Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Let me give you the background for this post before anything else....

I was musing to myself the other day about "Andy, do you walk the garden walk, or just talk the garden talk?"  What I was getting at was:  for all my yardly adventures, how much benefit am I really reaping?  Am I spending a fortune (admittedly, I came from a very low base before I joined the site) and getting bugga all in return?  Am I kidding myself about my urban farmer skills?

So, I thought I would pose an open question as a bit of a game for us all.  How much do you really eat what you grow? ... and guessing is not good enough.  I aim to answer my own tough question with facts.  Feel free to contribute your facts and answer the question for yourselves.

There is only one way to win this game:  you need to out-compete yourself.  I mean, if my 3 year old garden out-compete's John's 6 month old garden, it just means my garden is more established.  My real question to myself is: am I doing better now than I was doing 6 months or a year ago?  I might also try to use some real costs from Coles on line shopping. 

Go on... take the risk... be honest.  I shall lead by example (wish me luck!)

Night 1's dinner:  Thai Beef Salad.  Four or five different lettuce types and basil supplied by me from the aquaponics bed.  Here is the proof (you don't need to do this - I just want to get us started).  I should have stuck my hand in the shot - those are cos lettuce leaves on top - they are around 15 - 20 cm in size. This was a big salad.  The pic has no purchased add-ins at this stage. 

 I don't expect to have grown my own beef and stuff.  I am just trying to get "real."  I think it was a pretty fine effort from 1 month old lettuces and basil on harvest 4 in the same time.  

Saving: lettuce $2 + basil $2 = $4.

Night 2 dinner: Stir Fry with garlic chicken sausages.

Produce used: Pak Choi ($3) and Silverbeet ($4! - you kidding me? This stuff grows like crazy).  I know, I used shop bought sausages.  I'm stock piling my home made ones for the family Christmas BBQ).

Total Saving this week: $11 (hey, that's more than I expected).

Night 3: True confessions.

Photography course was tonight.  Produce used: none.

Total Saving this week: $11

Night 4: True confessions part 2.

Produce used: none. Steak and potato and carrot.  My carrots are in and I'm about to add some spuds, but don't have any at the moment. 

Total Saving this week: $11 (oh, the shame)

Night 5: True confessions part 3.

Produce used: none. Roast pork with pumpkin, potato and carrot.  

Total Saving this week: $11 (oh, the continued shame)

Night 6: Redemption. 

Used an aquaponic's lettuce (actually, it was half of two).   

Total Saving this week: Lettuce: $2 + $11 = $13

Night 7: Stir Fry 

Used a load of pak choi.   

Total Saving this week: Pak Choi: $3 + $13 = $16

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Nice idea - but I don't personally keep track of the $ value of things.

I eat from my garden every day, even with the current hot weather causing so much grief, and it gives me immense pleasure on many levels to do so. Eggplants, carrots, herbs, spinach, swt potato, greens of various sort. Corn and beans still in the freezer from previous crops.

I don't personally add up the values of this and that and decide if it's costing me more (or less) to grow my own. The raised beds cost quite a bit to put in, but I figure they will redeem themselves over years of use. I'm spending $ on water at the moment. I buy seeds, seedling, garden soil and manures by the bag when I need them. Don't care. It's to create the food plants that give me so much pleasure and nutrition.

Likewise the bee hives cost a bit initially but are fascinating "pets" to have around (could have bought a pure bred dog or cat for the price but they don't give honey and cost a lot to feed and vet) and will reward me down the track.

That's the value! Reward. And that does not mean $s. It means satisfaction and top quality nutrition from fresh organically-grown fruit and veges. When I first started gardening seriously from scratch about 30 years ago (my Dad started my first garden in 1963 but this is later) I started to keep track of costs. The costs hit the stratosphere and I stopped counting. I figured whatever it cost was worth it long-term. If I were to factor in the above-ground beds just for starters, never mind this new wicking bed I'm buying. Then include our time at even a minimal amount per hour and the costs would be unbelievable.

What we grow is nutritionally more dense and varied than anything we'd buy. And being fresh-picked, maybe even more desirable than bought certified organic. We will never know objectively. What we do know is how our homegrown food tastes. And taste is an accumulation of chemicals (and everything is made from chemicals) which subjectively are different to the same fruits/veges which taste differently when bought - older, different growing methods for example.

So personally, the $s get spent in the quest for the best possible nutrition and the most satisfaction from doing something I love. And the satisfaction of keeping stuff out of the waste stream by recycling as much as we can.

And rating ... yes indeed since I really got serious about growing every plant I can in a wicking bed, I can say without a doubt that system of growing works wonderfully well. And the results are infinitely better than anything I've grown in the past except for a few times when we had a lot of rain and everything bloomed.

I'm the complete opposite of Elaine and Lissa, I think. I have tried to make my garden pay for itself from day 1. Since I was never sure how much energy I really had for it, and given that a large, neglected garden can be less productive than a small one that's well maintained, I proceeded gradually.

I started with the sorts of things that are guaranteed to give value for money, like herbs and beans, and spent the bare minimum on fertiliser and organic material. Of course it also turned out that I do have enough time to keep a decent patch going, and I also have an addiction to growing things I've never grown before. As a consequence of that, I have never got too far ahead of breaking even, I don't think, but nor has it cost me a lot of money.

Another upshot of this approach is that my soil is nowhere near as good as it could be, especially as I don't have a car to bring home organic material. I do occasionally flirt with the idea of getting a big quantity of soil delivered from a landscaping supplier, but it doesn't seem to quite fit with my ethos. Clay soils have many benefits, including the fact that they retain nutrients wonderfully and that once deep rooted plants get established they often thrive. There are drawbacks, too, but a bit of organic material dug into the soil can significantly reduce those.

I would say that the ability of the garden to pay for itself has rested on occasional spectacular successes as much as steady production. For instance, I've been picking at least 3kg of paw paws from my trees for weeks and weeks now, and winter production rarely dropped below 1kg/week. That makes up for the daikon that just hangs around looking miserable and the lettuce that evaporates after two consecutive hot days.

Of course none of these calculations take into account labour, but then I'm not sure a labour of love should be given dollar value anyway. I certainly get plenty of joy out of working in the garden and enjoying its produce. I've never bought a paw paw sweeter or tastier than the ones I'm picking now, and some things like French tarragon and fresh (I mean fresh!) peas are just not available in the shops, so it's hard to put a price on them.

*Facepalm*  You folks are so literal!  

I'm not ever gunna break even just from the damn aquaponics build.  LOL.  That's not the point at all.  Nor is the actual $ savings (otherwise you'd just grow the highest value thing and sell it!)

My interest is to see if I am using the product of my labours.  I could have weighed it (but I'm too lazy), counted meals a week (and end up with a complex formula to calculate proportions of meals because I don't believe any of us are totally self sufficient) or something else.  I just chose to use a rough dollar value as some kind of indicator (that was quick and easy).  I'm also interested to plot how often I am eating the produce (I'm not as garden advanced as you Lissa so it won't be every day). 

Oh, well I eat my paw paws every day because they go into my smoothie, and most lunches have a bit of greenery from the garden while most dinners have at least something home grown in them too. I had family staying with me recently and at one dinner I actually said "I don't think this has anything from the garden in it at all". It was so unusual it was worth commenting on. Then I remembered I'd gone out to grab parsley or something, so there was a little bit of flavour from the garden, if not many calories.

LOL. I can't wait to get to that stage Rob.  Tomorrow will be my bad night.  I teach photography after work, so I'll eat something really healthy like a vegemite sandwich. 

Perhaps it's the way you phrased the original posting Andy. We all seem to have read it the same way.

LOL.  It's hard for me to be pretty and smart at the same time Lissa!  

Mind you, even the misunderstanding was a bit interesting.  Rob's approach versus ours for example.  I just buy stuff that really seems like it would be fantastic fun (like your bees and my aquaponics).  Ya can't put a value on the sheer enjoyment. My pak choi might only cost $3 at Coles but I get a mega enjoyment from eating it because I grew it with my old hands. 

Even better than growing and cooking your own vegetables is to grow them and then outsource the cooking. I've been supplying my Bangladeshi neighbours with lab lab beans and today they brought over some of the curry they made with them. It was absolutely delicious! Still, that means that only one ingredient for dinner came from the garden.

LOL. What a cracker of an idea Rob.  I think that's Karma in action.  

Over the last three years my garden has easily payed its way. I had a bit of change from $500 to set myself up with soil, seeds and acq sleepers and haven't really spent anything on it since. Herbs are pretty expensive and I have around 10 on hand at most times. I like my cooking and if I didn't have herbs I'd be spending minimum $10 a week.

Last week I made a Thai curry paste entirely from garden produce. Chilli, coriander roots, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, kafir lime leaves. Go into a shop and see how much that costs you!

Harvested over 200 figs last year and generally as my fruit trees are getting older they are producing more. Haven't bought a lemon in 3 months for example.

I just don't have the space to be fully self sufficient. Greens are easy to grow and we all save money on them but the things I'm really interested in are the staples like Celery, carrots, potatoes and onions. All pretty cheap to buy but if it was possible I'd prefer not to buy them. Carrots work well for me so I'd like to dedicate more space to them in the future so I don't have to buy them.

WOW!  I'm thinking a bit the same way about the staples.  They don't cost much to buy, but let's face it, that's what we eat most of.  I'm diggin' (pun intended) on the sweet potatoes because Lissa taught me you can use the new leaves like basil/spinach - and I do.  I'm hoping to see some tubers this year.  I'm also having a go at carrots now.   

I'm really impressed about your curry paste!  I have chilli, lemongrass and kafir lime leaves.  Haven't tried galangal because I heard it was big.  I keep testing garlic, but am having a lot of trouble.  My ginger seems good in a pot though - it's very tasty. 

I also planted my planter box orchard this year.  I have fig, lemon, lemonade, lime, the kefir lime, and orange (which is struggling).  Can't wait for those to produce in a year or three.  


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