Years ago, when I used to garden in containers on the little patio of our Manhattan apartment, Dear Husband used to joke about how we were growing a (note the singular) $20 tomato. Then when we moved up to Bedford, the garden grew larger and so did the expenses. And the thought of $20 tomatoes are no longer a joke.
So really, what are the costs of our home-grown organic tomatoes (and peas, and cukes, and zukes, etc.)? Here then is a full accounting (if memory serves) of the costs for the garden this year:
- spring rototilling and manure application: $250
- seeds: $185
- seed starting supplies and mulch paper: $135
- garden stakes: $75
- organic fertilizer, rot-stopper and fungicide: $90
- deer-away spray: $60
In addition, there are the long-term investments: the huge rotating composter I bought (and then had to put together!) this spring, the light table I use to start seeds even during the frosty days of mid-winter, the garden fencing we installed when we moved here six years ago and other sundry items that presumably should last until I no longer care to garden. Amortized over time perhaps these add another $50 per year.
This brings us to a grand TOTAL for the 2010 garden of $845.
Now what about the other side of the equation–what is the garden revenue for 2010? While I don’t ever weigh my harvest, I can say in broad terms that we had over two months of peas (both raw and cooked); an overabundance of cucumbers, several meals worth of peppers, enough beets to make Borscht for one very small Russian battalion, various greens, grains and of course those tomatoes. How many pounds of tomatoes? I can’t say yet, but this looks to be a banner year. Each vine is now laden with anywhere from six to sixty rapidly ripening tomatoes. Which may not sound like much, but considering that some of those tomatoes must weigh three pounds or more (see pic) it’s not bad.
And of course it’s not about quantity, really, is it? These tomatoes are not anything like the dry, tasteless tomatoes one gets at Shoprite or even the mushy, ‘ugly’ ones from the health food market. These are real, old-fashioned (heirloom, primarily) firm but juicy, aromatic, and incredibly delicious tomatoes. And each is different in color, consistency and taste from the other. $20 for one of these huge, precious fruits? I consider that a bargain.
I will not, of course, be able to quantify in dollars the many hours of labor preparing the soil, setting up hoses and mulch, planting, weeding and otherwise caring for my garden. Are these truly ‘costs’ or are they part of the ‘profit’ or return that I get from the garden? Ask me on different days and you will get different answers: the cool, rainy March day I’m wrestling with netting for the peas-‘cost’; the lovely, sunny July day I’m tying healthy tomato vines to their stakes-‘profit’.
Of course I don’t spend my time in the garden just for the taste of tomatoes. There are other more intangible benefits. Like when Josh and Jake fight over who gets to eat the most peas, or when our friends’ 15-month old daughter chomps down on a string bean straight from the vine, or even when cousin Sammy (who for years survived primarily on hotdogs, frozen chicken fingers and bananas) picked his own zucchini and then actually tried a bite of it. Because of my garden I’m fairly confident my boys will grow up eating their veggies. And I won’t have to hide them blended into brownies or covered in breading and cheese. Because when you sow, grow and pick your own, eating them just seems natural. And that, as they say on American Express commercials, is priceless.