Dr. Strangefarmer or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the Basil Crisis and Love the Farm

Last year’s tomato crop was horrid.  I think we got roughly 6 tomatoes across 9 plants.  There was lots of fruit, but most had blossom-end rot.  Everyone tells  me 2011 was very bad year for growing tomatoes. Me, I take it personally.  It was the first year I planted them in containers.  This house has some great southern exposures which is perfect for tomatoes.  Every inch of those southern exposures is paved.

I like heirlooms.  If I wanted a Beefsteak or Roma or generic tomato on a vine, I’d go to the store.  A lot less work involved in that though a bit more expensive.  Most plants cost about $3.  The containers were $9 each and each holds about $3 worth of potting soil.  And then there is the cage, that’s another $2.  So by my way of thinking, that’s $17 per plant.  While we can pretend water is free, I had to buy tomato food.  (Who doesn’t love a product called MaterMagic?)  I’ll round up and assume I am spending $18 per plant. 

I know many of you turn to my blog just for financial analysis and fun with math.  Heirloom tomatoes tend to run $3.99 -$5.99 a pound in season.  Let’s use $4. It’s a nice number. Round – its 2 squared. (Quick what’s the square root of 2?)  — and it is easy to work with.  I would need to harvest and eat 3.5lbs of tomatoes from each plant to break even.  Or more succinctly, Lambchop and I must consume 31.5 pounds of tomatoes this harvest to break even.  What the hell am I thinking?

I like a Caprese salad as much as anyone, but am I really committing to buying that much Mozzarella this summer?  That’s about 2 pounds each week.  I do have 3 basil plants (the Thai basil doesn’t count for Italian dishes) growing, but clearly that’s not enough to get me through the summer.  There will be a basil shortage. What have I done?  I think I’ve just committed to spending $100+ this year on a Caprese safety net.

I can always make marinara or Bolognese. This will, sadly, contribute to the great basil shortage of 2012. In fact, I see myself being held hostage to cruel gods that demand a tithe of tomato sauce.  Yes, I mean Lambchop.   I can freeze some.  But then I’ll need to buy vessels to hold said liquid in the freezer.   Zip-locks work, but they aren’t perfect. More money to spend.  I guess the boys really don’t need to go to college, especially with the youngest’s burgeoning popcorn career. (Who knew it was so difficult to put popcorn in the small bag?)  I guess I’ll be roasting lots of tomatoes and making gallons of sauce.  Maybe I should make homemade ketchup (no it’s not catsup at our house) as the core ingredient for homemade BBQ sauce.

I’m starting to think I’m nearing break even.  Maybe.   Then I realize all the time I spend watering and tending to these silly plants.  I often value my time highly.  It keeps me from doing silly things like as driving around trying to save $0.15 per gallon on gas.  That’s $2.50 a tank or 4 minutes of my time.  I’m ok with slightly more expensive gas.  I like the convenience.  I’d probably have to add in at least $10 per day in “tending time.”  For expediency (and to validate my mother and my children’s perception) my time is free, otherwise I’d need to grow enough tomatoes for the Tomatina to break even.

I’m not going to worry about how many tomatoes I grow.  Let’s just hope there will plenty for when you invite yourself over to have some.  We both know you will.  It’s ok to  admit it.

The square root of 2 is 1.4142 for those of you that haven’t done the math in Excel yet.

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