“Cheap and Lazy Gardener” reaps a healthy harvest

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by Jen Rouse
The Short Years

A couple of weeks ago the editor of my local newspaper (a man I like, and respect, and whom I happily worked with for five years) wrote an editorial about home gardening. After a few sentences in which he damned gardeners with faint praise, saying growing your own food was probably a source of self-satisfaction, he moved on to the gist of his editorial: that growing your own food is an unnecessary waste of time.

“…it’s often a far better use of time to leave the growing of food to those whose business it is to do that, and whose production benefits from certain efficiencies of scale, while you do something else to earn a living, whether it’s developing software or driving a truck. Sure, there’s a huge amount of satisfaction in making a meal out of something you have grown, especially if you don’t have to do so out of necessity. Just don’t think of what — in terms of personal effort, time and also cash — each of those delicious tomatoes has cost.”

I’ve got to say that on this point, Hasso is just plain wrong. He seems to think that gardening is an expensive and time-consuming hobby. But that’s just not true. I am cheap, and also lazy, and yet my small home garden produces pounds and pounds of beautiful food for my family. Personal effort, time and cash are almost nil.

Every year my efforts in the gardening spectrum vary. This summer, we were gone a lot, and I was busy a lot, and I basically did nothing to my garden. I put less work into my garden than I ever have before, and yet it kept on growing without me. Here’s a true summation of the personal effort, time, and also cash I’ve spent on my garden:

May 1: I planted a bunch of lettuce starts (purchased from Tom’s Garden Center, and I think it was something like $3 for a six pack of starts)

I also planted sugar snap peas, Brussels sprouts, carrots, green bush beans, and broccoli from seeds. Seeds are something like $1 for a package, and I certainly didn’t use an entire package for my little garden.

My final planting on May 1 was 2.5 pounds of purple seed potatoes from Tom’s. Again, I didn’t save my receipt from that shopping trip, but I doubt I paid more than $1 or $2 per pound for the seed potatoes.

I had mixed in some compost (which I produced myself in a compost bin from food scraps and yard debris, which means it was basically free) and some fertilizer that I had purchased a few years ago–I got a medium sized box of it and I haven’t run out yet.

May 18: I planted zucchini and yellow squash and butternut squash from seed–I believe they were leftover seeds from a packet I didn’t use up last year.

I also bought some tomato starts from a nursery in North Albany, and they were a great bargain: $2 each for large heirloom tomato plants. I planted six of those, and a couple of strawberry plants as well (they were somewhere between $1-3 each, I believe).

At some point later in the spring: I planted some basil and a cucumber.

The rest of the summer: I ignored my garden almost entirely. I watered it every 2 or 3 days. When the sugar snap peas and tomatoes got big enough, I put stakes and tomato cages around them to support them.

I fertilized the whole thing again one time when I thought it needed it. I pruned the tomatoes once when they were getting really huge. I weeded occasionally when I spotted big ones that looked like they were taking over. I sprinkled some slug-killer stuff down a couple of times.

Pretty much the extent of my time and effort is watering my plants with a hose. It takes me about 10 minutes every two or three days. My water bill has been, at most, $5 per month more than it normally is in the winter.

Now: I just go out there and harvest.

This is some of what I got from the garden yesterday: squash, beans, tomatoes and basil.

Yesterday I got three pounds of tomatoes–enough to make a quart and a half of homemade salsa. The plants are still loaded with green tomatoes and I expect to make several more batches before the year is over.

A few weeks ago I dug up pounds and pounds of potatoes. I didn’t weigh them, but it was enough potatoes to fill up an entire cooler. (I still have some out in the ground that I haven’t dug yet, too). I’ll save them and my family will eat potatoes for at least a few months of the winter.

We had an entire spring’s worth of salads for free from the lettuce. My kids pick cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas and green beans for a snack any time they walk by the garden.

I’ve gotten enough green beans to have fresh beans on the table at dinner several times, plus freeze a couple of gallon bags full of beans for the winter.

My yellow squash is flourishing and I’m putting it in omelettes and salads and dinner dishes every day. I will probably make some zucchini bread or muffins with it soon to use up some of the excess.

The cucumber is doing okay, but not looking especially robust– still, we’ve had several fresh cukes from our one little plant, and there are several more on there ripening.

The basil is doing great–best batch of basil I’ve ever grown. I’ve made one batch of pesto already, freezing the extra for winter, and I expect to make at least one more batch, if not two.

There’s butternut squash ripening, plus a surprise plant that I didn’t plant at all–it appears to be a pumpkin, and I think it must have been from a rogue pumpkin seed that survived in the compost bin from last year and decided to propagate itself when I put the compost in the garden.

Did everything take off? No. The broccoli has so far been disappointing, with very low yields. So have the strawberries. The brussels sprouts got eaten by slugs or something and didn’t grow at all. The carrots didn’t even sprout.

If I were a better gardener, perhaps I would have done more about that. But I’m not. I’m a lazy gardener. I put stuff in the ground, and wait for it to grow. If it doesn’t grow, too bad. If I wanted to spend more time, more care, more money on sprays and fertilizers and weeding, I could. And maybe I’d get even better results.

But as it is, I’m pretty darn happy with the results I do get from my garden, and it costs me almost nothing in amounts of time and effort, and very little in cash. (Next year I’ll have to save my receipts so I can do a more accurate cost comparison.)

I think that perhaps Hasso has a misguided idea of how much work gardening is. Do I actually feed my family entirely off my produce production efforts? Not even close.

Do I provide my family with fresh, mostly-organic vegetables (I did use some Miracle-Gro once this year) for a far cheaper price than I could buy them for at a store or the farmer’s market? Absolutely.

It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s cheap, and my kids get to see the miracle of nature in action, over and over again.

Is it worth it? Without a doubt, yes. Maybe next year someone needs to get Hasso a few pots of tomatoes, and he can try it out himself.