Recently, I was reading through some of "AFC Cooperative Farming News" and other magazines from last year, culling them, removing address labels and such so I can free-cycle them to friends and various offices with waiting areas that don’t get new reading material very often. An article from May of last year got my attention and it prompted me to start thinking about just how much stuff I grow in the garden versus the retail value of the end result, adding in all expenses to the product that went into its production. I wondered if I was saving money growing it myself rather than buying it from a retailer. I knew the answer already, but I did not know just how much money was involved.
In this article, I will drift away from the usual method of writing and spotlight a few things important to me and I want to clarify some things some of you may have misunderstood from my past columns. In addition, I want to dispel any myth conjured by so-called experts (naysayers) that one cannot save money by growing their own veggies. Those people really get me going, so we’ll start by picking that bone.
Here are a few of my things I want to spotlight from last year.
I planted 20 bell pepper plants (4 golden, 4 orange, 12 Cal Wonder). Each pepper plant averaged about 15 mature peppers (ripe to color) and at least 15 immature peppers (green) harvested early. Each plant cost about $2. Water cost was negligible because I used mostly gray water trapped in buckets when necessary to supplement rainfall. Although fertilizer cost has skyrocketed over the last several years due to high petroleum prices, my documentation on fertilization cost can still be used to calculate today’s cost (>$.60 per plant during the growing season). Pesticides are not used.
Right now in the grocery store red, yellow and orange bell peppers are selling for $2.50 to $3 each and the green ones are just now beginning to fall in price to 2 for $1 on the small ones and a package of 3 large size for $2.99.
At my best calculation, I saved $57.40 on each plant by growing them myself and I knew every nutrient and water source used to produce them. What did I do with 600 bell peppers? Shared them with friends and family, froze some for use during the winter months. (I only have two bags left and this year’s crop is about the size of a quarter now.)
Basil is always used as filler in the flower gardens here. Typical green basil (large leaf) costs about $.79 per bunch at the grocery market and is usually less than 48 hours off the plant. However, if you live in a small town where produce doesn’t turn over as fast as a town with a mega-market, the basil and other herbs can look poorly before it is purchased. Grow your own and grow it from seed. Even the cheap $1.19 seed packs should get you 40-50 plants providing you with fresh basil right through frost and even longer if you take cuttings and root them in a sunny window after frost.
Each year I start the planting season with about 100 basil plants and add more through the season as room becomes available. I’ve never really counted the basil plants, but I estimate about 300 to 400 plants of at least eight different cultivars are used in the garden. Although it isn’t all harvested for my use or shared with friends, I enjoy pinching the leaves when I’m weeding and cultivating. The aroma is so fresh and invigorating. After the growing season, I allow the seed to dry on the plants. Some is harvested for next year’s crop and sharing. The rest remains on the plants for the birds to enjoy in the fall. As for the cost of the effort: the seed is heirloom stock I harvest each year. Plantings are tighter than tomatoes and peppers; therefore, less fertilizer is needed. Estimated cost per plant from seed to plate is about $.05 cents. During the growing season, I use it in salads and other culinary purposes. The longer branches make great filler in a cut-flower arrangement. Make pesto and freeze it for use during the winter months.
Fertilizers used here begin with 20-20-20 Jack’s Classic (J. R. Peters Company) on all seedlings and adult vegetable and annual flower plants. 10-10-10 granular feed is used as a top dressing at the time of planting okra, tomatoes and peppers.
Don’t have much room to plant in your yard? That’s okay. I don’t have a tractor to do acres and acres. My garden is full, but small. It’s manageable, but plentiful.
So far, compared to last year, it’s gonna be a great season!
If you are plagued by shade and want to grow something, then take my advice. It’s better to have low production in a half-day’s sunlight than no production at all.
Finally, some of you have brought to my attention that I said I swore off medical doctors for good. Well folks, I did say that, but there was another part of that statement you may have forgotten. The other part is: "…unless something breaks."
Something broke a few weeks ago while gardening and I took an unsolicited ambulance ride. Thanks to three very helpful neighbors who caught me and got me seated in a chair before I hit the ground, I survived my first ever (and hopefully last) seizure. More on that later.
Don’t worry. It wasn’t the herbs!
Next time, we’ll have more on savings by growing your own herbs and veggies.
Until then, watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to find me on Facebook at "Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm."
As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.