Focus Corner

Valuing the Vegatables

February 9th, 2010 by   (View Author Profile)

money-vegMoney and the garden

We have made a decision to only grow a limited amount of vegetable types this year.  For years now we have perused the gardening seed catalogues with the feeling that we need to get a vegetable from every letter of the alphabet.  Asparagus, artichoke, banana (yes, we’ve tried growing them,) carrots, dill….well you know how it goes after years of watching Sesame Street. The outcome was that when the plants grew, there wasn’t enough room for them to grow healthily. Never mind keeping up with crop rotation -it became a matter for the code breakers.

This year then we are prioritising what to put in by what we all like as a family and also the cost factor of the shop bought equivalent.  Gone are all of the root vegetables like spuds and carrots. OK there’s nothing like the taste of home grown ones but when you can get a 25kg of them down town for next to nothing, we don’t really see that the efforts and the space of the home grown can be justified.  What we are growing are more above ground veggies like salad crops and runner beans.  These fetch a really high premium all year around in the shops so the return on our seed investment will be impressive.  There has been an extensive survey into monetising the garden and it makes interesting reading

In 1998 through 2008, the seed company Burpee conducted a cost analysis study of the home vegetable garden. Burpee  President, George Ball, Jr. likened the renewed interest in vegetable gardening to a kind of “new age victory garden”. Originally, the dig for victory gardens were intended to reduce demand on the public food supply in war time. Today we are growing veggies to reduce our dependence on the market, as well as to save energy and for the quality.   The new survey is seen as a victory over high fuel prices, going to the shops, a victory over non sustainable lifesyles and a small victory over global warming. In the 40’s the USA and the UK grew up to 40% of everything that was eaten.  Ireland’s new council houses were given large gardens to accommodate citizens used to living off the land.

Ball says that the new trend started with the spike in oil prices, then the mortgage and credit crisis, plus the food scares (e-coli and salmonella). Most people garden for taste. But there’s a strong argument to be made that growing your own vegetables is also a cost saving proposition. A family of four can save a lot of money growing their own vegetables.

The statistics back up this claim. Factoring in the cost of seeds, fertilizer and water, the study compared the cost of growing vegetables against the cost of purchasing those same vegetables in a shop. Burpee, the seed company claims that we can save about 250% on average growing different vegetables. The figure goes up to 500 % on beefsteak tomatoes. The secret is to choose vegetables that are easy to grow and produce well. A family could spend €100 on seeds and fertilizer and grow €2,500 in herbs, lettuces and vegetables. …Over a five month period, if they refrained from purchasing shop-bought produce and ate only the produce that they grew, they could save €2,400 on just on tenth of an acre in five months.

If you’re looking to start a vegetable garden to save money, take a tip from experienced gardeners. Ball says the same vegetable seeds are top sellers year after year. The varieties may change as seeds are improved, but standby vegetables like tomatoes, beans and carrots will always trump the trend.

If you’ve never vegetable gardened before or if you’re looking to make your vegetable garden more efficient, Burpee selected six classic vegetables you can grow from seed and harvest throughout the summer:

· Bush Snap Bean
· Lettuce
· Bell Peppers
· Carrot ‘Big Top’
· Garden Peas
· Large Round Tomatoes

Bottom of the list are onions as they are in the ground for so long and are a low price in the shops all year. Burpee’s list was for the American market so I’ve made my own list of our top savers in Inishowen (mind you sometimes it is hard to find some of these locally) :

· Runner beans
· Mange tout
· Purple Sprouting Broccoli
· Kale
· Salad crops (e.g. rocket)
· Courgettes

Imagine Butterhead lettuce is on sale for a 90 cent a head. You can get a packet of 350 butterhead seeds for €1.50, each seed producing one head of lettuce. Making allowances for germination failure, we’re talking one cent per head. So, conservatively, the garden yield will have a supermarket value of about €250 for a €1.50 investment.

There are additional cost factors of course. Let’s estimate at a maximum €5 for a bit of compost. Labour costs if you hire a gardener, 2 hours each week for a month at €20 per hour for a total of €160. You’re still saving €85.  No wonder the French, call money “lettuce.” When you include the labour costs across all of the crops, labour gets proportionately cheaper. The bottom line is a return that guarantees €150 earned for every €1 invested.
Of course how much you save by growing your own vegetables depends on the fluctuating cost of food but the report claims that you will never see less than a 25% return on your veg patch year after year.   This ratio fails to factor in the abundant and tangible nonfinancial returns: flavour, freshness and a nutritional bonanza for your family. The garden suddenly appears as something new and delightful: a multidimensional, interactive realm of flavour, nourishment, fragrance, pleasure, beauty, recreation, sanctuary and self-realization. There’s a balance somewhere and hopefully we are getting there slowly.

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