An interesting report in the Brisbane Times raises the conundrum of garden size vs water use as a primary cost factor.
It draws on research by James Ward and John Symons , published as Optimising Crop Selection for Small Urban Food Gardens in Dry Climates(LINK)
I know that we do not garden for profit -- nor do most of us garden to save money-- but the point is salient:
The researchers found the biggest change to garden affordability was the rising price of water and many residents could find themselves spending more on water than the value of the food grown.
"In dry cities you've got a double whammy – the dry climate means plants need more water, and that water costs an arm and a leg," Dr Ward said....
Dr Symons said the results were that it came down to the size of the garden.
"With a small garden the model lets you be really selective, choosing just high-value niche crops like strawberries, basil, tomatoes," he said.
"The bigger your garden, the more you'll have to fill it up with lower-value crops because, let's face it, you can only eat so much basil and strawberries.
"So naturally, profitability per square metre goes down as garden size goes up."
It's true isn't it?
Since I've been engaged with the school garden project I've been much interested in reducing costs . Indeed, that we garden there using tank water makes the initiative feasible.Similarly if I gardened at home with town water all the time my wife would kill me.
At home I have a 3,000 litre tank that rain harvests and I've learnt to manage my water budget carefully.
But another cost cutting measure is to grow from seed rather than bring in seedlings or established plants.Cheaper still is to save your own seeds.
I find it is much cheaper by far to grow seed at home for the school garden -- and at the school shade tunnel with the kids -- than to purchase growing plants. Mind you I can get seedlings at 15 for $2 at the Cab Mkts -- but even that can blow your budget at high numbers. (And so too can over indulgence online in seed catalogues).
In both areas my/our primary cost is seed raising mix.
I'm hoping to make my own when I get around to it...
At the school the set up costs were very high -- what with importing soil and sundries -- but it now ticks over cheaply. Outlays for seed and seed raising mixes are the key budget items.
But there we have 'fertiliser issues' I'm trying to work around as the garden isn't mulched. We do, however, have worm farms.
I've done a lot of work at home on my water budget. That I am gardening on sand means that water doesn't stick around when it's used for irrigation. I have the option of installing a spear pump to access the aquifers below us but I cannot justify the cost relative to the return.
Three thousand litres -- carefully managed -- seems to work. The only consistently dry times are the months of July into August.But my regime of filling my clay pots every second day seems to sustain my crops. Any other approach -- any other form of irrigation -- I've found --would blow my budget.
I'd love another tank -- another 3,000 litre tank for instance -- to capture more off my roof --as the only water that leaves my property is the roof water that the tank doesn't hold. But even there, at this time of year that water still flows from the heavy morning dews despite the absence of rain..
As for ye olde Permaculture standards -- swales and perennials -- I'm an annuals man and sand on a flat block is brutally unforgiving.
That leaves me dependent on mulching and shade hardware but if I was sentenced to paying for those -- hay is around $15 -18 a bale -- my garden would go bankrupt.
Still, this year when I looked at running a monthly market stall again I had trouble designing a profit. There is more return in selling plants than selling vegetables. This is partly because veg don't last in the weather after harvest. Growing for market also takes up more room that displaces your production for domestic consumption. If you want to sell cheaply you are your own worse enemy.
At the school I have to do a lot of planning in regard to sewing to harvest schedules as well as planting volumes. We used to supply local cafes, but now we eat our pickings within the school community. For instance, we always hope to do a stall once each term, selling produce to the mums and dads. Otherwise, the kids eat the harvest or the tuckshop makes lunch with it.
At home the irony is that I don't have much surplus. It seems that the more mixed is your plantation the less there is to share. Doing a stall, folk presume you can deliver veg like Coles and Woolies -- that you function in factory mode. But very few urban gardens are like that.
Indeed it is the diversity of produce that got me gardening in the first place. I may aim to grow 'staples' -- like herbs, tomatoes, spring onions and 'greens' -- but with seed catalogues at my mouse click the vegetative world is my oyster.
This enables you to feed yourself and your fam or whoever more creatively and sustainably. You step outside the standard mode and what you may lose on the swings, you gain on the slides.There is always a feed to be had.
So mixed vegetable planting -- polyculture -- makes serious good sense. It may not be profitable if you market stall it -- but then, that's the consumer's problem. Indeed the greater the variety of food you grow the more sustainable you are. And when you keenly mix it up there are no longer serious crop rotation issues. There's less pest attack too.
It seems to me, that 'kitchen gardens' are different from urban food gardens (according to these researchers). Cost is certainly a factor ruling both, but one grows for market and the other does not.
Or could it...?
Herein lies the option I've discussed for professional farmers that may indeed be preferable, more efficient of time and energy, more convenient and sensible:distribute produce from your front gate -- either surplus or consciously grown for sale .
Garage Sales for food....Any money you make offsets your water bill.
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