Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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Does gardening really save any money?

By Penny Stine
Friday, January 2, 2015

Since mid-January last year I’ve been keeping a running tally of my garden expenses compared to the value of the food I get from the garden. I did it just because I often hear people say that gardening doesn’t really save any money by the time you buy seeds, plants, fertilizer, supplies, etc.
Trying to calculate the expense was easy - I just looked at every debit or check I wrote. Trying to calculate the value of garden produce was not so easy, since I don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh everything and I don’t usually know offhand the price per pound of various vegetables, anyway.
Plus, I grow some weird things that you can’t find at the grocery store, at least not here in Grand Junction. Some were just unique varieties (Kellogg breakfast tomatoes, purple potatoes, Romano green beans and peppermint Swiss chard, to name a few), while others are just not found on local grocers shelves; i.e., like the pineapple ground cherries in the picture (which also shows these incredibly sweet oblong yellow pepper I grew, but which can't be found on local shelves). I did the best I could.

I kept a spreadsheet at work and used my phone to track on weekends. I’m sure I missed some things, too, since it was easy to go pick a handful of herbs for dinner and forget to log it.

Here are my numbers:
Value of garden goods           Cost of garden supplies

Jan. - April: 116.03                        $119.97
May - June: 126.25                       $140.43
July - Aug.: 113.35                        $28.38
Sept. - Oct.: 175.70                       $87.45
Nov. - Dec.: 77.65 (thru Dec. 29)       0

total value: 608.98               total cost: $376.23

total savings: $232.75

This doesn’t take my time into account, which would make the cost astronomical, but it also doesn’t take the health benefits of gardening or eating so much fresh produce into account, which increases the value.

Just as a note, the only reason my September and October costs are so high is because I bought a portabella mushroom box, which cost about $40, with the cost of shipping. My overall garden expenses were on the high side this year, because I did something stupid and did some damage to my soil, which meant I had to replant some things several times and spend extra money trying to undo the damage. (As an aside, don’t put fresh wood chips in your garden soil thinking they’ll decompose quickly and give you more organic matter - they won’t!)

Bottom line: gardening saves money, but it’s a ton of work. It’s also incredibly rewarding for those who love to cook, enjoy being outside and don’t mind getting dirty, sweaty and occasionally sore. And it’s good for those who want to know more about the food they eat.  


Winter garden

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Here’s my east garden covered in snow. Last year, the sight of it in late December sent me into a tailspin of sadness, but this year, it's not as cold, nor has the snow been there that long, so I'm not as sad and can appreciate the snow. It's actually good for the garden, since I have garlic, onions and spinach all planted and waiting for the right time to germinate. I’ve seen spinach sprout at the end of January, as soon as the snow is gone, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

In the meantime, I’ve been getting seed catalogs in the mail. One of the companies that I’ve purchased from in the past must have sold my name, since I’m getting catalogs from a bunch of companies that I’ve never ordered from. Normally, that would annoy me, but since it gives more garden porn to peruse, I’m OK with it!  

The only bad thing is that it makes me want to tear out more lawn in the spring so I can plant more, and my hubby says no. Actually, I can't handle a bigger garden, either, but it sure is fun to dream about room for more melons, different cucumbers and lots of tomatoes in the middle of winter. 


Something’s still alive in the garden in December

By Penny Stine
Friday, December 19, 2014

I went home for lunch today and decided to check on some of the plants that I left still doing their thing out in the garden last month. It’s been fairly mild, so I wasn’t surprised to see that they’re doing just fine.

This is the Swiss chard that I found when I was going to pull the broccoli. It looks like it’s grown since last time and is doing quite well. The broccoli is pretty sad. I really should have yanked it out. If I think about it, I’ll pick the chard and eat it this weekend. Yes, I know there's not enough to eat much, but still... I'm picking Swiss chard in December. How cool is that?








This is the Brussels sprouts that never produced anything.  Maybe I’ll have sprouts by Valentine’s Day. And maybe it will freeze next month and I'll pull out a dead plant in February. 






The kale surprised me, because out of everything that I left out there, it’s the one thing I know that can survive, no matter how cold it gets. All the kale I picked this summer was from kale that I had planted two to four years previously.
This kale certainly looks dead as the proverbial doorknob. I have a feeling that when I cut it back in mid-February, it will start growing again, which is what usually happens.


I had a bunch of carrots that were coming up from seed I scattered quite some time ago. They weren’t big enough, so I just covered them all in straw. It looks like they’re alive and well under the straw. I’ve read that they’ll overwinter just fine like that, but sometimes they become a target for bugs looking for something tasty.
I’m sure we’ll get some colder weather in January, but so far, all of this bodes well for my early spring garden.  


Put these in your 2015 garden plan

By Penny Stine
Monday, December 15, 2014

Yes, tomatillos. I've grown them for years, but this year, my appreciation for tomatillos is growing by leaps and bounds. In previous years, I usually made green salsa or just canned them with tomatoes, chiles and spices to create a Mexican sauce. After talking to a friend of mine who worked as a missionary in Mexico for several years and who used them for so much more than green salsa, I decided to simply freeze most of the tomatillos that I grew, with plans to experiment with them more this winter.

Freezing them was easy - I peeled the papery husk and washed the stickiness off, then put them in a freezer bag. I ended up without about 4 or 5 gallon bags full of tomatillos. 

So far, I've used them in pork stew, chicken stew and in the crock pot when I cooked a roast beef and potatoes. Cooking them for a long time rids them of that tart, almost bitter tang and adds a touch of lemony sweetness. They were really good with the roast beef and potatoes. Yes, even my hubby (who is not a No. 1 fan of tomatillos) agreed that the roast was good. They also help to thicken soups, stews and sauces, which is a plus. 

The good news is that tomatillos are one of the most economical crops to grow. Once you plant them, they often come back in following years, especially if you're not very good about picking up every last tomatillo that falls to the ground at the end of the season. I deliberately left a bunch on the ground, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of tomatillo plants to share with friends next spring. 


Look what I found still growing in the garden

By Penny Stine
Monday, December 8, 2014

It was such a nice day on Sunday here in the Grand Valley that I decided to go finish clearing and cleaning up my garden. I had left a few plants out there in November when I tore out almost everything. Most of them had died, dried and were obviously done.

Then I saw this Swiss chard plant, which had been hidden by the enormous broccoli plant next to it, and it looked green and healthy, like it wasn’t quite done growing. Rather than tear it out, I gave it a gallon of water to drink. I left the broccoli in place, too, figuring that perhaps the broccoli was shielding the Swiss chard from the cold. Or something like that.

The nice thing about plants surviving this late is that the bugs are long gone. In the summer, some of my Swiss chard got chewed up by those little leafhoppers that suck all the pigment out of the leaves, but that's one thing I don't have to contend with right now.

I had two other Swiss chard plants in this other bed, and you can see that they don’t look near as healthy as the other one. But I wondered if maybe they’re just thirsty and no quite ready to be done for the season, so I watered them both, too, and left them where they were.

With night time temperatures only dropping into the 20s and daytime temps in the 50s, it will be interesting to see if they grow at all in the next week.

I’m already thinking about what I can cook next weekend that will use just a few small Swiss chard leaves.  

I know, it's December and I should accept that the garden is done, but as you can see, it's just not that easy for me!

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