2009-12-10 / News

How much does your garden cost?

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

I was reading last week that food scares, carbon emissions and the recession have turned many more people into gardeners. By some accounts, last year saw seven million people start new vegetable gardens. But what are they all going to grow and how much will it cost them to grow this food?

Without a real cost analysis of your garden, you run the risk of spending more than you actually get in yields. For example, when I grew my first banana tree in the greenhouse, the corm cost under $10. I planted it and kept it warm for four years while it grew into a 10-ft. tall tree. Each winter, I heated the greenhouse and carefully fertilized the plant. In the fourth year, it gave me a stalk of bananas. I figured that each banana had cost me about $9 to grow when I could have gone to the store and bought a bunch for under $2. The upshot is that the plant has had many young bananas and I’ve had several hands of bananas from the same corm for many years now, so the overall cost has declined. I also grew key limes, oranges, limes and lemons in the same heated greenhouse and I’ve more than made back the cost of the heating in citrus fruits over the years.

You can save money by growing your own, but you need to be selective about what you grow. A single head of lettuce costs about $2 at the store, but you can grow up to a hundred heads in your garden for about $2 worth of seeds.

If you’re a cook, you should grow some shallots. Seed shallots can be purchased for about $15 to $20 per pound. Start them in fall or early in the spring. Each single bulb will become six to eight bulbs during the growing season, so you should reap around six to eight pounds of shallots. Similarly, start garlic in the fall for best results. You can start it now, but your harvest will be later next season. I find that hardneck garlic seems to do better than softneck here, and lasts longer in storage.

I also grow artichokes. It is best to start them right about now and put them in a greenhouse where temperatures will not fall much below 25 degrees. If it gets colder than that, you will probably lose some plants. If you can keep your artichokes going, by late May, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh artichokes. When harvesting, cut the main head off and let side shoots and small artichokes grow for a second, albeit smaller, crop.

I also grow cylindrical beets, simply because they have more root in each plant than do round ones. I get a little variety by growing golden beets and chiogga striped beets. You can make them into borscht, serve them with butter and pepper, or dice different colored cooked beets into salads. You can also use young beet greens in your salad.

Even at this time of year, I grow Chinese greens, spinach and other greens under glass and can often walk out to the greenhouse to pick a quick salad. I also grow lettuce starting in late March in the greenhouse, but it doesn’t like the extreme cold that spinach and arugula can take. Sorrel is a perennial plant that can also be used to supplement a salad and can be made into a soup on its own.

Mustard greens, pac choy, bok choy and tah sai can also be added to salads. If you don’t want to invest in a greenhouse, try growing a head of lettuce in a large diameter shallow pot. You should be able to grow three to four heads in a 10-inch pot in about 40 days. As you harvest one head, it leaves space for the others to grow.

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