Our gardens are never big enough. Constrained space, available maintenance time, bulk resources and family economics determine size limitation. Quantity has a quality all its own, but gazing at the horizon (or the neighbor’s fence) is not the best way to pace out our garden’s perimeter. Some gardens are as small as a window box, a few clay pots on the patio, a 4-by-4 garden or the entire tilled-up St. Augustine lawn. Choosing the best crops to grow for the space available calculates the greatest return on our efforts invested in our gardens.
The essence of time and money applied to the refuge of our garden is an unwelcomed mantra. How can we relax while wondering if our efforts are producing a harvest worthy of the hours spent in such a peaceful hobby? Everything in life boils down to this decision: to be happy or to avoid unhappiness. We toil in the sun and sand because of the enjoyment it creates. Even at minimum wage, several hours spent to grow a few carrots and some scallions make our harvest worth their weight in gold. That’s why “homegrown always tastes better”.
If we are growing our gardens to save money, there are few crops that will produce a dollar value commensurate to our economy of scale. Food pricing is an extremely chaotic arrangement, having little to do with supply and demand. Government subsidies for commodity crops and fossil fuel inputs skew any industrial agriculture costs toward political chicanery. The retail tricks of competitive market share or artificially discounted, limited-time sales further disrupt a sane pricing structure. What we should grow are the crops we love to eat. The next consideration is the crops that provide the best nutrition, fresh from our doorstep. Lastly should be the economic return for the effort presented. Bottom line: market price comparisons for our garden crop choices are totally unrealistic.
Here are two examples to compare the return on investment in our gardens: Corn on the cob produces very little return for the space, fertilizers, water and pest controls required to produce a successful crop. But there is nothing better to eat than a super sweet cob of golden nuggets plopped in a pot of boiling water minutes after picking. Basil is incredibly nourishing and easy to grow although it is very tender, prone to bruising and wilting. And its taste is so wonderful. Nutrition, personal and economic contemplations almost demand a space for basil at every homestead.
Have a gardening question for Tom? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.