Growing some of the food you eat is rewarding from numerous perspectives.
Of course, growing some of the food you eat has many benefits in addition to the dollar value of the produce: increased awareness of the value of sustainable living; greater appreciation for healthy eating as you watch your own health improve; opportunity to interact with nature and thus become more aware of your place within the chain of life, etc.
Since we are about mid-season of our first growing season here in Garland for 2017, I’ve decided to take a preliminary tally of what Charlie and I have grown in our respective gardens. To do this, I use average per pound retail prices obtained from lists provided by the USDA. My estimates for the net profit from our two urban gardens is a whooping $1,652.60.
You don't need the back forty to grow a lot of valuable edibles. Charlie's approximate gardening area for his blackberries and tomatoes is 252 square feet of containers located around the edge of his swimming pool.
My approximate gardening area for my blackberries, carrots, grapes and figs is 100 square feet. The blackberries, carrots and grapes have replaced what was once lawn in my front yard. Although I never tried it, I'm certain the produce I'm growing now is far tastier than the grass that grew in its place for over 30 years and no doubt contributed vast amounts of pollution to our groundwater through over fertilization--not to mention pollution to the air from its weekly mowing.
Current EPA standards for lawnmowers are very loose. "Under current standards, in an hour a push mower will produce the same HC+NOx as a car driven 257 miles, and the same CO as one driven 401 miles. To put it another way, assuming a car averages 40 miles per hour, a push mower produces more HC+NOx than six cars and the same CO as 10." [Source: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/columns/straight-dope/article/13039806/straight-dope-how-much-pollution-do-gasoline-powered-lawn-mowers accessed July 5, 2017]
Charlie’s luscious blackberries and fantastic tomatoes - July 4, 2017
In addition to native flowers for pollinators, Charlie grows two kinds of edibles: blackberries and tomatoes. Charlie’s estimated net profit on the two crops from his garden is $800.00
So far this year Charlie’s garden has yielded 61 ¾ pounds of vine ripe organic heirloom varieties. The USDA divides fruits and vegetables into three broad categories: nonorganic; organic; and organic specialty. The price increases with each category with organic specialty being the most expensive. Of course the pesticide-laced produce are not only the prettiest, but also are the cheapest. Remember what your mother taught you: “looks can be deceiving.” Charlie’s tomatoes fall into the category of organic specialty and sell at the rate of $3.99 a pound. This puts the value of his tomatoes thus harvested at about $242.40.
Cost to Produce Tomatoes
To get a more accurate picture of profit, one must deduct expense. Charlie’s tomatoes all came from seed and I think he spent about $20 ordering his special seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. He likely spent another $50 in soil amendments. Add another $30 perhaps for City water—although we’ve had a lot of rain this season and Charlie has rain barrels. All in all, for his tomatoes I would say that his expenses to produce them were no more than $100, if that.
Thus today Charlie has made $142.40 net profit AND there are still at least 25 pounds of tomatoes ready to be picked within the next three days. Since these are heirloom tomatoes, they will bloom in the fall again and produce about half as much as their first crop. All total I estimate that Charlie will produce about 200 pounds of tomatoes over both of our growing seasons here in Garland. At $3.99 a pound, the dollar value is in the neighborhood of $800.00. At expenses of no more than $200 for both seasons, that puts Charlie’s profitability on his tomatoes roughly at $600.00.
We will continue to eat lots of fresh tomatoes and share them with the Garland Good Samaritans. In the fall when it is a little cooler we will cook up and freeze a lot of tomato sauce for pizzas and pasta dishes this winter.
Most of the heirloom tomatoes Charlie grows have skins that melt in your mouth. Try to find that quality in a grocery store and you’ll be disappointed. Tomatoes in grocery stores are tomatoes grown from hybrid seed engineered to produce tough skins that can withstand being shipped over 1000 miles to a grocery store shelf. The only distance that home grown tomatoes need to travel is from your garden to your kitchen.
This is only the second year for Charlie’s blackberries—all of which came to Charlie free, by way of me. By now I would estimate that over 100 blackberry bushes in Garland have sprung from the four bushes planted in my front yard in 2013. The Garland Community Garden alone has 25 of them and at least as many have been sold at Loving Garland Green plant sales. Thus you can chalk up zero for expenses to grow the blackberries. I think they may have been watered twice so far this year.
Tally for Charlie’s Blackberries 2017:
Organic blackberries .85 an ounce.
1 ½ pounds ($10.50) of figs from my tree – July 4, 2017
My Green Figs
I have a large fig tree in my backyard that came with my home when I purchased it 10 years ago. To say that this tree thrives on neglect would be an understatement. I’m fairly certain that I have not watered it for the past 4 years. Yet it continues to thrive and produce figs each year. I can certainly say without hesitation that the dollar value from the figs produced at my home is 100% profit.
It’s a green fig tree but I’m not certain as to the variety as there are many green fig varieties: garnsey, kadota, St. John, calimyrna, verte, ventura, panache, celestial, and adriatic. The adriatic fig is most often used make fig bars. Green figs are sweeter and I prefer them to both black mission figs and brown turkey figs.
Figs are a great source of calcium and dietary fiber as they are rich in antioxidants and when dried they develop even higher percentages of minerals such as copper, magnesium and potassium.
The leaves of the fig tree are also an edible part of the plant but fig leaves are not tasty. Some folks use them to make a tea that is said to lower a diabetic’s need for insulin. As for cooking, the best use of the fig leaf is to use it as a wrap for certain dishes in substitute for other leaves such as cabbage or grape leaves.
Don’t look for fresh figs at your local grocery store. Harvested figs have a brief shelf life and should be eaten with a few days of ripening. Furthermore, even if they would not be over-ripe on arrival, special packaging would be needed to insure their safe, un-squashed delivery thus adding more to effectively pricing them out of the market.
And that is why the current price for organic figs is $7.00 a pound.
To date I have picked 8 and ¾ pounds of figs from my tree at a total dollar value of $57.70. I have at least as many growing to maturity. Thus I anticipate a yield of approximately $125 in dollar value of figs. Cost to me—nothing.
A Bowl of red seedless organic grapes from my garden
Red Seedless Organic GRAPES – Estimated $84 Net Profit (28 pounds)
I have four grape vines that I planted in my front yard in 2013. They are a red seedless variety developed especially for our hot humid North Texas summers by folks from the University of Arkansas. I need to research my records to remember the exact variety. I know I have it written down somewhere.
The grapes are small and delicious. To date for 2017, the vines have produced 22 pounds. I anticipate about 6 pounds are left on the vines making for a total of 28 pounds of grapes this year. My grape vines are only second to my fig tree in terms of my neglect, but in the case of the grape vines—I planned it that way as I began in 2013 designing the garden (that will eventually replace my entire front lawn) as a forest garden that will largely be self-perpetuating like a forest. It will eventually provide me food with little effort on my part.
I’ve patterned my gardening techniques after folks like Ruth Stout and Eric Toensmeier.
Organic BLACKBERRIES (Estimated net profit of $353.60)
In 2013 I planted four black berry bushes (Apache and Natchez) in my front yard. Blackberries are wonderful and they freeze well. This fruit is chocked full of valuable nutrients and antioxidants. In Garland this plant produces prolifically with little to no care. Just prune the stalks that produced berries at the end of their seaso. I recommend the thornless varieties as they tend to not spread as wildly as the thorny varieties.
To date I have harvested 16 pounds from my front two bushes.
At eighty-five cents an ounce for organic blackberries: $217.60
I anticipate another 10 pounds from the other two bushes that have just begun to produce. They are a month behind the other two for an additional $136.00
Total in organic blackberry dollar value for 2017: $353.60
ORGANIC HEIRLOOM CARROTS (Estimated net profit: $90.00)
Organic heirloom carrots from my front yard a couple of weeks ago—destined for the Garland Good Samaritans –posted July 4, 2017
This is my first year to plant carrots on any scale. I planted several varieties with seed purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. The seeds had excellent germination results. As a matter of fact, I just planted another crop of about 250 carrots last week. Thus far I’ve harvested 20 pounds of carrots from my front yard.
$3.00 pound = $60.00
I have at least another 10 pounds to harvest from my first crop.
Total estimated value for Carrots: $90.00
TOTAL ESTIMATED DOLLAR VALUE OF PROFIT FROM TWO URBAN ORGANIC GARDENS IN GARLAND TEXAS FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2017 GROWING SEASON:
1. Organic heirloom carrots: $90.00
2. Organic heirloom tomatoes: 800.00
3. Organic blackberries; 553.60
4. Organic figs: 125.00
5. Organic grapes 84.00
Lemon grass in Charlie’s yard – July 4, 2017
I haven’t even mentioned all the herbs in our gardens. Fresh herbs are very expensive in the store but they do add a depth of flavor to our food—often making the difference between a meal and an experience. I have two large plants of rosemary in my yard along with a clump of lemon grass, a clump of lemon verbena, some mint, curry, oregano and rue. Fresh herbs are among the most expensive items on the grocery store shelves with common herbs like rosemary selling for $4.00 to $7.00 an ounce. Saffron, by far the most expensive herb, sells for between $2,000 and $10,000 a pound.
Choose the Best Plants for Your Urban Garden
Choose plants that you like to eat and that don’t require a lot of fussing over. For example, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to plant a fig tree or a blackberry bush if you don’t like figs and blackberries, no matter how care-free these two edibles are.
Choose a few plants perhaps for others. Some edible plants such as lemon grass are pretty to look at and make a good habitat for pollinators. So, even if you don’t like to drink lemon grass tea, you might still want a lemon grass plant.