Not quite $64

I waited weeks for it to ripen, never thinking it actually would, having lost all manner of tomatoes over the years to fungus, rot, rodent, ruminant, or insect.

Weeks to ripen, minutes to eat. It was delicious, but was it worth it?

I’ve had a book in my shopping cart at Amazon for a long time, called The $64 Tomato — one man’s humorous account of trying to grow an organic garden at his Hudson Valley “farmstead.” He came to the conclusion that each tomato he harvested cost him $64 because of all he’d had to invest in the effort.

This year, I planted a dozen tomato plants — 4 in my upside-down 5-gallon bucket experiment (they’re doing terribly); 1 in last year’s “topsy-turvy” commercial upside-down planter (it finally has a few blossoms and little squirts on it); 1 in a big planter (this tomato came from that); and the rest scattered in the garden amid the shrubs and flowers — wherever I could find space. Some of them have nice-looking green tomatoes on them; some lost what they did have to said fungus, rot, rodent, ruminant, or insect; some didn’t have a fighting chance because I stuck them in the ground and forgot about them. Some are supposed to be gold instead of red, but since all of them are still green, I’m not sure which is which.

All told, I probably have $44 invested in those tomatoes this year (plants, buckets, soil).

I contrast this to my friends’ lush garden I had the pleasure of visiting last week. Beautiful raised beds chock-full of healthy plants laden with fruit & veggies. Awe inspiring. Mouth watering.

Did I mention all 5 of my pepper plants withered and died? And 2 of 5 jalapeno plants? (The other 3 are laden with peppers, but iffy looking.) Apparently the dreaded blight that devastated last year’s gardens also affects peppers — and petunias of all things (every one of the petunias I planted in the top of my bucket planters to pretty them up died within a couple weeks). Experts advise rotating crops so you’re not planting tomatoes or peppers where you planted them last year — in my limited space, I won’t have that luxury, ever.

Even Mike said, after hearing and seeing me lament my blasted tomatoes for the 237th time, “Are you sure it’s worth it? They’re not expensive to buy.”

After years of disappointment, I’m starting to agree. Yes, there’s nothing quite like a tomato right off the vine. But every tomato came off a vine somewhere. And sure, fresh eggs, fresh milk, fresh juice — they’re all better, but I’m not obsessing over raising chickens, cows, or oranges.

It may be time to give up. To keep my gardening dollars and energies focused on growing things I know I can grow and leave the fruit & veggies to the experts (i.e., pretty much everyone else). There’s some nobility in knowing when to say uncle, right? In quitting while you’re (sort of) ahead?

Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson


  1. RL said,

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Yeah, I tend to agree with where you are headed. It’s too easy to go down the road to farmer’s market and pay for a nice box of them. It helps to see the smile on the old farmer’s face, who knows much more than I do about growing them, is hunched a bit, from years of work, and appreciates my cash more than Giant Eagle!

  2. mel said,

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    well, now, I can see both sides. we here at our “homestead” have definitely had more success with some things than others. we dropped cabbages and kohlrabi off the list this year; we’d rather invest in things that aren’t such space hogs and don’t invite cabbage worms. that said, we found out about a bunch of new plant invaders this year; apparently, whatever you plant has at least a handful of invasive little bugs, worms, caterpillars, and such that can’t wait to destroy your hard work. moving plants around from year to year definitely has its merits. Todd’s step-grandpap actually bakes his dirt. I kid you not–piles it into cookie sheets and makes the whole house smell like soil. a bit much? yes. does he have success? oh my goodness, YES. his garden makes ours look like a bunch of amateurs tossed it into the ground. so. if you have more success with one item than another, maybe just focus on those plants, and buy the rest. if it’s locally grown, you’re still doing some good.

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