Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gardening: Is it Worth the Money?

As I've mentioned before, I've undertaken a bit of gardening on my balcony. For someone who's barely been able to keep a single aloe plant alive in the past, I've been quite ambitious. But I've been a good mom to my plants so far-- I remember to water them and fertilize them, I trim them back occasionally, and I have gradually been learning how to better take care of them due to trial and error along the way.

Here's an example:
Zinnia just after purchase:

Zinnia about a month later:

It looks even worse now. I think the Zinnia cost me about $10, and it's not looking like money well-spent. But my other flowering plants, including some geraniums and a portulaca, have done beautifully. Here's something else that seems to be thriving:

This tomato plant cost me $14.99, with the cage included. When I took that photo I had about ten tomatoes that seem to be coming along nicely, and several more have sprouted since. If they all ripen to the point of edibility, I'd be thrilled-- but is $1.00-1.49 per tomato a good deal? So far I've eaten 6 or 7 smallish tomatoes, which were yummy if a bit thick-skinned. I can see that one of the really big tomatoes has a big crack in it and won't be edible, but I will hopefully be able to harvest some others before it really gets too cold.

I also have some herbs, which have been an obsession all summer. I noticed there were some gnats flying around in them, so I tried a couple of homemade remedies, including putting a layer of sand over the soil and spraying them with soapy water. When I told one of my friends that I'd sprayed my herbs with soap, she said I'd been an idiot, as they'd now taste like soap. "Surely that will wash off," I thought, but when I next tasted my basil, it did indeed turn out to be kind of bitter. But I later discovered that the reason for that was that I'd been letting it flower like crazy! You have to pinch off any flowers as early as possible or your basil will taste unpleasant, and apparently the only way for it to recover is to take cuttings, let them re-root in water and then replant them. So now I have tons of basil that looks nice and smells nice when I run my hands over the leaves, but I can't make all the pesto I'd been dreaming of.

I also have some sage and mint and a few other things-- they look and smell lovely most of the time, but I fight to keep them from drying out, and I had some leaf fungus issues that rendered some of them inedible too. So all in all, the $10 or so that I spent on assorted herbs probably doesn't compare favorably to the culinary usage I got out of them. But next year, when I will know more about what I'm doing, I expect to save some money by growing my own herbs rather than buying the expensive little bags of fresh herbs in the supermarket. And regardless of my grocery budget, I just enjoyed having green leafy things growing, and fussing over them all summer was actually a lot of fun.

All in all, I'm not sure gardening is a financially sound hobby. I bought pots, soil, a watering can and all these various plants, as well as an extra broom and dustpan for the balcony in order to deal with all the dry leaf debris. For what little I managed to eat, the cost/benefit analysis isn't looking so good. But I really enjoyed taking care of all my plants, and just looking at them and smelling them. You can't put a price on that!


Anonymous said...

You should read William Alexander's the $64 Tomato - http://www.amazon.com/64-Tomato-Fortune-Endured-Existential/dp/1565125037

It is a great book about the cost/joy of gardening on a larger level.

PiggyBankBlues said...

Brooklyn Terminal Market has a lot of gardening wholesalers that are open to the public. End of season sales are a great time to snatch up more pots and perennials. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens also has an annual plant sale in the spring that's fun to go to. They have people on hand to answer questions, like why my basil was wilting (too much sun). The farmers at local farmers markets are also friendly with information.

Gardening is a lot of fun. Sure it costs money, but I agree with you- it's worth it!

MSMommoney said...

I think gardening should be done if you ENJOY it. Alot of it is learning from your mistakes--what grows well where, and what doesn't and finding local places that have good prices and good advice for what you would like to do.

Sicilian said...

I think you will see that gardening is more than food. . . . it is really therapy. It gives enjoyment and you can eat the results.

Unknown said...

You'll be able to save money next year if you save your tomato pot and buy a plant next year (they're only 1.75 each around here) or try your hand at saving seeds. I save my basil seeds and then next year the plant is FREE! I'm planning on saving tomato seeds and trying that next year. I think I saved tons by growing my own tomatoes this year (I have 5 plants)

Josh said...

Sure, those tomatoes in the supermarket are cheaper today, but don't disregard the eventual costs of the negative externalities from mass farming. If you grew all your own food, how much might you save on cancer treatment and lord knows what else, in 20-30 years?

You pay a premium for those store-bought tomatoes...with your health.

Anonymous said...

Mint, above all other plants/herbs, is a money maker. The stuff can't be killed!

Anonymous said...

I love gardening...Recently i have purchased some plants from SpringhillNursery store through CouponAlbum site and i saved $25 by using coupon code....

savvy said...

You can get zinnia and marigold seeds for pennies, and they are super easy to grow from seed. Harvest your seeds at the end of the season and before you know it, you will have a gallon of seeds to share with your friends.

We always plant zinnias and marigolds along our driveway and get tons of compliments on them... I think it cost about $4 in seeds the first year and we've been harvesting and reusing year after year since then.

I've never tried either of them in a pot, I think they are more in-the-ground type flowers.

sbsb said...

i agree with the comments above. Comparing price is important but usually it is cheaper to grow your own and you know that your produce is not drenched in pesticides. The pleasure in growing something yourself is also a factor