Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The $64 Tomato, or the $138 Bowl of Lettuce

We had a small garden last year for the first time in quite a while. I had a pretty good harvest of snow peas, some leaf lettuce, tomatoes and basil, and I even managed to grow some zucchini (I seemed to be the only person I know who failed to produce zucchini in previous years)  I had a lot of trouble growing anything in one area by the driveway and attributed that to the nearby Black Walnut tree.  So I persuaded Paul to build me a few raised beds, and we got started in the fall so I'd be ready to go come spring.

I dug out a couple old books from my stash - The Victory Garden, and Square Foot Gardening, and even  borrowed a few others from the library, including a great garden read titled, The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.  That gem tells of a man's numerous expenditures - buying loads of dirt (I did that too), fencing to keep out the rabbits (I did that too) and hiring a backhoe (I didn't do that!) to create a garden.  He calculated the cost per tomato at $64.  His conclusion was, that despite the cost, the value and satisfaction of picking a perfect tomato was incalculable. 

I can say that about the lettuce I ate for dinner tonight - surely my blessing for today.  In addition to raised beds, Paul made me a cold frame, and in the fall, I sowed lettuce seeds, eagerly anticipating harvesting lettuce all winter.  Since it was right by the driveway - I planned to shovel right over to it, lift off the glass, and pick a bowl of lettuce whenever I wanted.  Well, it sprouted slowly, and the last time I looked at it was Christmas - I was hoping to treat my daughter, home from Mississippi, to fresh lettuce for dinner.  At that point it looked like very small lettuce plants, so I was excited about that, but was fairly sure they were frozen - and would turn to green slime the minute I picked them and brought them into the house.  So I left it alone for the rest of the winter. 

In March, right after the last snow melted, I wandered over, and peeked into the cold frame - I was ecstatic - there was lettuce growing!  It hadn't frozen after all.  So I harvested a few of the lower leaves and topped off the spring greens I'd purchased at the store with my own fresh lettuce!  A week later, I did it again, and we've now had lettuce several times.  Tonight I didn't need the store greens and even had some leftover for tomorrow.  Seeds I've planted seeds in another area of the cold frame have sprouted so when these plants die off, I can continue my salad harvest.

Since the fall, I have spent $138 for boards for the raised beds, dirt and cow manure (seems I ought to be able to find that for free somewhere!) fencing to keep out rabbits and the neighbr cats, who think the nice raised beds are lovely litter boxes.  I could buy a lot of lettuce for $138 but my price per bowl will continue to decline - and I won't need to buy the boards or fence again.  (May even find a source for free manure!)

I feel like the Master Card commercial, when the tag line says, "The satisfacton of eating your own home grown lettuce in March and April - priceless!"