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The Goldmine in Your Back Yard

As I sit here on a rainy morning, feeling like I got punched in the face by my allergies (thanks, South Carolina, and just about everything that grows here), I am trying to remind myself WHY I love being outside so much, despite the fact that I end up stuffed up and unable to hear most seasons of the year. First, I am outdoor person. Being in my yard brings me peace and joy. Second, growing my own food brings me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and a little bit of secret pleasure as I know my sprinklers are being used for delicious produce not lawns.

Yesterday I cut down two very large bushes next to my house in an attempt to further move my yard from southern charm to #permaculture. I love the idea of using my yard to foster bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, as well as grow food. This year I grew my herb garden to a size where I can successfully market the herbs on Etsy. Mint and sage sales alone are more than covering the cost of my Etsy page. I have enough tomatoes and eggplant this year to reap about 5 a day, and my peach tree provided plenty for both eating fresh as well as making a stockpile of peach filling for our beloved, traditional, Christmas treat Russian Torte (ours is similar to the linked recipe, although we use a boiled milk frosting, not meringue). While apricot filling is traditional, we sadly cannot grow apricots here in Zone 8, so peach it is.

Varieties of food planted, sizes of gardens, and amount of produce stolen by pests such as deer, rabbits, slugs, and vine borers have changed over my 20+ years of home ownership. I've planted gardens in three states, two countries, and more than four yards in my current city. An invaluable resource for all of this has been Your Farm in the City, by Lisa Taylor and the Seattle Tilth. I love the illustrations, the straightforward style, and the easy-to-use navigation.

But what has never changed in all that time is the fact that in each location I have had a compost pile. I've used many methods of composting, but the easiest is by far the heap. Just throw kitchen scraps and yard clippings into a pile, dig up twice a year to use it, and let it sit otherwise. This method works really well, unless your neighbor, who shares the back alley, decides that "we just can't have a pile like that", and requests you upgrade. Which I courteously did - to a pile behind some chicken wire. Bwahahaha! What I've found, though, is that the compost I create grows veggies that by far exceed the quality of said next-door-neighbor's name brand organic bagged composted garden. Not to mention the fact that my compost regularly produces volunteer plants, so I usually end up with far more produce than I planned to grow. I've even offered to let her take as much of my compost as she'd like, for free, as I have more than enough. Yet she continues to buy her own.

If I figure that I have had a garden of at least 100 square feet (10 ft x 10 ft) for the past 20 years, that is 2000 square feet of garden, planted twice a year - 4000 square feet. I like a rather deep layer of compost, and sometimes I am building a raised bed from scratch, so lets assume I need at least 3 inches deep of compost to accomplish this. According to the table in Your Farm in the City, I would need to purchase approximately 1000 cubic feet of compost (bagged) to fill my gardens. A typical 1 cubic foot bag of organic compost costs about $5-6. Lets say $6 for easy math. This equates to $6000 over 20 years, or $300 a year, or $25/mo. To re-purchase the TRASH you are already creating in your own household.

Had I invested that $25/mo every month for the past 20 years in the stock market instead, and earned an 8% return, I would be sitting on more than $14,000. My money would be worth more than DOUBLE what I invested, I would have kept food waste out of a landfill, and I would STILL have my lovely, organic vegetable garden. Thankfully, dumping food and yard scraps, along with the occasional cardboard box or pieces of brown paper, in a pile somewhere in the back yard is the choice I've consistently made, and my life is richer for it, not only monetarily but mentally, physically, and food-quality-wise. What choice can you make, today, which will allow YOU to improve your landscape, your health, and your net worth all at once?

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