Putting a Value on That

Recently I tagged along with my mom to the grocery store. She was in town visiting and she’s a fantastic cook and was planning on making an amazing meal for her best friend who she was staying with.

It wasn’t just any grocery store, though. We were entering the yuppie-hippie grocery store. A full third of the store was just produce so I figured this was a good time to check out prices for the in season, organic produce.

I haven’t updated it in awhile – here it is February and I still haven’t finished 2012’s totals – but on the right hand column we keep track of what we spend and save running our urban farm. I base the prices on the unit costs for a similar item if I was purchasing it elsewhere – whether it was the farmers’ market, the grocery store or a roadside stand. If I see similar items at different prices I take the average.

Since I don’t make it into a grocery store very often, especially one with such a large selection of (organic) produce I figured I’d start jotting down some of the prices of items I normally don’t find at the farmers market (or the normal grocery store, for that matter) but that I grow at home. If the produce came in a bunch or was priced individually I weighed it to figure out the cost per pound.

As I went through row after row of vegetable, weighing and jotting down prices I quickly began to realize that there is no way in hell I would ever spend that much money on produce. Cute little of bunches of arugula that only weighed a 1/4 lb were going for $2.49 or $9.96/lb. Nearly $10 for a green that practically grows wild in my yard with no known pests. For realz? Do people actually spend this much for arugula? Well, now that I think about it, a similar amount sold at my local farmers market goes for $2 a bag or about $8/lb. That can’t be right. The dandelion greens (yes, they even had those) were half the price of the arugula, and in my (not so) humble opinion they are harder to find commercially. They too grow like a weed in my yard, and I can say I wouldn’t pay $5/lb of them either.

There’s a balancing act when you grow food yourself. I grow it because I wouldn’t pay what this yuppie-hippie store charges for the items that cost me just a couple of dollars in seeds for a year’s supply. If I didn’t grow it I probably still wouldn’t buy it so am I really saving money? Probably not. But there are items that I would buy, like apples (they have them for $3.99/lb, but at the farmers’ market they are $1.50/lb for organically grown), I just wouldn’t buy them at that particular grocery store. So which price do I go with? The farmers’ market price, of course.

The other side of the coin is when I think an item is worth more than what they sell it for. Potatoes, corn, onions, garlic and winter squash should be more than the $0.99-$1.99/lb just because they require so much more space, time and skill to grow. But the cost is what it is so in fairness that’s what I use in my spreadsheet. I’ll be honest though, it pains me to enter the low numbers.

As I peruse the farmland listings and calculate how much it would cost us to have a farm I really have to wonder how the hell we would ever make enough money selling vegetables to pay for the farmland it’s grown on? While that $10/lb for arugula sounds like it could do it, it’s important to realize that the farmer that’s growing it is lucky to get $2/lb for it. The remaining $8 goes to transport, distributors and the grocery store. Direct sales would have to be the way to go and lots of high value crops (*cough* heirloom tomatoes *cough*) to make up for the lower value crops.



Plans for 2013

GreenhouseA new year and a new set of projects. But first I’d like to see where we were last year at this time and see if we got anything done that we wanted to.

  • More productive in the garden? This year wasn’t nearly as productive in produce. We produced about 300lbs less produce than 2011, which was 600lbs less food than 2010. This was most likely our fault because we didn’t amend the soil as much as we should have.
  • Black plastic? We did use it and found that it worked well for some crops but was a failure for the rest. Next year we will only use it for melons and watermelons.
  • Separating livestock feed? We did that for awhile until the turkeys started living with the chickens. The chickens were slackers this year, laying less than 1/2 of what they laid in 2011, and we lost money on them. The turkeys did better than I expected and the goats pretty much broke even. Surprisingly, even though we lost our queen late in the year so we couldn’t replace her, we still ended up with nearly 50lbs of honey. We didn’t breed the rabbits very much this year and we brought in new breeders so we lost money on them as well.
  • Greenhouse built? Not completed 100% but it is usable now.
  • Extended goat barn? Didn’t get to that.
  • Rabbit hutch rebuild? Didn’t get to that either.
  • Water tower turned into a pantry? Kind of. We are storing some food in there.
  • Hunting and foraging? Yes! Well, most of 2012 was a bust for mushrooms (though we did get some this past fall) and Tom got several turkeys and a wild hog.

So what is on the horizon for this year? Much of the same probably. We still need to get the greenhouse finished and rebuild the rabbit hutch. We are now planning on not just expanding the goat barn but also moving it to a new location. We want to increase production, this year we’ll be more than generous adding soil amendments. And, of course, add more foraged and hunted foods into our diet.

We MUST reduce our outside obligations. Another year of having every single weekend planned out to the last hour leads to no time to work in the yard. This might have a lot to do with our lack of produce.

We’ve added more younger chickens to our flock. In the spring we’ll reevaluate who is laying and who is not, and cull those that aren’t producing or otherwise offering us a service, such as raising broods for us. Last year we only had 3 new flock members while the rest started to age out of laying. This year we’ll have at least 11 new pullets, possibly more depending on how many of Speckles’ brood are cockerels and how many are pullets (my guess is 3 and 3 but I could be wrong).

Keep the birds out of the garden in the summer! They all but destroyed our brassica seedlings so now we won’t get much of a crop this year.

Guerilla garden a 1/2 acre easement with orchard grass and alfalfa. We’ll see how well that goes.

Remove Turkey Town. Turkey Town has served it’s purpose well, but the turkeys no longer sleep in it as they prefer the chicken coop, so down it will come. We will use some of it to upgrade the chicken coop, in particular the roof, which will be put over the part of Chicken City where the turkeys like to sleep.

Produce more food at home for our dogs and cats. Yep, that means increasing production of meat.

Cart train Whiskey. We’ll be keeping our wether, Whiskey, and I’d like to get him in a harness and teach him how to pull a small cart.

What plans do you have for 2013?

The Year in Review

Now that I’ve got all the numbers I’m kind of depressed. It wasn’t bad in the grand scheme of things, especially with the animals, but compared to last year’s crops it’s low. The fruit trees don’t help. Of the 27 fruit trees we have we only got fruit off of 11 – less than half of them. The total fruit tree poundage came to only 95lbs. The majority of the fruit came from our orange tree, Granny Smith apple tree, and the pomegranate.

For the other fruit, the strawberries were the clear winner with just over 46lbs.

On the vegetable front, the only items to break 50lbs were tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and squash.

Excluding the turkeys, which we still have for breeding, and the ducks, which were just a one time deal, all of the animals produced a substantial amount of food. The chickens gave us over 2,300 eggs and the bees gave us over 58 lbs of honey. For meat the rabbits were clearly the winners with nearly 90lbs. Of course the animals require a lot more inputs than the garden, so we just barely got ahead with them. If it wasn’t for over $1,200 in vet bills this year just for the goats we’d be well ahead, but alas, you just can’t win them all.

Last year we grew 1,869lbs of produce (fruits and vegetables) and we got 1,840 eggs. We only got 6lbs of meat, no honey and zero gallons of milk. This year we got 2,322 eggs, 251 lbs of meat, 58.5 lbs of honey and 59.59 gallons of milk we only got 1,232lbs of produce.

I guess it wasn’t too bad. Next year I want to grow more though!

October’s Totals

This month has been interesting to say the least. Our garden is definitely dying down. Most of our summer crops, except for a few stragglers have been pulled out. No more tomatoes (more on that later), corn, beans, or cucumbers. The only fruit we harvested were our apples.

Our chickens are seriously molting right now. They look awful and their egg production has dropped off. We’ve also come to the realization that we just have too many of them. Really, what are we going to do with a dozen eggs a day? 

The stars of the month were the goats. Bella and Daisy weaned the boys and then it was time to take the boys to the slaughter house. Our milk production nearly tripled. We’re still just a bit behind in costs on them. I’d be happy to break even if we can.

Fruit Trees
Apples – 21.50 lbs

Beets – 1.88 lbs
Carrots – 2.63 lbs
Cucumbers, pickling – 9.51 lbs
Cucumbers, slicing – 7.19 lbs
Eggplant – 2.88 lbs
Kale – .82 lbs
Leeks – .38 lbs
Lettuce – .06 lb
Onions – 19.33 lbs
Parsnips – 6.56 lbs
Peppers – 20.07 lbs
Potatoes – 2.25 lbs
Squash, summer – 11.08 lbs
Tomatoes – 57.07 lbs

Animal Products
Goats meat – 54.5 lbs
Milk – 8.57 gallons
Honey – 51.5
Eggs – 205

Total Produce – 162.83 lbs

Surprise surprise, the chickens went through all the feed we bought in bulk for them in about 5 weeks. Fortunately someone failed to pick up their bulk order this month (we didn’t make one) so we were able to take it. We also spent quite a bit of money on the slaughter and butcher of our goats. We spent a total of $334.55 on the livestock this month. Our water bill was also really high. I’m pretty sure it’s because of the hot weather we had. The water cost was $110. On the flip side we didn’t spend anything at all on the garden.

Savings So Far
Our gross savings so far this year (from Jan. 1st) is $10,075.63 with expenditures running at $5,354.83 for a total net savings of $4,720.80. We’ve grown a total of 1,177.61 lbs of produce, which isn’t as high as I would like.

August’s Harvest Totals

August has really been a good ramp up. We’ve been extra busy harvesting and planting our fall crops. Our totals have more than doubled from July and they’ll just keep going up for the month of September.

The beginning of the month we were harvesting by the basket. By the end of the month we had switched over to harvesting in five gallon buckets. It was kind of fun watching Tom walk through the garden with two 5 gallon buckets filled to the brim with tomatoes or tomatillos.

I’m looking forward to the next few years with our fruit trees really start producing. Yesterday our next door neighbor let us pick pears and apples from his small trees and we were able to get 10 gallons of each. Our trees are already larger so I’m hoping next year will be better. 

Fruit Trees
Asian Pears – 3.13 lbs

Shrubs, Vines & Groundcovers
Grapes – 2.13 lbs
Rose hips – .5 lbs
Strawberries – .63 lbs

Green Beans – 22.83 lbs
Beets – .5 lbs
Carrots – 2.94 lbs
Corn – 10.67 lbs
Cucumbers, pickling – 26.26 lbs
Cucumbers, slicing – 32.45 lbs
Eggplant – .75 lbs
Kale – .25 lbs
Lettuce – .06 lbs
Onions – 14.77 lbs
Parsnips – 3.5 lbs
Peppers – 11.97 lbs
Potatoes – 5.81 lbs
Squash, summer – 11.14 lbs
Tomatillos – 16.68 lbs
Tomatoes – 115.94 lbs
Watermelon – 1.81 lbs

Animal Products

Rabbit – 42.64 lb
Milk – 5.03 gallons
Eggs – 241

Total Produce – 284.97 lbs

We finally got ahead of the game! By a lot. The animals are still a money suck but I think by year’s end we’ll have caught up. We would be ahead on them if it wasn’t for Mindy’s vet bills and then this past month we had more vet bills when Daisy got bit by a spider. So our animal expenditures last month was $583.83. Our garden expenditures were $45.00 and our water expenditures were $70 for July and August. We have now spent $4,399.17 but we’ve raised and grown $6,548.55 worth of food for a savings of $2,149.38.

Giant Produce

Squeek and her pumpkin

As discussed before, Squeek prefers to romp around the vegetable garden rather than stay on her side of the fence. Since she insists on being in there I’ve decided she might as well be useful (other than chasing rodents with fluffy tails).  Sitting politely next to one of our volunteer pumpkins you can get a scale of how big it is. It’s the largest pumpkin I’ve ever grown. Well, I don’t know if I can say “I’ve grown it” since it came up on it’s own and I’ve done nothing for it. I believe the variety is Howden.

Bucket of Food Gathered Yesterday

Yesterday we harvested a tomato that weighed 1lb 3oz. It’s the big one in the photo. It’s also the largest tomato I’ve ever grown, so I’m quite proud of it.

This year, even though it’s been unseasonably cool, has been a lot better than last year, and for that I am grateful.

Jack and the Beanstalk or Things Learned

I’m seriously starting to feel like Jack. This year’s bean trellises were put in at around 10′ high. We thought that would be plenty of space. It apparently isn’t. So now they are producing quite heavily. I think I may have planted too many. For the last three days I’ve been picking about a pound a day. But of course, I can only reach so high. Tom can only reach so high. I think we’ll need to bust out the step ladder to reach the top.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I have been taken aback this year by our garden’s productivity. I think a large part of that is due to all of last year’s failures from the well water problem. Besides the well, last year was definitely a learning curve for us. It still is. So here are some of the things I’ve learned.

1. Beans grow faster and taller than corn! We planted our beans and corn at the same time in the same beds. Some of the sweet corn never stood a chance. The Indian corn, however, seems to be ok. But I think that’s only because the Indian corn grows to about 10′ tall.

2. Volunteers will always outshine the “planned” plants. So far this seems to read true every year. The last two years it was tomatoes. This year it’s squash. Our volunteer squash have set out for world domination.

3. Watermelons here really do need to have black plastic under them to heat them up more. It just doesn’t get warm enough here for them.

4. Not spraying for bugs seems to work out better than even spraying with organic pesticides.

5. More sun for the sun lovers! Next year the corn and squash will be moved to a warmer spot.

6. Pick one variety and stick with it. Do we really need 3 varieties of corn when 1 that is dual purpose (Bloody Butcher) will work just fine? Do we really need pumpkins? We don’t eat them and we never get around to carving them for Halloween. So next year we’ll just do zucchini so we don’t have to deal with cross pollination.

7. I need to pay better attention to my layout. This year I placed the cucumbers almost in the exact same spot they were in last year. Fortunately it hasn’t caused a pest problem yet.

8. Put compost down in the Fall, not the Spring. Bad things will happen if you don’t!

9. Plant onions and leeks in the Spring, not the Fall. Otherwise they bolt prematurely. Garlic, however, seems fine planted in the Fall.

10. Don’t wait to long to harvest parsnips or they start to get pithy and taste gross.

As the season wears on, I will have more lessons learned, so stay tuned!

I know Wednesday is usually my harvest day, but reality has set in and the list is starting to get unwieldy. Instead I’ll just be updating the sidebar totals weekly to reflect our savings and expenditures. At the end of each year I’ll do a rundown of what exactly we harvested and how much.

Wednesday’s Harvest

Baby Cucumbers

This has been a rather productive week here on Dog Island. The summer veggies are starting to roll in. The biggest harvest this week was our very first harvest of cucumbers. We had been keeping an eye on them, but as anyone who has grown cukes will know, they are sneaky and can get out of hand easily. So it looks like pickle-making season is finally upon us. Funny thing as we haven’t finished last year’s pickles. Also this week we harvested our first couple of Serrano Tampequino Peppers, some carrots, parsnips, onions, garlic and of course, let’s not forget…zucchini! As an added bonus, our bee guy dropped off another super today.

Onions =  .6 lb @ $1.99/lb = $1.18 Savings
Cucumbers = 8.65 lb @ $2.15/lb =  $18.60 Savings
Zucchini = 7.82 lb @ $3.18/lb = $24.87 Savings
Garlic =  1 @ $1.00/ea = $1.00 Savings
Parsnips = 1.75 lb @ $2.99/lb = $5.23 Savings
Carrots = 0.7 lb @ $1.42/lb = $0.99 Savings
Peppers = .03 lb @ $5.50/lb = $0.17 Savings
Strawberries = 7 lb @ $3.29/lb = $23.03 Savings
Eggs = 3.75dz @ $7.50/dz = $28.13 Savings

So for the season so far we’ve harvested:
Swiss Chard: 4.6 lbs
Artichokes: 34.7 lbs
Lettuce: 11 lbs
Eggs: 1042 or 86.83 dozen
Strawberries: 9.2 lbs
Peas: 34.3 lbs 
Parsnips: 3.11 lbs
Potatoes = 5.61 lbs
Onions =  3.78 lbs
Zucchini = 25.96 lb
Garlic =3 heads 
Blueberries = .06 lb
Apricots = 1.13 lb
Cucumber =  8.65 lb
Peppers = .03 lb

Wednesday’s Harvest

Another week, another dollar…saved. Our zucchini has blown us away. Really, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m more than familiar with their exponentially producing effect. But see, last year we didn’t get a single zucchini. We had a salt issue and we were lucky to keep any of our squash alive. The zucchini wasn’t so lucky. To be honest we’re not even growing zucchini technically. We’re growing Cocozella di Napoli, an Italian heirloom summer squash. But for the sake of saving space, we’ll just call it zucchini.

And the biggest excitement?! We beat the squirrels to the apricots! The tree is still small so the harvest was very modest. Nonetheless, we got all the apricots! Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky with the cherries. Not only did the squirrels eat all of our cherries, but they broke a bunch of the branches on the young trees.

I hate squirrels.

Onions =  1 lb @ $1.99/lb = $1.99 Savings
Potatoes = 3.81 lb @ $2.50/lb =  $9.53 Savings
Zucchini = 13.08 lb @ $3.18/lb = $41.59 Savings
Apricots = 1.13 .b @ $3.82/lb = $4.32 Savings
Eggs = 3.5dz @ $7.50/dz = $26.25 Savings

So for the season so far we’ve harvested:
Swiss Chard: 4.6 lbs
Artichokes: 34.7 lbs
Lettuce: 11 lbs
Eggs: 997 or 83.08 dozen
Strawberries: 2.2 lbs
Peas: 34.3 lbs 
Parsnips: 1.55 lbs
Potatoes = 5.61 lbs
Onions =  3.18 lbs
Zucchini = 18.14 lb
Garlic = 2 heads 
Blueberries = .06 lb
Apricots = 1.13 lb

Wednesday’s Harvest

Oh boy! It’s been a few weeks since I posted our harvest totals. Why? Well, I was on my honeymoon the last couple of weeks. We spent 10 days traveling around the UK from London to Inverness and almost everything in between. When we got back everything had exploded! While we were gone the heat finally came – it had been the coldest May on record here. Our tomatoes grew about 2′ as did our corn, beans and cucumbers. Unfortunately our peas didn’t fair well in the heat and have now been taken over by powdery mildew. The Swiss Chard and Lettuce all bolted as well. So we’re going to leave them and save the seed for the fall. So the counts since I last updated you are as follows:

Swiss Chard = 2.7 lb @ $2.99/lb = $8.07 Savings
Peas = 13 lb @ $5.00/lb = $65.00 Savings
Parsnips = 1.55 lb @ $2.99/lb = $4.63 Savings
Onions =  2.18 lb @ $1.99/lb = $4.33 Savings
Potatoes = 1.8 lb @ $2.50/lb =  $4.50 Savings
Zucchini = 5.06 lb @ $3.18/lb = $16.09 Savings
Garlic = 2 heads @ $1.00/ea = $2.00 Savings
Blueberries = .06 lb @ $7.26/lb = $0.44 Savings
Eggs =15.58 dz @ $7.50/dz = $116.88 Savings

So for the season so far we’ve harvested:
Swiss Chard: 4.6 lbs
Artichokes: 34.7 lbs
Lettuce: 11 lbs
Eggs: 955 or 79.58 dozen
Strawberries: 2.2 lbs
Peas: 34.3 lbs 
Parsnips: 1.55 lbs
Potatoes = 1.8 lbs
Onions =  2.18 lbs
Zucchini = 5.06 lb
Garlic = 2 heads 
Blueberries = .06 lb