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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Dismal Science

I got my Bachelor’s in Economics and as such I like to keep spreadsheets and numbers to try and understand what is happening in the world around me. One of the things that I was concerned about when we started gardening was whether it was a good decision economically. Mainly I was concerned if it was worth my time based on the money I saved. I calculated our expenses (including the cost of time) the first year of gardening and was dismayed to find out that it didn’t save us money to garden. It was actually more expensive for me to produce a carrot than it was to buy one at the store. This made sense to me because of the whole economies of scale idea. Of course a farmer with a huge farm can produce a carrot cheaper than I can. I about quit gardening but luckily my wife kept us in the game.

Over the years I have realized that there are hidden benefits from gardening that I can’t put a price on that make having a garden a profitable endeavor. You can’t put a price on the lowering of my blood pressure because of the enjoyment I have from working in the garden, and the benefits of eating healthier. You can’t put a price on the work ethic your children and you receive as they get their hands dirty. You can’t put a price on the benefits of time spent together as a family working towards a common goal. You can’t put a price on the better tasting vegetables that you get to eat fresh from your backyard. You can’t put a price on the reduction of your carbon footprint from getting food from your back yard. All in all, I think gardening is profitable for all of us.

All that said, I still enjoy keeping track of my garden with numbers. I decided to weigh everything that we harvest from our garden this year so I can form a baseline for us to improve upon. We wanted to share our results with you. Just to give you an idea of the size of our garden we have on plot that is 27 ft by 9 ft and 4 plots that are 4 ft by 4 ft. I don’t consider this a lot of room at all and I am pleased with what we have produced so far. None of this includes the more than 2 dozen eggs that we get each week and all of this on a .11 acre lot.

I already reported on our June harvest here in which harvested a paltry 9 lbs of food. Following you will find our harvest for July and August.


Green Beans: 2 oz

Sugar Snap Peas: 8 oz

Carrots: 14 oz

Strawberries: 4oz

Lettuce: 2 lbs 6 oz

Raspberries: 6 oz

Yellow Squash: 3 lbs 10 oz

Zucchini: 12 lbs 6 oz

Beets: 13 oz

Tomatoes: 6 oz

Cucumbers: 6 lbs 4 oz

July Total 27 lbs 12 oz


Carrots: 6 lbs 2 oz

Zucchini: 38 lbs 9 oz

Beets: 5 lbs 6 oz

Tomatoes: 29 lbs 4 oz

Cucumbers: 20 lbs

Eggplant: 1 lb

August total 100 lbs 4 oz

So far we have grown about 137 pounds of food and I expect we will have a lot more in September. Think about bringing home 137 lbs of food from the grocery store. Gardening is a very satisfying and fulfilling hobby. If you already garden, keep it up. If you don’t, start out small but get started now.

Mike Johnson


Becky said...

I am inspired by how much you were able to produce in such a small amount of space. My husband also occasionally asks if our garden saves us money. So far the answer is no but he and I realize that the garden gives back in ways that we can't put a price on.
I just found your blog and look forward to reading more about your garden.

Dale Johnson said...


I always love your articles. Being trained as an agricultural economist myself, I agree with everything you have said. When you put a price on all imputs, its cheaper to buy. But the biggest cost is labor. And since gardening is my hobby and my recreation, I don't value my time anymore and since we have streamlined our production practices, we actually save money by gardeneing (if I don't count my time). All the additional benefits you mention make it a no brainer. I believe everyone should garden and the world would be a much better place.

Thanks for letting me borrow you wife last week. (You can explain that so our readers don't get the wrong idea.)

mike said...

Good point Dale. When I originally calculated our costs I added the cost of time (my hourly labor rate) into the costs. I enjoy gardening as a hobby so this cost is probably not valid. If I take this cost out I would guess that even without the hidden benefits gardening is profitable.

-Sydney- said...

I think there are a lot of startup costs associated with the first year or two that eventually pay for themselves over time--tools, plant cages, stakes, soil, etc.

I view my garden as a hedge against increasing prices or lack of availability in the grocery store. Especially when I bottle things to put up for the winter. As has been mentioned many times on this site, it is a good feeling to be self-sufficient and know your family will be fed even in times of hardship.

Dale Johnson said...

You are right Sydney.