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Value of gardens

A small vegetable garden is not usually a financial endeavor. Most folks keep gardens for flavorful produce, the availability of fresh veggies, to control production practices and perhaps to get some exercise. Seldom do gardeners toil because it's a good financial move.

Advertisers work hard to convince us that store bought food is similar and less expensive than growing it yourself. Clearly, the convenience argument is compelling and the apparent cost is often less. But, it's hard to make that quality comparison with many products; tomatoes may be the best example.

Plant breeding is a study in trade-offs. When a food crop is bred for a specific trait, something is sacrificed. Store bought tomatoes are bred for mechanical harvest, durability for transportation and shelf life; issues important for an industrial process. Flavor and nutrition are not the primary considerations and becomes the unfortunate collateral damage. In fact, I've eaten cardboard that has more flavor than some store bought tomatoes.

No, we raise tomatoes primarily for flavor and freshness.  Comparing the cost of an industrial tomato to one homegrown is like comparing a Mercedes to a Yugo. Yes, they are both cars, yes, they both provide basic transportation, but upon closer examination, the similarities begin to crumble. Such is the case with tomatoes; you cannot compare the cost of homegrown tomatoes to industrial tomatoes because they are not the same product, unless you're a botanist devoid of taste buds.

In her new book, Edible Landscaping, Rosalind Creasy questions our obsession with maintaining turf grass around our homes. She argues that if you have a lawn, you have room for a garden. In her many examples, she explains that gardens can easily and artfully be incorporated into nearly any yard with minimal effort.

In her living example, she used a slice of ground a mere 5x20 feet; 100 square feet. Unless you live in an apartment, nearly everyone can find a spare 100 feet in their yard. Her goal was to show that anyone can incorporate food production into the existing landscape providing the common garden staples while saving hundreds of dollars.

She grew the basics, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, zucchini, and basil. Of these, zucchini is the only plant that tends to crowd garden borders, so if space is limited, choose plants that tend not to wander. Besides, you don't really need to grow zucchini. In most rural communities it's not unusual to find your car full of zucchini during harvest season. Indeed, in our little town, this is clearly the greatest risk to leaving your car unlocked.

Rosalind carefully monitored and weighed her entire production throughout the summer and tabulated the value using local farmer's market prices. At the end of the season, she had harvested nearly $750 worth of organic produce on a mere 100 feet!

She takes this one step further and estimates that if just half of America's gardeners planted a 100 foot garden and had half the yield, the value would exceed 14 billion dollars! That's billion with a "B."

If you'd like to learn more about her project, check out her website: for her current projects.

Instead of spending money on maintaining your lawn, consider adding a small food garden to your landscape. A small garden can go anywhere. There's no rule that says it needs to be square and in the middle, rather, consider using those nooks and crannies that may already exist.

After all, it takes only a very small area to produce hundreds of dollars of fresh vegetables, bursting with flavor, full of nutrition and free of pesticide residue.

If you would like to harvest a bushel-full of gardening knowledge that could be planted in your landscape, join us for the annual Spring Wakeup Gardening Conference on March 6 at the Bagley High School.

For more information on gardening, or adding cardboard to your diet, contact me at 800-450-2465. For specific conference details, call 218-694-6151 for. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at