Garden Harvest Update: Does Gardening Pay Off? Part 2

There's nothing like growing a large vegetable garden in your backyard to make you appreciate division of labor and the technological advances that make it so easy to go to the grocery store to purchase produce.

Gardening is incredibly time consuming. Yes, to some extent, if you plant things in good soil in a sunny spot and give them enough water, they will flourish with minimal effort. But it's really much more complicated than that. Plants get diseases. They get attacked by sucking insects and chewing insects. They get scorched from too much sun. They droop from underwatering, and turn yellow from overwatering. The flowers fall off before the plant can set fruit. The fruit forms, but starts to rot on the vine. Caterpillars bore holes in your tomatoes. Cheap tomato cages can break under the weight of heavy tomaotes and threaten to tear down the whole plant. Weeds grow like crazy and seem impossible to get rid of.

Paying enough attention to notice these problems, researching them to learn what they are and how to solve them, buying the right products to treat them, and spending the time to tend to them are all very time consuming. I could easily spend an hour a day just tending to my vegetable garden. But I can't, because between work, household chores, and taking care of the rest of my yard, there isn't time.

A few hours a week to grow a few pounds of produce, which also takes a lot of time to wash, cut, and cook, plus the money you spend on all the tools and fertilizers and watering, is just crazy compared to the effort it takes to go to the grocery store. And while the quality of produce is often better, I can get produce that tastes like I grew it in my backyard at the farmers market.

If you're thinking about growing a garden just to save money, I stand by my original assertion--it's not worth it. While I have come out ahead financially on my garden in terms of materials (this year!), I defintely have not in terms of time, considering that I work for myself and could have spent all those gardening hours writing, editing, or marketing. The rewards of gardening are not financial, unless you have nothing better to do and a bright green thumb.

What I have gained from gardening is mainly a satisfaction of a curiosity I didn't know I had. I like to learn new things, and it has been very satisfying to learn what my produce looks like when it grows. It amazes me that I have eaten certain things my whole life without having the slightest clue how they were produced. I didn't know what zucchini plants or pepper plants looked like. I had no idea that so many things we eat grew out of flowers. I didn't know that tomatoes develop their full size while green, then ripen. I didn't know that I could pick a green tomato and it would ripen on my counter (or that that's how supermarket tomatoes get their lack of flavor). I didn't know that all peppers turn red when left on the vine--there is nothing particularly special about red bell peppers. I didn't know that all that foliage on the plants is to prevent the fruits from getting scorched. Gardening would be a particularly good activity to do with kids, I think.

I also didn't know that I was capable of growing things. All my container gardening failures as an apartment renter had nearly convinced me that I had a black thumb, but it turns out that the knowledge I gained from those failures, combined with having good land and lots of sun for the first time, allowed me to have a pretty successful garden this year.

I will be scaling back severely next summer so that gardening is not a time-sucking chore. I am going to focus on the produe that has the highest reward: tomatoes. They are easy to grow and taste particularly delicious straight off the vine. I don't get sick of them, and even in season they are not particularly cheap at the store or farmers market. They are also highly perishable, which means many trips to the store if you want to have fresh tomatoes every day, and I don't like to make many trips to the store.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, coming whenever all my plants stop producing and I finally tear them out of the ground. I will let you know the total amount I invested in my garden, what grew well and what didn't, how many pounds of produce I harvested, how much of a return on investment I got in terms of materials, and how I will decrease my costs next year.

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