I’ve never gone back and added up what it cost us to put in and maintain the garden this year. It’s not like I’m going to do anything with that information, really, because I’m not someone who spends a whole lot of time budgeting. Why sit down and make a budget when there are other fun things to do like scrub the toilet or chase the silverfish around in the basement?
But in The $64 Tomato, William Alexander does try to tally up his costs, which is how he figures out that each of his Brandywines cost that outrageous amount. In The Essential Earthman, Henry Mitchell also takes account of his garden costs, but comes up with a number, for the whole thing, of something like $46.
How does he come in for an entire garden season with a lower total cost than William Alexander comes up with for a single tomato? Well, there are a couple of things at work. First, inflation. Mitchell was writing well before Alexander. Second, space. Alexander writes about planting on a huge property, complete with fruit trees and multiple beds and all kinds of nonsense that Mitchell probably couldn’t fit in his suburban Washington garden.
But really, the true explanation is that Mitchell cheated. He talks about writing down what he spent on catalog orders, but not the dribs and drabs of what he spent as he stopped in to various garden centers around the area while doing research for his column.
“These incidentals are not reckoned in the garden account book, because they are really incidental rather than ‘garden purchases,’” Mitchell says. “I think of them as a beer, and surely nobody would expect me to charge the garden if I stopped in for a beer while checking out garden centers.”
Remember what I said on Tuesday about feeling, for the most part, like I was at a party filled with people speaking another language? Well, suffice it to say that, by putting it in the context of beer, Mitchell began speaking in my tongue. It all became clear: Henry Mitchell and I? We have the exact same sense of how to budget, particularly when it comes to gardening.