How much harvest to you see at the end of the season? Have you stopped to think about the quantity of tomatoes or berries or corn or beans that you pull from the plants? What is the market rate for the price of that produce? You don't need an exact number, but think about how much a comparable amount of fresh fruit or vegetables would be if you purchased them from the grocery store or farmer's market.
By comparing the cost in the beginning with benefit at the end you're doing a basic "cost-benefit analysis" of your garden. You may ask why this is important, because you always choose to grow what you like to grow. It is important because it should play at least a minor role in determining what seeds and plants you buy in the beginning.
You're going to spend a lot of time in the garden over the course of a season. Particularly if you have limited time or limited space, the plants you grow should have the greatest value. That way your time and the costs of gardening and bringing plants to maturity are most worthwhile. That value can be monetary or emotional and I'll discuss both.
I grew potatoes last year and thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting a seed potato in the ground and watching it grow to the point that I harvested full-size potatoes months later. The seed potatoes I used cost me a little more than $10. At the end of the season I harvested a little more than five pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes and five pounds of Russet potatoes. Though I enjoyed growing them, if I were to buy the same potatoes in the store they would cost less than $10. Not counting the water, fertilizer, and time spent, the seed potatoes cost more than the value of the potatoes they produced.
|Delicious but not cost effective.|
Compare that to my raspberry plants. I initially bought 10 plants for about $20. Within three years, after the plants multiplied by themselves, I harvested a total of about 40 pounds of raspberries. Raspberries can be expensive at the market and on a good sale day will be $5 per pound. Conservatively, my $20 worth of plants produced more than $200 worth of fruit.
This is how your gardening cost-benefit analysis works. If you have a plot for planting, is it better to choose raspberries or potatoes? You may love potatoes, but they're very inexpensive in the market and you can usually buy them for less than you can grow them. Raspberries on the other hand are astronomically more expensive to buy than to grow.
As you plan your garden and select your plants, think about the monetary benefit. If there is something you like to eat, but don't like the high cost of buying it fresh, then grow it yourself. Herbs are a good example. Basil leaves are expensive and aren't even as fresh as they should be when packaged in plastic; if you grow your own basil in the garden or on the windowsill you can use it perfectly fresh and save money. After the initial purchase of thyme, rosemary, or tarragon plants, they'll live for years and supply you with an ever-increasing quantity of ever-cheaper fresh herbs.
Plants like rhubarb and asparagus are wonderful garden choices if you have the space. They're both perennial plants and will come back every year with more vigor. They are expensive in the store. The minimal cost of buying starter plants will reward you dramatically.
Everyone loves tomatoes picked off the vine. A few dollars for seeds or plants and you can have an abundance of fruit that tastes better and is cheaper than the so-called "vine fresh" tomatoes in the supermarket. For taste, enjoyment, and dollar savings, tomatoes are almost a no-brainer.
There are many crops I grow that I have to think twice about when deciding whether to plant or not. Corn is relatively easy to grow but takes up a lot of space. Just about the time my corn is ready for harvest, I can usually find fresh corn on sale at the grocery store for four ears for a dollar. It's hard to compete with that pricing especially if you live in an area where store or farmer's market sweet corn is no more than one-day old.
When it comes to using my raised bed for potatoes or garlic, I have to choose garlic. They're both plentiful and inexpensive in the store, but garlic is more cost effective; it can be stored for later use and used to plant more garlic.
Also consider rarity and uniqueness when choosing seeds and plants. You can grow things that you can't find in the store, and if you could find them they'd cost a small fortune. Unique chard and kale are hard to find, expensive when you can, but easy to grow. Specialty lettuce is popular, also expensive, and also easy to pick fresh from your garden.
I'm not trying to be a mercenary when it comes to selecting my plantings. I'd grow everything if I could, but my time and space are limited. I choose what to plant using two basic parameters: what I want to grow and what makes the most sense to grow.
I want to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers because it's easy and enjoyable to pick them fresh to make a dinner salad. If I save money by growing them myself, that's just icing on the cake. I grow green beans from seeds that I save each year so the cost is zero, but I like growing them so I can make pickled green beans for my wife and daughter. Even if they cost a small fortune, I'd still grow them.
When choosing between carrots or peppers, the monetary advantage of peppers wins out. A single carrot costs pennies, but a single yellow sweet pepper may be a few dollars.
Pumpkins are cheap to plant and also cheap to purchase around Halloween. But the joy of having your kids or grandchildren pick their own pumpkin out of your garden is worth whatever the extra expense might be, if anything.
Many gardeners think that growing apricots in my region is impossible because of our short season and unpredictable spring weather. It's tough, but can be done. I would get fruit from my apricot tree only once every two or three years. And in the best year I only got five or six pounds. But those apricots were more delicious than can be described. All of the pruning, watering, and babying was worth the effort for those few delectable bites.
|Maybe these apricot blossoms will actually produce fruit.|
Think about how you choose what to plant and how to determine your garden's value. If there is no special reason for the choice, think about the cost versus the benefit. You may actually discover that there are plants you aren't growing that should have a home in your garden. Make room for plants that are expensive to buy. Maybe it's just me, but fresh produce seems to taste just a little better when I know I'm saving money.