Backyard vegetable gardens: worth the effort? Financially viable? Lets put it to the test!

When perusing the vegetable seedlings at places like Palmers or Kings Plant Barn, I am often amused and a little perplexed, at how easy it is to “grow” your own - if you have the money. You can now buy instant  tomato plants, capsicums, or even lettuces  that are “ready to pick” if you are happy to pay  $10-15 a plant. I suppose the idea is that one day you can decide to have a vegetable garden, and the next day be picking the fruit of your ‘labours’.   Is gardening still gardening when it reduced to a financial transaction and the digging of a hole to plant it in?

 I also see instant vegetable gardening as economically nonsensical. I don’t think buying mature plants as a good use of resources when in the height of summer, tomatoes reach lows of $1 a kilo at the local Chinese green grocers. To me, a $10 plant needs to produce 20 kilos of fruit to make it worth the expenditure and effort, and most of my tomatoes probably only yield 5-10 kilos each in a season.  Or why pay $2.99 for a punnet of six carrot seedlings – carrots never reach even close to $0.50 in the shops!

Growing my own food is part of my way of life, but for me it also has to be financially viable. Space is at a premium, even with a 40m2 plot that is oversized by most Auckland vege plot standards. So what I grow is driven by return for effort (yield at an equivalent cost at the supermarket),  convenience (some vegetables are cheap but have such a short shelf life, that its more convenient to have them on hand when needed), and variety (who wants to eat only courgettes from December to May?)

For me, our vegetable garden must to reap a  ‘profit’ after all expenses are taken into account.  I will account for my time for the year, but I consider gardening as physical activity and people don’t normally expect to get paid to exercise – so my time won’t be part of the financial accounting. I would also find this an interesting exercise – I have no idea who time consuming this plot of dirt is. 

Rule 1. Costs  will be tallied monthly, beginning in August.  Costs will include fertiliser, seeds, plants, and any other requirements.
Rule 2. Costs are accounted for at the time they are incurred. So for example if I buy a bag of fertiliser that I use over a year, its cost is added to the month of purchase.
Rule 2. Benefits will be tallied by the value of the produce at the current seasonal price (at Countdown retail rates because I can look it up online).
Rule 3. Cumulative costs and benefits  will be kept as a running total for the year. Costs are forecast to be  initially higher than benefits , with a swing towards benefits  by early Summer.
Rule 4. Land costs and rates are ignored. If it wasn’t garden it would be lawn, which requires input (petrol and mowing time) with no return, so I think this is justified.
Rule 5. Surplus produce can be bartered for other food stuffs to supplement the variety of what we can grow. This may also allow us to swap for eggs, honey, etc.
Rule 6. Fruit and herbs produced on the property will also be included in the monthly accounting. Most of these are produced within the confines of the garden on the surrounding fences. 

 I suspect new rules may be needed as we go along, and your thoughts on these are also welcome. It would be great if the outcome shows how an Auckland vegetable garden can be a productive and economically justifiable lifestyle choice in 2011. Only time will tell.