Garden Harvest Update: Does Gardening Pay Off? Part 1

I have already harvested 40.5 pounds of produce from my garden, and most of the things I'm growing aren't even ready to harvest yet. So far, I've mostly harvested zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, and more recently pickling cucumbers (which I don't pickle, but peel and eat in salads) and a few sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. I'm still waiting on all the peppers, other tomatoes, eggplant, corn, and melons. In the spring I harvested some leaf lettuce and arugula, but it's too hot for those now--they've bolted and I'm just waiting to collect the seeds.

To keep track of how much of a return on investment I'm getting in my garden, I'm keeping track of the monetary value of my harvest. Produce prices change every week and vary dramatically depending on where you shop, so I've tried to pick middle-of-the-road numbers that reflect what I would be likely to pay if I went to the store without and special planning or sale following and just bought whatever I wanted.

So, for example, while there is a store nearby where I can get 3 pounds of zucchini for 99 cents, since I don't like to shop there and it requires a special trip, I know I am more likely to buy the zucchini at the store where it costs 99 cents a pound. Thus, 99 cents a pound is how I value my squash. I've valued my cherry tomatoes at $1.99 a pound, lettuce at $2.99 a pound, and cucumbers at 69 cents a pound. So far the total value of what I've harvested comes to $42. I spent $153 to get my garden up and running this year (that number doesn't take into account things I already owned or that were given to me). So I still have $111 to go just to break even.

These numbers don't tell the whole story, though. For one, the herbs I've harvested, like the basil I used to make pesto, weigh so little that I haven't kept track of them (but I should, because they are awfully expensive at the store). Also, the other member of my household, like many men, still eats like a teenager and doesn't like most vegetables. So that leaves one person to eat 40 pounds of produce over a period of six weeks. I haven't been able to do it, and I'm determined to not waste any, so I've actually given away several pounds of zucchini and frozen another several pounds to use in the winter. Today I'm going to try making a zucchini soup to use another several pounds. Sadly, I've thrown away a few ounces of lettuce that I couldn't eat before it wilted, a pound of zucchini that I used in recipes that didn't turn out well, and a few pounds of diseased squash that were inedible. My goal, however, is zero waste.

Having never grown zucchini before, I had no idea how prolific my four plants would be. I got sick of the stuff after a week of eating two pounds of it sauteed and roasted every day. I know I could make zucchini bread, but to me, turning something healthy into something unhealthy kind of defeats the purpose of eating a vegetable. So I have given away about 12 pounds of zucchini.

In a sense, that reduces my return on investment, but in another sense, you really can't put a price on gaining the goodwill of your future in-laws by sending them something they like to cook with.


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How to Grow Your Own Vegetables and Herbs to Save Money

Post by Amy Fontinelle

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