The garden is an unhappy place for a perfectionist. Too much stands beyond our control here, and the only thing that we can absolutely count on is eventual catastrophe….It’s easy to get discouraged, unless…you are happier to garden in time rather than in space; unless, that is, your heart is in the verb.
—Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
While scratching the start of my winter beard, I read Pollan and remember the 2010 season of the Ginkgo Organic Gardens. My memory is aided by the analysis that I recently completed of the garden’s yield, and which I now share.
2010 featured bumper crops of tomatoes, collards, and cucumbers, surprising harvests of potatoes, but poor yields of tree fruits, beets, and spinach. It was the first year of human-powered delivery and fig trees. It was a year relatively free of impediments such as powdery mildew and aphids, but pestered with crop failures. The year’s yield was higher than that of 2008, but lower than that of 2009.
Ginkgo volunteers respect data. We might occasionally hang an unscraped hoe in the shed; we may leave stray tomatoes to rot on the weighing table; but we never fail to record the results of each weekend’s harvest in our garden log.
This year, I decided to analyze the harvest data with three objectives:
- to compare the season’s yield with that of the years for which I had readily available data
- to describe the changing composition of our harvests
- to estimate the dollar value of what we donated
The following graphs compare the yields of various classes of produce throughout the growing seasons of 2008, 2009, and 2010. Each growing season is described with two charts: a bar chart that shows the yield for each week of the year, and a line chart that tracks the cumulative yield to date. Yields are in pounds.
The total yield for 2010 was 1291 pounds—enough to where we can continue to describe ourselves as a “half ton garden”, and more than 2008’s yield of 1141 pounds, but much less than 2009’s yield of 1607 pounds, which we now recognize as possibly being a record.
Although tomatoes are botanically a fruit, I included them as vegetables in the analysis. Regardless of how I class tomatoes, we grew a lot of them in 2010: 377 pounds, 75 pounds of which we harvested in one weekend. We also grew 172 pounds of cucumbers and 150 pounds of collards, more than we had grown in the prior two years. On the other hand, our yield of 33 pounds of green beans was a third of that of 2009—when, because of the One Seed Chicago campaign, we were awash in free packets of Blue Lake Pole Bean seeds, which proved to be prolific that year, but not in 2010. Our relatively low yield of 44 pounds of sweet peppers resulted from a decision to plant fewer beds of peppers than tomatoes. Our 2010 yield was also lower than that of 2009 both because of failures of spinach and beet crops and because we decided, after two years of battling powdery mildew and cutworms, not to grow winter squash.
The following stacked bar graphs compare the composition of vegetable crops for the last three years. The graphs are dense because of the number of crops that we grew, but certain trends are evident, such as the relative contributions of tomatoes, collards, and cucumbers to our yields.
2010’s yield of fruit was 68 pounds—a little more than the 59 pounds from 2008, but only 40% of 2009’s yield of 153 pounds. Most of the difference between the yields of 2010 and 2009 can be attributed to 2009’s bumper crop of plums—64 pounds, of which 60 pounds we shook out of the trees in one weekend. In contrast, we only obtained 6 pounds of plums in 2010. Although the plum trees appeared to promise another great harvest for 2010, we lost most of the fruit to high winds in late spring and early summer. The apple trees yielded almost no fruit this year (in fact, almost every apple that survived theft and windfall is featured somewhere in the blog), nor we did get much from our grape vines.
Our 2010 yield of 25 pounds is only 3 pounds less than that of 2009. We had slightly less success with basil this year, but slightly more success with sage.
Estimated monetary value
How much would our produce have fetched if we had sold it instead of donated it? Or as I prefer to ask: how much would clients of the Vital Bridges pantry have had to pay to obtain produce of quality comparable to what Ginkgo offered?
To arrive at an estimate, I used prices for produce that I recorded at the Whole Foods at 3640 N. Halsted during a visit on December 4, 2010. I used prices for what I deemed to be representative organic equivalents to our produce when possible. Although Ginkgo is not a USDA certified organic garden, I think that our produce would compare favorably in both purity and quality to vegetables from certified growers, so I feel justified in using prices for certified organic produce in my estimate. For produce for which I could not find an equivalent at Whole Foods, I used what appeared to be the default unit price of $2.49/lb.
Because the bulk of our produce was in tomatoes, the price that I used for equivalent Whole Foods tomatoes affects the estimate greatly. On the day of my visit, the Whole Foods did not have organic heirloom tomatoes; however, it did offer both heirloom tomatoes and organic grape tomatoes, so I used a price that was the average of the two.
Based on the Whole Foods prices for equivalent produce, the monetary value of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that the Ginkgo Organic Gardens grew in 2010 was $4188.00.
|Crop||2010 yield (lb)||Whole Foods Equivalent||$/lb (Dec 4 2010)||Total (2010)|
|Beans - Green & Yellow||32.75||green beans||$2.49||$81.55|
|Beans - Fava, Flat Italian||0||n/a||$-|
|Collards||149.5||not in store; using equivalent||$2.49||$372.26|
|Kale||58.2||organic green leaf||$2.49||$144.92|
|Lettuce - Leaf/Head||3.5||packaged mixed baby greens||$7.96||$27.86|
|Lovage||0.75||not in store; using equivalent||$2.49||$1.87|
|Mustard greens||0.25||not in store; using equivalent||$2.49||$0.62|
|Peas - Snap/Snowpeas||11||conventional||$3.99||$43.89|
|Peppers - Hot||11.25||jalapeno - conventional?||$2.99||$33.64|
|Peppers - Sweet||44.25||organic - average of green and red||$3.84||$169.92|
|Potatoes - White||62.25||organic white||$1.99||$123.88|
|Potatoes - Sweet||15||yams - conventional?||$1.69||$25.35|
|Radish - Daikon||5||organic||$1.99||$9.95|
|Radish - Red||19.5||organic||$4.00||$78.00|
|Scallions||0.85||not in store; using chives||$3.99||$3.39|
|Sorrel||1.75||not in store; using equivalent||$2.49||$4.36|
|Squash - Acorn / Fall||0||n/a||$-|
|Squash - Summer||50.25||organic||$1.99||$100.00|
|Squash - Zucchini||19||organic||$2.49||$47.31|
|Swiss Chard||60.5||organic red||$2.49||$150.65|
|Tomatoes||376.5||average of conventional heirloom and organic grape||$4.99||$1,878.74|
|Turnips w/ greens||28||organic||$2.49||$69.72|
|Gooseberries||1.5||not in store|
|Plums||6.25||not in store; use pears||$2.49||$15.56|
|Garlic / Garlic scapes||1.35||packaged organic||$3.32||$4.48|