Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The benefits of gardening and other updates

Some of you may recall that I started my 2009 gardening season with an experiment recording my gardening expenses and comparing them to the estimated costs of the vegetables and fruits that my gardens would yield. My not-so-scientific process began with a general question: Does gardening save money on food costs, and if so, by how much? However, I plowed right into my research with no hypothesis, and three months into the procedure, I am still on the fence, partly due to the amount I have spent so far on a new grow light, salt hay, plot dues, and other expenses.

Since then, a few weeks have passed without a cent going directly into my gardening costs. But now, I can begin estimating my yield. In recent posts I've reported that my family and I have already started enjoying some of the lettuce and spinach. What we began eating every few days has now become what rice is to many other cultures. Now salads must be consumed every day, and no sandwich is permitted to be made without a layer of green. Anyone who walks in the door of our home will not be allowed out without a recycled takeout container of the most recent harvest.

But before I continue on this subject, I'd like to ask: What has happened to some of my spinach? I returned to the Minton Stable Garden yesterday after a few days away to find an ugly blight. Some of the leaves appeared bleached out, while others displayed what looked like bird droppings. I doubt that a flock of birds would hover over a row of spinach and leave the rest of the garden untouched. My husband's theory based on his past experience (although he's away for work and unable to see the problem, let alone meet his salad quota) is that it may be a fungus. From a search through my books and the Internet I learned that too much moisture lingering on spinach leaves can lead to diseases such as Anthracnose (which comes closest to resembling what mine have) and the more threatening-looking blue mold. The rainy, chilly weather of the past few days may be to blame. I bagged up the affected leaves and discarded them. End of story, I hope.

Now, back to the healthy greens harvested--how much are they worth? Since I've been picking leaves and not whole heads or bunches, I'll base my estimation on my experience buying a similar organic product. At this point my daughter and I have picked the equivalent of one container of Olivia's Organics salad mix, perhaps a combination of their Romaine and Spinach products, or another mix. I believe that the last time I saw it at the Harvest Coop in JP it was priced at $3.59 a container, so I'll make the not-so-scientific assumption that I have saved that much in my food budget. So my total monetary benefit of my vegetable and fruit gardening is so far:

1 container* of salad greens $3.59**

*According to the web site, the size is 6/5 ounces.
**In Massachusetts, food from the grocery is not taxed.

I have never been good at making quick decisions, but I had promised myself that by the end of the post I would be able to jump off the fence in one direction or the other. Will the value of my harvest exceed my expenses? My guess is now...maybe next year.

As I finish this up it has begun to rain again in Boston. You might find me in the MSG tomorrow wiping off my spinach. In the meantime, I'll leave you with an image of what's coming into bloom: lupines and poppies from another gardener's plot.


Dan said...

Good evening Sally, Your spinach has leaf miner. It happens to almost all spinach this time of year as well as beets & chard. It is a little fly that lays white eggs on the underside of the leaves, they hatch and tunnel into the leaves. Your best way to beat them is to plant early and harvest in the first few weeks of May before they are out. I harvest half of mine during the second week of May and they had some eggs on them but no tunnels. I then harvested the other half last week and they started to tunnel.

I just tore off the tunneled section and made sure not to leave any eggs on the leaves. They are not poisonous or anything. I think if you plant a late crop say in August, it should be leaf miner free and be ready for harvest before things freeze up.

Good luck on breaking even this year, I think you should get pretty close.

Sally said...

Leaf miner! I think I came across that in my research and ruled it out, but I should give my leaves a second look today. Maybe what looked like bird poop was actually eggs. I think that if I see any more of this blight I'll harvest the rest of my healthy spinach (and saute it with some olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, yum), since it pretty much looks like it's at its peak.

I do hope to make the late summer crop work this year. Thanks for all of your advice!

Dan said...

If it is leaf miner you will see a grouping of small white eggs. Each egg is about the size of a course grain of salt. Spinach doesn't have much structure in its leaves so the the leaf miner shows as large dead spots compared to say a beet leaf that would show an actual tunnel.

Nirmala said...

Hello from the San Francisco Bay Area. I have swiss chard in my garden and was wondering what was going on too. I had those "silvery trails" so I thought I had snail/slug problem until I found this website that described my problem correctly. I took a look (I mean I look at my garden every day) but today I took a VERY close look and saw those leafminers. They are GROSS! My chard were in really bad shape so I actually removed all the plants because I'm afraid they may be in the soil now and I wanted to remove the thing that attracts them. I'm trying to figure out how to de-leaf mine the soil in that area.

Daphne said...

I keep my spinach covered with a row cover in the spring. It works like a charm. No leaf miners. I actually pick the eggs off of the chard. I only have eight plants of that so it isn't very hard. It would take way too long to do that with all my spinach however.

Sally said...

Nirmala, I'm glad this post helped you. I ended up harvesting most of my spinach. Some of it came back on what was remaining. Fortunately, my plants in my back yard are fine, though smaller. Thanks for the link, too!

Daphne, what kind of row cover are you using? Did you make it or buy it? Thanks.

Siren said...

I feel the same about my garden (expenses vs money saved). Last year it was a definite money pit since we spent a lot of money and had no harvest whatsoever.

This year I am trying to spend as little money as possible but have seen no harvest yet, although we are getting there soon, I hope! I should keep track like you do. I think I will, then maybe we can compare.