The $64 Tomato (and $7 head of broccoli?)
You maybe have heard of the book by this same title (Alexander, W. (2007). “The $64 tomato: How one man nearly lost his sanity, spent a fortune and endured an existential crisis in the quest for a perfect garden” a good read, BTW). Whenever I look at some glossy catalog with some new system for growing, trellising or maintaining vegetable plants, I think of that title and the concept of garden frugality (oddly enough, not as much for flowers, as those are totally for pleasure maybe?). Probably because how I was brought up (that is, I was raised to calculate the cost of a restaurant meal to me versus to the restaurateur to pick the best value, I remember being carefully instructed by my father on wiping the peanut butter off the knife onto the opposing piece of bread so as not to waste it-it short, I was raised by someone who lived though the poverty of the great Depression). I look at each gadget with the following questions in mind:
- What is the cost?
- How likely is it to increase yields? Or is it a matter of convenience, fashion or appearance?
- How long will it last?
- What is, then, the per pound or per unit price of this gadget? High? Low?
If an item is largely for ornamental purposes or will not last long or does not greatly increase yields, it fails my test. I know that some of this is hard to do, for example, how was I to know that that “noodlehead sprinkler” ™, which guides water to parts of the garden that needed it, would break after a few months use? I did get a refund, but did not have a way to know in advance that it was fragile (except maybe wading through product reviews, which I would be happy to do for a larger purchase). Same with the “increase yields” question, it is hard to do, but these are just “thinking points” and do not require exact, numeric answers, just some general sense of the reason for the purchase and likely outcome. (On a related note, people have been gardening in dirt with seeds and water and digging sticks and doing just fine for a long time- I know there have been improvements, but that special hydroponic tomato growing system is not one, unless your goals are to garden in an unsuitable area, like on a high-rise terrace, and grow a few pricey tomatoes and herbs. This is fine as a pastime and conversation starter if you enjoy it, but is not frugal gardening).
I know there are other reasons to garden than to get inexpensive, tasty, organic food and pretty flowers. For example, I certainly am more willing to spend a little more money on ornamental features for my ornamental flower garden, because my goals there are different than for a veggie garden. And I guess one could feel the same about vegetable gardening, and I have seen some lovely ornamental features in them. All in all, this position may not be entirely consistent, but the goals I have for each type of gardening vary. So figure out your goals, what is it you want out of gardening…
Visit my garden pod cast, Virginia Organic Gardener, by clicking on the Pod Bean button on the left side of this page or itunes and….Happy Gardening!