermelon from that garden this year.

    I think I will keep a tally of time, cost and harvest. That intrigues me!

    Im going to look into the tomato chutney suggested above. I made peach chutney this year and its wonderful!

  347. JebDude says 04 October 2008 at 21:16

    For a little less work try ‘Square Foot Gardening’. I’m putting together frames this winter that will fit on our deck railings. That way the plants are out of reach of deer.


  348. meggan says 04 October 2008 at 22:09

    google farm girl foodie green tomato relish.
    it’s a fantastic alternative for a salsa verde enchilada, or just taco filling with a little shredded chicken thrown in…
    it saved our whole green tomato harvest last year.

  349. Dedra says 05 October 2008 at 06:44

    Any good suggestions on seed companies? We’ve been buying seed at our Home Depot, but would like more of a selection.

    I, too, have been enjoying the gardening series. I canned ketchup with our harvest this year and look forward to doing more next year.

  350. PizzaForADream says 05 October 2008 at 07:37

    Thanks for sharing. We started our own garden (if you call it that) this last spring and I’ve been disappointed with our results. It’s made me realize that I need to put alot more time, effort, and thought into putting something together that’s going to produce results. You know, now that I think about it, I don’t know why I’d expect a garden to be anything different than anything else in this regard?!!!

  351. Jims says 05 October 2008 at 07:50

    Elderberries grow wild around here (N. of Chicago). Grandma made elderberry pie. Grandpa’s favorite.

    Mom made and my wife and daughter make elderberry jelly. Mmmm.

    Dad warned about elderberry wine. Said its tasty and will leave you drunk fast. No personal experience here.

  352. Kate says 05 October 2008 at 11:57

    I think that under-valuing your produce too. I live in Georgia and apples are currently selling for about $2.49/lb. And they’re of very poor quality.

  353. Shirley says 05 October 2008 at 12:49

    Like the others, I’ve very much enjoyed reading your articles about your garden project. Love the pictures, too. We are in the woods, so I don’t see us ever having a garden. We have so little light, I don’t even have house plants and we have few flowers and bushes outside. However, I think the health benefits of eating produce grown in your own garden or locally are huge. Just recently I learned that the FDA is going to allow irradiation of spinach and iceberg lettuce. It seems this is the solution to the e coli issues where produce is grown in unsanitary conditions. Ugh. I don’t care how long they tell me irradiation of food is safe, I won’t believe it. (Almonds are already irradiated, even though they still show “raw” on the packaging.) Anyway, great job even wiht a slightly disappointing season. With gardening, every year will be different–that’s for sure.

  354. Em. says 05 October 2008 at 16:45

    1. I love this feature of your blog, the garden project. As a fellow gardener, I appreciate the ups and downs you write about, and am considering running a cost/benefit tally of my own garden next spring.

    2. You can pick your tomatoes green if you’d like, if there’s a risk of freezing or similar (I’m in Michigan, not Oregon) and put them in a paper grocery sack. Fold it over a few times, and in a few days they’ll be red as ripe can be. Not as amazing as red off the vine, but palatable in sauces and the like and no waste. 🙂

  355. Celia says 05 October 2008 at 16:58

    Dried elderberries are sold at about $9/8oz. They are an excellent medicine for coughs, or for nipping colds in the bud. I definitely recommend reading up on their herbal medicine aspect.

  356. CoolProducts says 06 October 2008 at 09:36

    Thank you for this post. My mother attempts to garden, and does a somewhat good job of growing different veggies. However, it seems that she invests quite a bit of time in her garden, and what she doesn’t lose to rot or animals does not seem to be enough to really offset the time investment..

    Maybe doing some form of tracking would be a good tool for her to use.. however, a lot of the reward is pride and joy of eating something that shes grown.. how do you put a value on that?

  357. Shara says 06 October 2008 at 14:21

    Re: Will rain effect grapes?

    I’m no horticulturist, but I remember a lecture from an entrepreneurship class:

    A wine maker was trying to increase the quality of his product so he could charge more and move into a different sphere of competition. A consultant looked at his operation and spoke to the manager of the grape growing about the grapes. The man said he was paid by the pound, so he allowed the grapes to ripen past peak. The grapes would get juicier on the vine and while the flavor would suffer he would have heavier grapes and a more profitable harvest. I don’t know if that has as much to do with rain as time but it is a tidbit I always found interesting both about grapes and knowing the process of your product and people’s motivations.

  358. Bubblebrain says 07 October 2008 at 06:14

    Re #33 source of seeds

    We use fedco seeds ( — good quality and they’re the least expensive source. They do their trials in Maine, so the seeds work well for our new england climate. They have the funkiest catalog as well. Johnnies selected seeds ( is the new england source with the best quality seeds, but they are pricier. High mowing seeds ( is one we look at occasionally, but it tends to be a specialty organic supplier with relatively small selection. Fedco has a much better choice for organic growers. These are all local new england companies, outside of NE, there are probably other suppliers with plants appropriate for your climate. I hear good things about Parks, but I don’t usually buy from them. Burpee seeds are good, but frightfully expensive. My parents buy seeds from them, but save seeds from year to year.

  359. Di says 07 October 2008 at 08:42

    I love these garden posts on GRS! I started my gardening project this year and have only just decided on the raised beds. It’ll be a slow process as I plan on doing it as cheaply as I can. I have grown and eaten my own veggies and fruit, and saved seeds for next year. I have to say the satisfaction and lessons learned far outweigh the costs!

  360. Heather says 07 October 2008 at 14:08

    I’ve really enjoyed hearing about your garden this year and I hope you’ll keep us updated next spring and summer, too! As another Oregonian, I’ve also enjoyed commiserating about the green tomatoes 😉

  361. Rachel says 08 October 2008 at 12:42

    Count me in as another lover of the garden-update posts who hopes you’ll do it again next year.

    As far as frugality goes–do y’all compost? Because if you do, I hear Starbucks gives out free coffee grounds to add to your pile. I haven’t tried this myself, being apartment-bound, but coffee is supposed to be pretty good for some plants.

  362. Michele says 08 October 2008 at 21:04

    We finally figured out that our garden is performing so poorly only because we’re starting it too late. Our peppers and eggplants are finally gearing up just now as we’re getting frost warnings. Our growing season is at least six weeks off from our old house, which is less than ten miles away!

    While driving the back way home from the store a few weeks ago, I noticed a “free manure” sign at a riding academy. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of that next year and seeing if it boosts output.

    DEDRA, here’s a great place to investigate seed companies, the Garden Watchdog:

  363. Cassander says 12 October 2008 at 05:24

    Tsk! No leafy greens. In your climate, you could have them fresh all year long.

  364. Darren says 21 October 2008 at 09:16

    Two money-saving tips:

    1. Some fruits and vegetables can easily support being “seeded” — that is, having the seeds prepped for next year’s planting. In some cases, this doesn’t work (like with hybrid tomatoes). Some research is required.

    2. Consider giving up “organic” as a goal. Yes, it tastes better. No, it’s not necessarily better for the environment, and there’s no real evidence that it’s better for health either. Organic pesticides, for example, are very expensive and not biodegradable — modern pesticides are all biodegradable; and if care is taken to wash the vegetables before ingestion, harmless. Organic fertilizers are not much more expensive, and IMO contribute to better-tasting yields. I’m not aware of any problems with using them either.

    I also noted that some of your costs this year were either one-time costs, or at least costs that can be spread over multiple seasons. The starter-pots and the soaker hose, for example, will work again next year.

  365. Chris de Vidal says 24 October 2008 at 02:45

    GREAT idea! Everyone always seems to assume that gardening saves
    oodles of money without giving some hard figures. THANK YOU for
    posting your numbers.

    1.) How big is your garden?
    2.) Have you considered growing mostly bang-for-buck crops like
    tomatoes and herbs?
    3.) What do you know about

  366. Chris de Vidal says 26 October 2008 at 01:07

    I emailed JD directly and got this reply:
    1.) Our herb garden is an irregular area roughly 5′ x 10′, or 50 square feet.

    Our grapes are in 24 linear feet of space, about 4 feet wide. The caneberries have a similar run.

    Our berries and vegetables share about 625 square feet of space, of which 500 square feet belongs to the veggies.

    2.) While we’re not going to grow *mostly* bang-for-buck crops, we’re well-aware of them. Our year-end summary (which Kris and I have already begun to write) will stress this aspect of gardening heavily. Bang-for-buck crops and crops you enjoy — that’s what gardeners should focus on.

    3.) I don’t know about, but I’ll look it up!

    On point 3, I replied:
    I haven’t seen any direct comparisons to Square Foot Gardening but one of your blog readers said the SFG author learned from Dr. Jacob Mittleider. From what I’ve seen, it’s far better than SFG. I definitely want to try it soon.

    Two short summaries:

    Can’t wait to read your final article for the GRS garden project!

  367. Bill Canaday says 30 October 2008 at 12:41

    JD, I noticed that you are pricing your produce as it comes from the garden and comparing it to other in-season local produce prices. But you are eating much of it OUT of season.

    I think that you are selling yourself short.

  368. Maha says 01 November 2008 at 07:58

    I was wondering if you could suggest a book on gardening or direct me to an article of yours that might point me in the right direction. I’m a complete novice to gardening, don’t understand composting and how to use it, don’t understand the variations on fertilizers (ratios of chemicals, etc), how much planting would yield a good sized harvest (i.e. more food than for just snacking or a small salad) and have no idea what needs how much sun or would grow in the shade. I’d like to start a small garden for next year, but don’t know where to start. Our yard has really shady areas and sunny areas, so I have no idea how to plan for that. I’d also like to learn tricks of the trade, if there’s such a thing, like cutting a potato and putting it in the ground to grow more (that’s probably common knowledge to most people, but not me!). I also need to learn frequency of watering, keeping birds and bugs away and anything else that’ll help me have a successful garden. Thanks!

  369. Chris de Vidal says 01 November 2008 at 08:24

    The author of this blog recommends Square-Foot Gardening:

    I also am a complete novice, but it appears that the Mittleider method may be even better than SFG. I am eager to try it next year and blog my results. Look just two posts above on the links about Mittleider.

    If you’re not sure, try both side-by-side and see which gets better results.

  370. Chris de Vidal says 01 November 2008 at 08:26

    That is, look at my comments two comments ago. Here is a direct link:

  371. Pat with SPI says 02 November 2008 at 02:09

    Hi J.D.

    I’m so jealous that you have space to garden. I live in southern California and the houses are so close together, that there is really no room to grow anything but grass and maybe a palm tree.


  372. Andy @ Retire at 40 says 02 November 2008 at 03:50

    Those figures are impressive. Especially since you don’t seem to have had to spend too much time each month. I have always found I had to do quite a few more hours than you’ve posted so I may have to go and review my techniques.

  373. James says 02 November 2008 at 04:09

    I loved the whole series of garden updates. I live in South Carolina and it was interesting to compare your garden season to mine. Actually now I’m on my third planting this year. It’s only fall crops of cabbages, cauliflower & broccoli but the garden is still growing. One thing you should think about trying as you’re cleaning up is planting some garlic! It’s cheap. You can use the stuff you buy at the grocery store or buy it from a seed catalog or from another garlic farmer. They plant just like any other bulb and once they’re in the ground they require very little to maintain. Save a little space for them now and by summertime you’ll have more garlic than you know what to do with!

    Keep up the good work!

  374. Barb says 02 November 2008 at 07:17

    I noticed you referenced the “no-knead” bread recipe. It has been updated with a quick “no-knead” recipe, and improved upon by a reader so now it takes 4 hours to rise, and you pop the dough in a cold oven and set it on 400 to preheat, taking the lid off after 30 minutes. 5 hours to perfect bread. I used potato water from cooking quartered potatoes for mashed p’s, slightly warmed and the bread tasted like I had bought it at an upscale bakery. Now if only I could get my tomatoes to grow. I bought earthboxes to use in my urban garden and cucumbers and beans were great, but no tomatoes!

  375. Peggy says 02 November 2008 at 07:27

    JD, while doing research for next year, be sure you look into “companion planting.” Doing things like planting the corn next to the cucumbers and far from the tomatoes will help both harvests along. It will also reduce bad bugs and encourage good bugs.

    I’m a tad envious. I have the space but not the physical ability. I’ve always wanted a hobby garden, but I guess for now my Aerogarden will have to suffice.

  376. Diatryma says 02 November 2008 at 07:47

    I think your garden is bigger than my house.

  377. SK says 02 November 2008 at 08:08

    JD – I know you’ve probably posted a link about this before, but do you have a resource in terms of how to store all of your excess produce? I know how to can tomatoes, but short of having a ton of pickles, what are some ways to store cucumbers? Or carrots?

    Thanks! Keep up the good work!

  378. Kim Cornman says 02 November 2008 at 09:11

    JD, I have looked forward to the Garden Project each month.

    When I was a child, we knew someone who bedded their horses w/ wood shavings. Each February we would spread a couple truckloads of this manure/shavings on our garden, where it would steam for a few days. As we planted the garden, this would get turned over, and one of the nicest things was that the drier shavings would float to the top, creating a soft mulch. You could walk in the damp garden barefoot and come away w/ pretty clean feet! Also, of course, the benefits of fewer weeds! (We lived in Tacoma, WA, so water really wasn’t an issue.)

    Anyway, just wanted to share. Thanks again for all your great work on this blog. I really enjoy it.

  379. Tim says 02 November 2008 at 09:47

    I was thinking about a different aspect to the money you saved with your garden. Your 54 hours gardening likely resulted in overall better personal health. Plus doing something like gardening for fun can replace other activities that actually cost money…ie movies and sporting activities.

  380. Kris says 02 November 2008 at 10:30

    To SK @#7
    We try to plan the garden in such a way that our crop matches our food projects. Last year was a big pickling year for me, so I planted tons of cucumbers and pickled many quarts. This year, we’re still set for pickles, so my cucumbers were just for salads. I don’t know of anyway to long-term store fresh cukes! For carrots, a root cellar was the trick for decades. I have seen people write about storing carrots and other root vegetables for months in a box of sand. But really, whole, clean carrots will keep for a couple months in your crisper drawer in the fridge (wrap in a plastic bag), or if you are going to use them for soup or casseroles, go ahead and chop them and freeze them now for later use.

    We pretty much use whatever we harvest, but if I ever feel overwhelmed, I take the excess to work or the neighbors. It’s always appreciated.

  381. Adam says 02 November 2008 at 10:34

    I think these are a quite interesting series of articles. I wonder though, would this really be cost efficient at all if it was done on a large scale? Wouldn’t that raise the price of seeds, dirt, equipment, etc substantially?

    What I mean is, does this sort of thing only work so long as very few other people take advantage of it as well?

  382. Mary says 02 November 2008 at 10:48

    JD and Kris,
    I would love to get any tips you have on growing an herb garden from seed. My husband and I used to live in an apartment, and in the interest of saving money to eventually buy a house, we have moved in with my mom, and now I actually have space for a garden! We are also interested in getting a couple of chickens. Downside is I have no idea what I’m doing, so any tips would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for a fantastic blog!

  383. J.D. says 02 November 2008 at 10:53

    Adam, that’s an interesting thought, but I’m not sure it’s a real concern. Gardens used to be a lot more common than they are today, and I’ve never read anything about their prevalance causing increased prices (though I’m sure it is possible).

    My own gut feeling is that if more people gardened, prices would actually decrease on some items.

    For example, when we order our garden seeds, we often consult with our friends who garden. We try not to overlap, which allows our little group to swap certain seeds, saving everyone money. Similarly, some of us have rototillers — others don’t. If all of our neighbors gardened, we could swap equipment around during the season, saving each other money.

    Interesting question.

  384. Squawkfox says 02 November 2008 at 11:18

    This is an interesting study. Since moving to my husband’s 650 acre organic family ranch 3 years ago I must admit your garden seems the perfect size. The larger the garden gets the more expensive (in my experience). Especially when you factor in the costs of farm equipment, mechanical repairs, irrigation, and fuel. The satisfaction of eating one’s own food is immeasurable though. 😉

  385. Kristi Wachter says 02 November 2008 at 12:29

    I bet if you had actually bought your herbs, they would have cost even more than $25. I find it hard to use up a whole packet or bunch of store-bought herbs, and I usually end up throwing some away. I’ve always thought one of the great things about growing your own must be the ability to go pick a single sprig when that’s all you need.

  386. Jenzer says 02 November 2008 at 12:31

    I’d love to hear your plans for weed suppression with the horse manure. My in-laws gave me a barrelful a few years back, which I used to amend my bird/butterfly garden. By August that year, I had a nice crop of oats and timothy to go with the sunflowers and rudbeckia. :p The birds loved it, so I let it be, but I’ve been hesitant to use manure in other areas where aesthetics are more important (like the front of the house).

  387. Chris says 02 November 2008 at 13:10

    This is in comment to the horse manure. I have put cow manure on my garden for over 5 years now and while I do have some weeds, these are easily controlled with hand weeding and putting newspaper between the rows with straw on top to hold it down. The newspaper keeps the weeds from growing through (generally) and helps with the maintenance of weeding.

    Personally, I enjoy the alone time in the garden weeding. For some reason, my kids don’t like to bother me when weeding (perhaps because I will put them to work). I think the manure is worth the extra effort of weeding.

  388. Chris de Vidal says 02 November 2008 at 13:42

    J.D., I would be very interested to see what youre results would be if you tried a section of the garden alongside your regularly-grown garden. I may try the same and blog my results. They seem to be able to grow shockingly large organic gardens in any soil. It seems Dr. Mittleider broke all the rules of growing. My manuals should come this week and I’m eager to pore over them.

  389. Chris says 02 November 2008 at 14:45

    The differences in size are absolutely crazy. Just finished looking at houses in Baltimore that had square footages similar to your garden, and someone posted owning 650 acres. Man I would be in trouble on the east if I didn’t like hanging around a lot of people constantly.

  390. Bill Canaday says 02 November 2008 at 17:25

    Maha, the most important thing for us to know is where you live. That answer changes all the others. It changes how composting is done and how it is applied. It changes what you can plant … or not. It changes the watering frequency and the sort of structures (or not) that might be advisable for your particular garden.

    Also, what you might enjoy the taste of may vary quite a bit from what we enjoy. Beans and tomatoes will grow almost anywhere and are easy to begin with. If you are in a hot climate you might plant lettuces in the shadier spots, in a cooler climate you might choose to put them in full sun.

    Location, location, location!

    Best bet? Ask around and find a local gardener, preferably an organic gardener (but don’t be too fussy at first) … start somewhere and move ahead as you are able.

  391. Dana says 02 November 2008 at 21:00

    You are absolutely right about the economics of herb-growing. Not only is it cheaper to grow them at home, you get better herbs.

    When I was married back in the mid-nineties, we attended an herb fair in downtown Savannah, at which I purchased several plants, including a baby bay tree. That little stick and three leaves grew into a small bush over the next four years. I was amazed at how pretty it was. You know how bay leaves in the grocery store are small and light green in color? These leaves were at least two and a half inches long, usually three, and dark green and glossy. When I pruned the tree the air around it exploded in bay scent. Good old regular Laurus nobilis. I can’t imagine how long the leaves in the grocery store have been sitting in storage. I’d guess maybe two years or more.

    I experienced similar results with the other herbs I grew. The difference in color, scent, taste, and quality were just astounding.

    If you’re buying it in the grocery store, you’re being ripped off. Even if it’s a dollar a bottle on clearance. Perhaps especially then.

  392. Karl says 02 November 2008 at 21:01

    Hey, JD, I know that you’re an experienced organic gardener … but I want to throw out a reminder for everyone ELSE that manure (the real, raw, smelly stuff that JD just put down) can allow harmful-to-humans bacteria to get into your food supply. The stuff you can buy from landscaping stores has been sterilized to prevent stupid city slickers like me from screwing up.

  393. Dana says 02 November 2008 at 21:03

    Adam: Growing open-pollinated plants and saving seed from year to year sort of cancels out the whole threat of the price of seeds going up. I still have not learned how to save seed and I hope to do so someday.

    Oh, I forgot. Compost. There’s a nifty gadget you can get now, sort of an indoor compost cooker, and it’s electric but uses very little power. But it heats your kitchen scraps to just the right temperature to let you compost *everything* leftover, even meat and dairy.

    Presto… free fertilizer, and way better for you in the end. I believe it was U of Calif. at Davis where they tested organic veggies versus conventionally fertilized, and the organic were more nutritious across the board. Only stands to reason: the native fare of plants all over the world is what’s left over of the rotting remains of other living things.

    And I see someone’s written about manure. Here’s a tip: You should not be using raw manure anyway, whether or not it’s got bad germs in it. Organic farmers always rot manure down before they use it because the fresh stuff burns plants. Think about what dog doo does to your lawn if you leave it on the grass and you’ll get the idea.

    What’s put E. coli on organic produce in the past several years has not been the fertilizer that organic farmers use, but runoff from cattle feedlots, where cows’ GI tracts are irritated by the grain they eat and they are more susceptible to virulent strains of E. coli.

  394. Dana says 02 November 2008 at 21:12

    OK, OMG, I’m sorry about all the comments. Now a thought about food preservation. I recently checked Sally Fallon’s and Mary Enig’s book Nourishing Traditions out of the library. I do not fall in lockstep with every single thing in that book, but I am fascinated by what I’ve learned about using lacto-bacteria for food preservation. For instance, instead of using vinegar to make sauerkraut, one would use whey. I was in a store recently where they stocked traditional sauerkraut and, curious, I checked the ingredient list. Sure enough, it was whey-based and not vinegar-based. Wow.

    Apparently a sort of simultaneous pre-digestion AND preservation goes on that leaves the vegetables in a fit state for consumption for far longer than they’d last even in a root cellar. You also get more nutritional benefit–more bang for your buck or return for your effort, as it were.

    I want to own the book soonish and start experimenting with this stuff myself. I’ve already obtained kefir grains through a listing on Freecycle, and I want to play around with piima next, since that’s one method of obtaining whey. I’ve always hated pickles but I’m curious to know whether it was the vinegar turning me off and whether I’d like lacto-fermented stuff better. I already know I like sour cream and can stand to eat plain yogurt so… we’ll see.

    But, if you like pickling, the book’s worth checking out and there’s your answer for how to keep scads and scads of produce. A root cellar may not be practical for some people, especially if they have cats. 🙁

  395. Maha says 02 November 2008 at 22:31

    Thank you Chris and Bill for your input. I started reading some of the links and found a tutorial, but I must say…I’m gonna need the book! I think it might wind up on my xmas wish list. As for location, I live near Sacramento, CA, so the summers are dry, and the temps get into the 90’s. We’ll have heat waves into the one hundreds. Our back yard has spots that get lots of sun, so I’m eyeing those areas to start. Talking to others in the area is a great suggestion, and will do so after I do a bit more research so I can ask intelligent questions. I’m looking at three areas in my back yard that would fit about a 2×3 feet bed each. I’d like to start with tomatoes, green beans, carrots, strawberries and lettuce. That might be a bit ambitious for a first go, so I’ll have to wait and see what makes sense.

  396. Kris B. says 03 November 2008 at 01:41

    I miss my garden! Yours is so inspiring!

  397. Chris de Vidal says 03 November 2008 at 06:38

    The books are inexpensive because they have a .pdf download version of some of them (not every book though). Fortunately, the tutorial on the website gives you 1/2 of the “6 Steps” book — which is very generous of them. (They’re non-profit.)

    I personally ordered the Library CD which has *every* book, even those not in .pdf format, for $70. Also ordered the Garden Wizard which is planning software for $13. Those are bargains.

    You may find that tomatoes and green beans are good starter plants for brown thumbs like us (it’s my first time, too!). I’m only going to focus on tomatoes since they’re good cash crops and seem to be easy, according to what I’ve been reading. Start easy, get encouraged by what you find and then branch out into the harder stuff like lettuce, carrots and strawberries.

    Oh, and do us a favor and track your hours+expenses, take pictures and give us your candid opinion so that the world can benefit. Do you have a blog? If not, you can set up a free one on BlogSpot 🙂

  398. deepali says 03 November 2008 at 09:09

    This is my favorite post of the month. While some people think gardening is “stupid”, I think there is a whole quality of life big picture that is being missed. It isn’t just about saving money (though that is a focus of your blog), it’s also about your health, your connection to the earth, etc. And I think part of what drives us to consumerism excess is a disconnectedness from the world around us. Getting in touch with something as basic as what we put in our bodies gives us tremendous insight into our needs as well.

  399. Justin says 03 November 2008 at 09:40

    Such a productive garden! Living in an apartment for all my life, I’m jealous. My “garden” consists of several potted succulents and a potted rosemary. My basil and jalapenos died last winter and I haven’t replaced them yet. I’m going to be getting some chocolate mint this weekend, which I’m excited about.

    Be sure to plug that indoor grow light into a kill-o-watt meter to add it to the costs!

  400. Maha says 03 November 2008 at 10:04

    A blog, huh? I’ll think about that. It might be a good way for me to commit to this gardening project. I have a tendency to get really excited about a project and stop half way through. But I’ve been thinking about gardening for a couple of years (I even invested in an aerogarden this year…what a waste of money!). So, maybe I will. I’ll post back here if I decide to do that. Thanks again for all the support!

  401. Bill Canaday says 03 November 2008 at 11:03

    I have a very close friend in Sac … she lives near the Executive airport. In fact, I owe her a visit. Or two.

    In the early spring, interplant your lettuce with something that can take more heat. Later on, as the lettuce goes to seed, cut it off at ground level and let the other plant have the room and provide some shade. (Let the soil keep the roots. If they grow back, good. If not, also good.)

    On my blog I have pages devoted to slug control and raised bed gardening. You are welcome to browse them if you wish. I am working on two more planting guides which should be ready by Friday.

    The blog is sort of sparse right now, but the plan is to flesh it out over the winter.

    Tomatoes are easy; but plan on keeping the soil moist. A heavy mulch and frequent watering can make the difference between gorgeous fruits and ugly, split orbs with black on the blossom end.

    TIP: when planting tomatoes or peppers, put a couple calcium tablets in the ground for each plant, too. The black spot is a calcium deficiency. Just get the cheapest variety of nutritional supplement at the cheapest local store. Don’t dissolve them first, let the soil moisture do that slowly … in tune with the plants’ need for it.

  402. Maha says 03 November 2008 at 11:44

    That’s a cool tip, Bill. Thanks. My library has the SQF Gardening book on the shelf, so I’ll pick it up today. If it looks like something I can follow, I’ll buy my own copy. I also subscribed to your blog – now I know what all those coffee grounds collectors use the grounds for!

  403. Ben says 03 November 2008 at 11:46

    I’d recommend scraping that horse manure off your garden and getting some cow manure instead or just till in leaves from your trees. Both cows are horses digest (or perhaps I should say don’t digest) plant matter like seed about the same. The difference is that most cows each grains or 99% weed free hay/alfaha but horses get more of their feed from grazing. This means horse manure is usually (this might not be the case if the person you got the manure from doesn’t have much room to graze) packed full of weed seeds. I found out the hard way that using horse manure in the fall causes an explosion of weeds the following spring and summer.

  404. Miss M says 03 November 2008 at 12:31

    Your garden is bigger than my house I think! I’ve got a small garden on my urban lot in Los Angeles, maybe 100 sq ft. It doesn’t produce a ton and small space gardening amplifies some of the problems (pests, disease etc), but it’s a nice hobby and we enjoy the produce. I do garden organically but that’s also cause I have pets and I don’t want them getting sick licking a pesticide covered plant.

  405. connie says 03 November 2008 at 12:54

    did you calculate the hours you invested of your own time into your garden?? when calculating the cost of the garden, you really should calcluate your own time especially since you are saying you are saving x amount.

    I know you garden for fun, but this article is about profit..

  406. Steph says 03 November 2008 at 13:37

    To everyone with small yards: there are so many ways to sneak vegetables into your landscape. We’ve got about 0.14 acres, and have a house, garage, driveway and patio taking up 60%-ish of the space. The back yard (North side of the house) gets little sun and is on a hill so planting veggies is a challenge. We address that by having our fruit trees (peach, lemon, and lime) on the hillside and have a 10′ x 20′ plot back there that gets full sun for 3 months and partial for another 3 and that’s all we can do in the traditional garden areas. However, we’ve got perennial herbs along the front walk, containers on the patio get planted with vegetables rather than annuals for color (eggplants have the prettiest flowers!), and the front yard is slowly being converted to vegetables, too.

    At first I was wary about the response from neighbors to winter squash in my flower bed last year, but I got so many positive comments that I planted another corner with corn this year and grew onions and garlic in the first flower bed. For next year I’m considering removing the front lawn (about 10′ x 10′) and planting tomatoes and peppers. Some neighbors have asked if I’m worried about people stealing the produce, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    By continuing to expand into every available bit of dirt and sunlight, I’m hoping that within 2 years I’ll be growing at least half of our produce for the year.

  407. T says 03 November 2008 at 15:54

    Ther are a lot of ‘small space gardening’ tricks that you can use to reduce the amount of ‘bad’ and increase ‘good’ things (even yields) that go on in a typical garden. Intercropping, companion planting, container gardening, vertical gardening, succession planting, year round gardening and so much more. I have a very small space that I use for growing vegetables and will usually plant a low growing plant with a medium hight or vining plant and a tall growning plant in the same bed at almost the same time. For example (this is a native american trick I learned from another blog – I wish I could remember the url cuz I would deffinately share it!) I plant a corn variety pack (with different maturity dates) first and when they are mature enough and the soil has warmed enough, the beans and the squash go in (I usually plant my jack-o-lanterns here). I don’t plant them like I would if they were growing all by themselves because that is asking for trouble, I reduce the number of plants for each type so they get enough sunlight and air circulation. You might try it and see if it works for you… Same with Tomatoes and Carrots, if I didn’t have the carrots growing in between the tomatoes, I wouldn’t get any carrots because I don’t have enough space to dedicate to just carrots when other vegies have a more important roll for my family. This has allowed me to grow things that my family has never tried before (like purple carrots – yummm) and still have all the things we know we like. I even got my kids to like certain vegies out of the garden that they swore they hated when it came from a can or frozen in a bag or even from the produce section at the grocery store!
    Happy gardening!

  408. Ethel says 04 November 2008 at 11:57

    Neat – you made about $11.20 an hour doing something you love! Viewed from the perspective of earning money / frugality, that’s better than some things and worse than others. I would struggle to save as much money per hour by clipping coupons and looking for good sales. Viewed from the “job” perspective, that’s a pretty lousy income. Viewed from the hobby / having fun perspective, that’s a great value!

    I did one garden patch too late in the year to get anything out of it this year, but I got the experience to try again next year. Next year I’m planting tomatoes, peppers, onions, and maybe garlic and basil (depending on how space works out) in the small patch outside our kitchen window, plus I’m putting squash and a potato pile in the back corner of our property. We might also prepare our front yard to be turned into a garden next year.

  409. Jay says 04 November 2008 at 12:31

    Well, net of expenses it was really a bit more than $5.34/hour, still, being “paid” any amount to do something you enjoy just doubles the fun in my experience 🙂

    Have a look at “Square foot gardening” if you are interested in increasing your yields in small spaces.

  410. David says 05 November 2008 at 18:48

    Props to you for gardening. My first attempt in the Georgia clay failed for the most part this year, although I did discover that hot peppers, rose mary, and oregeno thrive without any attention, even water during a drought.

    I’ll keep adjusting my garden menu to find what works, then buy the rest fresh from road side vendors. The best of both worlds.

  411. Mrs. Accountability says 09 November 2008 at 13:22

    This has been a fascinating series. I hope you continue it next year; I love reading about your progress! In Arizona, we’re just getting started with gardening as our mild winters are the most prolific time of year. Check into Pinetree Seeds for your seeds. Inexpensive, and the shipping costs are good. Very economical, my FAVORITE seed catalog. I just love looking over the descriptions and pictures from Pinetree.

  412. Marcia says 12 November 2008 at 12:37

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your updates now and again. I live on a small city lot in So. Cal – 5227 sq feet. So your garden seems large – but I grew up on an acre – in that respect, it seems just right.

    We don’t do any gardening currently, but I do have plans to do square-foot gardening. Step 1: start composting. Step 2: build two small square-foot plots, and build from there. Step 3: consider planting an avocado tree.

    Hopefully I can get motivated to DO it. With lots of projects around the house, a part-time job, and a 2-year old, it’s tough.

    Now I have to go google the “quick no-knead bread” recipe that someone else mentioned…

  413. Josh says 20 November 2008 at 08:40

    To Chris de Vidal: My grandparents introduced me to Dr. Mittleider when I was growing up. It really does work. My grandfather pulled out I would guess somewhere around 2-300 pounds of tomatotes from a 5×5 plot with only 15-16 plants. The larger tomatoes weighed in at a wopping 4-5lbs and were big enough to make at least 4-5 nice size tomatoe sandwiches. It was quite impressive. And the planter was on a paved backyard by a pool. 6″ deep. He had another that was only 2×5 that he used for zucchini and we could not eat the stuff fast enough.

    I have since used it here in North Carolina and it really does work. It allows me to grow more in less space which is really really nice.

    Definitly worth looking into if you are looking for ways to increase yield out of a container garden. For my family I can plant just 2 tomatoe plants to keep us going all summer.

    I have really enjoyed these posts as I have always wondered how much I really do save. I think I need to hit up some herbs too.

    Keep the posts coming…

  414. ~M says 22 November 2008 at 09:39

    I am not an experienced gardener by any means… and I am not patient in the least bit. I like to do the “simple” fruits and vegetables that require less work and produce throughout the season.

    For instance: zucchini, tomatoes (Roma & other varieties), greenbeans, soybeans(edemame (sp?)) in several batches throughout the season, strawberries and red raspberries. Everything can be started as as seeds in mid-April under a grow lamp in the closet. .

    Next year, we will be planting 3 year concord & niagara grapes, and possibly a blackberry bush or two.

    As I look outside, it is snowing. I am dreaming of Spring already, and this is our first week of snow! 🙂


  415. Bell says 23 November 2008 at 21:37

    I am so glad to read the summary for the year. I’ve been really anxiously waiting to see if it would ‘pay off’ for you. I live in Colorado and have had this perenial guilt about not growing a garden. I was very curious as to how your costs would measure up – especially since for me to grow a garden here – most costs as well as labor would be significantly higher. To me – 5.34 an hour is decidedly not worth the effort, and since I would expect my water costs to probably double the fixed costs, 2.68ish an hour is even more not worth it 🙂 I applaud you for your efforts and understand that your vegetables are most likely much better than anything I buy at the grocery store, but I’m now completely free of any guilt, or any notions that a garden would be better for my bottom line. thanks – love the blog

  416. Chris says 30 November 2008 at 14:18

    I’m glad you are going to continue providing updates on your garden project next year! I’ve always found them to be very interesting and it has provided me with a few ideas for my own garden.

  417. Sara says 30 November 2008 at 15:19

    You might like to know that organic dried elderberries sell for about $20 a pound. I don’t know how many pounds that would equate to if fresh, though.

  418. Bobbi says 30 November 2008 at 16:02

    Don’t take out those blueberries!!! See if any of the new types will graft onto that older stock,and in the meantime, just keep growing as much as you can. Of course over years you will realize so much more in fruit-profit; there are trades to make at work, and with neighbors. Gardening, besides saving money is great to help clear the mind, and you will be healthier all the way around. I enjoy the blogging, keep it up.

  419. Sheila says 30 November 2008 at 16:45

    As a gardener, I really enjoyed reading this. I was living in the Willamette Valley until 9/15 when we moved to Idaho. I had to leave behind my loaded tomato plants that were just about ripe (it took forever this year!), my squash that were just starting to get big enough, my beets (I had a heck of a time growing beets in the Willamette Valley), and the rest of the green beans. I got a wonderful crop of snow peas that I froze plus I was able to freeze a bunch of green and yellow beans before I left. We are renting our house out so the renters got the rest of the haul. I have no idea if my eggplant ever produced, and I got two tiny peppers off two plants–that was a complete bust. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten around to putting in fruit trees and berry bushes as was my original plan because I prefer to reap the benefits of my hard work instead of the renters.

  420. KS says 30 November 2008 at 16:52

    You’ve calculated your savings based on what the produce would have cost to purchase at your local farmers market – but since you have included the time you spent working on the garden, you should also account for the time you would have spent at the farmers’ market (don’t forget travel time). Or do you routinely go to the market anyway so there is no time saving?

  421. Andy @ Retire at 40 says 30 November 2008 at 16:55

    Of course, one of the other enjoyments of being a hobby gardener is the sense of wellbeing and enjoyment actually doing it (once the backbreaking jobs are over).

    There’s nothing more rewarding than walking into your garden, picking a carrot, washing it with the outside tap and eating it right there and then. Wonderful stuff.

  422. Russ says 30 November 2008 at 17:16

    You can buy elderberries from for $9.75/lb, I think that would be a reasonable price for you to use.

  423. John Meyers says 30 November 2008 at 18:31

    Vintners Harvest sells a 96 oz can of Elderberries for wine making for around $31.95 at

    I plan on growing elderberries next year and my price point for sale would be at least $5/lb for frozen berries.

  424. Nick's Internet Marketing News says 30 November 2008 at 18:42

    Thanks for the update on your garden.

    I applaud your efforts to be self sufficient.

    Your garden, though to some may seem relatively small, by comparison dwarfs my garden with its tomato & bell pepper plants and sunflowers.

    I made the mistake of planting several zucchini plants a few years ago and got way more zucchini that anyone could ever want.

  425. BuildMyBudget says 30 November 2008 at 19:54

    What a great project! I just stumbled upon the garden project and it’s really inspiring. One thing my brother does is add leftover food to his manure pile. He encloses his manure in chicken wire and will bring egg shells, vegetable scraps, banana peels, etc. out and throw them on the pile to help enrich what will eventually become his fertilizer. Might be worth a try..

  426. Diatryma says 30 November 2008 at 21:23

    I tossed the pepper plants a few weeks ago, when the frost killed them; the pots finally made it inside soon after. I can’t do herbs, though I’ve tried and the cat quite liked the chives before I found out they were poisonous. My main luck lately has been the worms: they are eating like it’s their job. And I got all the potato peels from Thanksgiving for them. That is quite a lot of pre-compost!

  427. Lisa says 01 December 2008 at 02:57

    I’m glad to hear you’re going to do this again next year! I was sad that this might be the last update.

    Here in Australia it is Summer and we have a lot of veges growing in containers and plan to dig up the paving to start a raised kitchen garden. We also have veges growing in the front yard, which has led to lots of positive conversations with the neighbours. Priceless!

  428. EscapeVelocity says 01 December 2008 at 05:54

    The squirrels spent $0.00 and got 100% of the pecan harvest, but I don’t think there were many this year. I got some of the figs, maybe even came out even on the money since I don’t think they got more than a couple bags of compost, although there’s a fair bit of labor. I’ve never attempted to pick the elderberries since there aren’t enough for wine and I don’t know anything else to do with them, so the birds get those.

  429. Vincent Scordo says 01 December 2008 at 07:42


    Great post. Two trees I would recommend planting are:

    1. Fig Tree

    2. Chestnut Tree

    Both trees will produce tons of goods. Figs are a wonderful late summer / early fall fruit and be dried or eaten fresh. They re great snacks and or you can cook with them.

    Chestnuts (the Italian kind) are a wonderful treasure. You can roast them and eat them as a snack or cook with them (you can even make flour out of some varieties).

  430. Sasha says 01 December 2008 at 08:16

    One suggestion for next year-

    I think a better way to measure savings would be to track what you normally spend on produce and compare it, or do both what the market value is and that. If having all this delicious home grown food in the house also helps prevent chip purchases, for example, also take that into account. If you have the numbers try to compare what you spent last year to this year, or what you spend in months with no harvest to months with a harvest-it would be fascinating and might equal more real savings, or be concrete enough to motivate someone like me to do some gardening (although I’d have to do container gardening).

    I love these updates either way, though. Thanks!

  431. mhb says 01 December 2008 at 08:23

    I’m glad you’re continuing this next year… I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s helped me dream about the yard and garden we’ll have some day!

  432. Charlie says 01 December 2008 at 08:31

    Great article series. I applaud your efforts. One thing that isn’t taken into account with your cost analysis is that your fruits and vegetables have a much higher nutrient concentration than those found at your local supermarket or even farmers market.

    A University of California – Davis study highlighted the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables rapidly loose much of their nutrient value right after they’re picked due to oxidation. Spinach and green beans, for example, loose 75% of their vitamin C within 7 days of harvest! Many of the fruits and vegetables in your local grocery store are shipped thousands of miles from foreign countries, allowing their nutrition value to drop dramatically.

    Your freshly picked garden produce is thus much more nutritionally valuable than any you could buy off a store shelf =)

  433. Will says 01 December 2008 at 09:09

    Very entertaining series. I’m currently trapped in a townhome while we wait for construction to begin on our house, and am having gardener’s withdrawal as we speak.
    Charlies comment reminded me of an article I read years ago on sweet corn. The natural sugar in the kernels begin converting into starch as soon as you separate the ear from the stalk. I’d put a pot of water on the stove, and as soon as it started to boil I’d go out to the garden and grab a few ears of corn, shucking them on my way back into the house, leaving a trail of husks behind me. That was the sweetest corn I’ve ever had.

  434. Steph says 01 December 2008 at 11:27

    I hope you reconsider pulling the blueberries. It’s been my experience that even in good climates it takes years to get the plants producing well and in my Southern California climate I still count the individual berries at harvest. You seem to have great mix of berries and I’m curious what you feel you’re missing. I hope you let us know what you decided when you update this next year. Thanks for this series.

  435. Jenni says 01 December 2008 at 11:45

    Perhaps you could get a value on the elderberries by pricing herbal remedies for colds.

  436. Shara says 01 December 2008 at 12:23

    When we moved I was going to start a garden, then found out it is illegal in our neighborhood due to bears. Leaving out anything that can attract bears is illegal. That includes: gardens, dog/cat food, birdfeeders, hummingbird feeders, compost, and trash. We found all of this out when the neighborhood dog we thought was getting into our trash turned out to be a black bear. The forest service guy was very nice but we were still bummed about the fact that we have to store all waste in our garage from May to October until the morning our trash guys come through or we take a trip to the dump.

  437. Miss M says 01 December 2008 at 13:33

    I enjoy the garden updates, I did a little tracking of my garden this year but stopped after I realized I was having a really poor year. My tomatoes got wiped out by evil caterpillars, the eggplants failed to thrive, even my zucchini did poorly. Maybe next year I’ll keep a better tally. One advantage I have in So Cal, my summer garden is still going. The tomatoes have started to recover and I have tons of green tomatoes on the plants. If we don’t get a hard frost my plants will keep producing till spring, albeit smaller yields.

  438. Marc says 01 December 2008 at 19:18

    Congratulations on your project. I have been following your progress off and on.

    Something that you might want to emphasize too is the value of more vibrant and flavorful food that is gained through home gardening. There is no way that you can find better tasting food, than than coming from your own garden. Also, you should consider including the reduced cost due to less trips to the grocer, or at very least, spending less time at the grocer. There is also another rather difficult but irreplaceable value in gardening your own food; teaching your children where food comes from and the responsibility,value, and reward that comes from that labor. In compounded value, that teaching opportunity makes all other costs and gains look like chump change.

  439. Tom says 02 December 2008 at 05:58

    For a good place to get some of the seeds for starting your garden project, it’s as easy as a trip to your favorite produce market.
    We buy the things we like and when preparing them, pull out and SAVE THE SEEDS. Place them on a paper towel or paper plate and let them dry for a couple of days. Then take the seeds and put them in an envelope until ready to plant. This saves you money on buying seeds and gives you seeds for things you already know you like of that variety.
    We did this just this year, but got a late start. The pepper plants are still producing like crazy and I’ve taken several dozen to work to give away because we just didn’t realize how much extra 6 plants would produce.
    These plants are growing in 16x16x8 inch concrete blocks, 2 plants per block, that I painted (on the outside only) and then filled with potting soil. You can do any number of veggie plants this way and once in place, are re-useable year after year.
    Next spring, we plan on more variety from the 10 ‘pots’ already in place and may add 2-4 more to finish filling the space along the back porch wall.

  440. Jeremy says 02 December 2008 at 17:06

    Heh, from a financial perspective, you are working for about $5 an hour. You spent 60 hours this year, and saved almost $300 in groceries…

    Not that that’s the whole picture, just an important perspective to keep in mind. My wife and I were given a bag of (somewhat…) fresh Salad Greens, and spent an hour last night picking through it. We could have bought a fresh one for $5, so we were working for $2.50 an hour. However, we had nothing else that needed to be done, and I enjoyed the close time with my wife, so it was definitely worth it.

    It’s good to have a feel for what you’re worth, though, and hold it up to projects like this. Could someone do it for cheaper, and/or better quality? Is there other worth in the project – sense of accomplishment, quality time with someone important, it’s an enjoyable hobby, …

    On that note, my wife had a nice sense of accomplishment at the end. Me, not so much, as my interest was in spending time with her, not in the specific project.

  441. Daiko says 30 December 2008 at 10:22


    I’m reading a great book, called The Four-Season Harvest – by Eliot Coleman, that talks about extending the harvest season using cold frames and plastic covered tunnels. I’ll bet you and Chris could stop dreaming about gardening and do it year round next year (as I hope to do).
    Wishing you a prosperous New Year!

  442. cb says 03 January 2009 at 05:45

    At the very least everyone should have a pot of container patio tomatoes. Very minimal work.

    It also helps living in South Florida, I have peppers and tomatoes fruiting year round!

    I need to plant a few citrus trees. Have a avocado tree and that is pretty great too.

  443. Chris says 03 January 2009 at 05:50

    Are you seed saving? I don’t know how much this would save you in dollars but you could keep some of your most productive plant’s seeds and replant next year. I have some heirloom tomato seeds from last year that I got some very good fruit off of the vine.

  444. Ron@TheWisdomJournal says 03 January 2009 at 05:57

    Where do you buy your seeds?

  445. Problemsolverblog says 03 January 2009 at 06:09

    Thanks for such a clear run down on what worked and what didn’t. I’m on the other side of the country, but as a non-gardener, it helps to get an idea what I might want to put my effort into (STRAWBERRIES!) and what I might not want to (everything else).

  446. Becca says 03 January 2009 at 06:49

    I love reading about your gardening adventures! I am up here in WA and I am learning that the weather keeps me on my toes with my vegetables. We got our raised beds in this past Aug so I am very new to the veggie scene. It helps tremendously to read about your trials-thank you for taking the time to share.

  447. Paul says 03 January 2009 at 08:10

    “This year, we got sizable crops from both apple trees and the plum – and we seem to have licked the apple maggot and codling fly problems without resorting to spraying!”

    I’ve been in the same house for 4 years now and have yet to get a good crop of apples for this exact reason. I was determined to spray this year but your post gives me hope. Can you elaborate a little on what you used/how you did this? Thanks for all the information, these articles are always a great read!

  448. Denise says 03 January 2009 at 08:59

    I am an intensive backyard gardener. (I secretly wish I lived on a farm, but I figure I might as well do what I can with what I’ve got…)

    As for asparagus, yes, you may have to wait another year or two to get great yields. Also, in the early years, don’t cut too many of the spears off or they will decide it’s not worth sprouting. I know it sounds silly, but it’s kind of better just to leave them totally alone for four years until they are established. Then, reap the rewards for the following 16 years. This has worked well for us.

    Also, if you want to increase yields on potatoes and minimize the space in your garden, try growing them in a dark-colored trash can. Really. Fill a medium trash can about a third full with good dirt, plant three or four seed potatoes. When the sprout comes us, keep adding just enough dirt to cover all but the tip of it. This stresses the plants, which makes them save more energy in the form of potatoes. You’ll get a huge crop in one small can by the end of the summer. My grandpa used to do this, and I do it too, because I don’t have a lot of room and home grown always tastes better than store bought.

    Also, you might have luck with carrots and mesclun or argula. You can build a coldframe from salvaged wood and windows, plant seeds in late fall and harvest the fresh greens most of the winter. It’s low maintenance and quite satisfying to still be growing things when there is snow on the ground. We tried this at our last house and it was great. We are building a coldframe at our current house this spring, so we can do this.

    “Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman is a great book about this topic.

    That’s my two cents.

  449. Kris says 03 January 2009 at 09:19

    To answer some questions:
    #2: I do save seeds, but so far have only done so for flowers and herbs. A friend volunteered to show me how to preserve seeds from the heirloom tomatoes; I should take him up on it.

    #3: I recommend buying seeds from a company in your own climate-area of the country (or world). Territorial Seeds is my fave source in Oregon. (They’re non-genetically-engineered.) For specialty trees, I like One Green World. Shop local and your plants will be better adjusted to your conditions.

    #6: I hate to shill for them too hard, because I think Jd runs their ad someplace, but we got pheromone-based traps for apple maggot and coddling moth from Look for the economy red sphere traps/lures and apple pest traps/lures. Some parts are reusable year-to-year. Good luck! There’s nothing worse than biting into an apple maggot!

  450. Funny about Money says 03 January 2009 at 09:53

    SIXTY rose bushes? Good grief. I thought I was gunna croak over from having to prune ten of the little guys. Ah…but they’re soooo worth it.

    Like Becca, I love reading about your gardening enterprise. What a boot! That photo of the tomatoes turns me green with envy. Tomatoes just don’t grow very well in our climate–too hot in summer, too cold in winter, plus the alkaline soil (and possibly the dreadful-tasting water) makes every variety that survives taste just about the same.

    Surprising that you only got nine acorn squash from two plants. In my experience, they’re wildly prolific, closely following zucchini. They really like heat…plant them early enough, maybe, so that they’re fully mature when the warmest part of your summer occurs?

    Cukes also should grow pretty well. I’ve planted them with pepper plants (which I think of as sorta like tomato plants) and had them bear nicely. A friend plants them near the edge a raised bed so the vines trail over the side. This keeps the cukes off the ground (so they don’t rot) and gives you easier access to them.

    Hang in there with the asperagi…everyone I’ve spoken with says the same: that it takes two or three years for them to establish themselves and start producing sprouts you can eat.

    LOL! I’d rather plant sunflowers than corn: you get a nice tall plant (if that’s what you’d like) and wonderful weird-looking flowers. And you can eat the seeds.

    Looking forward to next summer’s garden tales…. 🙂

  451. CarrieK says 03 January 2009 at 10:14

    I am very interested in knowing when you started the seeds and when you put them in the ground. I live in OR too, I’m just starting on my veggie adventure. My learning curve is very high, any help is much appreciated!

  452. Susy says 03 January 2009 at 10:34

    Being a gardener I always enjoy reading your gardening posts. I’m planning on starting an asparagus patch this year. And I’m going to be adding raspberries and a few fruit trees.

    You’re right. Tomatoes are a great crop. Even when we lived in an apartment I had potted tomatoes and potted herbs. I would grow tomatoes if I only had space for one thing.

  453. Di Hickman says 03 January 2009 at 10:42

    I just LOVE the gardening updates! Last year was my first year (well half year) so I am planning this weekend for the upcoming season. I’m harvesting radish, lettuce, peas and a few late tomatoes still 🙂
    Make sure you keep updating us Kris!

  454. Mrs. Accountability says 03 January 2009 at 11:07

    Thanks for the gardening update! I really love hearing about your progress and harvests! It’s time to plant tomato and eggplant seeds here in the Arizona desert. I am trying several new heirlooms (early and indeterminate) this spring and can’t wait to get them into their little seed pods to grow until I can transplant them outside. I have considered starting asparagus for several years, I hope yours produce this year. I also wish I could have some kind of berries but not sure what if any grow well in the desert.

  455. Sheila says 03 January 2009 at 13:54

    Great post–thanks! We left the Willamette Valley last fall and have moved to southern Idaho where the gardening is different. I’m still looking for a local seed source. If there’s a master gardener program here, I will try there. I don’t know if you “grow a row” for your local foodbank, but I found this a great way to donate fresh produce to people who can use it.

  456. Kerry says 03 January 2009 at 14:56

    I’m curious about the specifics of your seed-starting as well. This year I’m determined to start them myself, but I’m confused on whether I really need expensive grow lights, heat mats, etc. The more I read, the more complicated it seems.

    I am a HUGE fan of Gardens Alive–their organic tomato fertilizer is fantastic!

  457. Jane says 03 January 2009 at 15:45

    Wonderful update. You’ve given me some useful ideas on what to try growing next. We had a fantastic first growing year here in WA. My tomatoes were so prolific that I made masses of canned pasta sauce and salsa. I also had heaps of pickling cucumbers and we have now started eating our own Sweet Dill Pickle Spears. We got quite a few carrots, although I think I’ll try a different variety this year and I love home grown potatoes, so despite the effort, it’s worth it to get all that wonderful flavor. I grew all of these things in containers! Now I’m looking at putting in some raised beds and really getting going.
    Another upside – despite being snowed in for 2 weeks over Christmas, we had no food worries. We had enough canned food from our harvest to keep 5 of us going if necessary!

  458. Sara says 03 January 2009 at 16:07

    I would love to have a fruit/vegetable garden, but I live in a townhouse without much of a yard. Plus, I haven’t had much luck with keeping plants of any kind alive.

  459. Mike @ TheThriftyLife says 03 January 2009 at 16:26

    I love reading about your progress, what plants were winners and what were losers. My family and I are currently in a townhouse as well, but when we move to a house one of my goals will be to start a garden.

    Keep up the great work and thanks for posting the summary!

  460. Nicki says 03 January 2009 at 16:52

    Wow … you guys inspire me. I will my tiny garden to thrive will all my heart 🙂

  461. Valerie says 03 January 2009 at 19:16

    My husband and I now live in a condo, but before that we lived on 2 1/2 acres. Our garden was huge! We planted beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, broccoli and cauliflower. We grew the pumpkins among the cornstalks. We had apple trees, pear trees and peach trees. We had strawberries and gooseberry bushes. We did this for 16 years, while the kids were home. (After the kids left, we didn’t want to deal with it anymore.) It was quite gratifying to grow and can our own food. We ate better and saved money at the same time! I don’t miss the work, but I do miss the privilege of walking out to the back yard and picking vegetables and/or fruit for dinner!

  462. Jon Anderson says 03 January 2009 at 19:28

    Cucumbers were a loser for everyone this year. I don’t know anyone who managed to get more than a few, if any.

    I don’t know where you live, but if there are Amish around, try finding a roadside stand to buy from. We get sweet corn a $2 a dozen.

  463. Amy says 03 January 2009 at 21:17

    My best success by far this year was zucchini (surprise, surprise). I love to pick them when they’re small, then saute in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a bit of chopped onion. That was my favourite lunch this summer. My husband also made the most wonderful stuffed zucchini halves with feta cheese, garlic…mmmm. We planted WAY too much lettuce and not enough carrots, peas, and beans.

  464. Nick says 03 January 2009 at 21:43

    Sara – I also live in a townhouse (in VA). My wife and I made our first attempt at gardening this year (neither of us have particularly green thumbs). I bought 1″x8″x12′ untreated cedar boards (no chemicals), dug out a section of yard directly next to our cement patio and created a half-buried planter box (with no bottom). I buried about 5 inches and left about 3 above ground (to thwart the lawn guy :-). I ended up creating a planter that was about 16″x9′. We have lots of clay in our soil, so drainage is a problem here. So I dug out the bottom of the box a little extra deep and filled it with medium/big rocks to create some spacing. I then filled in about 3 inches of good soil, put down some slow-release fertilizer, then filled the rest in with soil (leaving about 1 inch unfilled).
    We grew tomatoes (like crazy), cucumbers, green beans, spinach, and lettuce (2 crops) in the ground box, and a green pepper plant in a 4ish gallon pot and a strawberry plant in a 4ish gallon pot. We watered and tended regularly and everything grew great for us, particularly the strawberries, which I split 11 ways this fall and the ones that I left out are weathering the winter great. Aside from harvesting, we watered and tended <10 minutes 3-4 days/week, which fit our busy lives well.
    Our HOA is pretty loose on rules and I kept it all looking neat, so I never had any problems, but your situation may vary.
    My wife and I enjoyed this and had some great organic crops this year. I hope you can find a way to make it work for you too. I can send you pictures if that would be helpful.

  465. DaveH says 03 January 2009 at 22:05

    For growing potatoes, have you tried a plastic barrel?

    Here is one way to do it:

    I cut the barrels in half and cut out the end caps to make two cylinders about 30″ in diameter and two feet tall. Saw a line down each cylinder and use some bolts to attach a hasp (high tech) or just get some light rope and tie a line around the barrel piece to hold it together.

    Place these in an out of the way spot, put in a couple inches of composted soil and plant your starts. Keep adding soil as the spuds grow. When the plant dies back, undo the hasp or cut the rope and flex the barrel to let the soil and spuds out. Works great, easy to do and doesn’t take up prime garden space.

  466. Jem says 03 January 2009 at 22:30

    Love the gardening updates! We are just now putting in an order to Territorial Seeds. We live in the hot summer/cold winter Okanagan Valley in B.C. Tomatoes are great here and T.S. carries the best canning tomato ever called “Saucey”. They are resistant to disease and even in damp circumstances do really well. They tend to ripen around the same time so large batch canning is a benefit. We have even let them crawl along the ground and the vines get so heavy with fruit it takes two of us to harvest. One to pick up a vine and the other to pick the fruit. Happy New Year!

  467. Sara says 03 January 2009 at 22:34

    Nick- That’s awesome! I would love to see pictures. My HOA is not very strict either, so they wouldn’t have a problem with something like that.

  468. 15 Minutes to Riches! says 03 January 2009 at 22:45

    You’ve definitely given me some ideas for next year. I think I may try some tomatoes and squash, for starters… berries are also a likely candidate. Thanks!

  469. Stefe says 04 January 2009 at 05:00

    Thank you so much for sharing..everyone! I will be adding more raspberries this year as well as fruit trees to our property. I am looking around for more upright supports, tepee’s, etc to keep my zucchini, cukes, and peas off the ground. Any suggestions? I have also been following a site called Ramping up the garden and her food challenge. Keep us informed on the new garden and any of those wonderful tips. Gardens Alive is a wonderful company!!

  470. Joshua says 04 January 2009 at 07:39

    I remember my mother using tires instead of trash cans for growing potatoes. It comes apart real easy too.

  471. Katy says 04 January 2009 at 15:39

    Tips on two of your poor performers:

    Asparagus – don’t give up on it. You should get harvest’s of decent size starting year 5. This year, 2009, will be bigger than 2008.

    Potato – instead of planting in the ground, plant them in a tire, and then when the bush is six inches higher than the width of the tire, stack another tire on top and fill it with soil. The stems will become roots and sprout more potatoes off of them. You can stack three or four tires this way for each plant, and get a great harvest using much less square footage.

  472. Nick says 04 January 2009 at 17:18

    Sara –

    You can see 3 pictures of my garden box at the edge of my townhouse patio on flickr.

    Just make sure you choose dwarf or bush varieties of your plants 🙂

    Good luck!

  473. Jessica says 04 January 2009 at 18:01

    Thank you for the update. As mentioned in previous comments, try not to pick many if any of the shoots of your asparagus for the next year or two, that will help it establish and spread a bit and then you should start getting good yield. Will be well worth the patience.

    My zucchinni died this year, but I was quite successful in yellow squash, basil, tomatoes (had some mini yellow pear tomatoes that were very prolific and delicious), turnips, carrots, and eggplant. I can’t wait for next year’s garden. 🙂

  474. Valerie says 04 January 2009 at 23:32

    What a lovely garden! We also did well with berries. Our thornless blackberries grew huge fruit, and the raspberries fruited for an amazingly long time. The strawberries climbed over their barrels and escaped – after what you said about yours growing among the roses, I think I’ll just let them go on!

  475. Roo says 05 January 2009 at 04:23

    The only thing I managed to stick with were the cougettes (zuccinis).

    Very easy to grow in pots, bumper crop and good value for money!

  476. Christine says 05 January 2009 at 07:20

    I second (third?) the advice to leave the asparagus alone for a few more years. I just read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and she recommends the same. But the rest of the garden sounds great!

  477. Sara says 05 January 2009 at 12:24

    Thanks for sharing your pictures, Nick! I will definitely try growing some strawberries in pots this year, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, maybe I will try making a garden box like yours. You make it look easy, but I do seem to have a “black thumb.”

  478. Steph says 06 January 2009 at 06:54

    The Martino’s were winner Roma tomatoes for me this year, too. I’ll be planting many more in 2009. And stick with the asparagus – it’s a long-term project that will eventually repay your patience.

  479. Michele says 08 January 2009 at 00:50

    Definitely give your asparagus some more patience. Whether you buy new or transplant, change always slows asparagus down. We planted some splittings from my IL’s hugely prolific 20-year-old plants and they did nothing for two years, then went completely gonzo the third year. They’ll do even better if you avoid taking any cuttings for a few years.

    Since this is obviously a PITA, it helps to have rotating areas of asparagus. As your first area begins to mature and produce, split some pieces and begin growing them in a new location. Over time, you’ll have plants always coming into prime growth as others are thinning and aging.

    We’ve found that asparagus makes a nice addition to landscaping when clustered with bushes or ornamental trees…this allows us to have a lot of it without sacrificing tons of garden footage.

  480. Jesse says 13 January 2009 at 07:01

    Here is how i see it. Gardening is a hobby that you enjoy so the hours you spend doing it are saving you money you would spend on another hobby like golf or fishing. That’s why I would never include hours spent in the garden in my calculations. As long as you break even you’re ahead of the game.

  481. marci says 20 January 2009 at 13:49

    From the north Oregon coast – just linked here from Money Ning. Wanted to say that I have put in a lot of edible landscaping in addition to the garden.

    Am enjoying winter veggies now – still fresh and doing well in the garden in January – Swiss Chard, celery, rutabaga, brussel sprouts, parsnips, turnips,carrots, and kale. Nice to have fresh veggies still available right outside my door 🙂 Plus have spaghetti squash and potatoes still in storage, and plenty of dried veggies and herbs from the summer surplus.

    In the permanent landscaping beds the asparagus is looking good, and the berries (about 8 varieties), while the rhubarb, chives, sage, and strawberries are asleep.

    I also read Four Season Harvest, and heartily recommend it. For mini-greenhouses, I’ll be starting plants early under clear discarded refrigerator plastic veggie bins and meatkeepers – I think they’ll make good little greenhouses 🙂

  482. Daiko says 20 January 2009 at 18:14


    Too cool about the edible landscaping! I’m getting ready to try early spring planting under a cold frame. Can it really be true that February 15 is a good time to start growing? We’ll find out soon. I’ll be germinating inside and hardening off before transplant…

  483. marci says 20 January 2009 at 18:59

    Daiko –
    I planted Oct 1 some miners lettuce, radishes, runner beans, and corn salad. (NW OR Coast) I was very surprised that all of them came up and are still growing, except the beans which some bug decided to eat.

    I’ve scrounged enough of those clear refrigerator crisper drawers and will be using them for the mini greenhouses. It may look funny, but the materials are free to me… and it will give the log truck drivers something to talk about on their way to the mill yard 🙂

    Good luck with your Feb 15 planting. Freddies had coupons for 40% off seeds, so I picked up the few I needed today. The rest of the garden is saved seeds.

  484. Adam Steer - Better Is Better says 31 January 2009 at 14:53

    Your garden project is a real inspiration. But now you’ve got me all riled up with nowhere to go. Here in Quebec we’re buried under several feet of snow with no end in sight. 🙂

    I think I’ll start looking through the seed catalog though – it’s about that time. Thanks for the reminder.

    There’s nothing like eating straight from the earth!


  485. Erin Chase says 31 January 2009 at 15:37

    How great! I was reading Square Foot Gardening this afternoon! Can’t wait to try this new system!

    🙂 Erin

  486. nickel says 31 January 2009 at 16:17

    Good call. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… I love me some trees!

  487. Hope says 31 January 2009 at 16:37

    J.D, I’m curious. I have always loved tart cherries and have lived in three different houses with this type of tree. (I make jam and jelly from the cherries…yum.) How do you protect the trees from birds that eat all the fruit before you can get to it? We live in a rural area and birds are a problem, as are deer to anything we plant in a garden…I even have to choose flowering plants for landscaping based on deer proofing. I guess we could use mesh on everything in sight, but it seems like a big job to cover a fruit tree, and possibly more hassle than it’s worth, since I can buy tart cherries by the pound from several farmers in the area. Thoughts?

  488. Alexander Dombroff says 31 January 2009 at 17:05

    I just wanted to let you know that whenever I see a GRS update in my feed reader I come right over. I love tracking your progress and one day hope to start a garden as large as yours!

  489. DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad says 31 January 2009 at 17:29

    I am chomping at the bit to start my garden.

    I bought my herbs seeds today, I will start them in the kitchen next week under a light.

    My full seed starts are still weeks away– just can’t wait!

  490. Chiot's Run says 31 January 2009 at 17:55

    I haven’t even gotten my seed order in yet, working on my taxes.

    You’ll be saving even more money in the future when all those fruit trees are mature and producing lots of fruit!

    I’m hoping to take back more of my lawn this summer, last summer I deleted about 600sq ft of grass for garden and this summer I hope to do at least that much as well.

    I’m looking forward to your gardening updates!

  491. Sick of Debt says 31 January 2009 at 19:45

    We purchased our seeds last night ($43) and built a special shelving unit to hold lights for starting plants.

    We’ll be keeping our garden size the same as last year (our entire yard) due to my wife being pregnant. We’ll be looking next year into using other people’s yards so we can have a farmer’s market booth.

  492. Sarah says 31 January 2009 at 22:26

    So Jealous. we haven’t tried much food gardening, as the bunnies and squirrels tend to steal everything. And no one here has fruit tree’s, probably for the same reason *sigh*. I can do flowers, and they leave those alone, but tried some veggies, and they were gone in a flash.

  493. Kami Miller says 31 January 2009 at 23:34

    This year I added two peach trees. Our new apple trees (from a few years back) are taking forever to mature, and our plum and cherry trees seem to catch every disease that chances by. In contrast, our peach trees do fabulous, and they don’t seem to be affected by harsh winters. We always get peaches, and even the young trees get a few.

    Pick disease-resistant varieties of whatever you get, be it trees or tomatoes or whatever. You’ll get higher yields, stronger plants, and they even tend to be less buggy (because strong plants can resist bugs better than weak ones.)

    You might also try planting lure or sacrifice crops. I get discount seeds and just broadcast them in a corner of the garden. Not only do the weak, substandard plants attract most of the pests, but the high pest count attracts beneficial bugs as well. If you do a search on gardening sites there are all kinds of suggestions for what to plant to help seduce pests away from your crops.

  494. wolfgirl says 01 February 2009 at 02:50

    Blackberry bushes for us this year and maybe some more strawberry plants.

  495. Beth says 01 February 2009 at 04:08

    This is our first year with a square foot garden. We’ve gotten the frames built and I’m ordering seeds this week. We’ve been inspired by your gardening project and hope we meet with at least some success. We have 3 year old twin daughters, and we’re hoping this will be an activity they can get into as well. Thanks for all the updates on your gardening project. I look forward to reading about them.

  496. Denise says 01 February 2009 at 04:55

    I’ve spent about $200 on seeds and plants for our garden already this year. We have only lived in our house for 2.5 years, so this will be the first year for a serious garden plus long-term fruit planning (raspberries, lingonberries, and sweet cherries for us).

    We also decided to go ahead and take out some of our lawn. At first, I did this by hand, but I have made the executive decision to do the rest with the aid of a sod cutter. Rented, of course. We hate mowing, and lawns are such a waste of resources. Of course, we can only take out so much lawn because we don’t want our neighbors to have a heart attack. We can only garden in the front, because we have two large silver maples in the back, making it all shade.

  497. Meg says 01 February 2009 at 05:19

    If you think you will be expanding your garden space next year, then place your compost pile THIS year in that place. When the fall comes and you are ready to work the ground, then the grass is already dead and you have a nice start on compost-rich soil.

  498. James says 01 February 2009 at 05:30

    I’m a big fan of Seed Savers Exchange. I hope you like what they offer.

    Try growing garlic next year. Plant in the fall and they are more than happy to over winter for a summer harvest!

  499. Kim Cornman says 01 February 2009 at 08:10

    Hi, I love the Garden Project.

    We live in the southwest, so our best growing season is actually right now. we have already harvested some tomatoes, and are growing broccoli and salad greens, which do very well here in the winter. We expect a large harvest of both throughout the spring.

    We get our seed catalogs this time of year also, but it’s usually the wrong time for us! So I’ll get some seeds and usually save them for the fall.

    Like you, we have chosen the crops that produce best for us, that we enjoy eating.

    I am going to try melons this spring/summer, though we usually leave most of our garden fallow under compost during the hot months.

  500. Diatryma says 01 February 2009 at 08:31

    Advantage of gardening and growing from seed: It is February. Nothing is good in February. The world is gray and dim, the ground is muddy ice, there is nothing to look forward to except the end of February.

    … and green and growing things beyond that. I’m going crazy for plants. Garden planning is good. Houseplants are good. Repotting my violet… well, that has to happen and then it’ll bloom again. Even the smell of the garden shop makes me happy because someday this winter will end.

  501. Jane says 01 February 2009 at 09:40

    Thank you for inspiring us with your garden project. Last year was the first time we’ve grown tomatoes, pickling cucumbers etc in containers. Our harvest was vast. After a lot of canning we are now enjoying the fruits of our labors in the form of the most wonderful pasta sauce which the kids love. Our sweet pickle spears have been well received too and the strawberry jam is bringing memories of the summer with every bite. We can’t wait for next season to do it all again!

  502. Greenjeans Farm says 01 February 2009 at 12:09

    Dare to go 100% Organic (you don’t have to be certified just practice. It’s not as complicated as it may seem and you can do it in steps. In doing so you find that you don’t have to put money into synthetic petroleum based fertilizers or pest control. 50 lbs of bone meal and or blood meal and a yard of good compost is a lot less expensive than Miracle grow. Mulching is a good alternative to spending gobs of money on irrigation. We rim our vegetable garden with wood ash over the course of the winter. Slugs hate to crawl across wood ash! (much better than putting pie pans of beer in the ground) I keep wondering who thought that one up. The wood ash tears their little bellies apart! So we seldom have to spend money on slug control. It takes about three years to establish a good organic eco- system, but once that is done you are good to go, with very little care or worry. Just be sure to rotate your crops,, provide a source of water and supplimental food for the winter dwellers. You should include the flower order in your equation, because it is the flowers that invite the bees and birds and butterflies to your yard. You’ll have frogs and birds and bees and bugs that actually help your garden thrive, eat the pill bugs and the slugs and aphids! You will have a large enough harvest that you can share with the birds no problem! And plenty left over to share with your friends! Visit the ATTRA site for inspiration!

  503. lady j says 01 February 2009 at 12:20

    I think I’ll start tracking my gardening the same way… I just planted about 100 red onion starts (gardening starts early here in central Texas) and will be starting more seeds indoors. I don’t do so well with seeds, but it’s more economical, so I’m making extra effort. I need to track my yield, so I know what ‘pays off’ and what is cheaper to buy at the farmer’s market or store. Also my backyard has half sunlight, half shade… so I’m thinking of planting my front yard too. I live in a pretty laid-back area, no homeowner’s association, so I don’t think the neighbors will scream too much! I love the Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalog… their website is

  504. oldernwiser says 01 February 2009 at 12:35

    @Denise re: sodcutter and yard…why rip out the sod? Have you investigated “lasgana” gardening or the Ruth Stout method of mulching with hay?

    Cardboard, newspaper, leaves or any organic material, soil, compost, manure…layer all on top of the sod adn have at it. you’ll be surprised! NO DIGGING.

  505. Suzie says 01 February 2009 at 13:37

    I really enjoy the Garden Project. We have always grown some fruit at the end of our garden (strawberries and raspberries at the moment, but we’ve dabbled in cucumbers and courgettes too!), and I’m trying to persuade the family to expand our vegetable plot. We’ve agreed to try some tomatoes by the back door this year.

  506. Steph says 01 February 2009 at 15:32

    We share our fruit with the birds. Though I try hard to use all the fruit my trees produce, I definitely can’t take advantage of it all. I haven’t had a cherry tree for years, but my recollection was that we picked and canned and ate until we never wanted to see another cherry and still had half the fruit on the tree. I’m all for sharing at that point. I currently live in wine country and while the vineyards use noise machines, mylar strips and such, the birds still get some of the grapes. Such is life.

    As for deer, I worked on a farm in Northern California that swore by bottled mountain lion pee (I swear I’m not making this up). We’d put a few drops on rags and tie them to the low lying tree branches and to the fences near where they came into the yard (it takes 8-foot fencing to keep out deer and nobody wanted the expense or the prison feeling from it). Refresh as needed. I can’t swear by the results but they’d been using it for years.

  507. Angela says 01 February 2009 at 17:57
  508. CarrieK says 01 February 2009 at 19:51

    Go organic!!! It’s really, really easy. Cheaper too. Check out Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. He has a great fertilizer recipe that is inexpensive and easy to make. You guys have been a great inspiration…thanks for sharing all your garden experiences.

  509. Michele says 01 February 2009 at 21:30

    I’m pushing DH to switch to all heirloom/non-hybrid seeds so we can end our dependence on seed companies. He’s not entirely convinced. I did send for an SSE catalog based on your mentions.

    We are starting our seeds within the next two weeks. We have a weird microclimate here; we’ve estimated over the past couple of years that we run about six weeks behind everyone immediately north and south of us. It must be something with the way the wind funnels down between the mountains.

  510. Kami Miller says 01 February 2009 at 22:54

    The mention of shade reminded me–although they prefer full sun, I’ve had some success with growing herbs in dappled or partial shade (as found under deciduous trees.) Aggressive herbs like oregano and mint will grow just about anywhere (that’s cold enough–they won’t grow in tropical or subtropical climes,) including where you don’t want them. Thyme also does okay, though not as well. That doesn’t seem like much, until you start exploring how many gizillion kinds of mint and oregano and thyme there are. Variegated varieties like pineapple mint struggle much more in shade and tend to be less aggressive overall. But you should be able to grow spearmint, peppermint, catnip, apple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint, greek oregano, salt and pepper oregano, pot oregano aka majoram, regular and sometimes lemon thyme (though the lemon thyme tends to dwindle–best to treat it as an annual when growing in the shade.) I’ve also had good luck with comfrey and lavender in shady spots, but be careful with comfrey as it can be invasive in some areas (and don’t take it internally!) The garlic I have in the shade isn’t big but it does grow and reproduces at a slower rate than the stuff that grows in full sun. Oh, and quite a few of the worts, like mugwort and motherwort, grow in almost full shade (they only got about 2 hours of sun.)

    I also grow maywine in the shade, but that’s super-invasive, so you have to pen it in with a serious barrier or just love it so much that you’re willing to have it take over.

    For actual fruits that produce in shade, there are very few, but huckleberries do okay (not great) in the shade, as do mulberries, and so does Oregon grape, though I personally think that Oregon grape is more of a novelty jam crop than a serious fruit crop. It’s just too darned sour to be really fun.

  511. Julie2020 says 02 February 2009 at 04:17

    Here in south-east England, we have a slightly cooler climate than yours in Portland. We try to make sure we have veg maturing 12 months of the year. I’m often surprised how many US gardeners in temperate zones plough up their garden in October and don’t start growing again until April.

    We have leeks, perpetual spinach, chard, kale, scallions, mache, winter lettuce, radicchio, brussels sprouts, cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli all producing well outside without protection throughout the winter months. Most of these don’t mind a frost, in fact, they need it to bring out the full flavour or colour.

    Plus the garlic, onions and broad (fava) beans are in and growing happily and will be ready for springtime harvest.

    I know some people prefer to have a downtime from gardening in the winter, but I think there’s nothing more satisfying than having freshly picked salad and greens in February!

    Great site, by the way.

  512. slackerjo says 02 February 2009 at 05:59

    Hey JD – how bout you take a pix of the garden every day and turn it into a little video for the fall? I like seeing things grow!

  513. Emily says 02 February 2009 at 06:21

    There’s a drag-and-drop planner for a 4’x4′ square foot garden at if anyone’s planning for spring!

  514. Beaunshann says 02 February 2009 at 08:19

    My wife and I just bought or first significant property (5 acres) outside Colorado Springs. We are so excited to start our garden! I bought my wife the Lasagna Gardening book for Christmas. Your blog is definately an inspiration. I can’t wait to see what we harvest this year.

  515. SuzieBee says 02 February 2009 at 10:53


    We had mint in our garden for years in total shade and it took over the whole bed it was in! Some things will just grow, no matter what you throw at them.

  516. Marcus says 02 February 2009 at 11:13

    You guys should look some into Aquaponics, I started into this year, and I have to say there is nothing like picking lettuce, basil, rosemary, peppers, onions, etc from a plastic tub in your office. Plus on top of that you get to have pet fish!

    You can see what I am doing with my system at:

    It isn’t costing me very much as most of the components is stuff I had laying around, and its all pretty much automated so you don’t have to do much more than pick the vegies once you get it going.

  517. Allen says 02 February 2009 at 12:06

    Here in the desert southwest, we actually have three short growing seasons, fall, winter and spring. Most plants can’t handle the daytime summer heat (more then 110 deg!).
    That said, I have 4 sets of self watering containers, two with tomatoes, one with garlic, and one with squash. The tomatoes have done o.k., the squash is struggling, but the garlic is doing great!!!!
    I intend to make several more self-watering containers, and when the summer heat gets here, I’ll move the containers to the shady, cooler (ha-ha!!) side of the house.
    BTW, I found the instructions for making the self-watering containers from Mother Earth Magazine!

  518. Di Hickman says 02 February 2009 at 13:19

    Love the garden updates. I just bought seeds and am still looking for a few more packets (thai chili’s). I have a trip out to the garden center planned for Friday to pick up compost, soil ammendments, strawberry plants and some herb starters.

  519. Kim Cornman says 02 February 2009 at 13:19

    @14 Meg: THANKS for the great suggestion.

    @34 Allen: I’m in the desert SW also. would love to share experience – what’s working for you, etc. Anybody else veggie gardening in the desert SW? my email is [email protected]

  520. Noah says 02 February 2009 at 23:17

    J.D. I’m curious. I’m in Seattle and I could never get herbs to grow. What’s your secret to pulling it off in the gloomy northwest?

  521. Anelly says 03 February 2009 at 00:00

    Each spring i get my garden arranged with flowers, different vegetables … but i never thought at it as a project and i never calculate the costs; i guess there is a start for everything.

  522. Donna Freedman says 04 February 2009 at 21:11

    J.D.: One lovely use for all those free Seattle blackberries is to put some frozen ones in a blender with milk and sugar. Because the berries are frozen the milk thickens/semi-freezes to a lovely thick consistency that tastes like a milkshake even though there’s no ice cream in it.
    I make cobblers, too, and blackberry shortcake. Lots of jam when the berries are fresh, too — but last year when I ran out of jam before summer, I made a batch using thawed berries that I’d frozen. It turned out great.
    I dream of gleaning.

  523. Jacob Stokes says 07 February 2009 at 07:32

    Thank you for inspiring me to plant my first garden. I am gonna plant a large one. I have the tractor, plow, and planter to do so through work and I have the time right now so I am gonna give it a go. My question is when planting corn do you think it is economical to plant round up ready corn or to remove weeds by hand? Also do you sell any vegetables at your local farmers market?

  524. Steven says 28 February 2009 at 09:11

    I’d love to try my hand at gardening but I don’t have the space to do so because I rent a small apartment and I don’t have access to a yard where I can create a garden. I have considered doing a potted garden, but given my floorspace, I’m not sure how productive it would be. Maybe I’ll give it a shot this summer and see what I can come up with. I envy your ability to plant your own food. Good luck with the harvest!!!

  525. Kerry says 28 February 2009 at 09:42

    I have very little space, so the only vegetable gardening I’m doing this year is tomatoes. I’m trying the upside-down planters…not sure if they’ll work, but given my microscopic yard size, it’s worth a shot.

    I AM starting all of my annual flowers from seed this year, however, to save money. I normally spend about $400 on annuals (and a few replacement perennials) each spring. This year, I’ve spent $60 on seeds…and if only half of them actually sprout, I’ll have more than enough for my garden. It’s also been a fun project for my 3-year-old, and a nice diversion during a long, cold Wisconsin winter.

    Be sure to say what part of the country you’re in in your next post…I may have missed it, but it helps in terms of knowing how closely your planting schedule and choice of plants might match mine.

  526. Rob says 28 February 2009 at 09:46

    Where do you live? We’re in the western ‘burbs of Chicago (solidly zone 5) and the ground is still very much frozen. With temperatures not getting out of the 20s this weekend, Spring is still a long ways away.

    The short(er) growing season limits the number of plants we can grow on our 1/3 acre lot. That said, this year we’re going try to start plants from seed; this weekend, I believe my wife said the spinach is to be started.

    Last year’s trial garden went well, although we didn’t break anywhere near even. I think we got 15 tomatoes and a bean harvest, but then September 13 came and submerged the garden to a depth of 4 inches, completely wiping out the crop (floodwater being sewer water, after all). (The flood also severely damaged 50+ homes around us, but not ours, fortunately.)

  527. James says 28 February 2009 at 10:13

    We’re in Southern California on 2 acres. Zone 8. It’s always inspiring to see how you progress on your garden. We too have alot of land, although mostly taken up by the horses. Your approach to enjoying the fruits of your labor has helped my wife and I in our gardening endeavors.

    Our property has fruit trees, nuts, berries, grapes, herbs and an annual vegetable garden. Your posts help us to get motivated and so we find ourselves learning a lot from you and others that are getting back to basics.

    Thank you for great blog and happy gardening!

  528. J.D. says 28 February 2009 at 10:25

    @Rob (#3)
    We’re in Portland, Oregon. I should note that each time I do this update. I forget that not everyone has been reading since day one. 🙂

  529. Chiot's Run says 28 February 2009 at 10:52

    I’m hoping to add a bunch of fruit trees and an asparagus patch this summer as well. It’s not quite the season for planting here in NE Ohio yet, we still have a bit of snow on the ground. Soon enough I’ll be spending my days out gardening (sad thing is I won’t have much time for reading & commenting on blogs).

  530. Kim Cornman says 28 February 2009 at 11:40

    Fruit trees should be considered a “long term investment”! if you spend $20 on an apple tree and it bears for, say, 10 years…well, that’s only $2 per year!

    Since I live in the desert southwest (Bullhead City, AZ) our gardening usually runs from September to April or May, depending upon the weather and what we choose to grow. Anything we get after May is a bonus, since the weather starts to get too hot for much of anything. Tomatoes, for instance, won’t pollinate much if the temperature stays over 90 degrees.

    I’m hoping to get an apricot tree and a tangelo next year to add to our Meyer lemon.

    We grow lots of veggies – broccoli, lettuces, beets, cauliflower (all of which do great during the mild winters here) and many, many different varieties of tomatoes. I am going to plant cantaloupe and Sugar Baby watermelon this year. Along w/ JD, we grow things we like to eat that are easily grown here given our climate.

    We generally put our garden to bed w/ a good application of compost and covered w/ black plastic for 2 months (July/August) and “wake up” the garden in September.

    I have to say that it is frustrating to get all the seed catalogs about now, and know I’ll have to wait until next year to integrate anything new into my garden!

  531. Jess says 28 February 2009 at 12:16

    I’m a student renting a tiny house with and equally tiny yard, that my landlord doesn’t want me digging up. I’m attempting a container garden this year. I’ve made a self-watering container out of an 18-gallon rubbermaid tote, but unfortunately, it’s under four inches of snow this morning.

    I’ve been starting seeds in on my windowsill using old milk cartons as pots. I’ve got basil, lettuce, snap peas, and cat grass going right now. Around April move the peas and lettuce to the planter outside and start the real reason I garden – zucchini.

  532. Joan says 28 February 2009 at 13:30

    Thank you for documenting your 2008 gardening project. I really enjoyed reading it. In terms of costing your food produce, shouldn’t you also include the energy cost of storing your produce in a freezer throughout much of the year? I’ve heard that freezers can be large energy suckers. I’m also waiting with great anticipation to start my garden in Toronto.

  533. deb says 28 February 2009 at 13:50

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your garden progress this year. We’ve always gardened and will be expanding our plot this year (we’re in Michigan). We’ve been adding a fruit tree every so often and are considering a few chickens too. The current project is the cold frame we added last fall. We kept spinach, lettuce, arugula and corn salad going all winter with an occasional harvest. It’s really taking off now with the stronger sun. Indoors I kept a few herbs going and will be starting seeds this week.

  534. deb says 28 February 2009 at 13:55

    Joan, we bought a 14 cubic foot chest freezer last fall when we also bought a side of beef. The energy tag on it said it would cost about $25 a year to run. I can say that so far that seems to be true, it’s hardly added anything at all to the electric bill. I’m also kicking myself for not buying one sooner as the storage is very handy for bulk purchases on sale foods and also for cooking meals ahead for convenience. I was afraid it would make me just like my mom – and it has, but I guess that’s not so bad after all.

  535. mike says 28 February 2009 at 14:14

    I’d love to do more gardening but one neibor is a nut who sprays nasty checmicals constantly (Truegreen Chemlawn should be outlawed!). I’m sure it drifts and I don’t want to eat it, any suggestions?

  536. Lady J says 28 February 2009 at 15:49

    I live in central Texas so I’ve had kale, chard, cilantro, winter savory, lettuces, arugula, and garlic growing all winter. I recently planted some red onion starts, and sowed carrot seed (which hasn’t sprouted yet and tonight and tomorrow night we are having a cold spell, so I’m a bit worried about that). I also have two pots of strawberries which already have thumbnail-sized fruit. Cucumber and bell pepper seedlings have been started inside, but I’m not that good at seeds. I must be doing something wrong – probably need to get a grow light. I plan on adding basil and other herbs, tomato plants,and more peppers soon. I even plan on putting some in the front yard, and just spoke to my next-door neighbor who said she might do that same. My gardening method is rather haphazard but I’ve had pretty good results so far and I love gardening!

  537. Tammy says 28 February 2009 at 16:33

    I love that Kris is patient! Patient and frugality go hand in hand.
    We’ve expanded our garden here in Richmond VA by whacking out some old bushes. Last year, as a novice gardener, I grew butter peas, corn, tomatoes, peppers and wonderful green beans. I also grew spinach and lettuce. My cucumbers were incredible and I grew everything with no chemicals. This year I’d love to learn to can!
    I love to read about gardening. Keep up the great work!

  538. Beth @ Smart Family Tips says 28 February 2009 at 17:18

    I love the garden updates.

    We’re planning our first square foot garden this year. We’re using Mel Bartholomew’s book (which I learned about at GRS) as a guide. I’ve ordered my seeds and can hardly wait for them to arrive. We’re planting tomatoes, yellow squash, cucumbers, bush beans, cantelope, and peppers. We may plant some asparagus next year. We’re going to try to use entirely organic methods, mostly because our 3 1/2 year old twin daughters will be an active part of the process.

    I’m looking forward to reading about J.D. & Kris’s garden, and everyone else’s, too.

  539. Elizabeth says 28 February 2009 at 19:18

    Our family has gardened for years and has seen the price of seeds slowly creep up. Every year at this time I promise myself that I am going to practice some seed saving. But it does take quite a bit of time during one of the busiest parts of the year (we are in NW MT so the garden harvest/ canning/ drying coincides with the beginning of school… Yikes!) But I’m steadfast that this is going to be the year! I was sorry to see that some of our old heritage/ open pollinated seeds are beginning to become harder to find (corn and tomatoes especially). Thank goodness for nurseries that specialize in heritage and OP breeds of plants and seeds. Good luck in the coming gardening season and may this be your best year yet

  540. Kathy says 28 February 2009 at 19:42

    I was inspired by this series to try my own “salsa garden” this year. I’m a complete gardening noob but I used a brownie tray to start my seeds and then transplanted those over to smaller planter containers. With the end goal of creating salsa, I started tomatos, jalapenos, and cilantro (no particular recipie in mind yet, I figure I’ll just buy what’s missing at the farmer’s market when the time comes). I live in an apartment with a balcony so I’m going to have to get somewhat creative with space and light limitations, but so far the peppers are looking great, cilatro is rocking, and there’s 1 tomato plant that survived past some strange rot that I had to deal with early on. Figure I’ll buy the plant-form of a different variety of tomato in a few weeks to “diversify” that element.

  541. stefanie says 28 February 2009 at 20:04

    @ Joan: A freezer actually uses less energy to stay cold when its full than when it’s empty, so it should be saving a few pennies here and there to have stuff to store in it.

  542. EscapeVelocity says 28 February 2009 at 20:23

    Way too dry here this winter. I have two arugula plants (one volunteer–it reseeds itself pretty well) and a mizuna or some such thing (99 cents–I’m a sucker for the 99 cent ones) and that’s it for the edibles. Can’t do much in the summer once the trees leaf out (and zero pecan harvest last year, too).

  543. Denise says 28 February 2009 at 21:14

    I just started my seeds today. I haven’t had the heart to go outside and start digging around yet. It’s just still too cold for me.

    But, now I at least have some seeds safely nestled in their peat pots. I planted three kinds of hot peppers, some butterfly plants, and I thought I would try starting some luffa and butternut squash, to give them a head start, even though you are supposed to just plant them outside when the frost is gone.

    I figured I could sacrifice a couple of seeds to see if it worked.

  544. Tamara says 28 February 2009 at 21:50

    Wow! You guys have been busy! Good for you! We are also trying to grow most of our own fruit and veggies. We are still eating our own home grown goodies from last year, including: potatoes, carrots, winter squash, leeks, turnips, parsnips, frozen beans, frozen chopped green peppers and frozen raspberries and our own jam! It was our first year where I planted enough to put food away, and am thrilled that I have gotten so far with what we were able to do. But I was happy to just get my peas in last weekend! Hoping to start pruning the fruit tomorrow. Looking forward to your seed starting article!

  545. Di says 28 February 2009 at 22:11

    Love love love the GRS garden updates! I wouldn’t worry about the big expense so far, like you said it’s trees which are a long term investment. I’ve been out in my garden a lot this month, weather permitting and just planted strawberries this morning, also got some containers ready for tomato seedlings which are growing under lights right now.
    Keep up the good work!

  546. thomas says 28 February 2009 at 23:16

    I bought a house last year that has an apple and pear tree in the backyard. I’ve been a little afraid of eating them. Don’t really know why.