Category Archives: Garden economics

Kitchen garden economics for all

Last June I decided to be very geeky and track the effective profit/loss of our kitchen garden. It was ultimately a rewarding exercise, if sometimes tedious (when you want to sink your teeth into a tomato, the last thing you want to do is bother weighing it first). We were delighted to know that we were well into the black at the end of our first year, even having built pricey beds.

This year, with our patch nearly double the size and our seedlings already well on their way, I decided to beef up the spreadsheet – and to share it with anyone who might also have a geeky gene.

This spreadsheet is very easy to use and requires NO mathematical understanding. All you have to do is:
— insert your vegetable/fruit names
— insert the cost of the seeds/plants
— track the costs of your overheads (beds, compost, etc)
— track the weight and units of harvesting per item
— once a month, find a comparable shop cost

The spreadsheet will do all the whizzy adding up, multiplying, and will tell you how you are getting along with your ‘profitability’ relative to what you would have spent at a shop.

You can download the spreadsheet here and start tracking your kitchen garden plot’s productivity straight away.

Good luck, and don’t forget to report back your progress!

The economics of vegetable gardening

Last June, when our first Strawberries were picked, I decided I would keep track of our vegetable patch’s productivity, much like a business does. As an economist and entrepreneur it made perfect sense to question the cost/benefit of money invested versus lovely organic produce generated. Rather geeky, I know!

There are so many variables and everyone’s patch is different, so this case study is not making any universal statements – it only applies to The Modern Gardener vegetable patch and our approach. After all, some people don’t have tools when they start out, others don’t bother with raised beds,  and some stick vegetables between flowers and in window baskets – all of which would certainly affect ‘profitability’ (where profit basically = value of vegetables out of the ground minus money handed over to the seed and soil merchant).

On the other hand, time is money too, so many of you may argue that the countless hours spent sowing, watering, weeding and harvesting must also be calculated as an ‘opportunity cost’ (the value lost when you could have been doing something more lucrative). This would in turn require that we calculate the mental and physical health benefits of fresh air, exercise, and in my case having quality time with my husband. And finally, we get car loads of free well-rotted manure from a farm down the road – how to account for that?

I have decided instead on a very simple model of separating out the CAPEX (capital expenditure – the initial investment outlay in, say, timber and pots), and directly comparing OPEX (operational expenditure, basically seeds and soil/food) against the value of the produce. Value of produce was calculated using the Waitrose organic price at the time of picking. We use Ocado to deliver our shopping as we both work, so although we could have found a cheaper price it made sense for our purposes to use them for the value comparison.

Here are the results in short:

Capex                                    £189
Opex                                        £89
Revenue                                £293
Gross profit 2009        £204

So in 2009 The Modern Gardener vegetable patch made a profit and paid off our initial outlay. In 2010, we expect to be a in the money by a long way!

My other observations are to do with best value, so if you only grow one thing make it either courgettes, runner beans, parsnips or tomatoes (avoiding the last if you’re short on time). On the flip side we learned that potatoes have a negative return if you don’t take the time to earth up for a larger crop.

All in all it’s an interesting, fast and easy bit of information to compile that I am going to repeat year after year to see how our patch ‘performs’ over time. But it’s a far cry from the perfect study – the spreadsheet certainly doesn’t tell you how good those carrots were fresh out of the ground and therefore their incalculably high value to us!