In April, I posted that I would be tracking costs associated with my vegetable garden to see how my plot expenses measure up to costs cited in Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Cheapskate columnist Neal Templin's article on the economics of backyard gardening. Now that it's late September when early snows loom perennially in theforecast, I'm circling back to check my 2009 gardening costs.
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." This is the basis for my comparison against the average. However, the WSJ article did not take into account the serious difference in climate between New York and Colorado; irrigation costs were ignored. But they're top of mind for me in this sun-baked region of the country. So, I was also interested in understanding how changes to my irrigation and mulching system might impact our home water usage and bills.
This year's garden investments included irrigation tubing, garden stakes, pressure regulator, cucumber trellis, plastic mulch and organic compost at a cost of $163.42. Seeds and plants total $77.95. The total is $241.37. OK, so much for beating the average, but maybe I'm a little more ambitious than the usual backyard vegetable gardener.
We moved to this home a year ago March and made do the first season with sprinkling the vegetable garden, but after some ghastly summer water bills, I decided a serious improvement was in store for the garden watering system. So this spring, my son and I installed soaker hoses and placed them on a timer. We also made a few changes to our gardening techniques, such as adding plastic mulch, planting compactly and hand tilling instead of machine tilling, all of which tend to reduce water consumption.
Now for a less-than-scientific analysis of our water usage during this growing season, compared to that of 2008: What complicates my analysis is a difference in the weather pattern from last year to this season. This year, we experienced an extraordinary amount of cool moist weather early in the growing season, so much so, that my tomatoes, pablano peppers and eggplants are still peaking. In fact, according to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration data, Boulder rainfall April - Aug 2008 was 9.98 inches, while the figure for the same period in 2009 was 13.41 inches, 34.4% higher and close to our annual average of just above 15 inches. Also, keep in mind that our yard totals a third of an acre most of which has yet to be xeriscaped, and thus needs to be irrigated. The vegetable garden represents a small portion of our land, so much of the water expense during the summer months certainly goes toward lawn watering. Nonetheless, checking out the water numbers for eight billing cycles between April - October 2008 and the same period in 2009 is insightful, given my gardening improvements. Here's how the numbers shake out:
April - Sept 2008: $818.70
April - Sept 2009: $677.60
Actual difference: $149.63
Percent reduction in water bill same time period 2008 to 2009: 18.3%
Water Usage in Gallons (Aye, staggering but at least we're going in the right direction!)
April - Sept 2008: 164,000
April - Sept 2009: 132,000
Actual difference: 32,000
Percent reduction in water usage same time period 2008 to 2009: 19.5%
Staring at these water consumption figures measuring in the 100 thousands makes me want to jump right to xeriscaping the entire yard, but that investment would take a few years to recoup in terms of the potential savings with water bills. For now, I'll settle with our water reduction techniques in the vegetable garden and dream of a future rock-scaped garden with sedum, butterfly bushes, yucca, prickly pear, yarrow, basket-of-gold, snow-in-summer, bell flowers...The hills are alive...with the sound of...
Oh sorry, back to the vegetable garden and cost savings related to changes in water usage. While I can't attribute all of the water reduction to garden revisions (no doubt Mother Nature lent a hand this year), I more than made up for the cost of the soaker hose system (stakes, hoses and pressure gauge), which was about $100. I still have a ways to go to make it to the National Gardening Association's $70 per year average for families with gardens. That number couldn't possibly include water costs. Could it?