Last year I decided to see if my feeble attempts at growing food in our small city garden were actually saving us any money. You can read the original post here, and a May update here.
I kept track on a separate page on this blog, and noted down everything I bought for the garden, what we harvested, and how much it would have cost to buy the equivalent in the most likely place we would have bought it.
So – how did we get on?
We have just under 94 square metres of garden – including the (shared access) path, area under large shrubs, and the bit where we keep the bins. Not a large garden by any stretch, but plemty of space for a few veg and fruit plants.
I counted the first month as December 2013, because I’d bought seeds and garlic to start the year off (total cost £17.44). In January and February I harvested a total of £9.20 worth of rosemary (which I dried) and compost. Not a bad start to the year!
In March, things got a little spendy. I harvested a grand total of 59p worth of kale and cabbage, but spent £57.41 on a water butt, several bags of peat free compost and several trugs to use as planters. In April I bought yet more compost and another trug (£11.97), but the harvest started to pick up – £3.41 worth of compost and salad.
In May I bought a few plants (tomatoes, and two lots of courgette plants after the first ones were eaten). Total spents of £2.90 were eclipsed by a harvest worth £5.10 – more compost, radishes, salad leaves and pea shoots.
June was a bumper month – I spent nothing and harvested £14.56 worth of garlic, herbs, salad, and my entire crop of gooseberries (worth £11.07). Another bumper harvest in July (£15.46, boosted by £10.50 worth of garlic) was slightly offset by buying yet more compost and seeds.
I spent nothing at all in August, September and October, and continued to harvest bits of herbs, courgettes, and the odd tomato and potato – worth just under £2 a month. I confess I’ve hardly been outside at all in November and December, and have harvested nothing.
Over the year, it seems I’ve spent a grand total of £116.26 on the garden, and harvested £54.31. Which means, er, it actually cost us £61.95…
(and it is a BIG however)… by changing a few assumptions I reckon we can increase the ‘worth’ of our harvest quite a lot.
I made the decision early in the year to count the value of each crop as what I would have paid if I’d bought it from the shop I was most likely to have bought it from. A mouthful, but essentially it meant that if I harvested some radishes, rather than using the cost of locally grown, organic, unusal variety radishes (which is what I had), I used the cost of a mass produced bag of radishes from the local supermarket (which is what I would have bought).
This gives perhaps a realistic picture of what we saved by growing our own, but doesn’t necessarily show the luxury value of what we actually ended up with.
Also, I didn’t count the value we added to things we grew. For example, I probably wouldn’t have bought the 1.6kg of gooseberries I grew – but I might well have bought the 8 jars of jam I turned them into. And given that home made gooseberry and elderflower jam is likely to sell for around £2.50 a jar at our local country market, I could have valued our gooseberries at considerably higher than £11.07.
Of course, there were other savings made by growing our own. Some nights I popped to the garden and harvested perhaps a courgette, a bit of cabbage and a few herbs. If I’d walked to the shop for that courgette, it’s likely I would have also bought an unneeded loaf of bread, bottle of pop and a chocolate bar. Thinking of it like that, growing food has saved us a fortune.
A lot of my time has gone into growing – but possibly not as much as I could have put in. I didn’t water as often as I could through the summer months, I lost many seedlings, and bigger courgette and cucumber plants to the slugs, and I’m fairly sure there’s still potatoes out there that I haven’t harvested (but where?). With a little more organisation I could have grown more efficiently.
Some of the money we spent was on things that we won’t need to buy again – a water butt (we have two now, which are more than sufficient), and planters (we now have plenty). Compost I’d need to buy each year, but the cost of that was less than the food harvested.
What about the costs that can’t be measured financially?
I’ve learned a lot about growing this year, and spent a fair bit of time talking to other growers and more knowledgeable pals. I’ve met some of our neighbours while working in the garden – one of the few advantages of a garden with no privacy. I’ve spent plenty of time outside, swapped harvest with friends, and gained the greatest pleasure of cooking with food we’ve grown.
All far more valuable than just saving the cost of a few courgettes.
Things I learned
There were some days when I got home in the dark, and I just couldn’t be bothered going outside to pick tomatoes or salad. I’m ashamed to say we actually lost some of our crops because of this idleness.
Sometimes there was a lack of communication between the growing side of the household (me) and the food buying side (Peter), meaning we had a fridge full of reduced courgettes when we also had courgettes growing in the garden. Not clever.
Slugs are fiends. I never did learn to outwit them, the pesky blighters!
In the future?
As I said recently, I will be growing food again in 2015, but much of it will be in a friend’s garden, not ours, although we’ll keep salads and herbs outside our own back door. I’m tempted to keep track of costs again, to see just how much more we can grow with a bit more space. When you’ve only got space for two cucumber plants, it’s very easy for a couple of slugs to eat your entire crop in one night.
I’d make a resolution to pay more attention, plant more seedlings, do more watering – but I’ve promised myself no more unreasonable striving this year.
Instead I’ll just say I’ll plant some things, and if they grow, I’ll eat them. How’s about that for a resolution?
I wrote a post ages ago about whether it was worth growing potatoes, since they are relatively cheap to buy and my conclusion, based on various factors, was that they are. The over-riding reason being because of all the chemicals that go into big commercial potato growing and storage. I reckon that salad leaves are the best crop money-wise because you can grow cut and come again varieties meaning you always get fresh food and no waste. However, the money is difficult to assess – I would never dream of buying the quantity of courgettes we harvest, but still we eat them all and that probably saves money on other things – like soup ingredients. Strict valuation on the basis of £££ is so difficult, but if you value your harvest, then it is almost certainly worthwhile.
That’s a lovely quote there at the end – ‘if you value your harvest, then it is almost certainly worthwhile’. You’re right, of course! Sometimes things get a bit confusing round here because I do value my harvest, but I don’t necessarily value growing things in full view of the entire street!
Just need to get my head round basket making to turn my willow explosion problem into a basketry solution…