Friday, October 10, 2008
Financial Argument for Planting a Garden (in SIPs)
With most of our retirement portfolios worth about sixty percent of what they were two months ago, I’m sure you’ll see a lot of “boot strapping” both in the corporate sector and at home. People will hold off large expenditures and start watching what they spend on everyday items, like, most appropriately here, food.
People will weigh food costs against quality; which may impact the commercial supply chain. The big box grocers will be running sales on produce that don’t seem possible until you realize the direct correlation between cost and quality. The niche markets, focused on organic or higher quality produce may suffer, since their food is often more expensive to grow. The farmers may feel a pinch as well with their commercial buyers but also the farmers markets and CSAs since spending four or five dollars a pound for tomatoes may seem like a luxury to some people.
Please take a breath and gather some perspective. High quality, locally sourced, organic food is probably much better for your health than the high volume, commercially grown, low quality produce alternative. What is your health worth to you (please factor in rising health care costs before answering)? Some people believe that since the “good stuff” has more concentrated flavor, a person is more likely not to overeat or need as much of it. Maybe less is more?
This seems like the perfect time to start planning your own garden. You’ll reap the benefits of locally grown, high quality, organic produce for next spring, summer, and fall. Perhaps, you’ll be enterprising and think about canning and freezing for next winter.
Gardens can seem expensive – turning a yard into a serviceable, organic garden takes a lot of hard work, tools, and time. Let alone watering everyday and weeding and fighting off insects.
Yes, the “traditional way” can be difficult but I use SIPs (Sub-Irrigated Planters) in my rooftop garden that I feel paid for itself this year alone. Friends and family are surprised to see the yields and the ease of use. I use the commercial Earthbox planters but you can make your own (plenty of options on this site alone). Besides for the initial set-up (fill with potting mix, fertilize and plant your crop), all there is left is daily watering. That will be taken care of next season with an automatic watering system from Earthbox but you can build your own as well from instructions on our site. There is very little weeding and watching for pests (I sprayed organic solutions for about a week this past year). The most labor intensive thing you may have to do is build trellises and supports for all of your plants.
To give you an idea of why I feel good about my garden investment this year, here’s an example. I planted four boxes of tomatoes (actually five but the last box was a late season addition of donated heirlooms tomatoes – I want to keep this fair). My investment for the boxes was $34 each (I bought twelve at once). I figure the potting mix and fertilizer cost another $12 per box and starter plants were about five bucks each (two per box). That’s about $224.00 for tomatoes this year!
But wait. Some claim that they can get yields of 40lbs of tomatoes per box per season. I didn’t count but I would estimate that, on average, I was pulling about 5-10lbs of tomatoes per week since mid July (I’m still pulling 5 lbs a week in mid October). If we take an average of two pounds of tomatoes per box per week for 13 weeks, it’s about 26lbs of tomatoes per box, per season (a conservative estimate) or 104 pounds of tomatoes. At my local organic grocer, organic tomatoes cost about $4 per pound in season. At the farmers markets, they average about $3 per pound. That’s $300-$400 if I were to purchase my yield and quality at the store or market. That’s a significant savings and don’t even get me started on my lettuce! On top of the cost difference, I have the pleasure of walking upstairs to pick my “fresh off the vine” tomato for my BLT. I will track the costs better next year. This year was my “R&D” phase to see if growing vegetables on my roof was possible.
I feel that we’ll see a significant grassroots movement back to vegetable gardening. In order to do that, especially in an urban setting, people will need information resources. Our goal is to supply them here. Before next spring (planting season), we will be offering information on how to plan your garden along with tips we’ve learned along the way. We’ll try to include local suppliers of materials and cost-effective tips. If you have any ideas, please feel free to forward them.