Ever since Mark began posting about Value Space Rating or VSR I have been giving some thought to how it works in my garden. So in the fine tradition (or in the true nerdish style depending on your attitude to spreadsheets) of Laura at the Modern Victory Garden and Robyn at the Gardener of Eden, amongst others, I created a spreadsheet. Of course for my spreadsheet to be of any use at all I had to work out a formula for calculating a plants value. I decided on the following:
Amount of money it would cost to buy vegetables at the shop divided by months in the ground and square metres used to grow crop. I then gave the plants additional points to a maximum of 5 in the following categories:
- Value to garden – Does the plant make the garden prettier? Does it improve the soil? Does it bring beneficial insects into the garden and so on. Broad Beans would get top marks here for the nitrogen fixing properties, rainbow chard might get top marks for attractiveness.
- Taste Differential – Does the plant taste much better when home grown as compared with shop bought? Slicing tomatoes are an obvious 5/5.
- Hard to find – Can you buy the product locally? Easily? I would give horseradish 5 in this category as its very difficult to find fresh.
- Freshness – Does the freshness of the product make a difference? Herbs – things like parsley in particular have a much better taste and texture when fresh. They also have much better vitamin levels.
- Convenience – Does having some to cut when you need it make a difference? Pick and come again crops like loose leaf lettuces and celery would score highly in this category.
I was quite surprised about how well and how poorly some items scored. The full list is here: VSR Spreadsheet PDF.
However if you’re only interested in the best then the top 5 plants based on harvests over the 3 months of summer were:
1. Herbs – or more specifically, because they are the ones I weigh and so can assign a monetary value to: Parsley, Basil, Mint & Chervil. Herbs came top not so much because of of a combination of money I saved by growing them and because of the difference in taste and freshness as well as the convenience you gain by growing your own. Prior to growing my own I used to open the fridge only to be greeted by sad looking bunches of herbs looking accusingly at me from the vegetable crisper. Either I would buy them and forget I had them, or buy them and only use half, or worse still that was the condition they arrived home from the market it. Growing them enables me to use as much of them as I want whenever I want and it is absolutely fabulous!
2. Lettuce – Lettuce came second, partially because it is expensive to buy, particularly as mixed leaves, and partially because if I grow them on in small pots before transplanting so they only occupy bed space for a short period before they are at a harvest-able stage. I also scored lettuce highly for freshness and convenience as its so nice to be able to go out into the garden each night to gather lovely crisp leaves for a salad to eat with the evening meal.
3. Cucumber – I was quite surprised by this one – not sure why but I was. Cucumber scored well because it tends to crop well for me in a relatively small space. I grow it vertically and so it only uses about 1/2 a square metre per 3 plants. I also gave cucumber bonus points for both freshness – the crispness of a freshly picked cucumber is so nice, and also convenience. I do find that it’s so convenient to have salad ingredients on hold – it means I always have something for lunch, or to serve with dinner.
4. Tomatoes for slicing and sauce – I separated larger tomatoes for slicing and sauce from the cherry tomatoes because I think there are different merits in each type. Surprisingly, because they are a lot cheaper to buy, the slicing/sauce varieties came out with a better VSR than the cherries. They did well on volume per square metre, taste differential ( I do find that you can find decent tasting cherry tomatoes at the green grocers but very rarely do I find decent tasting larger varieties), and by virtue of being hard to find. By hard to find I mean a range of varieties rather than slicing tomatoes per se.
5. Potatoes – I was so pleased that potatoes made the top 5 as I’ve fallen in love with potatoes all over again by growing them this year. Potatoes made the Top 5 by scoring pretty well across the board (although I didn’t really save that much money by growing my own). I think they are so much nicer when fresh, all too often I’ve brought home limp potatoes from the supermarket and been so disappointed with them as a result. Home grown potatoes do taste better, you can get a wider range of varieties (although this is changing) and they are good for the garden being good for readying a bed for future crops. The other benefit, and I have included this in my benefit to the garden score, is that they are fun to grow and more specifically dig – especially for the kids.
And they were the Top 5 plants I grew this summer based on my VSR calculations. I do think my calculations could do with a little refining, for instance shallots did badly due to length of time in the ground but much of that time was in winter and I think it may be appropriate to weight time in the ground differently in winter and summer. There are also plants listed here, chard for instance, that were not at a harvest-able stage for the whole period whilst they will be harvest-able from now on. Presumably they will feature higher in the list when I redo it at the end of Autumn.
A few weeks back The New Goodlife also did a Top 5 on the best performing plants in her garden, over summer – you can find it here. For those of you with a literary bent her Top 5 this week is books that she’d love to read one day.
Great post! But now I have to add another spreadsheet to my Excel workbook! 🙂
He he he – glad to give you more spreadsheeting to do.
Oh boy, that puts my attempt at evaluating the crop to shame. A formula, I am so impressed! I too would have put potatoes in my top five if I were to re-do my list now that I’ve dug them up.
There are probably all sorts of flaws in my formula but it did keep me entertained for awhile working it all out.
Must admit we never consider VSR as we have room to grow what we want it doesn’t really come into the equation.
Ah the luxury of space – I wish….
How very interesting. What a great post!
I love this idea. I have to consider these aspects when planting. I, too, love herbs because they are so forgiving of where they are planted. Last year I had some oregano that someone just yanked out of the ground for me. Literally, she just reached down and grabbed it. Here you go. I put it in good soil and it languished. I moved it to the sandy front bed and it took over.
I am going to have to make a VSR for my garden. I have such a small amount of space that I have to plant what give the most bang for the buck.
I wish I had more space, and didn’t have to worry – i would lvoe to grow tons of onions and carrots but it just isn’t a good use of space to grow them – wish it was though because I do enjoy pulling carrots – very satisfying.
Me, too, Liz. I wish I had tons of space and didn’t have to worry. If I had tons of space, I would probably plant potatoes. I haven’t planted them because they seem to be space hogs.
I used to think that about potatoes but now they are one of my favourite crops to grow – so much fun! Have you considered growing them in containers – I’ve been quite successful growing them in large tubs.
I have never tried to formally quantify anything but the average yeild per square foot of garden bed used – which does not factor in the “value” of the crop only the productivity for space used. I like your approach and may have to try and translate that into my own kind of rating system.
A quick assessment though shows that when I match up the highest cost items (were I to purchase it in the store) to the highest producers – the clear winners are chard 4lbs per square foot of intensively planted bed at a fairly significant price per pound (and best fresh from the garden anyways!), Garlic at over 1 lb per square foot on average with a very high cost per pound, and tomatoes at over 2 lbs per square foot and about $4/lb for organic vine ripened tomatoes in the store. Berries are also a high value item but I don’t have good “average production” info on them as I never manage to weigh them before they get eaten! Honestly though, all the items I choose to grow have value to me because we regularly eat the things I grow and I don’t grow things we don’t eat very much – or rarely do anyways!
I think Chard and garlic will end up doing really well for me too when I come to evaluate everything at the end of the year. My tomatoes not producing particularly well this year hasn’t done them any favours though.
I;ve never done VSR but I do have my own spreadsheet where I track veggie yields. This year I want to track money saved too.
I’m tracking money saved for the first time – I just use the local supermarkets prices for produce – I use their normal prices rather than the organic ones as I can never seem to find an organic price for everything.
What a great post! I do a mental calculation along the same lines. Fresh herbs are a shoe-in, if I had room for only one crop it would be fresh herbs. But chiles (chillies) are also in the top 5 for me because I love growing varieties that have unique flavors and are impossible to buy fresh, such as mild habanero relatives, yum!
I’ve really been enjoying your Top 5 posts, they always get me thinking.
Thanks Michelle, I really enjoy growing chillies too – I think the interest vaslue of a plant is hard to quantify and chillies are one of those satisfying to grow type plants that make gardening worthwhile – to me anyway.
I’m so with you on the herbs. I grow lots of sorrel which is very hard to buy and the watercress was brilliant and took up very little space…
My biggest one is parsley – I can’t get enough of the stuff. I do value both my sorrel and watercress too though.
How very scientific, Liz; I’m impressed. Joy Larkcom would be so proud of you! I’m afraid that I don’t do anything quite so formal. I assess VSR almost subconsciously, and I admit that sometimes the empirical evidence gets overridden by personal preferences. If I really LIKE it, then the crop gets bonus points towards its VSR. I totally agree with the herbs though. They win on all counts.
I was interested in how badly beans did – they are one of the first things I plant and I would have subconsciously assessed their VSR much higher. Despite their lowly score I am going to keep growing them because as you say sometimes the emotional attachment is enough.
I agree that this is a useful train of thought. I think we all make these decisions when we ponder the seed packet aisle. Carrots and onions, while very useful in cooking, are a waste of space in a garden because they are generally very cheap to buy and take a long time to grow. There is one thing that I think your value calculation needs to take into account, how much preparation/effort it takes to grow. For example, tomatoes are heavy feeders, so need good soil, whereas carrots will grow well in poor soil. Creating the nutrient load and maintaining the appropriate water level should be taken into account. I think this would also elevate potatoes higher up the pecking order, as they will grow while you are creating the bed for another crop. Lettuce will do reasonably well, as they require little other than regular watering. It may cause tomatoes to drop, even though they are by far the most enjoyable crop as they require greater attention to nutrients and water.
I have also found that cucumbers rate quite highly, they seem to keep coming and coming. I have been growing them in hanging bags, which have the benefit of saving a bit more space in my limited garden bed.
That is an interesting point you raise – perhaps a points deduction for difficulty of growing or i revise the monetary figure down for high maintenance crops.
What a cool idea. I might have to try calculating after this year of keeping track of my harvests and how much they are worth. I love playing with spreadsheets and data.. such a nerd 😉
Spreadsheets are great aren’t they? This is my first year of record the value of my harvests too – hopefully I will be in the black at the end of the year.
Useful considerations since I don’t think anyone here has the amount of gardening space they would like!
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