In the April 16, 2009, issue of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Cheapskate columnist Neal Templin takes on the economics of backyard gardening. Private pilots often joke about the $100 hamburger, approximating the cost of flying to the nearest airport for lunch. And upscale backyard gardeners may produce something akin: The $100 cucumber. The money factor in vegetable gardening makes for perennial family teasing when I start preparing the garden beds each spring. "Here we go, the most expensive vegetables in town....There goes the water bill." I take it in good humor but also look for ways to reduce costs each year, hoping I can one day add an economic justification to my long list of the benefits that come through growing a kitchen garden.
The WSJ article provides some interesting statistics taking into consideration types of produce grown, size of the garden, and capital expenses related to tools, raised beds, fencing to keep out pests and the like. Templin writes, "The nonprofit National Gardening Association just produced a study -- sponsored by ScottsMiracle-Gro Co. -- that found the average family with a vegetable garden spends just $70 a year on it and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables."
I'm curious to learn how my growing season spending will size up to this number. Well, fortunately, this year I decided to get serious about my garden accounting and added a line item to my Quicken budget. So I can pull my numbers quite easily. How's it looking year to date after nine continuous years of backyard gardening? So far in 2009, I'm at $216, and I still haven't even managed to move any of my seedlings outdoors. (We're having another spring snow-slush-rain storm - aahh Springtime in the Rockies.) OK, granted, we moved only a little over a year ago so I needed to start over with my irrigation system. But I already have in my possession a tiller plus a fine assortment of hoses, rakes, hoes and hand tools. The seeds, alone, were $56.
Given we live in arid Colorado, I believe I'll find that the biggest challenge to keeping my garden line item to a reasonable figure is irrigation expense (including water bills), which the east-coast-based WSJ failed to mention as a cost consideration. Colorado State University Extension recommends soaker hoses as one of several best practices for water conservation with Colorado vegetable gardens. In the past, I've used sprinkler systems, even as I realized a lot of water was lost to evaporation. Two weeks ago I covered the garden with compost ($30). (Our home-produced compost hasn't cooked quite long enough.) Earlier this week, my son and I carefully laid out two soaker hoses ($22), secured them with earth stakes ($8), and added a $40 pressure gauge and regulator to keep the water pressure at the preferred 10 psi. I expect the soaker hoses to last several seasons.
With 2008 water bills on file, I'm going to be tracking the difference between this year's and last year's water use. Assuming the weather conditions are similar between the two years, I hope to see a significant savings. I'll report back at the end of the season.