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Does your vegetable plot break even?
Old 04-11-2008, 05:51 PM   #1
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Does your vegetable plot break even?

Well... I am FINALLY tackling my back yard. The folks who lived here before me hired Fred F. Flinstone, Landscape Architect to design the area, so I've spent the last three weeks dragging bowling-ball-sized rocks out to the front yard.

That over, I am considering two options -- a no-care, native plant approach vs fruit trees and veggies. It's not a large plot so I could never grow everything I need for food, but I'm wondering whether it makes sense to grow anything at all?

A friend of mine grows tons of veggies in his backyard, but he also seems to spend quite a bit of money on little plants, soil amendments, and municipal water. (He spends a ton of time on it too, but since he enjoys that, I don't view it as a negative -- I might too once I get started. He thinks it's all worth it for the taste, but then, he's got a lot more money than I do!

Anyone here grow veggies and fruits in a city / town plot and if so, have you found it to be a net financial gain or loss?

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Old 04-11-2008, 05:57 PM   #2
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I planted 72 tomato and pepper plants in little pots from seed, 10 dollars. I will have so many tomatos and peppers that I could set out a farm stand and make money!

Starting from seed is the only way, otherwise you can spend a ton on plants.

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Old 04-11-2008, 06:05 PM   #3
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I plant a garden every year. After eating those large Park's whopper tomatoes each year from it, the DW would beat the crap out of me hate not to have them. Also she loves her German Pink tomatoes. Great thing is that I know how it was all grow (no sprays,etc) and the fresh taste can't be replaced.

This year I did spend $70 on peat cuts my watering down to zero for about 3 years. Ready to go now...

Got a small tray close to me now with tomatoes and bell peppers plants started. Ready to plant in 2 weeks. Also, I like to try different items each year such as Blonde Peas this year just for fun.

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Old 04-11-2008, 06:40 PM   #4
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Back in the late 70's we had a fairly large veggie garden (30' x 50') in our current backyard. You can grow a lot of stuff in a small city plot but in our case neighboring trees started to shade the garden too much so we switched over to mostly ornamental shrubs. Full sun is the best for city gardens if you can get it.

We easily got our money back each year but you have to substitute a lot of labor. And in the city you may have competition from critters, squirrels, raccoons and rabbits that just love fresh veggies. Any deer around? Really bad news for a garden. We always knew when the sweet corn was ready, the raccoons would visit the night before.

Depending on where you live, fruit trees can either work or be a big money pit. Frost and freeze damage can wipe out the year's crop with one cold night. Cherries usually do well and the birds like them too. Apples are great but you have to keep up with a consistent spray program for a good crop. Pruning mature fruit trees will keep you busy each spring.

About 90% of gardening depends on the weather and the other 10% depends on you taking advantage of it.

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Old 04-11-2008, 06:43 PM   #5
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I have a small, very small vegetable patch in my backyard (about 130 sq. ft.). I have never thought of it as an investment, but you got me thinking. Last year we planted 5 tomato plants ($3 each) that produced about 250 ripe tomatoes. We also planted a bed of Mesclun (2 seed packets at about $2 each), which gave us enough salad for about 2 months. Swiss Chard (1 seed packet at $3) gave us fresh greens all throughout the summer. The basil plants (2 at $2.50 a piece) gave us plenty to harvest until September. And green beans were just great: we bought one packet of seed for about $3 and watched those things produce again and again. Besides seeds, the only thing we bought for the garden was some compost in the fall (about $25 worth). No pesticide, no fertilizer. In terms of watering, the garden gets watered with the lawn, so its hard to tell how much we spent on water just for the garden. So overall, not including the time I put into it, I would say it was a financial gain, even though it was our first year and we were still inexperienced.

This year we are trying to maximize our small space and we have decided to take advantage of every square inch. We have planted beets, radishes, salads, swiss chards, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions (just a few to try) and herbs. The salad will later be replaced by green beans, the potatoes by squashes and the beets and radishes by peas probably. We will also experiment with organic fertilizers this year as well as a few other techniques to increase yields.
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Old 04-11-2008, 06:58 PM   #6
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A garden can be costly if you do it wrong, but it can also yield great results that save you a ton of money if done right. We have just a basic 100 sq. ft. or so plot that we use, and it only costs around 25-40 bucks a year to run, and yields more tomatoes, peppers, and herbs than we can use. And with those nasty hothouse tomatoes you get in the store that run $2.99/lb, we recover the cost as soon as one plant is ready to harvest.

You didn't mention what size you were looking at, and since this may be something new, start small, and start with a few good vegetables that you like. Then, if you find that you enjoy the work, taste, and otherwise think it is worthwhile, you can expand and get into more varieties next year.

If you have the time and patience, start from seed if you can. It is the cheapest way to go. It will require you start planning early and tend to your seedlings, but it will cost a fraction of buying a month old plant at the store. If you don't want to be bothered with seed, that's fine too. But do your shopping early. The earlier you go, the younger the plants you can buy and the cheaper they will be.

So, if you think you'd enjoy some fresh food that you grow yourself, I say go for it. Try a small garden and see what you think this year. If you feel it is rewarding, you can expand upon it next year. Just don't get overzealous and try to do too much the first time around. It could mean dead plants, wasted money, and frustration.
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Old 04-11-2008, 07:07 PM   #7
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My vegetable growing attempts run something along the lines of this: The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden: William Alexander: Books

Flowers, though, I have 10 big green thumbs.
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Old 04-11-2008, 08:01 PM   #8
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We garden year round in the PNW. The first few years we spent way more then we got in return but that included the capital costs of the raised beds and drip irrigation. The other big expense was seeds, starts and trees/canes. Now that we know what does well here and, as importantly, what we like to eat I buy way fewer seeds. We also compost so I don't bring anything in anymore other then 1 sack of organic fertilizer every 2-3 years. It is time consuming but it gets me outdoors and some exercise so I don't begrudge the time.

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Old 04-11-2008, 08:11 PM   #9
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Back when we started urban gardening about 15 years ago I read a number of books on the subject. They all agreed that it is not economical, at least if you factor in the number of hours that you spend working on it.

They also said that this is the wrong way to look at it. You have to measure your enjoyment versus the cost in time and money. Certainly in our case there's no easy way to put a price on fresh blueberries, fresh raspberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, herbs, grown from seed and babied along until they start producing 3-4 months later. That type of satisfaction is hard to put a price to. But for us I can say it's easily worth it.

And I should add my sore muscles from 2 hours of tilling yesterday, and many hours of planting today, do make me remember that there is work involved. Actually I slept particularly well last night thanks to the few hours running the tiller out in the 70 sunshine yesterday. So often what might be called 'work' really isn't. I think we think of it, at least until the hot muggy, buggy days of August, as therapy. It slows us down and calms us down. I'm not sure we're either calm or slow fighting mosquitoes, heat, humidity and scratchy weeds in August......

But all in all I don't think you can go wrong with a garden.
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Old 04-11-2008, 09:01 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by DblDoc View Post
We garden year round in the PNW. The first few years we spent way more then we got in return but that included the capital costs of the raised beds and drip irrigation. The other big expense was seeds, starts and trees/canes. Now that we know what does well here and, as importantly, what we like to eat I buy way fewer seeds.
This is why I would not wait until I need one, to start a garden. Once you have done it for a few years you have learned so much about what you really like growing and what does well in your area, and how badly the squirrels and birds are going to decimate various particular types of vegetables.

Having more fresh vegetables available in the garden encourages me to eat more fresh vegetables. It's nice when things are in season and most of dinner is right there in the back yard.

The main economic advantage to having a garden would probably be growing from seed during a time of great inflation in food prices.

I would much rather work in the peace and solitude of my own vegetable garden, during hours of my own choosing, than in a cubicle environment.
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Old 04-11-2008, 09:11 PM   #11
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The economics of a garden probably depend on several factors a few of which are (1) does your climate force you to water a lot (2) are there a lot of critters in your area (3) how much time do you really want to put into this (4) is your soil good (5) is it really important that you save money on veggies, etc. In our case there are too many negative factors. Would rather buy the veggies we need at Whole Foods. So we just stick to ornamentals. I can still remember the white flies attacking my zuccini years ago and that was before we moved to a place with squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons (the deer can't get through the fence).
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Old 04-11-2008, 09:27 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Caroline View Post
That over, I am considering two options -- a no-care, native plant approach vs fruit trees and veggies. It's not a large plot so I could never grow everything I need for food, but I'm wondering whether it makes sense to grow anything at all?
I'm gradually working toward a combination of CA native plants and fruit trees.

I have a small CA-type lot.

A couple of years ago I took out the front lawn and replaced it with manzanita and other CA natives. I went from watering every other day to watering every two weeks or so. My water bill dropped by about half. Also no mowing and no fertilizing. You do have to spend time keeping out the weeds though. I estimated the payout time at 8-10 years. Not great but good enough. Political/environmental rant: CA is a semi-desert. Large eastern-style, water-hungry lawns do not belong in CA

I also have two apple trees, an orange tree, a tangerine tree, a persimmon tree, a pomegranate bush, and a plum tree and a peach that I just planted in January.

The persimmon is in the front yard and seems to be doing fine with the CA natives but I give it a little extra water when it needs it.

I try to avoid fruit trees that are disease prone and I don't do any spraying. (Peaches are normally disease prone but the variety that I selected is supposed to be disease resistance. Hopefully it will be ok.)

I think that the fruit trees pay out but haven't looked at the numbers (we eat a lot of fruit) and they are less work than veges.

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Old 04-11-2008, 09:29 PM   #13
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I have usually started everything from seed. But last year I decided to buy the tomato and pepper plants......the tomato plants consisted of 2 Celebrity Bush or Early Girl Bush, 4 grape tomatoes, and 4 cherry tomatoes.....and 12 or 14 green bell pepper plants. In addition to that, I plant Mesclun, a couple varieties of parsley and sage, thyme, dill, and cilantro. Also grow onions and garlic......both in the raised beds with the roses! And I grew several zucchini plants.....some in a small raised bed along with some ornamental grasses, and some in a half whiskey barrel.

The herbs are all grown in pots and containers. The Bush 'maters were grown in the ground in the marigold bed. The grape & cherry tomatoes were grown in large wooden tubs (2 plants per tub) by the zinnias and black-eyed susans, in front of the peonies. Half of the green bell peppers were grown in a small border garden in front of a raised flower bed and the other half were grown on the patio in 2-gallon plastic mop buckets with holes drill in the bottom.....2 plants per bucket.

This year will be a repeat of last year since everything did so good! Plus I'm going to grow some parsnips and brussel sprouts from seed this year.

We've always gotten way more than our money's worth from our small veggie crops! And we always have plenty to share with our neighbors and friends! It hasn't been overly time consuming, and it hasn't really cost that much......a few plants from a local grower, some seed packets from the farm store, onion sets from the hardware store, and garlic from our stock of last years harvest. Stuff gets watered about twice a week after it becomes established.....a bit more before that point, but not much. And almost everything in all of the gardens and containers is mulched! I spend almost ALL of my free time from mid-April through early November out in the gardens. Some of it working....though not too much.....and most of it just relaxing and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature!!! I LIVE for gardening season!!!

I plant veggies in the flower gardens and flowers in the veggie gardens, that way I know there will be plenty of bees and wasps around to pollinate everything.

BTW....most of my flowers are native perennials.....a few annuals are thrown in here and there. The great thing about native plants is that they need VERY LITTLE attention, water, or care!
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Old 04-11-2008, 09:31 PM   #14
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Last year
input = 1 tomato plant, some potting soil, water for 30 seconds 2-3 times/week for 5 months
output = 169 tomatoes weighing 148 pounds over a 3 month period
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Old 04-11-2008, 11:35 PM   #15
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I have a bit of land surrounding my house and I find that strawberry plants come back every year at very little cost and are oh so delicious picked fresh. Also I usually plant about 80 corn plants yielding around 240 ears of corn for myself and the neighbors. Burpee Maple Sugar Hybrid is very sweet and tasty. I use the lawn clippings for mulch and rarely need to water

We have considerable rabbits, squirells and raccoons but I found the rabbits will prefer brocolli and the racoons like tomatoes so I grow a garden nearer the woods for Peter and Rocky so they stay out of the main garden and leave the better pepper and tomato plants alone.

this years main garden plan includes the strawberries, Corn, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers about 5 different varieties, Cilantro, Basil, Parsley, Thyme and Rosemary. Becasue we enjoy the garden so much I don't track the cost but it sure is nice to have fresh fruits and vegatables.

Every late June about 5 miles from my house we go to the U-pick blueberries and pick about 8 gallons of blueberries which we feast on for a week and then freeze the remainder and have blueberries for a year in unending quantity for $1.00 per pound - there is no way I could afford that many blueberries at the store.

Man you guys have made me hungry now
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:02 AM   #16
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Something nice about going out and picking a fresh tomato. May cost you more but damn they taste better than store bought.
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:41 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Caroline View Post
That over, I am considering two options -- a no-care, native plant approach vs fruit trees and veggies. It's not a large plot so I could never grow everything I need for food, but I'm wondering whether it makes sense to grow anything at all?
I do both -- the majority of my yard is low-care plants which are native to my local climate, and integrated into this are fruit trees, blueberry bushes, herbs and places for veggies. I selected varieties of fruit trees which are designed for my local area. They aren't the 'brand name' varieties but they are easier to care for and still taste great. A good plant nursery should be able to advise you on this.

I grow fruits and veggies not to save money, but rather for the joy of having fresh fruit and vegetables for eating. If I want to add fresh tomato or basil to a pasta dish, it is wonderful to trot out the back door and come back with fresh ingredients in season. With an integrated garden approach, I can take a year off from gardening if desired and still have the back yard look nice.

Also, I focus on growing my favorites only and just buy the rest at the store.

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Old 04-12-2008, 12:44 AM   #18
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When we were in the states we had a 150 sq ft garden with 3-4 tomato plants, 6-8 Japanese cucumber plants, a few melon vines, some edamame, some basil, and marigolds around to help keep the bugs out. I usually spent about 5-8 bucks on some manure, few bucks for some tomato plants, and maybe 10-12 bucks in seeds. This is after the capital cost of the drip system I put in for it, but the dripper probably saved more than its cost in water. I had hooked up to the sprinkler timer so it was always watered on schedule.

In terms of the annual costs, we got a lot more out of it than we put in. We probably ate 100# of cucumbers (2.99 a lb at the store) and 100# of tomatoes (2.99 a lb at the store for the hothouse variety), plus 12-15 melons of different varieties. In addition, we probably gave away another 100 pounds each of cucumbers and tomatoes.

I usually spent about 8 hours prepping in spring, and 8 hours cleaning up in fall, maybe an hour a week weeding, plus a few minutes a day harvesting from June thru September or early October. I'm guessing here, but water for the garden was maybe $2-3 per month. I composted leaves and grass clippings and used it as soil amendment, and I also used grass clippings as mulch where necessary.

All in all, I think we got our money's worth several times over, and it provided a lot of personal satisfaction. I did that for 6 years before being posted to asia, where I do not have a yard...only a balcony. I'm looking forward to being back to my garden in a couple years. My next garden will be larger, but with more variety...I'm hooked...

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Old 04-12-2008, 12:58 AM   #19
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After this year, I have wondered about it.
But even if you spend $.79 at Home Depot for plants instead of seeds and manage to kill a few, and some get eaten by slugs, chickens, and pigs.
I am pretty sure you come out ahead financially

Plus the taste (especially tomatoes) so much better than the store bought kind.
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Old 04-12-2008, 05:55 AM   #20
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I have seven widows living on my street. I grow about 25 tomatoe plants a year which is way too much for two people. When the crop is in, early in the mornings I leave paper bags full of tomatoes on their steps. By afternoon, I have usually gotten telephone calls saying how much they are thankful for this little offering.

At this point, I have broke even.


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