Sunday, April 5, 2009

What's it all worth?

Big question when it comes to gardening. I know (because we keep pretty tight records) that my family of 6 individuals eats a lot of food, both in volume and in dollars. Of course, money isn't the only way to measure what goes on in our yard. There's the thrill I get from doing it all, what it means to me to be knit into my community -- there's a couple of "tea in the garden" meetings happening here this week, where I talk new and unsure gardeners into giving it a shot -- and the hours such as the one tonight, after dinner, when my eldest daughter and I worked in the garden and talked, in the gloaming, our favorite time of day in our favorite time of year. She listed all of her favorite foods, and noted that they all happened in summer. Since we eat pretty seasonally, her year gets better and better until the thrilling culmination of Halloween, foodwise.

But Eric and I have been talking about what it would be like to figure out more closely where the dollars do stack up in this project. He insists that I want to sort of amortize in the big costs, so things like the chicken coop, the raised beds and chicken yard that were built by hired hands, the fruit trees, etc.

The fruit trees ranged in price from part of the yard cost for the plums, Katy apricot, Anna apple, Fuji apple, and some rasperries to roughly $20 or so for another apricot, to under $10 for each of five more rasperries and a boysenberry, to free for the blackberries from Denise's yard. to almost $80 each for the three espaliered apples in front and the persimmon tree. The three citrus trees were bought years ago, and were probably $30-$40 each. The true Bay Laurel and rosemary have been around for years. The rosemary was a gift from our perpetual realtor, the Bay was a present from me to me. They are all just bearing for the first time this year. All told, we have approximately $600-800 worth of trees in the front and back yards. Hm! That's more than I expected, and I'm grateful for every one of them.

Bee equipment is easily cost based at $400 or more right now, from starting kit three years ago to the powdered sugar I bought yesterday to sprinkle over them. Local honey is going for $13 a pound now, so I'll keep pricing it as we go along. I know the first year we kept bees, we got at least 40 pounds of honey, and have gotten something every year. Records, records, we need records. The bees have, with one exception, been swarms, with the only cost my time and gas and a box to put them in.

Best I can figure out, the beds/irrigation/chicken yard were about $2500, as part of a bigger job. I'd have to find out the cost of redwood 2x12x10s, because that's what the beds are made of for material costs, and then we paid for labor, of course. If we end up taking down our redwood deck, I'll salvage that lumber and use it for future beds and projects. This first round at this house, however, wasn't salvaged. The chicken coop we built and designed ourselves and was, we agreed, paid for in eggs over the past few years.

Chicken feed, however, has been running us approximately $20/bag. We're going through a bag perhaps in a month and a half, now, with only 4 hens. Eggs are $2.79/dozen at Trader Joe's for free range, non-organic eggs, which is a fair comparison to ours (although I bet they're happier than what passes for free-range hens in production). Just in March, with 82 eggs, that's about $19 worth of eggs -- just over the cost of feed. The chickens also eat a lot of scraps that I wouldn't necessarily compost, and we eat them sometimes. All part of the calculations.

I spent $18.56 on the part of the seed order that showed up from Seeds of Change this week. Still to come is at least that much, possibly more, because I ordered soil builder mixes. Seeds will last a couple of years.

Then, at Home Depot, I bought a fairly expensive amount of things (and have lost my itemized reciept). I know that for over $100, I got rebar and 6x6" wire for my new tomato cage idea, a couple of trellises for climbing flowers, a potted Thunbergia, three varieties of peppers I haven't the seeds for (Jalapeno, Ancho/Poblano, and one other variety I'm too tired to go down and look at), a single Early Girl tomato, a single eggplant, a bag of compost, and something else. Nearly all of that cost was going to go into the garden.

Another trip to the feed store resulted in a $57 bill. With that was bedding for the baby chicks, a new baby chick waterer, two bales of straw for mulch, a bag of layer feed and a bag of scratch for a chicken treat. The chicks were $18.

I get about 6 5 gallon buckets of rabbit poop and used rabbit food/litter from a friend every month. I notice that the beds that are amended with that hold water better than the non-amended ones. I have no idea how to value that, dollar-wise. Kindness and relationship-wise, I find it very valuable!

Water is an ongoing concern here in my area. So far, we've gotten by with recycled bath tub water - hooray for siphons - and with good mulch and good amendment, I'm hoping that we won't end up using "new" water for the outside this year. The three rain water catchment totes were $120 each, for a total cost of $360 plus about $20 in hardware to hook them up.

So far, since I started keeping records? Well, let's see:
Those 8 pounds of kale would sell at my produce store -- and I'm only pricing where I'd buy currently -- at $2.29 for a 1/2# bunch. I've added a couple of pounds onto that, and that brings the total to $22.90 for kale. We eat a lot of this, at least 2-3 times a week. Yum!
Snow peas are $5.99 a pound there, and I've harvested a whole 5/8 ounce. Lest anyone (Tricia!) snicker, that's from one square foot of snow peas, about 12 plants. I don't like picking them, and my second daughter eats them for outside snacks when she gets to them, so it's a miracle we have any. They get fought over in stir fries. That 5/8 ounce translates into a fairly respectable $3.71.
Leaf lettuce is $1.99 a head. I've harvested (and eaten, almost singlehandedly) 16 heads, so $31.84 of lettuce so far.
Carrots, of which we've harvested roughly a pound, are more expensive with their tops on. This of course makes no sense, because the tops expire moisture out of the carrot, but they look nice. $2.99 a pound for bunched carrots.
The 40 baby leeks I pulled to make room for the tomatoes soon to come had no direct equivalent at the store. Big leeks were only something like $1.49 a pound, but green baby garlic was $6.00 a pound. I figured cute baby leeks would probably be about $5 a pound, and those babies were 3/4 of a pound. $3.75 for those, which means I might not grow leeks again - they take an enormous amount of time, and the resultant product isn't so far superior to store bought that I want to give up my ground for that, unlike tomatoes and broccoli and kale.
Two limes, almost 1/2 pound, will have to wait until I find my notes for their cost. I remember being surprised at how expensive they were to buy.

Then there's the wild amount of free food that comes our way. I'm part of a local fruit exchange and get lemons and oranges and other fruit in season -- haven't valued that except for fun and deliciousness, but I'm certainly not buying lemons, either. We have herbs as landscaping. I don't buy sage or oregano or mint -- they were all about $2 plants, and have given far more than that by now.

I obviously need to hook into Eric's capacity for number management. He's not a gardener, but he can manipulate a spreadsheet like nobody's business. I'm flummoxed by the price changes over a season, as a fruit or vegetable becomes more available, and just don't think in this way. I am curious, however, about how this will stack up over a full year. And those answers don't come because I wax rhapsodic about my soil or watch the baby beans anxiously. I'm amazed at how much of this comes down to record keeping. Sigh.

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