Following the Status Quo: $16,565.00

Guest post by Renee Garner

Office Manager may sound like a hefty title, for those not in the know, but really I am just a glorified secretary. Sure I have a degree, but that doesn’t equate to a high paying job in my chosen field: art. So I make enough to live off of but not much more and that means I can’t afford a landscaper to come out and neatly tend my flocks of daffodils. And really, just to be honest about things, I wouldn’t want one to, either.

So with no offense, Bill Alexander, I dismiss your $64 Tomato. No tomato should cost $64, even in the quest for a perfect garden, if you are willing to invest yourself in your garden. Hopefully then your tomato will be sentimentally worth as much, if not more, than that, but will have a similar or lower price than of the Styrofoam-like grocery store variety. Mr. Alexander, I believe you are proselytizing a myth of the rich, that gardening should be cookie cutter perfection, and an investment in the landscaper’s moneymaking dream machine.

While the book may be humorous and witty, let us not forget that it concerns gardening with a goal free of mistakes. While the story inevitably teaches us about healthy mistakes, and gives us morals, I wonder how satisfying a garden can be if you pay a designer $300 to plot the layout. Who can pay nearly $9,000 for construction?!? I scoff at plants that cost $15, why would I want a bed worth more than my car? I understand the value of a garden. When forced with a choice, I’m much more inclined to spend $20 on plants and a six-pack from the store than I am to spend an equal amount getting into a club and buying a couple drinks. Well, maybe if Menomena came back around. . .I digress.

But the beauty of my job is that I get off at 3 in the afternoon, with plenty of post-work plant time. Since I don’t use my creative skills at work (unless you count these stolen moments blogging! Please don’t tell!) I use them in my yard, much to the disdain of my neighbors, who would rather my tomatoes cost $64. Which brings me back to the concept of money.

One of my most valuable resources has been dubbed “the midnight lumber sale”, also known as “the five fingered lumber discount.” There is new construction all around my house, and I am willing to bet there will be construction within spitting distance for another several years. Hammers echoing in the neighborhood at 6:30 AM are not my favorite sound, but I am indebted to those brand new condos, for they have been the suppliers of the goods used to build my raised veggie bed. And without that, I would have no place for my free manure (well, $3 in gas to pick it up) that I found on Freecycle! I did ask for permission before trifling through the riff raff, but for the most part you can tell which piles are good and which are trash. Need I remind you, dear friend, we want to sort through the trash and not the good building materials, because that would be stealing, and stealing is worth its weight ten-fold in bad karma points. However! In the trash pile you will find glorious resources aplenty, and with a little creative ingenuity, you too, can build the garden of your dreams. From the demolition phase, I loaded up on concrete blocks, 2 x 4s, and a picket fence that now gives my beloved pups a yard to run around freely in. Now in the construction phase, I have scored some beautiful and fairly large rocks for my shady woodland garden. I have also gotten piles of untreated lumber to build my raised bed with! Total costs: I’m gonna guess high and say $40 for bagged dirt and compost of the cheapest variety I could find at my local gargantuan hardware store. $0 for lumber and since my lumberyard is essentially spitting distance, no cost in petrol. I can go ahead and add in another $12 investment: black rolling trashcan, which is now my portable compost container, but I bought that with a Target gift card, so technically it doesn’t count. Just to make Bill not feel so bad, I’ll include the cost of that. So I’m up to a hefty $56.

The plants were grown from seed, which ranged in price from free (trading for variety) to $2.75 for a pack of 6 heirloom tomato seeds (way to rich for my blood, won’t make that mistake again) in any container I had lying around the house. Cloched in pop bottles a la Gayla Trail, the bottles have been recycled into another fabulous Trail idea: an irrigation system. I have grass-clipping mulch to maintain soil moisture. I did buy 5 plants because my first batch of seedlings pooped out on me when I went on vacation. I’ll add $15 for that. I can say I’ve spent less than $30 on plants. Considering I use rainwater gathered in buckets and pitchers, I’ll add another $6 so far on water, which is, again, a gross overestimate.

Since Alexander has included books and resources, I have 3: You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (2 copies since my dog ate my first one, total including tax:32.25), Rodale’s Organic Encyclopedia bought new 10 years ago for 21.35, tax included, and Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening bought used on Amazon for $6, shipping and tax included.

All of these variables accounted for, I’ve spent less than $200 on my veggies. I have approximately 60 tomato plants, and if they each produce one tomato and nothing else produces, I will have $2.53 tomatoes. So, Bill, next time you diddle in the garden, think outside the box of plastic perfection, I guarantee your tomatoes will taste so much better for it. Because as far as I can figure, following the status quo to grow a ‘mater: $16,565.00; Utilizing your own resources: Priceless.


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5 thoughts on “Following the Status Quo: $16,565.00

  1. Renee I was so delighted to see your review of this book. I just picked it up two days ago with the intention to find out what this $64 dollar tomato is he speaks of… I for one am mystified and figure it’s mostly hype… which clearly worked on me cause I plunked down $32 CDN for the hardcover. Now I would NEVER spend that much on this sort of book had it not been for “research purposes.” That’s WAY too expensive Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill a division of Workman Publishing!

    I haven’t had a chance to read anything yet but in my mind I just can’t resolve how even under the worst of circumstances I or anyone else could possibly spend that much on a garden that equals $64 per tomato! I’ve been known to go a bit crazy at the herb fair once or twice (that $15 wasabi plant impulse purchase) but man alive…

  2. I will admit that I haven’t read this book cover to cover, I just keep picking it up as I see it and reading through. Its the sort like a car wreck: you don’t want to look, but you have to.
    No one should rationally spend that amount of money on a garden, unless its in a Botanical Garden with mind-boggling collection, and then you consider wages and labor.
    It is intended to be hype, as are a few other pieces of his writing, as featured on his website. However, I honestly believe for someone to spend that dollar amount on a garden is to do so in order to one up the neighbors. A $16000 garden is not a garden intended for self-satisfaction; it is either constructed for a future book idea or to one up the neighbors to show how grandly one can coexist with the land.

  3. I haven’t read the book yet either. I have to confess I thought I was headed down that road. Seeing as this is my first year gardening, I had scads of pots and soil to get, tons of seeds, plants, and other things, because I was starting with nothing and have no in-ground vegetable possibility. I confess to probably spending about $400-$500 over several weeks to get everything started.

    My fear was that everything would refuse to set fruit due to my inexperience and I’d end up with three tomatoes and nothing else to show for the season, and those would be my “$64 Tomatoes.”
    Judging by the action on the deck right now, I’m going to have a lot more than that. Phew! :-D

  4. It is not a bad book. It is actually mostly about his rather large garden in upstate NY. The problem with his cost estimate is that he uses the cost of how much money it took to build beds, and to level out areas via mini bulldozers in his final figures. He had to pay someone else to do it. Most of us gals are doing the labor ourselves.
    My tomatoes are coming out much cheaper! ;-)

    I would pick up the book for the rest of the book (that stuff ends up being just one chapter). He does have some good things to say on the love of gardening and how sometimes other folks just don’t understand…

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