Friday, April 03, 2009

The Economics of a Starter Garden

This looks like it will be a fun series on the NY Times website: The Starter Garden: A Novice in Search of Bounty.

...I resolved to plant a brand new vegetable garden. The plan is to transform my family’s diet, save a few coins, make over the property — and, maybe, receive a congratulatory note from Michael Pollan for my new green virtue. To keep sentimentality at bay — I’m thinking of all those paeans to the sensual pleasures of loam — I intend to unloose my inner bean counter. This means keeping a strict account of how much money and time I bury in the garden, and the cash value of the produce I pull out (at Whole Foods prices).

I am itching to get a garden going myself. For the last couple of months, I've been attempting to start some herbs using a Chia Herb Garden that I bought on a 50% off sale at Rite Aid. One of the pots was a non-starter, and I managed to kill two others, but I'm left with a pot of parsley that seems to be off to a healthy start.
The question is, what next? The summer before last, I had a nice tomato plant on my balcony. Last summer, my garden more or less died when I went off on my 2-week vacation without enough watering arranged. This year, I'm itching to have lots of flowers and vegetables, though I don't want to go overboard planting things that won't survive. And I'm also trying to figure out where I'll put them, as Sweetie has a bit of a yard where we could plant a few things. Does anyone have recommendations for good plants for a very hot, sunny balcony, and a kind of rocky, shady yard?


Anonymous said...

What about tomato, zucchini and bell pepper for the balcony? Also get a dwarf lemon tree for the balcony. They do well in pots. Just make sure to bring it in when the weather starts to get cold.

Amy K. said...

The comments I've seen on balcony gardening STRONGLY recommend self watering pots.

I have a yard, but left a bell pepper plant out on the patio last summer, and it thrived on the neglect it got. It was in a 5 gallon pot, I think.

Freinds have grown cherry tomatoes in pots, not sure if they were self watering or "normal".

In my yard, portulaca is an annual flower that's perfectly happy with the hot and dry (I'm in Massachusetts, but forget to water, and the sun is on the west side of the house). Ditto for morning glory, though it looks parched by evening, it springs right back. Sweet William has done surprisingly well.

Shady and rocky would be the back garden, and we only have flowers there. Daisies, black eyed susan, echinacea have all survived the past 4 years. The only "veggies" back there are chives. I planted a veggie garden back there last year, and the best survivers were the parsley and garlic chives. Cilantro did OK. Rabbits ate the rest.

Anonymous said...

Portulaca is GREAT for a pot on a hot, sunny balcony, and so is lantana (they actually look terrific together). Theoretically, herbs should thrive there, too, but will require more water. I bet you'd do great with thyme, rosemary, and oregano, and you can plant those together in one container.

Use the biggest pots you can.

Deby said...

BF and I were pricing out how much it would cost to fence off part of the back yard and put in some raised beds this week. The total came out to about $300 including soil. Ouch! I doubt we spend that much on produce all summer. The good thing is that once it's built the only money we'll be putting into it is for the plants and soil ammenders, so we can spread out the cost of the intial build up over several years. I have done tomatoes in a pot before, but you need to make sure you get a good sized pot, they get big.

Miss M said...

Well I'm certain their gardening experiment will come out positive if you use whole foods prices! But you can get comparable produce for less money. I wouldn't put a zucchini on a balcony, I tried one in a pot last year and it failed miserably. They need more space. I do tomatoes and bell peppers in pots, you'll have to be more diligent about watering though. Here's a post I did if you need some tips or ideas.

Small Space Gardening

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend the resources from your local gardening extention, such as those run by Master Gardeners. Here's one for NY -

1001 Petals said...

I don't know much about gardening, but thought you may enjoy reading The $64 Tomato if you haven't already. It's hilarious.

TeacHer said...

I have an AeroGarden - it's hydroponic (read: mess free) and the plants grow really fast! Right now I'm using one of the herb kits, so I have a constant supply of fresh basil, oregano, dill, mint, thyme, and chives. I also have a salad greens kit that I'm dying to try and they sell other kits, like strawberries and cherry tomatoes. You can get one for about $100 on Amazon, and the seed kits are about $12 each. It's definitely not the cheapest garden out there, but the plants are amazing and if you lack outdoor space it's probably the best way to grow plants indoors.

My only caution is that you read the directions and put it on a timer so that the UV lights are on during the day. They're extremely bright, so they might keep you up if they go on at night.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert gardener by any means, but I'd also point out that gardening is enjoyable, saves money, and encourages you to spend your time in a way that's not focused on spending money.

That said, I'd be wary of falling into the trap of buying the 8 million "make your garden" doohickeys that you see advertised everywhere.

Gardening (even with the best intentions!) is like any hobby, and can easily be turned into a money sink.

admin said...

I've grown tomatoes, peppers & eggplant with varying degrees of success on a hot, sunny roof. Self watering containers are a must since plants can dry out very quickly, especially during the height of summer.

Loans said...

I'd definitely go with self watering pots myself - always used them.

Peter said...

self watering pots are lazy - you should care for your plants and in return they will prosper!